In January 2007, CHEKPEDS, the Clinton–Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety, held a Town Hall meeting and a Workshop to kick off the “9th Avenue Renaissance”, a street redesign and traffic-calming project for 9th Avenue in Manhattan. The section we were concerned with of 9th Avenue runs from 34th Street north to 57th Street. The event was co-sponsored by local elected officials and by Manhattan Community Board 4.
The Town Hall meeting took place at Holy Cross School, which according to NYC DOT statistics, is one of the most dangerous schools to walk to in Manhattan. In the last two years, pedestrian and bicycle injuries have increased by 86% at 42nd Street and 9th Avenue intersection, located less than 500 feet from the school.
Be bold: 130 residents, institutions, business and property owners gathered to listen – but mostly to participate: they shared a variety of observations and suggestions. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum opened the meeting, followed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who addressed the assembly. He is familiar with the traffic woes of the west side: a few months ago, his office published a study of gridlock that identified 38th Street and 9th Avenue as one of the 10 intersections most severely gridlocked in the City. Scott drew prolonged applause by calling for a study of congestion pricing in Manhattan. Fred Kent, Chair of Project for Public Spaces, the organization that lends its expertise to the project, illustrated urban renewal of other cities in the United Sates after they reclaimed their streets from traffic. His ultimate recommendation: Be Bold! Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, volunteered golden rules for success based on his recent Times Square redesign that increased pedestrian space by 50%. He admonished the gathering “to get all your stats in order.”
Local residents are the experts
Two weeks later, 50 diehard citizens braved the icy cold to convene again and participate in the workshop to redesign 9th Avenue. Seven locations had been chosen because they were either problematic or typical of the avenue. PPS (Project for Public Space), familiarized the groups on how to perform a “place audit” and they were off, each group with questionnaires and open minds. On their return, they presented their findings in words and their designs in drawings.
In typical Hell’s Kitchen fashion, energy and creativity intertwined with strong opinions and flurries of passion: We love our neighborhood and most of us would not choose to live anywhere else.
Once again, it became apparent that local residents are the true experts. Only such pragmatic citizens could offer such rich observations – based on observation at every time of day or season.
With federal funds supervised by NYMTC, this April NYCDOT will undertake an engineering study of the Lincoln Tunnel entrances – focused on 9th Avenue and pedestrian safety. The 9th Avenue Renaissance Project will document community needs and wants and propose constructive short-term solutions. As Fred Kent said, let us hope that the NYC DOT, State DOT, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the NYPD and the MTA will put aside transportation silos and will jointly rethink the overlay of this major regional HUB over a densely populated neighborhood – rethink boldly to pave the way toward 2030