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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Where Is the Plaza at Bay Plaza?

My family ends up out at the Bay Plaza shopping center in Co-Op City on a somewhat regular basis. Cinemas are becoming few and far between in The Bronx, and the AMC at Bay Plaza is one of our best options for a date at the movies. Despite all the drawbacks of the sprawling strip mall environment, it also remains one of our more convenient shopping alternatives for some needs. Like many others who frequent Bay Plaza, we get there by bus.

Unfortunately, the good money spent on bad design in Bay Plaza does not create a positive sense of place. It just makes transit passengers and the pedestrians from Co-op City feel second class. It makes the place less attractive and functionally inferior for shoppers who arrive by car as well.

There is no coherent network for internal pedestrian circulation.  Everything has been designed to move cars in and out of the parking lots, resulting in sidewalks that are narrow and often disconnected, as well as poorly designed crosswalks.  The transit stops have been dropped in as an afterthought, and are further challenged by their location on private property. Even for those who drive, getting between stores, restaurants, and entertainment is not particularly pleasant. Bay Plaza has put some attention into its landscape architecture in recent years (although there is room for great improvement for stormwater management with the endless acres of pavement!), but what it actually needs is an urban designer.

Nice landscaping.
Where's the sidewalk?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Simple Dirt Path

This is a well-worn path on Needham Avenue where the sidewalk is missing. 

Needham Avenue is an underdeveloped street; it hasn't been built to its full mapped width, and the sidewalks have not been built. The rocks and trees offer a more scenic quality where there would normally be paved spaces. The narrower street offers shorter crossing distances, and those same rocks and trees act to calm traffic. 

Of course, this path subjects people to an uneven surface. This is of little consequence for most pedestrians on a typical day, and the mud when it rains isn't even that large an issue. Snow is substantially worse. For people with disabilities, it poses a larger problem still, which could significantly limit their mobility.

This street functions well with its narrow width. It would be amazing to see it simply improved with adequate sidewalks while preserving the trees and rocks. To really make the most, just add a couple of nice little rain gardens or bioswales.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Conflicted Crosswalks: Hudson St and Christopher Columbus Dr

The intersection of Hudson Street and Christopher Columbus Drive in Jersey City has real potential to someday become a great public space at a lively, multimodal intersection. For now, it is a fragmented set of residual spaces with a traffic design that is inconvenient and uncomfortable for pedestrians and bus passengers. This is a case where excess concern about pedestrian-vehicle conflicts, combined with decisions to prioritize motor vehicles and a failure to realize that vehicular volumes never materialized, has resulted in a compromised pedestrian network that simply does not work properly. Let's look at how we can put it on a path toward realizing its potential.

This irregular intersection has only modest conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. That is largely because the vehicular volumes are really quite light. Nevertheless, at this set of intersecting roadways, pedestrians are instructed to follow an extraordinary detour across several different crossings to avoid the potential conflicts with turning vehicles. To further the inconvenience, one of the crosswalks on that detour route has an unusually short pedestrian signal time.

This poor treatment of all the pedestrians who walk through the area is unnecessary, and it sets the wrong priorities by favoring motor vehicles. The whole confluence of intersecting streets should be reevaluated, and in the process it should be possible to create a whole new public space.

The crazy detour really is unnecessary. The conflict this whole situation was designed to avoid is so minor, it really seems unusual that the crossing was prohibited at all. Typical intersections throughout Jersey City and just about everywhere else have worse turning conflicts than this. With a close review of the signage that has been installed, the motivation can be discerned, but the aspect of the design that raised the concern is not only unnecessary, it creates a risk of vehicular collisions.

The pedestrian crossing is prohibited at this location because southbound Hudson Street has two right turn lanes.

The vehicles turning from the second lane would pose a real threat to pedestrians crossing the street, so in an attempt to maintain safe conditions for the pedestrians, the engineers attempted to remove them from the mix.

Despite the efforts of the engineers, the pedestrians who frequent this location exert their independence and continue to cross illicitly. By and large, they have little difficulty. Nevertheless, the apparent conflicts should be resolved, and can be resolved in a way that is much more satisfactory.