Posts tagged with "New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT)":

Placeholder Alt Text

New York Expands Pop-Up Cafe Program in 2011

Could 2011 be the year of the pedestrian in New York? Under the guidance of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC sidewalks will continue their slow march into the street next year as the city launches a major expansion of its "pop-up café" pilot program across its five boroughs. The first pop-up café tested out in Lower Manhattan this year proved successful enough that Sadik-Khan has expanded the program, planning for up to 12 sidewalk extensions. The concept is simple: street space is limited and valuable. To that end, New York has been evaluating whether the highest and best use for street space along narrow sidewalks is storing cars. Like a glorified Park(ing) Day spot made (semi-)permanent and held on high, these pop-up cafés invite pedestrians to imagine their city in new ways. In fact, the concept draws its inspiration from such pedestrian interventions. San Francisco began a Pavement to Park initiative incorporating their own version of the pop-up café, called a "parklet," several years ago, drawing upon the success of the Park(ing) Day event and pedestrian plazas in New York. California-based RG Architecture designed New York's pop-up café based on their parklet designs in San Francisco. New York's first pop-up café, recently put in storage for the winter, consisted of a six-foot wide wooden platform spanning about five parking spaces. The space accommodated 14 brightly colored café tables and 50 chairs. Sadik-Kahn says the concept is not only an innovative approach to urban design, it's also good for business. Each pop-up café is sponsored and maintained by adjoining shops and the benefits are tangible with up to 14% increases in business when the cafés were installed. "The Pop-up Café has been like night and day for our business, transforming a loading zone full of trucks into an attractive space that makes our storefront much more visible and accessible to potential customers," said Lars Akerlund, owner of Fika Espresso Bar, in a release. "This green oasis has really opened up the street, drawing more foot traffic and making the whole area more appealing." While each pop-up café is paid for by private businesses, the space is treated as public. Simply relaxing and enjoying the city is free and encouraged. The city is accepting applications for next year's pop-up cafés through Friday, December 3.
Placeholder Alt Text

Sidewalk Sipping with Sadik-Khan at NYC Pop-Up Cafe

Sidewalk cafes have long been a popular feature of New York City dining, but many restaurants’ sidewalks are too narrow to set out tables and chairs without violating city code. Offering a solution to this spatial problem, on August 12 the Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled its first “pop-up cafe” in Lower Manhattan—an 84-foot-long and 6-foot-wide wooden platform with planters, wire railing, 14 cafe tables, and 50 chairs—as the agency’s latest move to reclaim road space for public use. The platform is installed in four parking spots in front of two establishments on Pearl Street, Fika’s cafe and Bombay’s restaurant, which approached the Downtown Alliance and DOT earlier this year about ways to expand onto the sidewalk. According to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the agency worked closely with the two restaurants as well as the Downtown Alliance and the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses outdoor cafes, to arrive at a workable solution that would provide not only cafe tables but new public space in a part of the city starved for parks. “Inventions like this help make our streets into destinations and improve the quality of life for the thousands of people who live, work, and play in Lower Manhattan,” Sadik-Khan said in a release. The inexpensive platform was designed pro bono by San Francisco–based architect Riyad Ghannam of RG Architecture, who came to the DOT’s attention after an agency intern mentioned a similar design Ghannam had first created for the popular Parking Day event in San Francisco. The DOT then recruited Ghannam to advise on the Lower Manhattan site, and in short order he found himself designing and helping construct the project, for which Bison Innovative Products provided the materials at cost and participated in construction pro bono. “It was just barely a month from the concept to actual on-street implementation,” said Ghannam by phone from San Francisco. “The idea is that this is temporary, or at least seasonal, so we wanted the restaurants to have enough time to use it.” The cafe space is maintainted by the two restaurants but freely available for use by the public. The platform and its 12 Cor-ten steel planters will be stored during the winter, when the parking spots will be returned to service. The DOT is currently evaluating the cafe to determine if similar temporary spaces should be rolled out elsewhere in the city. The agency would do well to look to San Francisco, which according to Ghannam is studying the revenue potential of streetfront sites that could be rented by adjacent restaurants instead of given over to parking meters. “It’s kind of a win-win,” Ghannam said. “The business gets some stimulus by having more space to use, and the city gets revenue.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Snohetta Takes Broadway with Times Square Repairs

