Search results for "New York City Department of Transportation"

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Taming Boulevards
Dani Simons / Flickr

Step by step, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign to promote pedestrian safety is going into effect across the city’s five boroughs. In February the mayor signed a measure to reduce the citywide speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. Now the city’s Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has released the most detailed plans yet to address the issue, calling for targeted approaches to redesign the city’s most dangerous streets—high-traffic corridors and intersections.

“We know arterial streets are the most dangerous in New York City,” Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, a street safety advocacy group, told AN. “They make up about 15 percent of city streets. What they did in the reports is look at the most dangerous of the dangerous and identified 154 corridors total across five boroughs.” For instance, 127 miles of priority corridors in Queens comprise just six percent of the borough’s total roads but make up for 47 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Similar figures were cited for each borough.

Heat map of pedestrian fatalities in Brooklyn.
Courtesy NYCDOT

These findings are backed up by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s 2015 “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report, which identified the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue, and Queens’ Woodhaven and Queens boulevards as safety trouble spots. All four are targets of Vision Zero safety plans.

Collectively, the plans call for implementing at least 50 street redesign projects along the identified corridors. Additional measures include adding speed cameras, increasing pedestrian crossing times, and targeting police enforcement, especially in evening and overnight hours when collisions tend to spike. Each borough plan further delineates additional changes tailored to conditions on the ground in each borough such as better lighting at underpasses and additional signage.

Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Plan target areas in Brooklyn (left) and Queens (right).
Courtesy NYCDOT

The safety plans were generated by crunching crash data and scrutinizing the
geography of pedestrian collisions, taking into account dozens of community meetings and thousands of public comments. The analysis indicates where concerted street redesign efforts will have the greatest effect.

NYCDOT is also calling for special emphasis on senior safety. In Manhattan, seniors make up 14 percent of the population but account for 41 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Redesigned streets and education campaigns are expected to curtail those numbers.

Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Plan target areas in Manhattan (left), Staten Island (center), and the Bronx (right).
Courtesy NYCDOT

While pedestrian deaths have decreased substantially across New York City—some 50 percent over 30 years—Staten Island is the statistical outlier, with an 11 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities over the same period. Pedestrians there make up 48 percent of all traffic fatalities. The NYCDOT’s target area is focused around the northeastern corner of the island at the ferry landing, where major new developments are underway, including a shopping mall by SHoP Architects and the New York Wheel Ferris wheel.

Pedestrian plazas are known to have traffic calming effects.
Stephen Rees / Flickr

Samponaro praised the city’s safety plans, yet urged the NYCDOT to avoid a patchwork approach to redesigning streets. “We need to look at the most dangerous streets in their entirety,” she said. “Not just intersection by intersection.” She hopes the city continues to utilize “early action treatments” to enact quick fixes like painting pedestrian plazas and neckdowns using the NYCDOT’s operating budget.

The first four streets to be redesigned are Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue, Queens Boulevard, and the Grand Concourse, which make up 20 miles of the overall 443 miles of priority corridors. De Blasio called for these “Vision Zero Great Streets” to be finished within the next four years using $250 million from the city budget.

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Boulevard of Dreams
A proposal from the Bryant Park Corporation would turn a block of 41st Street into a linear plaza.
Courtesy Bryant Park Corporation

The congested stretch of 41st Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue is less than a tenth of a mile long, but it could become a critical pedestrian link between Bryant Park, a privately owned public plaza, and the Broadway Boulevard if enough property owners chip in to spruce it up.

The plan, called Boulevard 41, comes from the Bryant Park Corporation (BPC) and involves covering curbside lanes with moveable seating and planters. Streetsblog reported that the plan, which was first unveiled two years ago, has been approved by the Department of Transportation, FDNY, and Community Board 5, but needs private funding to move forward.


Industrial designer Ignacio Ciocchini, who has created some of New York City’s more interesting street furniture, designed the project in-house. “We really concentrated on very simple urban solutions that make a difference,” said Ciocchini. The goal, he explained, was to create an inviting environment that was not tied to any particular business. The result is a stretched-out version of the city’s popular public plaza.


Boulevard 41 includes 20 red chairs and silver planters made from Ciocchini’s signature laser-cut horizontal slats. Seating platforms are set between the planters and completed with railings, bistro tables, and Ipe decking. Each platform also has a hatch for cleaning and access to utilities. To try to boost support with local property owners, the platforms and planters are spaced out to not block any useful freight entrances.

Two years after Boulevard 41 was first proposed, the BPC is sticking with its original plan to fund the $1.5 million project entirely with private money. But securing the necessary funds from adjacent buildings has proved difficult as those buildings keep changing hands.

While Ciocchini currently puts the chance of Boulevard 41 being realized just under 50 percent, he is not giving up on it just yet. He is going back to the property owners, new and old, in hopes of convincing them that investing in the public realm is good both for the city and their own bottom line.

