Washington St. plaza gets mixed reviews

The Washington Street Pedestrian Plaza on Fri., May 31
The Washington Street Pedestrian Plaza on Fri., May 31. Downtown Express photo by Kaitlyn Meade.

By KAITLYN MEADE |On a sweltering Friday afternoon, a handful of people were scattered throughout the small graveled plaza near the southern end of Washington St., most of them consulting maps or iPhones for their next destination, while a few chatted over iced beverages from a recently-opened Starbucks.

The pedestrian plaza opened between Carlisle and Albany Sts. on May 23 after a 24-hour installation, and is maintained by the Downtown Alliance Business Improvement District. It turns the block into a pedestrian-only zone with planters, movable tables and chairs, and an Alliance mobile information kiosk.

The idea to improve pedestrian flow around the 9/11 Memorial’s temporary entrance comes from the BID’s study, “Five Principals for Greenwich South.” The study also called for public event sites on Carlisle and Albany Sts., an Alliance spokesperson wrote in an email, although there are no events planned on the plaza yet.

Steven Douglas, who was manning the Alliance’s kiosk on Friday, said “During the day, it’s been a relief for people who’ve been walking around all day.”

He calls himself, “pretty much Mr. Know It All for Downtown,” and said the Washington St. location was a good spot for the info booth, “opposed to our previous location on Greenwich St., which was crammed in with the memorial’s space.”

However, not all residents have been thrilled about the pedestrian plaza cutting off through traffic on Washington. At a Community Board 1 Quality of Life Committee meeting on May 16, several residents in the area came to protest the plaza’s location, saying it would disrupt traffic and complicate an already crowded area.

A few new projects are scheduled to open near Greenwich St. from 2014 to 2015, promising an increase in construction in coming months. Demolition at 22 Thames, which began in mid-April, caused a full road closure on Thames St. which is expected to continue at least until late July, according to a Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center report. Construction of a 26-story Hampton Inn hotel at 100 Greenwich St. is scheduled for completion in late 2014.

Construction on a 28-story hotel could potentially start at 133 Greenwich St., a project which stalled after the vacant lot was purchased in 2012 by Hidrock Realty and Robert Finvarb Companies.

“The point is, all this time we’ve been asking for help getting tourists out of our way, and now they start this when there are three construction projects starting on Greenwich St…. and so when traffic jams up on Greenwich, that’s when they put in the mall,” Pat Moore, the committee’s chairperson and a FiDi resident, said in a phone interview. “It makes no sense.”

“Greenwich St. was never meant for this kind of traffic,” said Eric Hazard, a nearby resident who said closing of an alternate route on Washington St. created “a gigantic congestion zone centered at Greenwich St.”

He said it had increased vehicular traffic in front of his building on Greenwich St., made it more dangerous for pedestrians and removed needed parking spaces for area residents.

“I want them to close fewer streets and open more,” he said. “I don’t know why they haven’t opened Greenwich St. like they planned…. Open up Greenwich St. sooner rather than later and that will give more entry points for the memorial,” Hazard said of the increased tourist traffic.

Moore said that since the plaza had been installed, she had seen no improvement for residents in the amount or flow of crowds around the 9/11 Memorial. “I think we’ll know more at the beginning of next month,” she said, once tourist season kicks into high gear.

However, on that hot afternoon a week after if was up and running, it seemed several of the people that lived and worked in the area were enjoying it as well.

Mark Kehoe, a tour guide who sat waiting for his tour group to exit the 9/11 Memorial on Friday, said it was nice to have a place to sit in the area and that it definitely made the block more pedestrian-friendly.

“Wouldn’t you like to see something like this done to a neighborhood like Little Italy,” he asked.

He noted that the plaza’s location probably complicated traffic in the area, but, “[Downtown traffic] is super confusing. It’s been that way all my life.”

“I think it’s great,” said Constance Houghton, a nearby resident and real estate salesperson. She said she was not inconvenienced and anticipated further development of the area. “All we need now is the Citi Bikes.”

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