While it was nearly hot enough to fry in egg in Times Square Tuesday, things have since cooled off a bit, and not simply because the temperature dropped back into double digits. Today the city's Department of Transportation began installing in the public plazas Molly Dilworth's 18-month installation, "Cool Water, Hot Island," which will not only prettify the eight newish plazas with an abstracted heat map of the city but also reflect some sunlight, making for a more comfortable experience. Meanwhile, DOT along with the Department of Design and Construction announced that it had selected Nordic knockouts Snøhetta as the lead designer for the long-term transformation of the square. The selection of Snøhetta is not exactly a surprise, as it is one of the eight firms in the city's Design + Construction Excellence program, from which DOT had already said it would make its choice because it streamlines the design process as the firms are prequalified. Yet it was Snøhetta's experience outside the city that helped win it the commission. “It is a classic New York story that reconstruction of the ‘Crossroads of the World’ will be led by a firm with an international reputation for creative vision and excellence,” DDC commissioner David Burney said in a statement. Snøhetta's preference for public art, landscape design, and sustainability may have played a role in its winning the commission. Still, the nature of the project is rather new to the firm, most of its successes having come through buildings such as the Library of Alexandria and Oslo Opera House, though both are incredibly public in their nature, so Snøhetta should prove a good, and certainly interesting fit, as its work at Ground Zero has shown. Joining the Oslo- and New York-based firm on the design team are WXY Architecture and Design, Weidlinger Associates (engineers), Mathews Nielsen (landscape), Billings Jackson Design (industrial), and Bexel (audio-visual), all of whom are Excellence program participants. The design work is just beginning, with no time line or budget yet set for its unveiling, according to a DOT spokesperson, though the plan remains to begin construction in 2012. The firms will be responsible for improving the pedestrian experience in the plazas as well as the infrastructure for the various events held in Times Square throughout the year. "Our goal is to improve the quality and atmosphere of this historic site for pedestrians and bicyclists while also allowing for efficient transportation flow for the betterment of the city,” said Craig Dykers, head of Snohetta's New York office and its co-founder. And in more Molly Dilworth news, online art gallery Art We Love is selling a series of seven prints for 15 bucks a pop.
Placeholder Alt Text

NYC DOT Puts Peddles to the Pavement

First came Times Square, then, all in the course of a few weeks, 34th Street, Union Square North, and Grand Army Plaza. Now, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has set her sites on bus rapid transit for the east side of Manhattan. Granted this project, like those above, have been kicking around her office in one form or another for years. But to see all of them getting off—or should we say on—the ground in such a short window is welcome news, especially as the MTA continues to fumble and falter. For all the talk of parks, and not condos, being the legacy of Mayor Bloomberg's third term, perhaps the exploits of his occasionally maligned Transit Commish should not be overlooked. After all, we've got 42 more months of this. At this rate, we could have a citywide space program going by then.
Placeholder Alt Text

A River Runs Through Times Square

Back in February, when the Bloomberg administration announced it would be making the closure of Broadway in Times Square permanent, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told us, basically, that she had been very impressed with the Dutch dots she had seen adorning closed roads in the Netherlands. In the end, the Department decided on something a little more complex for the installation that will adorn the roadway for the next 18 months, before permanent renovations can begin sometime in 2012. Beating out 149 artists, designers, and aesthetes is Brooklyn's Molly Dilworth, whose Cool Water, Hot Island is an abstracted representation of Manhattan's heat island effect, that extra blanket of warmth that plagues most urban areas. The piece should be installed by mid-July “This exciting new design for Times Square marks an important next step in the evolution of one of New York’s most storied streets,” Sadik-Khan said in a press release. “This temporary treatment will refresh Times Square and enhance its reputation as a place to see and be seen while we work on the permanent designs for the plazas.” In addition to providing some visual oomph to the blasé square, the installation will serve somewhat like a white roof, reflecting heat instead of absorbing it and thereby making Times Square a little bit cooler of a place to hang out, if not exactly cool. Dilworth is an appropriate choice for the project as she has a good bit of experience dumping paint on expansive urban sites. Much of her recent work consists of pour paintings on rooftops throughout the city and elsewhere, with the intended audience being satellites, particularly those of Google Earth. Following in the path of conceptual artists, there are rules to be followed, as detailed on Dilworth's Flickr profile including that the paint must be recycled and available the day of installation and the shapes are not premeditated but determined by the flow of paint on an open roof. DOT will probably take a firmer hand in the installation at Times Square, but the results should be no less impressive from the air.
Placeholder Alt Text