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In second State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio focuses on New York City housing
Last year, in his first State of the City address, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would use every tool at his disposal to address economic inequality. He twice repeated a campaign refrain that New York had become a "Tale of Two Cities" where the wealthy do extraordinarily well and everyone else struggles to get by. To change that, the new mayor laid out a host of legislative priorities including an ambitious affordable housing plan that would build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. One year later, we have an update. With 17,300 affordable units already financed (1,300 more than scheduled), the mayor came back before New Yorkers to say he would do even more to try to keep their rents in check. Most notably, De Blasio plans to boost the city's overall housing supply by creating a taller, denser New York. In addition to his 200,000 unit affordable housing plan, he aims to build 160,000 market-rate units to decrease overall demand. "We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don’t belong," De Blasio, who will certainly face development backlash down the road, said today. "We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so." A key piece of creating new units, both affordable and market-rate, will be rezoning neighborhoods. The mayor said his administration plans to do just that "from East New York to Long Island City; from Flushing West to East Harlem; from downtown Staten Island to the Jerome Avenue Corridor in the Bronx." Per the mayor's mandatory inclusionary zoning requirement, all new market-rate development would have to include affordable housing as well. What percentage of units would be designated affordable has not yet been announced. Along with these rezonings, the mayor said he will continue working with local stakeholders to study ways to build a 200-acre, mixed-use development on top of a rail yard in Sunnyside, Queens. And without offering many specifics, he also called to reform the Department of Buildings to speed up development overall. As part of his push for increased development, de Blasio directly addressed concerns about gentrification. "If you ask 8.4 million New Yorkers what they think of gentrification, you’ll get 8.4 million different answers," he said. To limit the type of displacement that is currently occurring in New York City, the mayor will continue to push for stronger rent laws at the state level. Barring cooperation from Albany, De Blasio said the city will act on its own. "In any of the areas in which the city rezones, if we find evidence that tenants are being harassed, we will supply those tenants with legal representation, at no cost, to take their case to Housing Court," he said. Along with new development, the mayor wants to see big investments in transportation, including a citywide ferry service that will be operational in 2017. For the cost of a Metrocard swipe, said the mayor, residents of the Rockaways, Red Hook, and Soundview could take a ferry ride to Manhattan. The mayor also said his administration plans to complete 20 bus rapid transit routes over the next four years.
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Gardens and Rust
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is working with The Trust for Public Land to transform an abandoned Canadian Pacific rail line in Chicago. Walsh Construction is currently building the 2.7-mile park.
Courtesy MVVA / The Trust for Public Land

A mangled airfield, a crumbling parking Garage, and a defunct stretch of railroad—Chicago's most ambitious park projects are also second acts for decaying infrastructure. Chris Bentley takes a hike to check on their progress.

Think “Chicago” and “park,” and most people will picture Millennium Park. Its glinting Bean (artist Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate”) has become a Chicago totem alongside the volumes of The Sears (Willis) Tower and John Hancock Center—quite a feat for a park that just turned 10 years old, eclipsing memories of its bloated budget and construction timeline. It is the second most visited tourist attraction in Illinois, behind Navy Pier.

But three in-construction projects are forging new public spaces from West Town to Lakeshore East, attempting to build off the renewed interest in public space as residents return to Chicago’s downtown. The mix of public and private funds behind each of them hints at the hope that they will replicate the “Millennium Park effect,” multiplying nearby real estate values.

The 606, Northerly Island, and Maggie Daley Park are poised to transform nearly 100 acres of the city. Among locals, at least, the three projects have raised questions of equity and public investment, but also stirred excitement with inventive designs unlike anything else in a city whose professed dedication to open space goes back to its motto: urbs in horto, city in a garden.


The 606

Long known (and still referred to by some locals) as The Bloomingdale Trail, The 606 is Chicago’s rails-to-trails project. Often likened to the High Line, it is different in a few key ways from the elevated park in New York City: At 2.7 miles, it is substantially longer; it will be opened all at once instead of in half-mile segments; and it includes bike paths.

The bicycle infrastructure was critical to the project’s funding. By qualifying as an alternative transportation corridor, The 606 nabbed $50 million in U.S. Department of Transportation funds, through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement program. The city and county kicked in another $5 million, while private funding is expected to make up the rest of the nearly $95 million project. The project still needs about $20 million in private funding, but has set a June 2015 opening date. Though most of it is not funded through local tax dollars, The 606 is still the Chicago Park District’s most expensive capital project by far in recent years.


But Beth White, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Chicago Office, says it is hard to overstate its value. In addition to more than two and a half miles of linear park space along the reclaimed rail line, which runs through Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and West Town, the project includes four new street-level parks and improvements to dozens of bridges along the way. “It’s taking pieces of heritage and transforming them for our future,” said White. TPL is planning The 606, part of a park building boom the likes of which the city has not seen in 100 years. “There is something going on in Chicago, without a doubt,” continued White. “People are understanding how important parks and public land are.”


It has taken more than a decade to realize The 606, which was first envisioned as a way to connect park-poor and predominantly Latino West Side neighborhoods with transit lines and destinations to the east. Named for the first three digits of Chicago’s 60 zip codes, The 606 still appears in renderings by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) to be a melting pot and access way for neighborhoods long lacking ample park space.

Since its inception, however, The 606 has helped drive a real estate boom in the area that has exacerbated tensions over the changing ethnic and economic makeup of the West Side. The median sale price in Humboldt Park is up a whopping 62 percent according to real estate website Redfin, which in August named the neighborhood “Chicago’s Hottest.” They cited The 606 as a reason why.

Beth White said it is an unparalleled neighborhood amenity for longtime residents and newcomers alike. “Here’s a space that was first designed to move freight cars, and functioned that way for 100 years,” she said. “It was designed to keep people off of it, and it was a dividing line between neighborhoods.” Now it’s bringing them together.

Chicago’s Northerly Island, a Park District holding, is undergoing an ecologically minded overhaul from Studio Gang Architects. Once an airfield, the manmade peninsula will host urban camping, hiking, and a variety of events as soon as next summer.
Nick Ulivieri Photography, Courtesy Studio Gang Architects

Northerly Island

Although many Chicagoans know the southern portion of Northerly Island as the former home of Meigs Field—a single-strip airport that Mayor Richard M. Daley had bulldozed in the middle of the night to head off efforts to reopen it after its initial lease had run out—Studio Gang Architects hopes it will soon be known as the city’s ecological oasis.

