New Plazas Could Reclaim Two Blocks in the Financial District

With painted curb extensions expanding the pedestrian realm on Broadway and Whitehall Street in the Financial District, public space projects are now expected to spread around the corner to Water Street. The area is also on track to receive a first-in-the-city rule rule change making it easier to host public events in privately-owned off-street plazas.

DOT is proposing to transform two short streets in the Financial District to plazas. Above, Coenties Slip. Image: ##

The proposals come after a 2010 plan from the Downtown Alliance, the local business improvement district, to transform Water Street into a boulevard and boost the area’s street life.

On March 6, DOT presented a plan to Manhattan Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee that would expand pedestrian space and install new pedestrian plazas along Water Street [PDF].

The existing pedestrian plaza at Whitehall Street would be expanded and extended an additional block to Broad Street, while Coentis Slip, between Water and Pearl Streets, and Gouverneur Lane, between Water and Front Streets, would be converted to pedestrian plazas. The plan also adds painted curb extensions to shorten crossing distances between Whitehall and Fulton Streets.

In addition, traffic moving southbound on Water Street beyond Old Slip would be reduced from two lanes to one. The travel lane would be replaced with a striped buffer zone between curbside parking and the remaining moving lane.

The changes could be completed by Labor Day, according to DNAinfo. DOT may also consider reducing or adjusting the number of bus stops on Water Street in the future.

Also last week, CB 1’s planning committee voted unanimously to support a regulatory change from the Department of City Planning that aims to bring more programming and events to privately owned public spaces — the bonus plazas developers created in exchange for the right to build taller, for instance — along Water Street.

Currently, public “non-permanent, moveable amenities” such as markets, concerts, exhibitions, and festivals require certification from the City Planning Commission chair. The proposed change would allow these types of events by right, without approval from planning chair. The proposal is now before the full board of CB 1 and Borough President Scott Stringer for review, before advancing to the City Planning Commission and City Council for final approval.

The pilot, which is not being considered for other areas, is intended to provide a boost to Water Street in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and would only be in effect until January 1, 2014. DCP staff, in consultation with the community board, plaza users and property owners, will evaluate the pilot to determine its effectiveness.