Volume 74, Number 30 | December 01 - 07, 2004


Astor Pl./Cooper Sq. traffic improvements offer some good ideas

The proposed Department of Transportation plan to revamp the Astor Pl./Cooper Sq. area has two very desirable features: an increase in pedestrian space and an improvement in pedestrian safety

In fact, the basics of the proposal are really not that new. A similar scheme was offered in the mid-1990s, but the community at that time did not seem particularly interested.

Main elements include narrowing Fourth Ave.’s north end and paving over with sidewalk a confusing patchwork of traffic islands at its south end. D.O.T. is also proposing closing Astor Pl. between Fourth Ave. and Lafayette St. At the outset, it should be noted these plans are preliminary. Open meetings of the Astor Pl. Task Force of Community Boards 2 and 3 will be held over the next several months, after which D.O.T. hopes to get recommendations from the Task Force and proceed with the project in the spring.

It should also be noted that the federal funds for this project, $500,000, allocated a decade ago, will be lost if they aren’t put toward this initiative. They won’t go to some other traffic improvement plan in the Downtown area — hence the phrase “use it or lose it.”

As opposed to the Houston St. reconstruction plan, which initially primarily seemed geared toward increasing car speed while removing pedestrian space, the Astor Pl./Cooper Sq. ideas seem to benefit pedestrians. No one can argue that the array of small traffic islands south of Peter Cooper Park isn’t a confusing and dangerous no-man’s land for pedestrians and cars alike. Also, it’s just a fact that Fourth Ave. is underused. It doesn’t seem like traffic in the area would increase if this avenue were narrowed.

Even the closing of Astor Pl. to traffic — which some are already strongly opposing — would help pedestrians: There would simply be a larger area for pedestrians to congregate. Those that say it’s a bad idea because it would be tantamount to giving the new Related Companies’ apartment building a “front yard” are being a bit misleading — this will be public space, not fenced-in private space. However, traffic studies and a careful review certainly are needed before any action is taken to demap part of Astor Pl.

There are also those who criticize this plan because they think Cooper Union is getting too much out of it at the public’s expense. Again, it’s not just Cooper Union, but the public, that will be served. And as one member of the Task Force has noted, this traffic proposal shouldn’t be linked to Cooper’s general large-scale development plan of a few years ago. While it’s true the area’s new projects — many of them Cooper Union’s — will bring some more traffic, pedestrian safety improvements shouldn’t be held hostage because of it. Plus, there’s a subway stop right at Astor Pl.

Expanding Peter Cooper Park — if this is decided — also sounds like a good idea. Why not?

We’re interested to see how the discussion unfolds about this plan, which is still preliminary. But we can say off the bat that it has much to offer in the way of making the area safer and more livable.

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