Building on the popularity of 12th Street Beach, where South Loop residents come to fish and glimpse birds, Gang’s design uses nature to activate the manmade peninsula that Daniel Burnham originally planned as the northernmost in a string of five islands forming an archipelago in Lake Michigan. The plan calls for year-round use of the coastal park, made up of wetland, prairie, and savannah ecosystems—an urban wilderness at the foot of the Chicago skyline.

Construction is underway on phase one of the project: the southern 47 acres of the site, including campsites, a nature trail and bike path, and an “outdoor classroom.” The plan is to open in fall 2014.

Future phases, still years from completion, include more “active” uses as Northerly Island abuts downtown Chicago. Boat rentals, an event pavilion, and an amphitheater/ice-skating rink act as a gradient from the popular museum campus at the peninsula’s northern end to the relative peace and quiet of the ecological restoration farther south.


Some of the landscape work is a reintroduction of native habitat destroyed by development. The Prairie State, Illinois, has almost no prairie left, ecologically speaking. So on the new Northerly Island, prairie will occupy more than twice as much land as any other habitat. The restoration of lakefront grasslands is also meant to aid migrating birds, whose travels through northern Illinois often end in collisions with glassy downtown towers.

Studio Gang’s plan is also part of a larger effort to restore native fish populations and habitat in the Great Lakes basin. A reef and lagoon ecosystem will harbor spawning areas for species like walleye and coho salmon. “These environments will be living examples of the region’s fascinating ecology,” reads Studio Gang’s framework plan for the park. “[It] aims to create an internationally recognized destination enhancing Chicago’s worldwide leadership in urban environmentalism.”

Maggie Daley Park will replace Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which caps the 3,700-car underground Millennium Lakeside Garage.
Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, Courtesy Chicago Park District

Maggie Daley Park

Surveying the rolling hills, whimsical playground pieces (including a stranded ship), and warped ice rink pathway wending through evergreens, it is easy to forget Maggie Daley Park started as an update to a buried parking garage. Currently under construction and set to open next year, the downtown park is a slightly surreal addition to Chicago’s “front lawn” of Millennium Park and Grant Park. MVVA, lead designer on The 606, is also sculpting these 28 acres.

On a hazy day in August the construction site is humming with activity. White blocks of geofoam are stacked like sugar cubes (their light weight supports the curvy landforms without buckling the parking structure below). Outsized construction vehicles tamp down muddy pathways—it looks more like terraforming a new planet than landscaping a park.


Maggie Daley Park, named for the city’s former first lady, replaces Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which has served as the cap to the 3,700-car underground Millennium Lakeside Garage built in 1979. Rather than make roof repairs, however, the Chicago Park District has poured $60 million in public and private funds into a new park on the other side of Frank Gehry’s serpentine bridge leading east out of Millennium Park. The swirling form of that bridge flows into the curving pathways that criss-cross the new park. “All great parks are also great neighborhood parks,” said MVVA’s Matt Urbanski. The immediate neighborhood for Maggie Daley will be the adjacent high-rise community of Lakeshore East, which has come into its own in the last 15 years. But MVVA and the city solicited feedback on the public park from all over the city.


What they got, said Urbanski, was a mix of calls for quiet promenades alongside requests for highly active spaces. So they designed both. Between programmed areas, more traditional winding pathways and seating areas will offer a break from The Loop commotion and connect pedestrians from Lakeshore East to the Art Institute and Millennium Park.

The northwest area of the site is a climbing wall in an evergreen “Enchanted Forest.” A quarter-mile ice ribbon—a slightly sloped, irregular circuit for skating in winter and walking in summer—wraps around the mountainous climbing wall. On the other end of the park a “Play Garden” (Why not playground? “That sort of sounds like a place where you might get beat up,” said Urbanski) boasts long tubular slides and a wooden fort lording over the “crater” below. Nearby a stranded ship makes exploring the wavy landscape a bit more literal. “It’s meant to suggest a narrative,” said Urbanski, “but the kids can figure out their own.”

The previous design was a modernist plaza that stuck mostly to the rigid grid of its underlying mechanical systems, existing bits of which will be hidden among groves of trees in the new park. It is a humanistic space, said Urbanski—one emblematic of a new generation of Chicago parks. “There’s a kind of embrace of the felt experience,” he said. “It’s not imposing a view on the landscape.”

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Reducing Run-off for Cleaner Waterways
Green infrastructure can help coastal New York withstand severe weather events.
Courtesy NYC Parks

In putting together AN’s annual issue dedicated to landscape architecture, it is clear that water is nearly as central to the profession as land: creating new recreational landscapes on rivers and coastal areas; managing stormwater in cities to prevent sewage overflows; boosting urban resiliency in the face of rising oceans; and reestablishing habitat to foster dynamic ecologies within urban areas. Landscape architects have been at the forefront of demonstrating the role of design in improving urban environmental conditions and in understanding the effect of these conditions within the larger world.

As effective as the landscape architect’s tool kit can be in addressing these issues, they are often limited by government agencies that are cautious or committed to entrenched ways of building. Thankfully this has begun to change. In New York City, the Parks, Transportation, Planning, and Environmental Protection departments have all adopted new standards and are channeling significant resources into green infrastructure. These efforts should be applauded and expanded further.

One department could do more, however, and that is Sanitation. New York city, for all its wealth and refurbishment in recent decades, remains a stubbornly dirty city. Walk down any major cross street or avenue and you will see garbage and litter everywhere. Street wastebaskets overflow with the detritus of New York’s busy, disposable culture: plastic bags, coffee cups, food containers, cigarette packs, etc., which invariably get blown into the street and into the drains during storms, fouling the waterways that so many are working to protect.

