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City considering street closures as part of East Midtown rezoning

The city is exploring closing down under-utilized streets in East Midtown as part of its plan to rezone the district.

The possible closures, which are currently being evaluated by the city’s Department of Transportation, may lead to the creation of wider sidewalks and public plazas in the area.

“We’re pushing the Department of Transportation to find ways to create more open spaces in the area — better open spaces, places for people to stop and take a breath in a busy, busy commercial environment. We’re looking at things like potentially closing under-utilized streets to create plazas or expanding the ‘Shared Streets’ initiative that they started in the Financial District this past summer,” Council Member Dan Garodnick said during a CoreNet discussion last week.

Garodnick, who represents the area, co-chaired the East Midtown Steering Committee, which provided recommendations for the city’s rezoning effort.

‘Shared Streets’ day was launched in the Financial District last July. It essentially turned the neighborhood’s 60-square-block area into a zone for pedestrians and cyclists. Cars were still allowed on the roads. However, drivers had to enter designated entry points and were told not to go over five miles per hour.

“Obviously, you can’t just close down streets, right? You have to carefully evaluate what you’re doing, where and what the traffic impacts are, etc. But they’re going to look. And I think they should look very hard at what the opportunities would be in East Midtown to do something big and dramatic and to help the pedestrian and worker experience on the ground,” Garodnick said.

This raises the possibility that the city may permanently close down certain streets while limiting car traffic to others. However, much like other components of the East Midtown plan, specifics remain scarce. When pressed for more details on street closures, Garodnick described the possibility as “conceptual.” “The point is, you could widen the sidewalk, you could allow for streets that have more space for pedestrians. You could do this in a variety of different ways. The goal would be to improve the pedestrian experience to allow traffic to continue to flow as freely as it can and not impact loading zones that buildings rely on. That’s obviously a challenge but it’s important to explore opportunities that may exist,” he said.

Nonetheless, Garodnick was quick to outline the economic benefits of the East Midtown rezoning plan. He claims that the proposal would create 190 permanent union jobs and boost tax revenue in the area to six times the amount.

Currently, the rezoning plan is in the environmental review phase. If it passes, it would then go to the Department of City Planning for certification. After that, it would be evaluated by the local community board, the City Council, the Manhattan borough president and the Mayor’s Office. Garodnick expects the whole process to take six to seven months.

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