Design firm OSD drafts open street plan for survival of Flatiron District businesses

Demarkations representing foot traffic before and during the pandemic. Image courtesy of OSD Outside.

One design firm has a plan to utilize 110 acres of the Flatiron District to help business owners thrive in a new world defined by social distancing and the necessity of open space after studying pedestrian patterns during the pandemic compared to last year.

With foot traffic still down up to 80% in the areas surrounding Madison Square Park over last year, Simon David says up to two miles of roadway are prime real estate for the city Department of Transportation’s Open Restaurants program — which could give businesses the upper hand after months of hardship due to COVID-19.

“Obviously one of the things that’s been the big shock from the pandemic is just the amount of foot traffic that’s been around common public spaces,” David said. “We know where people are gathering, we know where there may be areas of incessant concentration that we could work to provide a more distributed or diffused public space. We could also take these scenarios and maybe they can be of use for bringing people back into the district in a safe way.”

Heat maps show that pedestrians still linger in about the same spots — in front of the Flatiron Building, namely — more than other spots on the sidewalk. But David’s research suggests that seating in parking lanes, as well as one lane of traffic, will allow people to return to their lives in the area without significant risk of infection.

Other maps represent where businesses would benefit the most from street space which David borrows from a local restauranteur in likening it to a valley with an ecosystem dependent on the park, central to life in the Flatiron District. The 110-acre plan essentially doubles the space of Madison Square Park and offers pedestrian and bike routes to outdoor dining and retail.

David’s template, not yet released to the public, could be adopted by businesses in a piecemeal fashion in compliance with the Open Restaurant program.

“I think that the Open Restaurant idea works really well and it’s really exciting when you get to see open streets that also encourage that,” David told amNewYork Metro. “What I think this opens the opportunity for is thinking in an even larger scale; the community, the territory, or the district, and think about it around a central aspect such as a park.”

David is the Founding Principal and Creative Director of OSD, a design firm with clients such as the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership and Union Square Partnership. The former has helped the city organize the open streets initiative in their district.

The stretch of Broadway between 21st Street and 28th Street was opened up for social distancing in early May as the city continued the struggle to contain COVID-19, part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s broader attempt to open up 40 miles of city streets to the public, cars excluded.

The Open Restaurants initiative has allowed businesses throughout the city to maintain some cashflow as restrictions such as indoor seating at eateries continue and many are taking up the challenge.

Organizations such as the Chinatown Business Improvement District as well as he Rockwell Group and Dine Out NYC have worked with Mott Street businesses to close the corridor between Mosco and Worth earlier this week and have enlisted the help of artists and school children from the community.