Lacking alleys, we New Yorkers are used to seeing our garbage front and center in the streetscape. Perhaps this has made us too immune to the overflowing trashcans and litter all around. It shouldn’t. Quite simply, New York needs more and better-designed street waste receptacles, and they need to be emptied with greater frequency, particularly in high foot-traffic areas. Local business improvement districts (BIDS) have helped clean some marquee areas, but in parts of the city not covered by BIDS, overflowing street cans and litter remain persistent problems. A design competition for such receptacles could help galvanize the design community around this issue and raise public awareness.

The city also needs to attack its culture of disposables head-on. Former Mayor Bloomberg reportedly favored a ban on plastic bags, but ultimately didn’t pursue it. Mayor de Blasio is said to be considering some kind of a tax on plastic bags, which could be a good start. There’s much more to be done though. A public education campaign centered on reusable containers and reducing disposables, along with proper waste disposal, could vastly reduce the amount of litter in our streets (and ultimately in our waterways). Each borough could boast a branded reusable bag or coffee cup and street waste reduction contests could be established between the boroughs.

That’s not to say that the Department of Sanitation lacks innovation. It has begun an outer borough composting program, which will also be used to create cleaner local energy from methane gas.

But New York needs to address its streetscape litter problems with much greater intensity. Reducing waste, and litter in particular, goes hand in hand with building green infrastructure. Residents will resist bioswales clogged with garbage. As the city continues to embrace its waterfront identity, it should also make the connection between reducing waste and cleaner waters.

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EPA picks 5 cities to join green infrastructure program
Five state capitals will get help from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop green infrastructure that could help mitigate the cost of natural disasters and climate changeResiliency, whether it be in the context of global warming or natural and manmade catastrophes, has become a white-hot topic in the design world, especially since Superstorm Sandy battered New York City in 2012. EPA selected the following cities for this year's Greening America's Capitals program through a national competition: Austin, Texas; Carson City, Nev.; Columbus, Ohio; Pierre, S.D.; and Richmond, Va. Since 2010, 18 capitals and Washington, D.C. have participated in the program, which is administered by the EPA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. In each city, EPA will provide technical assistance to help design and build infrastructure that uses natural systems to manage stormwater. Here's a bit on each of the new projects via EPA:
· Austin, Texas, will receive assistance to create design options to improve pedestrian and bike connections in the South Central Waterfront area, and to incorporate green infrastructure that reduces stormwater runoff and localized flooding, improves water quality, and increases shade. · Carson City, Nev., will receive assistance to improve William Street, a former state highway that connects to the city's downtown. The project will help the city explore how to incorporate green infrastructure through the use of native plants, and to enhance the neighborhood's economic vitality. · Columbus, Ohio, will receive assistance to develop design options for the Milo-Grogan neighborhood that use green infrastructure to improve stormwater quality, reduce flooding risks, and encourage walking and cycling. · Pierre, S.D., will receive assistance to redesign its historic main street, South Pierre, in a way that uses green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff and improve resiliency to extreme climate conditions. · Richmond, Va., will receive assistance to design options for more parks and open spaces, and to incorporate green infrastructure to better manage stormwater runoff on Jefferson Avenue, a street which serves as the gateway to some of Richmond's oldest and most historic neighborhoods.  
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Stemming the Tide
A redesigned courtyard at Pace University, designed by AECOM, was rebuilt to capture stormwater through permeable pavement and an advanced cellular support system.
Courtesy AECOM

Overflows from New York City’s combined sewer system are among the greatest threats to our environment. Each year, more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater are discharged into the city’s harbor from around 460 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These malodorous events occur during heavy rain storms and snowmelts when stormwater runoff contaminated with waste, such as auto fluids, plastic bags, cigarette butts and raw sewage overwhelms city wastewater treatment plants unable to handle flows more than twice design capacity. With the system overload, the excess wastewater is released into the city’s waterways where it kills off marine life, leads to beach closings, and befouls the air with waterborne vapors linked to diseases.

Thanks to a landmark 2012 settlement with state environmental officials, New York City finally is taking major steps to manage stormwater near contaminated waterways that don’t comply with the Clean Water Act, such as the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek. The initiative includes an ambitious plan to spend $2.4 billion on green infrastructure, which can include streetscapes designed with materials such as structural soil and permeable pavers.


However, for some New York City designers, planners, and neighborhood leaders, the multi-billion dollar stormwater infrastructure plan does not go far enough, and they are hammering away at the city’s bureaucracy for approvals and funding to install green infrastructure on streets and public plazas outside of the city’s designated priority stormwater areas.

New York City used to have a dedicated funding source through PlanNYC for building stormwater “Greenstreets” outside of the priority areas but the funding ran out. “There are a whole lot of reasons that it is important to do green infrastructure everywhere—it is inefficient to have stormwater run into your sewage treatment plant,” said Jeanette Compton, former director of the New York City Parks Department’s Green Streets program. But city funds are limited, noted Compton, currently associate director of City Park Development at The Trust for Public Land, adding that outside of the priority areas, “these types of projects aren’t part of proving to the state regulators that we are complying with our water regulations.”


Another obstacle is that green stormwater infrastructure is still a relatively new concept for many city agencies. “It took quite a bit of doing to get the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Public Design Commission to agree that permeable pavement could be a standard,” said Signe Nielsen, principal in Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, who was instrumental in getting several green storm water infrastructure guidelines written into the city’s Green Codes, approved in 2012.