Times Square Paint Job

Some people have complained (us included) that while Transporation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has done a wonderful job carving pedestrian space out of the streets and parking lots of the city, they could stand to be better designed, more aesthetically pleasing spaces. Nowhere was this more true than in Times Square, where, when the Crossroads of the World were shut down last summer, traffic cones and beach chairs proliferated. Three weeks ago, when Sadik-Khan and the mayor announced they were making the Broadway closures permanent, better designs were promised. Sort of. As Sadik-Khan put it back then:
It can be very simple. I’ve seen amazing things done in the Netherlands with nothing but polka dots. And we did a lot already with nothing more than epoxy gravel.
And so it goes today, with the release of reNEWable Times Square, the short-term, artistic RFP that will do little more than put down a new coat of paint until the eight large-scale firms in the city's Design Excellence program come up with a permanent alternative. ReNEWable is open to artists, designers, and pretty much anyone else living in New York, with submissions due by April 16. That may not sound like much time, but keep in mind we're talking about adding some colored epoxy in "no more than four colors" creating a "legible and unified scheme." Not that this is a bad thing. Indeed, as a handful of school kids in Brooklyn showed, it can be quite a good thing. It's just that we thought we were getting more. In fact, we were under the impression Times Square denizens were demanding more, unhappy with the meager offerings that showed up last year. Perhaps, there wasn't money for more, though that does cause some concern about how much the designers working on the permanent scheme will be given, not only in terms of cash but also creative license. After all, this project is already politically charged. Making it more so, we've heard that firms beyond the eight included in the city's Design Excellence program were asking to be let in. This is probably for the best, though, as Sadik-Khan said previously that Design Excellence allows for a streamlined process—the firms are already pre-qualified for city work—and none of the eight architects—Asymptote, BKSK, Enrique Norten, Grimshaw, RogersMarvel, Selldorf, Snøhetta, and Thomas Pfifer—are slouches. Still, ground breaking won't be at least until 2012, so let's hope the reNEWable entrants come up with something lasting, as it'll be all we have for quite some time.
Placeholder Alt Text

Shovels in the Ground

Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.
However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]
The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.

Gehl to New York: Lose the Cars

When the Danish urban-design guru Jan Gehl visited New York a few years ago, he was struck by how little the city had changed since the 1970s—“as if Robert Moses had only just walked out the door!” But since that visit, as Gehl recalled last night at the Center for Architecture, New York has made a surprising about-face on matters of public space, embracing the ideals of his late friend (and Moses nemesis) Jane Jacobs.

Gehl was holding forth in a town-hall-style meeting with New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has played no small role in challenging the dominance of the automobile in New York, and who hired Gehl Architects last year to study the quality of public life on the city’s streets. She and Gehl articulated their shared vision for keeping New York globally competitive by making its streets some of the best in the world. “We can’t afford to slip into a Yogi Berra situation,” said Sadik-Khan, “where New York becomes so crowded that nobody goes there anymore!”

Unfortunately, Gehl continued, New York still bears deep scars of Moses’ long reign. His team’s findings (in a report distributed on eco-friendly USB drives, naturally) highlighted telltale signals of poor-quality street life: pedestrian crowding, low frequencies of stationary activities, and low proportions of children and elderly on the sidewalks. Partly to blame are a sad dearth of sidewalk cafes, along with far too much scaffolding and too many shuttered facades. (The stretch of Broadway from Columbus Circle to Houston Street—one of the busiest in the city—has only six curbside cafes, and scaffolding obscures 30 percent of its buildings.) Gehl’s team also deplored the fact that many public spaces don’t link to their surrounding streets and buildings, but instead require a deliberate trip—often across traffic—to reach them.

Still, Gehl expressed unhesitating enthusiasm about the city’s potential. “You are absolutely lucky here!” he exclaimed. “You have such wide streets. So you can have nice comfortable wide sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes. Maybe even,” he allowed with a grin, “also some lanes for the cars.”

And what about the economic crisis? Can we really afford to pour money into prettifying our streets at a time like this? Streetscapes, it turns out, may be just the right focus for urban investment at the moment. “It is very cost-effective for us to make these changes,” Sadik-Khan emphasized. That’s partly because many DOT projects can be achieved at relatively minimal cost—but also because, as Gehl’s research has shown time and again, pedestrian-friendly streets boost nearby property values and deliver more customers to local businesses.

So how far is New York prepared to go toward pedestrian nirvana? When one audience member asked if the city had given any thought to closing off Broadway to cars entirely, there was a smattering of applause—and then came Sadik-Khan’s reply, which more or less translated to fuhgeddaboudit.

All the same, it was impossible not to feel a touch of exhilaration at the city’s new trajectory. “I am quite sure that in her heaven,” as Gehl told the crowd, “Jane Jacobs is looking down and thinking, ‘Finally, my city is on the right track!’”