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Parks & Public Spaces

Request for support by Vornado Realty Trust for the continuation of the partial closure of 33rd Street west of 7th Avenue for a pedestrian plaza

WHEREAS, Vornado Realty Trust installed a temporary pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street, west of 7th Avenue from mid-July to mid-October 2015; and

WHEREAS, That temporary pedestrian plaza, called Plaza33, was to serve as a test case to determine if an ongoing installation would enhance the neighborhood; and

WHEREAS, Vornado created the plaza by fully closing the eastern third of 33rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues while DOT made the western two-thirds of the block a two-way street for the purposes of facilitating delivery to the Penn Plaza buildings and to Madison Square Garden; and

WHEREAS, Vornado designed the plaza with a much-praised creative mix of open space and high quality street furniture which offered desperately needed respite in an extraordinarily congested area, better pedestrian flow, and combined attractive passive spaces with opportunities for active, community-oriented programming; and

WHEREAS, Vornado created a detailed plan to study the impact of the plaza on pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the vicinity of the proposed plaza; and

WHEREAS, Vornado invited a delegation from Community Board Five to participate in the planning of the plaza and provided "in-flight" reports on their findings during the proposed trial period; and

WHEREAS, Vornado bore all of the costs of the plaza, agreed to forego any revenue-generating activities on the plaza, and paid for the sanitation of the plaza under the supervision of the 34th Street Partnership; and

WHEREAS, The Street Activities Permit Office (SAPO) agreed not to issue permits for activities or concessions on the plaza for the duration of the pilot program; and

WHEREAS, Vornado held two Community Workshops in the space during the pilot program to assess public feeling about the usefulness of the plaza and to gauge interest in a more permanent installation; and

WHEREAS, Vornado uninstalled the temporary plaza at the agreed-upon date in October 2015; and

WHEREAS, Vornado and the 34th Street Partnership conducted comprehensive studies of the uses in and around the plaza before, during, and after the installation of the plaza; and

WHEREAS , Vornado hired Sam Schwartz to conduct extensive studies regarding pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow in the areas around the plaza before, during and after the pilot program so that comparisons could be made; and

WHEREAS, The data indicate that the existence of the plaza enhanced the flow of pedestrian traffic as compared to the current condition; and

WHEREAS, The data indicate the plaza significantly impacted the positive uses of the space as compared to the existing condition; and

WHEREAS, An overwhelming majority of the participants of the Community Workshops enthusiastically expressed interest making Plaza33 permanent; and

WHEREAS, The data indicate that the closure of 33rd Street slightly impacted vehicular traffic negatively; and

WHEREAS, DOT supports the project and has suggested an investigation of mitigation factors to improve the affected vehicular traffic flow, primarily consisting of:

  1. The use of split phase traffic signals at 31st Street and 7th Avenue for vehicles turning west onto 31st Street; and
  2. The combined use of split phase traffic signals at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue for vehicles turning south onto 7th Avenue and the use of "pedestrian managers" (supplied by Vornado) to maintain the integrity of vehicular traffic lanes; and
  3. The controlled management of vehicular traffic in front of the Hotel Pennsylvania (owned by Vornado) on the southeast corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five continues to wish that the City would undergo comprehensive street planning and not just rely on piecemeal solutions; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five is, as always, concerned about the prospect of commercial events in any permanent iteration of the plaza, and can only support the ongoing installation of the plaza if Vornado Realty Trust and the 34th Street Partnership agree to the formation of a working group, to include representatives from those entities as well as Community Board Five, to monitor, evaluate and ensure a public hearing for any interest that may arise in the permitting of events in this public space; and

WHEREAS, Community concerns regarding potential commercial events in this public space include but are not limited to congestion during peak hours, the use of amplified sound, and the use of the entire pedestrian plaza for large commercial events, thereby necessitating the monitoring of event applications by the aforementioned working group; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five supports efforts to creatively share street space and improve traffic flow, pedestrian flow, and the aesthetics of the streets and believes that Plaza33, based on last summer's trial, fulfills these goals; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five supports the continuation of the partial closure of 33rd Street west of 7th Avenue for a pedestrian plaza on an ongoing basis, with an understanding that there will be further traffic analysis by DOT, a working group will be formed to evaluate the permitting of any commercial events, and Vornado Realty Trust and the 34th Street Partnership are committed to return to Community Board Five in one year's time for review and evaluation.

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