Last night, the Lower East Side Business Improvement District unveiled its master plan for Orchard Street. The blueprint, designed by local architectural firm Pilot Projects, is meant to improve safety, traffic flow and aesthetics on the historic retail strip from Canal to East Houston streets. During a presentation before Community Board 3’s transportation committee, BID Executive Director Tim Laughlin distributed a 47 page “Orchard Streetscape Manual.” While committee members approved the overall plan, they cautioned against any redesign that might diminish Orchard Street’s distinctive character and expressed concern about a proposed pedestrian plaza on Broome Street.
The proposal was developed following a public workshop last winter and incorporated feedback from business owners, property owners and local residents. It was meant to address several issues, including: a lack of continuity from one block to the next, insufficient bike parking, congestion from truck loading and unloading and excessive traffic caused by motorists using Orchard as a route to the Williamsburg Bridge. While some funding is secured and certain elements (such as trees) are already being put in place, the plan would be implemented in phases as money for streetscape improvement becomes available.
The plan designates locations for plantings, bike racks, seating and other amenities. It also creates designated trucking loading zones and clusters pedestrian-friendly areas at street corners by establishing “curb cuts.” The curb extensions will act as a kind of slow zone. A demonstration project in front of the Tenement Museum is the model. Although some parking spaces will be eliminated to create the loading areas, Laughlin said the plan actually calls for a gain of 27 spaces.
In order to discourage drivers from coming up Orchard and turning on Broome to get to the bridge, the BID is proposing a pedestrian plaza on Broome to the east of Orchard Street. Laughlin noted that this part of the plan would require a separate process, since the transportation department, fire department and Public Design Commission would all need to give their approval.
Committee members said they would want the city to perform a traffic study before signing off on any street closure. They pointed out that other street projects, including the Allen Street pedestrian mall and the redesign of Delancey Street had “unintended consequences,” causing traffic issues on adjoining streets. Committee Chairperson Karen Blatt also voiced concern that specific design elements, if implemented inappropriately, could have the effect of “sanitizing Orchard Street,” diminishing its unique charm and eclectic nature. Laughlin assured panel members that the BID would be mindful of Orchard Street’s character as planters, benches and other amenities are added. He also pledged to come back to the community board every step of the way with specific plans.
You can have a look at the entire proposal here: