Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005

Call for traffic calming at Union Sq. N. is rejected

By Albert Amateau

Union Square Park advocates hoping to reduce auto traffic on the north side of the park by converting the two-way E. 17th St. to a one-way eastbound street were disappointed last week with the long-awaited results of a Department of Transportation study.

Margaret Forgione, D.O.T. Manhattan commissioner, told the Aug. 31 Community Board 5 Traffic Committee meeting that the one-way street would not work because it would stall auto traffic.

Another request by community residents for a midblock pedestrian crosswalk, with a stoplight, on 17th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. S., “was found not to be warranted or feasible,” according to the study conducted by the engineering consultants, Gandhi Associates, under D.O.T. supervision.

Neighbors, however, questioned a basic assumption of the study.

“Are we interested in autos or pedestrians?” asked Carol Greitzer, a former city councilmember and a Union Square area resident. “I don’t see much for pedestrians here,” Greitzer said.

“I have two children who play in the park,” said Susan Kramer, co-chairperson of the Union Square Community Coalition, “so I’m wondering whether this study is for autos or people.”

Forgione replied that the department was also concerned with pedestrian safety, “but we do have a mandate for a level of service for autos,” she added.

The Department of Transportation commissioned the study at the urging of neighbors concerned about the effect of 17th St. auto traffic on the proposed redesign of the north end of Union Square Park.

Residents have been urging traffic patterns that maximize the potential park space and that make dangerous pedestrian crossings safer at Broadway and 17th St. at the northwest corner of the park and at Park Ave. S. and 17th St. at the northeast corner.

But creating a one-way eastbound 17th St. would require diverting westbound auto traffic to E. 19th St. between Park Ave. S. and Fifth Ave. and to E. 13th St. between Fourth and Fifth Aves., according to the study. Even with eliminating curbside parking on 19th St. to provide two westbound lanes and adjusting traffic lights, it would take three or four traffic light cycles for cars to get through, Forgione said.

The problem with the 17th St. midblock crosswalk is that federal standards require that new signals must be at least 250 feet from existing signals and the block is only 316 feet long, with signals at Broadway and Park Ave. S.

In addition, the pedestrian volume that would use the crosswalk is estimated at 25 per hour, which does not meet the federal level of service standard of 100 pedestrians per hour.

Nevertheless, Forgione said the department shared community concerns about dangerous pedestrian crossings at Broadway and 17th St. on the northwest corner of the park and at Park Ave. S. and 17th St. at the northeast corner.

The department intends to increase the radius of the corner at 17th St. and southbound Park Ave. S. to allow right turns of side-by-side vehicles including trucks and buses. At the same time, the department will work with the police Traffic Division to enforce no-parking rules to create a smoother traffic flow and safer pedestrian environment. Shifting signal time from north-south streets to east-west streets is expected to increase pedestrian crossing time.

To suggestions that bus traffic be eliminated from the north side of Union Square, Forgione said, “You’ll have to take that up with the Transit Authority.”

In connection with the recent resurfacing of 17th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. S., a 5-foot buffer lane was installed on the south side of the street and the north side of the park plaza, and a painted center median was eliminated, Forgione noted. The buffer is designed to augment the plaza and give pedestrians more room.

The layout of the 17th St. and Broadway crossing seems as if it is designed to encourage cars to whip around the corner through pedestrian crowds, said Stanley Bulbach, president of the 15th St. Block Association.

Forgione agreed that the corner was confusing, but she said the city had to contend with Broadway’s peculiar geometry, “which is nobody’s idea of the best way to move north-south auto traffic.”

Community Board 5 will consider the traffic study at the full board meeting at Building A of Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 W. 27th St., on Thurs. Sept. 8.

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