June 9, 2014 By Christian Murray
The Department of Transportation will be converting the areas beneath the 40th and 46th Street subway stations into plazas later this month.
The community board signed off on the plans Thursday that will bring planters to the two plazas, as well as moveable tables and chairs.
The community board’s approval was the final step in a process that started last year when Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District applied to DOT to be part of the program. The BID wanted to convert the underutilized space under the train into a more attractive event space.
The DOT alerted that the BID early April that it had been selected and that it would hold a workshop on April 30, where the public would be able to weigh in on the design.
More than 50 people attended the workshop with many calling for planters, tables and chairs, wayfinding maps, better lighting, artwork as well as a designated area for vendors. They also called for the 46th Street plaza—which still has roadway going through it– to be filled with concrete so there would be one level that would be 5,500 sqf.
The DOT then took those ideas away and then presented a revised plan to Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee meeting.
At the Transportation meeting, the DOT said it would be installing planters at the plazas to create a green buffer and to soften the noise– and would be bringing movable tables and chairs. The DOT also said it would fill in the existing roadway at 46th Street with concrete.
However, David Breen, who handles the plaza program for the DOT, said he was unable to bring wayfinders to the plaza or improve the lighting, since those items are not part of Plaza Program toolbox.
Breen said he would speak to DOT ‘s wayfinding team to help the community board bring those items to the neighborhood. Furthermore, Breen said he would work with his DOT colleagues to bring better street lighting to the plazas.
However, contrary to the opinions expressed at the public workshop April 30, Community Board 2 Chair Joe Conley, as well as Christopher Winchester, the vice president of the BID, both asked Breen for ways to block vendors from entering the plazas.
Winchester asked if a granite block could be placed at the 40th street plaza in order to stop food carts from coming in. Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, also wanted bollards to go up.
Breen, however, said: “From our perspective licensed vending is not prohibited in plazas.”
Conley said it has now been determined that vending is illegal at 46th Street and he was searching for ways to make it illegal at 40th Street. He discussed ways of configuring the plazas so the vendors would not be able to be there since they would be too close to a subway entrance.
Vikram Sandra, a DOT planner, told Conley at the committee meeting that people wanted them when the workshop was held. “During the workshop people spoke positively of them [vendors].”
Conley, however, disputed that. “That small population that spoke in favor it does not represent the majority of the population that is out there,” he said.
Rachel Thieme, the executive director of the BID, who presented the plaza plan before the full board on Thursday spoke of all the benefits that will come from them. When she was asked about the vendors she said: “The plaza program has nothing to do with vendors.”
Meanwhile, Conley, shortly after Thieme spoke, said the community board is being very aggressive about enforcement. He said that the coffee vendor at 40th Street was ticketed Wednesday for backing his cart in the space dangerously.
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