Volume 80, Number 50 | May 12 - 18, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by J. B. Nicholas

A Department of Transportation redesign, at left, would close W. Fourth St. to traffic between Jane St. and Eighth Ave. by installing a pedestrian plaza with stone seats. The street has been closed off since 1998 by, first, two large granite slabs, and, for about the past 11 years, planters and bollards, the way it appears today, above.

Granite seats go over like lead brick at Jane and W. 4th

By Lincoln Anderson

It’s one of the tinier intersections around, but its history has been disproportionately contentious for its size, and continues to be so with the latest plan for it.

In 1987, the intersection at Jane and W. Fourth Sts. and Eighth Ave. became home to an impromptu AIDS memorial, a pink triangle painted on the asphalt with “For Billy” written in it.

Some years later, eyeing the intersection from his seat in the Jane St. Garden, the late Bill Bowser, a leader of the West Village Committee, felt a tree would be perfect there, and around 1998, Chris Lynn, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, installed one — and then some. Lynn plopped down a triangular, cement, pedestrian traffic island — with a tree planted in its center. Ringing the island’s edge, he put shiny, metal bicycle racks for protection. Two large granite slabs were added, closing W. Fourth St. to traffic between Jane St. and Eighth Ave.

Since the site is in the Greenwich Village Historic District, the gleaming modern bike racks went over particularly badly, and were soon removed. The granite slabs hung around for about two years, earning the moniker “Stonehenge,” and were eventually replaced by a combination of large, heavy-duty plastic planters and metal bollards.

Meanwhile, an uproar over the pedestrian island’s blotting out the spot of the “Pink Triangle” continued, as some activists held it was still the proper place for an AIDS memorial for Greenwich Village, where so many had died from the disease. However, two-and-a-half years ago, an AIDS memorial was installed at Bank St. in the Greenwich Village section of Hudson River Park, and the calls for the restoration of the Pink Triangle at Jane and W. Fourth Sts. have since faded.

Now, just when things had quieted down, D.O.T. is taking yet another stab at the contentious intersection. Under the latest plan, the space would be redesigned with distinctive, tinted-concrete paving — finally covering the street bed — and a planting bed with native perennials and shrubs and small trees. Circular bike racks would also be added. Neighbors are generally fine with these design elements. However, the plan also calls for installing a series of granite blocks to sit on, and residents around the intersection aren’t happy.

D.O.T.’s concept of the slabs is that people will merely perch on them perfunctorily and then continue on their way. But neighbors whose windows front on the space fear the stone seats will be a hangout for bar patrons after the small and usually jam-packed watering holes near the spot — like Corner Bistro, Art Bar, Cubby Hole and Tavern on Jane — close at 4 a.m., and that it will also be a place where bar patrons will go to smoke, in general.

“Nobody’s going to want to sit on these granite benches unless they’re drunk, it’s early in the morning, and they’re smoking cigarettes,” said Emery Ungrady, a resident of 31 Jane St. “It’s a good plan — except the benches.

“They’re all great places,” he said of the local taverns, adding, “But if I was there, I’d be doing the same thing,” referring to the concern the rocky recliners will become the next spot to party, at least temporarily, after the bars close.

According to Ungrady, 40 residents of his building sent e-mails to Community Board 2 before its March full-board meeting, urging them to oppose the seating. The board of directors of the building, which has 100 residents, is firmly against the seating, he said.

The e-mails included one from a family with a 7-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy: “We live one floor off the sidewalk…directly above the triangle,” the parents wrote. “Literally our bedroom windows look out onto it, just a few feet away! The thought of our kids (as well as ourselves) being regularly woken up by drunken fun-seekers is enough to make us cringe! Please don’t put any seating in the new triangle!”

Another resident, in her e-mail to the board, noted that, unlike the nearby, larger Jackson Square and Abingdon Square parks, the Jane St. Triangle has no fence around it, so it can’t be closed at night, which will encourage revelers to “hang out in the vast numbers we see every day in our area — day and night.”

Another woman and her daughter wrote in an e-mail: “There are many bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity and already it has become nearly impossible to sleep through the night without being awakened by the numerous revelers in the street. Any type of seating would surely exacerbate this. It is already difficult to keep the windows open due to the loud conversations, fights and smoking which occur on a regular basis.”

But C.B. 2 overwhelmingly approved the project in a resolution by its Traffic and Transportation Committee, including the seats, in March.

However, things are never simple with the Jane St. Triangle. C.B. 2’s Landmarks and Public Aesthetics Committee subsequently went ahead and passed its own resolution, O.K.’ing the overall plan, except calling for removal of the granite-block seating, which it called “massive, clunky and inappropriate for the historic district in style and material, adding nothing except detraction of the Greenwich Village aesthetic.”

When this new resolution came up for a vote at C.B. 2’s April full-board meeting, Jo Hamilton, the board’s chairperson, informed the members, “The Landmarks Preservation Commission has already approved this plan for the triangle.” She also noted that the city had been made aware that C.B. 2 received 40 e-mails against the project. Hamilton then asked if any board members wanted to vote against the seating and rescind the board’s prior resolution. No one raised a hand.

“It’s null and void,” Hamilton stated of the latter resolution.

However, speaking later, Doris Diether, co-chairperson of the Landmarks and Public Aesthetics Committee, said as far as she’s concerned, D.O.T. will have the last say, and the fate of the seating is “still up in the air.”

“There may be a protest there by the people who don’t want those benches there,” she said.

Asked for comment, Hamilton responded, “The reconstruction of the Jane St. Triangle has received all approvals necessary to move forward. From what I understand, the project is out to bid, and is scheduled for construction for late summer/early fall as part of the Eighth Ave. water-main project being coordinated by D.E.P. and D.D.C.,” referring to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Design and Construction.

Sean Sweeney, the other co-chairperson of the board’s Landmarks Committee, charged, “It is common knowledge that the C.B. 2 Traffic Committee rubber-stamps just about every project the current D.O.T. submits to it.”

But Hamilton said the committee resolutions are just recommendations to the full board, and, in the end, it is all 50 members of the board who vote on an issue.

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