Despite the new guidelines, it is still challenging to get city agencies and private property owners to commit to building green stormwater infrastructure in neighborhoods outside the priority areas, because it demands more upkeep than typical hardscapes. “It requires a maintenance agreement and that means participation by private property owners or a business improvement district association,” said Nielsen, adding, “Sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owners, and with permeable materials it is a bit of a learning curve to get everyone to agree that this is not the world’s hugest burden, and the benefits are so valuable that they should be willing to take it on.”

New streetscapes in Hudson Square designed by Mathews Nielsen have permeable pavers and trenches with structural soil that will capture millions of gallons of run-off.
Ted Tarquino

Currently Nielsen is designing green infrastructure for the flood-prone Hudson Square neighborhood in Lower Manhattan as part of a $27 million streetscaping initiative, which includes a $3.2 million contribution from the city for the first phase of construction. Nielsen’s environmentally enlightened client, The Hudson Square Connection, a new business improvement district organization, has a five-year plan to plant 300 new trees in the neighborhood. In addition, the plan calls for one quarter of this former industrial neighborhood’s sidewalks to be made permeable so that stormwater can seep through and be absorbed by soil underneath.

As opposed to treating stormwater as a waste product at hugely expensive sewage treatment plants, green infrastructure transforms it into a resource for growing plants. In Hudson Square this is accomplished in part by means of subsurface tree trenches composed of structural soil and covered by permeable concrete pavers built adjacent to new oversize tree pits. “The trees get more water and they develop better and more robust root systems,” said Nielsen, “So they are less likely to get blown over by the wind, and they are also more resistant to disease.”

Altogether, the 300 new street trees being planted at Hudson Square are expected to capture 2.5 million gallons of stormwater per year, an amount equal to that used by 25 households annually. The auxiliary benefits of these new storm resistant trees include providing shade, reducing the heat island effect and improving air quality by capturing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen.

Astor Place and Cooper Square are being redesigned with massive bioswales and large tree pits.
Courtesy WXY

Another part of Manhattan that is being dramatically transformed with green infrastructure is the area around Astor Place and Cooper Square. Here construction is underway on a major redesign by WXY Architecture + Urban Design, and a team that includes landscape architecture firm Quennell Rothschild & Partners, garden designer Piet Oudolf, and environmental engineering firm eDesign Dynamics. As part of the plan, city streets are being realigned, existing public spaces are being redesigned and new ones are being built, including a pedestrian plaza between Astor Place and Cooper Square. The green infrastructure for this $18 million project, which is being funded by the New York City DOT, includes more than 60 new street trees and about 17,000 plantings. Many of the trees will be planted in enlarged tree pits with cobblestone surrounds to increase permeability; beds of structural soil running underneath sidewalks will allow root expansion.

To make the project more environmentally sustainable and to provide additional greenery for the space the design team also pushed to have ten enormous bioswales installed. These landscape features, which measure 10 feet by 20 feet, are designed to capture large amounts of stormwater and to slowly release it into the ground where it is put to use irrigating plants. In addition to introducing new types of materials to the city’s street, green infrastructure often requires particular plant . “There may be times when there is standing water in the bioswales,” said Quennell Rothschild & Partners managing partner Andrew Moore, “so the plants have to be varieties that can withstand that, and other times they may have to withstand drought conditions.”

The new Liberty Park Plaza, adjacent to the World Trade Center site, also designed by AECOM, will also incorporate advanced stormwater retention systems.
Courtesy AECOM

As opposed to a typical stretch of New York City sidewalk or a typical tree pit, bioswales and permeable pavers also require more maintenance to keep them free of litter and debris that can interfere with their drainage. To this end, local stakeholders including the Grace Church School and the Village Alliance have been enlisted as partners to help the City’s Department of Transportation keep the plazas clean. Such partnerships with local community groups or BIDs are critical to winning approval for many green infrastructure projects from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency in charge of approving projects that deal with stormwater. “Unless there is something in writing that shows how they will maintain it, we have no guarantee that those pavers will be maintained,” said DEP Assistant Commissioner for Green Infrastructure Magdi Farag. “You have to vacuum around it and pick up the fine particles between one paver and another.”


However, in the long haul green infrastructure pays off by extending the life of trees and even sidewalks. Many significant landscape designs from other eras that once looked good have not aged well. The 8,000-square-foot Pace University Courtyard off Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan is a case in point. Designed by the firm Eggers & Higgins in 1968, the Dogwood trees that were planted became deformed because they were confined to small tree pits with no room for their roots to expand. “They didn’t grow beyond four to six feet, and their bark lost its aesthetic quality over time,” said Gonzalo Cruz, design director of AECOM’s Landscape Architecture Studio in New York. “They tried to grow toward the sun, but they couldn’t do it because there was not enough soil around their roots.”


To improve the ecology of the courtyard, AECOM is ripping out the old plaza and starting fresh with birch trees that are planted in an integrated tree and stormwater management system called Silva Cell. This new system, which is a more expensive alternative to structural soil, consists of a modular suspended paving system that protects large amounts of lightly compacted soil contained in a cellular like support structure underneath, and allows ample room for tree roots to expand. “It is basically a self-irrigating system,” said Cruz. “Almost 60 percent of the plaza will be covered with these cells—the water will stay in place nurturing the trees.”

Many designers are hoping that green stormwater infrastructure will someday be a standard component of streetscapes through the entire city. “Even if it is not a priority in terms of a certain program, there are many other metrics that show the benefits of green infrastructure,” said Claire Weisz, principal in WXY Architecture + Urban Design. “If you look at the High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines that Design Trust produced and the High Performance Park Guidelines, they all recommend green infrastructure across the board, not just in one area over the other.”

Despite the advantages of stormwater green infrastructure, under the current fiscal realities it will be institutions and environmentally enlightened communities with access to private sector funds that are best positioned to build such projects outside the designated priority areas. However, we undoubtedly require a more robust response to relieve our overburdened combined sewer system. “We are a city that is growing and increasing the source of the problem,” said Compton. “We are adding a million more New Yorkers, increasing density to fit these people, and therefore increasing impervious surfaces and the amount of effluent coming from all of those new residents.”

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New York City receives $191 million in federal funds for new Staten Island Ferry vessels
By 2019, two new Staten Island Ferry vessels should be crisscrossing the New York Harbor. Outside of the Whitehall Ferry Terminal this morning, United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that New York City had been awarded a $191 million grant to design and construct these vessels that will be more agile and storm-resilient than what's in the ferry's current fleet. These funds will also allow the city to invest in resiliency measures at the ferry's terminals and at surrounding public transit systems. This federal grant was just one component of the U.S. DOT's latest round of Sandy-related funding, which provides over $3 billion for resiliency measures for the East Coast's public transit systems. Roughly 90 percent of this money is allocated for projects in New York State and New Jersey. “The projects we are funding aren’t exactly what you would call glamorous projects,” said Secretary Foxx at the announcement, “many of them will be invisible to many riders, but they will give this region a fighting chance to withstand the kind of punishment that mother nature can mete out.” To prevent the type of catastrophic flooding seen at the South Ferry subway station during Hurricane Sandy, Foxx said street-level vents would be sealed and pump rooms would be flood-proofed. As the city and state continue to rebuild after Sandy, though, there are  difficult questions about whether areas that are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels should be rebuilt at all. When asked about that issue by AN, New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the city would not stop building in threatened areas. “This region is home to 15 million people and clearly we are here to stay," she said. "I think our job is to make wise decisions about where to make investments, but, certainly, I think you can see from where we are in Lower Manhattan, which is one of the financial capitals of the world, we’re going to be rebuilding, and we’re going to making it stronger than ever.” Today’s press conference comes a day after roughly 400,000 people marched through the streets of Midtown, Manhattan in the People's Climate March—the largest climate march in history. Event organizers hope the massive showing will pressure global leaders to take action on climate change at the UN Climate summit this week. Ahead of that march, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City will attempt to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, based on 2005 figures. To achieve this very ambitious goal, the city said it will retrofit its 4,000 public buildings and incentivizing private building owners to increase energy efficiency. Specifically, the city pledged to invest in on-site, green power generators, install 100 megawatts of solar capacity on over 300 public buildings, and to “implement leading edge performance standards for new construction that cost effectively achieve highly efficient buildings, looking to Passive House, carbon neutral, or ‘zero net energy” ‘strategies to inform the standards.” Mayor de Blasio's climate plan builds upon Mayor Bloomberg's, which set out to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
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Painting The Town Green
Courtesy NYCDOT

In early September, New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg hopped on a Citi Bike and pedaled up Manhattan’s newest protected bike lane. She was headed to a press conference where Bicycling Magazine would announce that the country’s biggest city was also its most bike-friendly. In just one year, New York had jumped from seventh place to first—topping the likes of Portland, Minneapolis, and Boulder.

Trottenberg touted New York’s bike culture, but acknowledged that the city’s top billing was not necessarily her doing. After all, she had only been commissioner for nine months. The credit, she explained, went to her predecessor, Janette Sadik-Khan, the firebrand commissioner who fundamentally transformed New York City’s streets under Mayor Bloomberg. At the announcement, Trottenberg promised that the new administration would build on that impressive legacy.

During Bloomberg’s tenure, over 350 miles of bike lanes were created (about 30 of which were protected), 16,000 bike racks were installed, and Citi Bike was launched. According to a new Department of Transportation (DOT) report, these investments paid huge dividends: As significantly more cyclists appeared on city streets from 2001 to 2013 the risk of them getting seriously injured dropped 74 percent.

The city routinely studies safety and traffic patterns.

During these years, the politics of bike lanes shifted dramatically as well. There is perhaps nobody who personifies that change more than Bill de Blasio. The politician who once called Sadik-Khan a “radical” and labeled himself an “incrementalist” on bike lanes, is now trying to double the amount New Yorkers bike by 2020. De Blasio likely knows that if he is serious about hitting that ambitious goal, he will not be able to do things incrementally.

While the mayor and his DOT have not offered many specifics about where and when bike lanes will be installed, de Blasio has pledged to add more bike lanes and expand Citi Bike into the outer boroughs. But before the popular, yet financially strained, bikeshare program can be completed it has to be bailed-out. Now, after months of negotiations, it is widely expected that Related Companies will do just that. If a deal is finalized, more blue bikes should appear on the road next year.

Despite the mayor’s promise to make the city better for cyclists, he has been met with skepticism, and often criticism, from some bike advocates. They say the NYPD is too aggressively ticketing cyclists, too often parking in bike lanes, and that bike safety is not featured prominently enough in Vision Zero—the administration’s initiative to reduce, or eliminate, pedestrian fatalities.

Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, disagrees. He said that the administration’s focus on street safety will improve conditions for everyone, including cyclists. “In establishing Vision Zero as the new framework for New York City transportation policy, the administration set the stage for a significant gain with the bike network,” he said. Looking forward, Steely White hopes the administration will make a strong push for bike lanes, especially on major arterial roads, but in the meantime, he explained, lowering the city’s default speed limit makes a big difference for anybody crisscrossing the city by bike.

