City to Turn Drab Stretch of Washington St. into Pedestrian Plaza

By Jessica Terrell Tribeca Trib

The plaza will enhance the area for tourists and residents, city officials said. Jessica Terrell/Tribeca Trib

A dreary block of Washington Street, just south of the 9/11 Memorial, is about to get a makeover. The city hopes to alleviate pedestrian congestion in the area by creating a public plaza with granite blocks, tables, chairs, planters, and an information kiosk staffed by the Downtown Alliance.

Community Board 1’s Executive Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to support turning Washington Street, between Carlisle and Irving into what is being called Washington Plaza. City DOT plans to install a special epoxy gravel on the block by mid-November and open the plaza, with planters and tables and chairs, a few weeks later.

Residents have been complaining about crowded pedestrian conditions and garbage accumulation in the area since the Memorial opened in September, 2011. Up to 15,000 visitors head to the Memorial each day, Joshua Kraus, of the city’s DOT, told the committee. When they exit the Memorial, they often crouch against buildings, block the sidewalk or linger on street corners as they try to figure out where to go next, Kraus said.

“[The Washington Plaza] would offer visitors a place to stop and reflect, look around, think about where they are headed next and get some more information about what is available,” Kraus said.The Alliance will be tasked with cleaning the plaza as well as setting up and taking down tables and chairs each day, Kraus said.

The DOT hopes the street closure will bring more people to a new public plaza nearby at Washington and Carlisle, which is underutilized, Kraus said. That plaza, adjacent to BLT Bar & Grill outside the W Hotel, has been the source of confusion over the “public” part of space that is largely used by the restaurant.

The street plaza plan is part of the Bloomberg administration’s push to improve what’s been dubbed Greenwich South, an area between West Street and Broadway, stretching south of the World Trade Center site to the north end of Battery Park.

Jeffrey Mandel, a policy advisor in the deputy mayor’s office for economic development, said the city is pushing to get the plaza installed before the winter. “We think it’s important to make our best efforts in our last hours in the neighborhood,” he said.

In order to mitigate traffic caused by the closed street, the DOT has extended the length of the green light at Albany and Washington by nearly half again as long, Kraus said.

The traffic is a trade-off, Krauss said, but one he said is worth it.

The pedestrian plaza plan appears to be getting a thumbs up from the few businesses near the coming street closure.

“We are really looking forward to it because we think it will increase pedestrian traffic to the restaurant,” said a spokeswoman for BLT Bar & Grill, at 123 Washington.

A spokeswoman for the Marriott, which operates a restaurant and Starbucks on that block of Washington, said the hotel was in favor of the plaza, although there are still concerns about trash cleanup and restrooms for pedestrian users.

“A lot of the visitors to the Memorial are using the hotel’s rest rooms, and [they are] somewhat overtaxed,” spokeswoman Kathleen Duffy said.

Future improvements for the Greenwich South neighborhood include building the West Thames Bridge, improving Edgar Plaza at West Thames and Greenwich, and expanding the sidewalk on Greenwich between Thames and Carlisle.

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