Soho gets a taste of what could be with new Vision Plan

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Soho residents are getting a chance to see how their
neighborhood could look if a new “Vision Plan” aimed at turning some of its
congested streets into pedestrian plazas and reclaiming Broome Street from Holland
Tunnel traffic gets the green light.

Every Saturday throughout October, the local BID, the SoHo Broadway Initiative (SBI), is holding a temporary public demonstration along Prince Street showcasing the new ideas for improving the area through a Public Realm Framework + Vision Plan.

Nicknamed “Little Prince Plaza,” the street will be closed
to vehicular traffic between Broadway and Mercer Street, opening up space for
people to stroll and sit at park benches and tables.

The aim is to see how people use the space, learn what works
well and what can be improved, and collect feedback for the Public Realm
Framework + Vision Plan.

“We are excited to partner with residents, business owners, and other local stakeholders to advocate for a more pedestrian-friendly SoHo,” said Mark Dicus, executive director of the SoHo Broadway Initiative. “In addition to increasing space for people, reducing traffic, and improving business operations, these changes will help strengthen SoHo’s position as one of New York’s most iconic and inclusive neighborhoods that welcomes local residents as well as people from around the city and the world.”

Ariel view of how Broadway could look if the Vision Plan moves forward

The demo comes as a controversial rezoning of a 56-block
stretch of SoHo and NoHo stalls amid local concerns about overbuilding and commercialization.
Rejected by the local Community Board, the rezoning seeks to add thousands of
new apartments to the neighborhood while righting decades of special permit approvals
that allowed a patchwork of retail and residential uses while sidelining any
type of infrastructure or service delivery upgrades.

Last month, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer asked
city planners to tweak their current rezoning proposal before she’ll give it any
support.

But she has given her wholehearted support to the Vision
Plan, which has been on the BID docket since well-before the rezoning.

Calling it a “bold and impressive plan for how to better
manage our shared public space in SoHo,” Brewer said, “The Four Key Moves that
this draft plan proposes for Broadway, Prince Street, Mercer and Crosby
Streets, and Broome Street that prioritize pedestrians, bus riders, cyclists,
and importantly deliveries are exactly the kind of forward-thinking designs
that the SoHo Broadway neighborhood has always needed, but are especially
important as we begin our recovery from the pandemic.”

Those Four Key Moves are:

Create more space for people on Broadway: Broadway will be
transformed into a curbless bus and pedestrian priority street from Houston
Street to Canal Street, seamlessly linking the east and west sides of the
street. By diverting all non-local vehicular traffic from Broadway to the
perimeter of the SoHo ‘superblock’ (defined by Houston Street, the Bowery,
Varick Street, and Canal Street) and improving and streamlining bus, emergency,
freight, service, and for-hire vehicle operations, sidewalks can be expanded to
improve pedestrian flow and create more comfortable spaces that include
amenities such as greenery, seating, and public art.

Share Crosby Street and Mercer Street: Mercer Street and
Crosby Street will become beautifully restored, pedestrian-friendly curbless
streets that effectively incorporate and streamline the District’s curbside
operational activity. These low-traffic streets remain quiet, providing a green
and comfortable respite from the bustle of Broadway. Mercer Street also
provides a much-needed southbound bikeway connection through SoHo.

Pedestrianize Prince Street and Howard Street: Prince and
Howard Streets adjacent to Broadway will become public plazas featuring
seating, greenery, a cafe kiosk, and  neighborhood-appropriate programming. These
plazas will increase the District’s supply of usable public space and enhance
pedestrian comfort and safety, while improving access and relieving congestion
around subway entrances.

Reclaim Broome as a local street: Broome Street will no longer operate as a tunnel on-ramp, and instead offer expanded, usable public space, greenery, and cycling facilities that serve the needs of SoHo residents, workers, and visitors. This will be achieved through diverting all tunnel-bound traffic to the perimeter of the SoHo ‘superblock;’ reducing vehicular travel lanes from two to one, adding a dedicated westbound bikeway linking Chrystie Street and Hudson Street; and allocating remaining space for public realm amenities.

Rendering of pedestrianized Prince Street

Adelaide Polsinelli, a vice chairman at the real estate brokerage
Compass who specializes in the sale of commercial retail property around the
city, said the Vision Plan offers a constructive solution to a longtime problem
in the neighborhood.

“In many ways, Soho has become a victim of its own success
as a retail hot spot,” said Polsinelli. “Its eclectic mix of stores, boutiques,
bars and restaurants have drawn ever more visitors while the number of businesses
operating there has mushroomed. All of this has happened during a distinct lack
of improvements to the streetscape and the type of small-scale improvements offered
in the Vision Plan would go a long way to improving quality of life for
everyone.”

Local resident Anders Host agrees. “I think this vision is a
giant leap forward in terms of quality of life for those of us who live in and
visit SoHo,” said Holst. “SoHo is such a great neighborhood, with cool
restaurants, bars, and stores and charming cobblestones and cast-iron
architecture, but there are some important issues that we need to fix.

“The Broome Street Symphony, which is performed every
afternoon with cars honking, bumper to bumper, is not only dangerous but also
detrimental to our health. I am glad we are taking a bold stance on these
issues to create a greener and more human environment for future generations.”

The popular Museum of Ice Cream at 558 Broadway is another
supporter. Cofounder Manish Vora said she believes the future of NYC is a
return to a carless, pedestrian- and bike-friendly city.

Commercial property owner Greg Kraut said the plan would allow people to “move more efficiently enabling an improved operational and aesthetic experience.”

Mercer Street be southbound bikeway connection through SoHo.

With no official mandate to actually implement the Vision
Plan, the SoHo Broadway Initiative said that, for now, they’ll be looking for
community feedback from the October demonstrations and conducting traffic and
parking studies.

They are also looking to engage with local elected officials, City agencies and community stakeholders to figure out how much support there is for the plan overall and where the money to implement it would come from.

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