Local residents will start to see changes in Straus Square during the next several weeks, as the neglected area at East Broadway, Rutgers Street and Canal Street begins to look more like a full-fledged pedestrian plaza. The changes were outlined last night at a meeting of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.
As previously reported, the community board has already approved the closure of a one block section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. Last night’s presentation before the parks panel dealt with design and programming aspects of the plan. Seward Park is about to undergo a $6.4 million renovation as part of the Parks Without Borders Program. The idea behind the Straus Square changes is to make the plaza feel like it’s an extension of the park.
Tim Laughlin, president of the Lower East Side Partnership, walked community board members through the plan. His organization is teaming up with the Parks Department to operate the plaza. Temporary seating will be installed in the next few weeks. Benches will be created using jersey barricades (see the rendering below). A more permanent and elaborate plaza setup will be in-the-works in the spring of 2018 (funding needs to be locked down for that).
Laughlin said the Citi Bike station currently located alongside Straus Square will be temporarily removed (probably at the end of this month). It hasn’t been decided for certain where it will be relocated. One possibility is the wide sidewalk on Rutgers Street adjacent to Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinese restaurant. In response to concern from committee members, Laughlin offered assurances that the heavily used station would not be eliminated. It will likely be out of commission for 2-4 weeks.
Another feature of the plaza, to be implemented next year, will be a bike repair operation from Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York. It will be established in a shipping container set up in the plaza. Recycle-a-Bicycle gave of a storefront on Avenue C this past spring after 17 years on the LES, so the operation will mean a return to the neighborhood for the not-for-profit organization.
The repair station will be a regular presence in Straus Square during warm weather months. In addition to bike repair, classes for children and adults and other free programs will be offered. Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York already provide similar services in seven city parks. Staff members, said Laughlin, will be “eyes on the street,” and be able to assist in breaking down plaza elements like bistro chairs and tables at the end of each day.
In a previous meeting, members of the Seward Park Conservancy raised questions about traffic congestion in the area. City officials conducted a survey that indicated the stretch of Canal slated for closure is used by a lot more pedestrians than cars. In the new configuration, vehicles will continue on East Broadway, rather than having the option of veering off onto Canal. They’ll turn onto Rutgers/Essex Street. In response to the concerns, the Department of Transportation is conducting a traffic study to evaluate the impact of the proposed changes.
Last night, Carol Anastasio, one of the leaders of Seward Park Conservancy, reiterated the concerns about traffic. But she was generally optimistic about the plan. “We believe something good has come from this design even though there’s not much money (to work with right now).” The conservancy does not want to see granite blocks used in the plaza (they’re a prominent feature of some other plazas in the neighborhood).
The parks committee approved a resolution in support of the changes. The area will be resurfaced at the end of this month with installation of the interim seating taking place in July.
You can see the full presentation below.