Houston St. plan rapped as pro-auto


By Albert Amateau

The city’s plan for the $25 million reconstruction of Houston St. from Bowery to West St. met with groans and criticism at a crowded Jan. 13 Community Board 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting.

The project, intended to accommodate new water and sewer mains, has been a subject of concern for 10 years among residents, merchants and institutions demanding more pedestrian safety on the east-west thoroughfare that separates Greenwich Village, Noho and the East Village from Soho, the South Village, Hudson Sq. and Little Italy.

“This looks like a solution looking for a problem,” said one disgruntled resident of the proposal that would add left-turn bays at several busy intersections, remove the tips of medians from a dozen crosswalks and reconstruct the median in most places with planting beds that rise 2 ft. above the street surface.

Representatives of the Department of Design and Construction told committee members and neighbors that reconstruction plans could be altered before they are finalized by the end of June.

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of the committee, indicated the committee would submit a detailed criticism of the plan to the full Community Board 2 on Jan. 22. Sean Sweeney, a C.B.2 member and director of the Soho Alliance, and Charle Cafiero, a former C.B.2 member who represents the Noho Community Association, also criticized the plan.

“We’re not opposed to cars,” said Sweeney. “Many of us have cars, but this ridiculous plan would benefit only through traffic and contractors.”

Shirley Secunda, co-chairperson of the committee, agreed. “This seems to benefit trucks at the expense of pedestrians,” she said.

The proposed left-turn bay for eastbound traffic onto the northbound Bowery would mean adding a second lane of left-turn traffic at a dangerous intersection, Secunda said. The residential and commercial development of the Cooper Sq. Urban Renewal Area sites at the intersection will add many more pedestrians to Bowery and Houston St., Cafiero said.

Neil Scott of Transportation Alternatives also found fault with the proposed Bowery-Houston St. intersection. “The entire redesign of the intersection needs to be rethought,” he said. The left-turn bay and the narrowed median that accommodates it “will make what is already a very dangerous intersection for pedestrians even worse,” he added.

The reconstruction also calls for a narrow median across the intersection of Crosby and Houston Sts., blocking northbound vehicle traffic and eliminating pedestrian crosswalks. But Transportation Alternatives called for crosswalks at Crosby St. because that is where pedestrians have long been used to crossing Houston St. The proposed blocking of Crosby St. vehicle traffic at Houston “is a cockamamie idea, just plain crazy,” said Sweeney.

Proposed left-turn bays from the westbound side of Houston onto Mercer St., Broadway and W. Broadway were also considered problems and opposed by Transportation Alternatives and the Soho Alliance.

“These bays will make it easier for cars to speed into our neighborhood,” said Sweeney. “They don’t exist anywhere else in our community board except on the West Side Highway, an interstate route. They’ll turn Houston St. into an interstate road,” Sweeney said.

The plan also calls for another left-turn bay from the eastbound side of Houston St. onto northbound Lafayette St.

To the chagrin of virtually everyone at the meeting, the plan calls for eliminating the tips of 12 medians that extend into the crosswalks on the west side of Elizabeth St., the east side of Mott St., the west side of Mulberry St., the west side of Lafayette St., the east side of Broadway, the east side of Mercer St., the west side of Greene St., the east side of Wooster St., the west side of W. Broadway, the east side of Thompson St., the west side of Sullivan St. and the east side of MacDougal St.

Chopping off roughly 7 ft. from the ends of the medians at these intersections would take away islands of safety for pedestrians, and also allow vehicles to turn at higher speeds than they do now, said several critics. “There’s no middle ground for pedestrians here,” said one observer.

Opinion was divided on the proposal to nearly double the width of the sidewalk on the south side of Houston St. between W. Broadway and Sixth Ave. Transportation Alternatives supports the wider sidewalk, but Sweeny called it an expensive feature opposed by many South Village merchants and residents.

A redesign of the three-street intersection of Sixth Ave., Bedford St. and Houston St., where Houston narrows and becomes one-way westbound, also generated controversy. The proposal calls for a widening of the sidewalk by about 3 ft. on the south side of Houston St., where Film Forum and Gilda’s Club are located, a measure welcomed by some residents and opposed by others.

Transportation Alternatives, however, said the redesign of the Sixth Ave.-Bedford-Houston intersection does a good job of rationalizing auto traffic and protecting pedestrians with an extended sidewalk on the northwest corner.

The proposal to redesign the medians into planters that rise 2 ft. above the street level was the target of critics who said they would be “a wall separating the Village and Soho.”

The project would result in two years of construction dust and general inconvenience, Sweeney warned. “Let them put in new water and sewer mains and resurface Houston St. as it is,” he suggested in a telephone interview this week.

The water main and sewer work is budgeted at $14 million, and the roadwork at $11 million.