As the final bike lanes planned under Mayor Bloomberg appear on city streets, there is reason for cyclists to be optimistic about what’s next for New York’s bike infrastructure. If Citi Bikes start appearing in more neighborhoods, there will likely be enough public, and political pressure, to ensure that bike lanes start forming around them. In Manhattan, the Trottenberg-led DOT could continue the island’s impressive transformation into a bike-friendly hub by approving plans for a pair of bike lanes that cut through the heart of Midtown—one going up 6th Avenue and the other down 5th Avenue. A decade ago, that type of proposal would have been unthinkable, but things have changed dramatically since then. And soon enough cyclists will know if Mayor de Blasio really has too.

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New round of TIGER Grants goes out to cities and states
The federal Department of Transportation has issued its latest round of its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants for cities and states around the country. The grant program was created in 2009 through President Obama’s economic stimulus package and has since provided $3.5 billion to 270 projects. While the DOT has not officially announced the recipients of these new grants, which total $600 million, multiple politicians have been touting the money heading to their districts. Here are some of the projects we know about so far. In New York, Senator Chuck Schumer and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the New York City Department of Transportation will receive $25 million for its Vision Zero agenda to reduce pedestrian fatalities. According to the city, the money will fund 13 projects aimed at traffic calming, safety improvements in school zones, new public spaces, and “pedestrian and bike connections to employment centers.” Specifically, the money will be used to extend the Brooklyn Greenway and make 4th Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn safer to pedestrians. In Philadelphia, $2.5 million has been awarded to support the city’s effort to create a bus rapid transit system along Roosevelt Boulevard. “Planned developments on Roosevelt Boulevard include modifications to provide safe pedestrian crossings, transit access, and effective separation of express traffic from local traffic accessing neighborhood destinations,” Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey said in a statement. In Virginia, U.S. Senator Mark Warner announced that nearly $25 million has been allocated for a bus rapid transit system in the city of Richmond. The Times Dispatch reported that for this project to happen, the federal money must be matched with about $17 million from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and another $8 million from Henrico County and the City of Richmond. In St. Louis, $10 million will go towards a new Metrolink station in the city’s emerging Cortex innovation district. The funding will cover almost all of the $13 million project which is expected to be complete in 2017. On the other side of the state, in Kansas City, $1.2 million has been awarded for the Mid-America Regional Council’s Workforce Connex planning to study to better connect the city’s workers with public transit.
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Grimshaw's transit-oriented public plaza breaks ground in the Bronx
The New York City Department of Transportation recently broke ground on the second phase of Fordham Plaza's reconstruction in the Bronx. The revamped space will have all the standard-issue pieces of a New York City pedestrian plaza—the planters, benches, seating, trees, lights, and kiosks—but, ultimately, the plaza represents a significant investment in existing transportation infrastructure. Along with the new seating and the new café, the renovation of Fordham Plaza also includes a new canopy and ticketing machines for the adjacent Metro North station, as well as a new bus loop, seating, and shelters for commuters. The project also incorporates elements of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero agenda through shortened pedestrian crossings, new direct crossings, and an overall increase of pedestrian space by 25 percent. “This project will significantly improve transit riders’ access to the area’s 12 bus lines and rail transportation while also taking advantage of the more than 80,000 pedestrians and potential customers that walk through the area daily,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement. Streetsblog reported that WXY completed a conceptual design for the plaza in 2010, but documents from the Department of Design and Construction show that Grimshaw, with Mathews Nielsen, is behind the updated site plan. The $10 million project is funded through a TIGER Grant from the federal Department of Transportation and is expected to open next fall. According to the NYC DOT, there are currently 46 pedestrian plazas in the city with 18 more in the works. Four of those already-open plazas are in the Bronx and there are three more on the way.
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The Golden Ticket
Denver's expanded Union Station.
robert polidori

In cities around the U.S., train stations are being converted to multi-modal transit hubs anchoring impressive new neighborhoods, and private developers are cashing in. John Gendall rides the rails to skyrocketing real estate prices.

One of great rites of passage for most Americans, from baby boomers to Generation Y, was the trip, often on a sixteenth birthday, to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the first driver’s license. But research from automotive data company Polk shows the share of car purchases made by young adults (ages 18–34) plummeted by 30 percent between 2007 and 2011, while the share for adults aged 35–44 fell by 25 percent. Younger Americans, it would seem, are not as eager to get licensed up at the soonest opportunity. Not only has this sent carmakers scrambling to render the driver’s seat with all the trappings of a smartphone—the commodity that young adults actually do covet—but it has also instigated a series of land use trends that are reshaping American cities, and train stations are taking center stage.

“Teenagers and young adults aren’t even getting driver’s licenses,” said Amtrak chief of corridor development Bob LaCroix, “These trends are making our stations very interesting to the real estate community.” ‘Interesting’ would be one way to put it. ‘Potentially very lucrative’ would be another.

