Volume 75, Number 11 | August 3 - 9, 2005

Villager image by Project for Public Spaces

The Project for Public Spaces map tracking pedestrian crossings in part of the Gansevoort district shows lines of frequent crossings, the heavier lines representing more pedestrians than the lighter ones. The intersection of Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts. with Ninth Ave., popularly known as Gansevoort Plaza, is at lower left.

A Meat Market more friendly for those on two legs

By Albert Amateau

With the help of a traffic study drafted by the Project for Public Spaces, a group of 50 people brainstormed two weeks ago to visualize a pedestrian-friendly future for the Gansevoort Market area.

The July 19 session sponsored by State Senator Tom Duane, included neighborhood residents, business owners, Community Board 2 members and Department of Transportation observers.

The district, where wholesale meat businesses still thrive among the nightclubs, restaurants, upscale retail shops and art galleries, is poised for further change with the imminent conversion of the High Line from a derelict railroad viaduct to an elevated park and Dia Art Foundation’s proposed new museum on Gansevoort St. at the High Line’s southern end.

“We’re all focused on making the area a 24-hour neighborhood with a healthy mix of meat wholesalers, nightlife and retail uses where residents and visitors are equally welcome,” said Annie Washburn, director of the Meat Packing District Initiative, a group representing the neighborhood’s businesses.

M.P.D.I. members are not meat wholesalers, “But we recognize that meatpacking is an essential part of the district,” Washburn said.

The cobblestone intersection of Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts. with Ninth Ave. that goes by the unofficial name of Gansevoort Plaza was a center of interest at the July 19 meeting where participants said it should have the feeling of “a European Plaza” and be pedestrian friendly.

While the suggestions included accommodating pedestrian activity and limiting auto traffic on the “piazza,” participants insisted that meat wholesale trucks also belonged there.

Traffic and pedestrian studies by Project for Public Spaces confirmed the common perception that meatpacking and nightlife/restaurant street uses are virtually complementary. Meat trucks are most active from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. and nightlife auto traffic is most active from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“The traffic problem was mostly identified as a cab problem,” said Ethan Kent, project manager for Project for Public Spaces, a national nonprofit advocacy group. “At the peak traffic flow times, about two-thirds of vehicles were taxis, cruising or waiting for fares. On busy evenings this resulted in four or five lanes of Ninth Ave. taken by taxis with adverse impacts on the pedestrian environment,” Kent said.

One obvious solution was establishing taxi stands in the district, but there was no general agreement on where they should be.

Moreover, pedestrians have already staked their claim on the Gansevoort Plaza intersection. The P.P.S. survey indicated that people frequently walk across the intersection diagonally. A P.P.S. map of the area with “lines of desire” shows frequent pedestrian crossings with little regard for street corners at the intersection of Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts. and Ninth Ave.

“Our data reflects that there are more pedestrians using the area than vehicles,” Kent said. At locations where pedestrians gathered and lingered, 84 percent of the stationary activity was people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, and 60 percent of them were men, according to the survey. “This may indicate that the neighborhood’s charm caters to a narrow audience and may be susceptible to burnout,” said Kent. He suggested that older and younger pedestrians should be encouraged to linger in the district, especially seniors and mothers with children, during the afternoons before nightlife patrons and meatpackers dominate the neighborhood.

Some of the suggestions made at the meeting included changing the directions of some of the east-west streets, establishing a weekend Greenmarket or flower market and strategically-placed taxi stands.

“It was a chance for us to regard the neighborhood as more of a public space rather than just a place for restaurants and bars,” said Brad Hoylman, head of the Community Board 2 Traffic Committee.

While several participants feared any change would disrupt the current delicate balance between the meat business and nightlife uses in the district, most were convinced that the fast-changing neighborhood needed some rules to encourage the preservation of the district’s charm.

Duane said he was confident that future sessions would follow up on suggestions made at the July 19 session. “It reminded me of the community meetings we had several years ago that resulted in the Chelsea Waterside Park,” said Duane, who was among the activists who in the early 1990s developed plans and lobbied for the waterfront park at 23rd St. as part of the project to rebuild the West Side Highway at grade and construct the Hudson River Park.

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