Divining by street signs: Activist foresees massive work around Wash. Sq.

Susan Goren is on the case. Markings around Washington Square foretell of a lot of infrastructure work in the pipeline, she assures. Photos by Alex Ellefson

BY ALEX ELLEFSON | For weeks, longtime Washington Place resident Susan Goren has been watching the streets outside her apartment fill with strange hieroglyphs. The spray-painted markings, like foreboding crop circles appearing over acres of farmland, seemed to signal an imminent upheaval about to visit her neighborhood.

Considering the overabundance of roadwork and renovations around Washington Square Park, she set out to decode the multicolored lines. Although Goren — who was once featured on Page One of The Villager for her kinship with local squirrels — didn’t have a Sherlock Holmes-style spyglass, she was armed with a post-it note listing how each spray-painted color corresponds with different types of roadwork.

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“I kept seeing yellow, orange and red everywhere,” she said. “I figured I better get ready for them to rip up the streets.”

The colored markings — scribbled all over W Fourth St., Waverly Place and Mercer St. — indicate where the city plans to lay new electric, gas and communication lines in a four-block area east of the park, according to the Department of Design and Construction. The roadwork is part of an ongoing project, slated to wrap up in the summer of 2018, replacing century-old water mains and antiquated utilities around the park.

This one looks like it might be some kind of hazard warning, but is actually a symbol for pending electrical work.

For residents weary of the endless noise, construction equipment, and traffic disruptions that have overtaken the streets around the park, Goren’s legwork shows how neighbors can recognize where the next phase of the project is about to land.

“This is going to mean two more years of multiple projects going on in the community,” Goren lamented.

Lately, it seems, you can't walk a step around Washington Square without seeing markings for some sort of pending infrastructure project.
Lately, it seems, you can’t walk a step around Washington Square without seeing markings for some sort of pending infrastructure project.

The project began last fall — barely a year after the city completed a $30.6 million, six-year renovation of Washington Square Park that involved moving the fountain 22 feet toward the center of the plaza.

Bob Gormley, district manager of Community Board 2, said that although the latest project is going to undoubtedly cause disruptions in the neighborhood, the upgrades are necessary.

“I think people recognize they are going to have to grit their teeth and hope it gets completed on time,” he said.

Susan Goren’s self-made key to the sidewalk and street symbols.


He added that D.D.C. had appointed a community liaison to keep the neighborhood informed about the work’s progress.

The project hit an unexpected hurdle soon after it launched, when workers discovered two forgotten burial vaults while digging in the street just to the east of the park. The work stalled momentarily while archeologists examined the 19th-century tombs.

The project is now back on track and the D.D.C. spokesperson said neighbors will see street improvements — such as new bike lanes, catch basins, manhole covers, traffic lights and street signage — when the work is completed. However, there will be traffic disruption, including detours, while the roads are being dug up.

Putting this one into the street won’t be a minor job.


Piles of metal piping and other equipment about to enter the ground appeared last week along Waverly Place and Mercer St. — suggesting the city is preparing to break ground on the streets east of the park.

However, Goren said she will surely know when construction is about begin.

“White means the work is imminent,” she explained.

A supply of pipes ready to be installed beneath the street east of the square.