Long known for the high density of its traffic, Queens Plaza in Long Island City is not associated with safe public spaces. Bifurcating elevated subway lines, intersecting multilane streets, and Queensboro Bridge car commuters create a pedestrian experience that is quite disorienting, unfriendly, and outright dangerous. But over the last two years, Queens Plaza has been undergoing a major transformation. Set to open this spring, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project and new open spaces will drastically change the former sea of asphalt into a verdant pedestrian refuge. Queens Plaza will become a coherent public space, supporting safe access for bike riders and pedestrians through a 1.3-mile-long urban site.
In an already high-trafficked area, the arrival of greenways and a new JetBlue headquarters building planned for west of the site means that providing for pedestrian safety is a must. Marpillero Pollak Architects (MPA), the architects responsible for the improvements, is looking to the infrastructure of the elevated subway lines for the next intervention.
MPA proposes to harness the powerful presence of the elevated structure by attaching three kinds of illumination schemes onto it, providing way finding and visibility for the area. MPA developed several low-key but efficient ideas, involving light lines, media screens, and “rooms” to take advantage of the existing, immoveable structures that support the No. 7 and N trains.
The rooms, which mimic the spacing offered by the structure, are a reaction to the “volumes defined by trusses and gaps,” says Sandro Marpillero, co-founder of MPA. Elevated about 15 feet from the ground, these bottomless, illuminated prisms will give visual identity to Queens Plaza. Similarly, the light lines will also provide illumination under the elevated subway. Potentially powered via solar energy, these LED light fixtures will be attached to beams at the lower level and will become “a well-lit canopy for pedestrians and drivers.” MPA co-founder Linda Pollak added that “the light lines are a way-finding device for the highly chaotic crossing of Jackson Avenue.”
The third intervention is programmable media screens made of street-level mesh imbedded with LED lighting that display information about Long Island City. This proposal for highly visual elements is currently being reviewed by the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, City Planning, Transportation, and the Long Island City Cultural Alliance. MPA has been shopping for funding since the summer and is optimistic about finding support by 2013. “Soon the elevated will bring light and clarity to this viaduct space overshadowed by darkness and disorientation,” Pollak added.