City planners and the Lower East Side Partnership won preliminary support last night from Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee to close a section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. It’s part of a larger plan to create a more inviting and functional public plaza at Straus Square.
Seward Park is about to undergo a major face lift through the city’s Parks Without Borders program. The Straus Square initiative is meant to complement that renovation, making the area feel like it’s part of the park. The idea is to close off Canal Street between Essex Street and East Broadway, extending the plaza to the edge of Seward Park. A bike share station and taxi relief stand would be relocated.
A survey by the Department of Transportation found that this section of Canal Street, adjacent to the F Train stairwell, is used by many more pedestrians than cars. The city plans to direct all traffic along East Broadway, allowing vehicles to turn right onto Essex Street.
City officials are planning to move the taxi relief stand to an area just beyond Canal Street, where it meets East Broadway. The change would mean losing two metered parking spaces. The Straus Square project is expected to be completed by this summer. According to the presentation, the area would be maintained by the NYC Parks Department and “program partners,” meaning the LES Partnership. Next month, CB3’s Parks Committee will be asked to weigh in on the design for the public plaza. Last night’s discussion was centered solely on transportation-related issues.
Conversations are already underway with neighborhood groups, including the Seward Park Conservancy. Representing the organization last night, Linda Jones said the conservancy is “pleased to be collaborating” on the project. She also voiced several concerns.
First off, she said, the group wants to make sure that closing off this stretch of Canal Street won’t cause more traffic congestion on East Broadway. Jones noted that there’s already heavy bus (city and private) traffic in the vicinity, and she urged transportation planners to thoroughly study the potential impacts of the street changes. Second, she said there’s concern about moving the taxi relief stand to the east, near the Seward Park Garden, where it would be a more conspicuous presence. The conservancy suggested a more appropriate spot would be on Rutgers Street, below East Broadway. Finally, Jones said the conservancy worries that the plaza will not be properly maintained. The organization wants assurances that staff and funding will be dedicated for this purpose.
In its draft resolution, the transportation committee decided against asking the city to move the taxi relief stand away from the park. It did, however, call on designers to use materials that would discourage skateboarders from taking over the area. One board member, Yaron Altman, noted that the Delancey Street Plaza has been commandeered by skateboarders.
Following the meeting, LES Partnership President Tim Laughlin said his organization is committed to working with community groups on both the design and maintenance plan for the plaza. The Partnership oversees the nearby Division Street Plaza (at Ludlow Street) and the Delancey Street Plaza. Responding to complaints about the condition of these areas, Laughlin said plans are in place to upgrade both plazas. The Division Street triangle was initially renovated as part of a demonstration project, he said, and it will be spruced up along with Straus Square. Improvements on Delancey Street will take place when construction on Essex Crossing site 2 winds down next year. That project will coincide with the city’s installation of protected bike lanes on Delancey. Laughlin said the Partnership is working on securing funding for maintenance of the plazas.
On a related note, the Parks Department is ready to unveil plans for the larger Seward Park project. That will happen at tomorrow night’s meeting of the Parks Committee. The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the BRC Senior Center, 30 Delancey St.