Opened this summer, Denver’s revitalized Union Station has stimulated urban development in its surrounding areas as well as along the transit lines that feed into it. Real estate prices near the station have jumped from around $435 per square foot to $600 per square foot.
robert polidori

New Yorkers will be familiar with this effect from Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards, where the Related Companies and Forest City Ratner are, respectively, developing on the formerly uncovered rail yards of Penn Station, in Midtown, and Atlantic Terminal, in Brooklyn. But in cities across the country—Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles—developers and municipalities are making serious investment in transit and transit-oriented develompents. “Every major metro area in the country, really, is doing a pretty substantial build out of its transit systems,” said Rachel MacCleery, Senior Vice President at the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

Since developing suburbs by the swath is becoming less tenable for economic and environmental reasons, municipalities and developers are more tactically considering land use within city centers. In Philadelphia, for example, the main train station, 30th Street Station (which happens to be the third busiest station in Amtrak’s system) is ringed with significant real estate anchors: the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and, just across the Schuylkill River, City Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Center City district. Though the station itself is an impressive historic structure and though it has this orbit of vibrant neighborhoods, its immediate context leaves something to be desired. One local architect, who wished to remain unnamed, called it “the hole in the middle of the donut.” Amtrak, which owns the station and over 80 acres of rail yards, including—and this is important—the air rights over them, is teaming up with neighbors Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust to develop a comprehensive master plan for the station and its context. To do this, Amtrak tapped SOM, Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors in May 2014 to undertake the two-year planning process.

Plan for a new Los Angeles Union Station.
Courtesy Gruen Associates

Real estate professionals and transportation advocates point to Washington DC’s NoMa district as a particularly compelling precedent. Close to Union Station, the area, once dominated by parking lots and warehouses, had long suffered from high vacancy rates. In 2004, though, an infill transit stop was added to the Washington Metro commuter rail line, instigating a surge of real estate activity. Now, Washington is looking to build on that success with a redevelopment of its Union Station. Working with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Amtrak engaged Parsons Brinckerhoff and HOK to author a 15-to-20-year master plan that will triple the passenger capacity in the station, double the train service, and plan for real estate development on and around the station.

For Washington D.C.’s Union Station, Amtrak hired Parsons Brinckerhoff and HOK to author a master plan that will tripple passenger capacity, double train service, and plan for real estate development around the station.
courtesy hok

The Washington project highlights one of the challenges of working with historic train stations in urban contexts: they come with what LaCroix called “serious constraints.” Unlike the suburbs, which, for the most part, can be transformed into buildable lots with the sweep of an earthmover, train stations typically demand greater finesse. “There tends to be more complexity to transit-related developments,” said Eric Rothman, president and transportation expert at HR&A Advisors. “There are always very important operational concerns.” As a simple case-in-point, LaCroix explained, “we can’t expand south because there is a little something called the U.S. Capitol.” Each of the other cardinal directions come with their own inviolable obstacles, so the Parsons Brinckerhoff/HOK plan goes below grade, but, LaCroix is quick to point out, “in an elegant way—not a Penn Station way.”

courtesy hok

In Seattle, where ZGF Architects completed a restoration of King Street Station in 2013, Daniels Real Estate is undertaking the so-called North Lot Development, a four-acre, 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use project directly adjacent to the station. Though he identified the transit hub as the catalyst for the project, Daniels president Kevin Daniels conceded, “working with transit is a challenge,” citing the intricacies of moving people through infrastructure, between heavy rail and light rail, rail and bus, regional busses and local busses. “Developers can tend to get very myopic from our side, and transit folks can get very myopic from their side,” he said. “While it might be easiest to line up busses in front of restaurants, that doesn’t work from the development side. The design has to find common ground with what works for them and what works for us.”

Amtrak has partnered with Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust to develop a master plan for the area immediately surrounding Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Courtesy SOM

Cases abound of historically preserved train stations that contribute little to community and economic development. What these cases demonstrate is that architectural attention on the station itself needs to be coupled with a serious commitment to the underlying transportation infrastructure. While the historic restoration of Seattle King Street Station was a critical element for the success of the project, that alone was not sufficient to anchor the neighborhood. The city and its transit agencies have committed to investing in transit and undertaking the gritty, long-term work of transforming the historic building into a multi-modal hub, orchestrating heavy rail, light rail, and local and regional buses.

Courtesy SOM

Cutting the ribbon on its transit hub this summer, Denver Union Station has become an important model for other transit-related developments. Having effectively reshaped the metropolitan experience in Denver, the project has stimulated urban development both at and around the station itself, but also along the network of transit routes that the station catalyzes. The Denver Union Station Neighborhood Development Company, a joint entity between developers East West Partners and Continuum Partners, has essentially shifted the city’s center of gravity toward the train station, which, for decades, had been dangling on the margins of Denver’s downtown area. The project included the historic preservation of the station itself, a robust public investment in transit, but also a real commitment to neighborhood building. Where Amtrak passengers once looked out onto acres of dusty landscape is now in the midst of becoming over five million square feet of commercial, residential, and civic space spread over nearly 20 acres. Several restaurants and a new hotel opened this summer. A Whole Foods is on the way. “It’s an incredibly complex station, but we’ve created a neighborhood, not just a transit station,” said Chris Frampton, a managing partner at East West Partners. Private developers play a fundamental role in realizing these transformations. “We typically seek developers through competitive processes,” said LaCroix, acknowledging that Amtrak is not in the best position to build neighborhoods. “When transportation agencies do the developing, they do it wonderfully, but they do it for trains,” said Frampton, making the case for private development to help in making neighborhoods.

“Transit investments are important, but they are only one part of making a neighborhood,” said Rothman. “The stations should be as inviting a place as possible to non-transit riders and transit riders alike. It needs to be a civic asset, not just a transit asset,” said Rothman. “Transit itself is not going to make a neighborhood.”

This is not just an act of civic altruism. “The marketplace is paying,” said MacCleery. In Denver, where the property leases had peaked at $435 per square foot, East West and Continuum recently leased One Union Station at $600 per square foot.

With this arrangement between transit agencies, private developers, and architects, everyone stands to profit. “We don’t have to own the real estate to get value out of it,” said LaCroix. “Smart, good development works for us. We can develop a very symbiotic relationship with private developers.”