Not this ‘Times’: Local leaders slam transit honchos for ignoring feedback on plaza redesign

Not this ‘Times’: Local leaders slam transit honchos for ignoring feedback on plaza redesign
Department of Transportation

The “Times” it is not a changing enough.

The city ignored local transit gurus’ calls to tweak its redesign of Times Plaza’s triangular pedestrian island bounded by Fourth, Flatbush, and Atlantic avenues, according to residents, who said Department of Transportation officials showed them a largely unchanged plan on Dec. 21 after they demanded the agency take it back to the drawing board in May.

“DOT just came to us with renderings of pretty much essentially the same design, it didn’t really look like it had evolved,” said Juliet Cullen-Cheung, who heads Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee. “They didn’t take into consideration the comments we had given to them at our meeting.”

The full board in June endorsed the transportation department’s plan to improve traffic flow at the treacherous intersection surrounding Times Plaza in order to make the area safer for cyclists and pedestrians, which also included designs for a revamped island with tables, seating, and planters.

But its members were more enthused with the plan for the roads than they were for the plaza, according to Cullen-Cheung, who said they approved the proposal to avoid delaying work on the dangerous nexus, but only did so with the caveat that the agency modify its design for the island, including replacing its plain gray concrete with something more colorful, altering its shape, nixing a spot for a vendor on it, and installing protective planters to shield a portion of the in-the-works Fourth Avenue bike lane that would run along the plaza.

“The committee made a whole bunch of comments, talked back and forth with DOT, and we made a motion to approve the design of the plaza because we really wanted to get all the safety improvements done,” she said.

Members also railed against transit honchos for failing to strike a deal with the state to include the Metropolitan Transportation Authority-owned Times Control House building — which sits in the plaza — in its makeover, and Community Board 2 leaders recently penned a letter to the city’s Public Design Commission expressing their frustration with the unchanged redesign in an attempt to stop the agency from green-lighting the current proposal.

“The committee chairperson characterized the plaza design as ‘unimaginative’ and a ‘hodge podge,’ and the committee as a whole was unimpressed,” the board’s chairwoman Shirley McRae wrote in the Dec. 13 missive. “Several committee members were extremely disappointed that the design did not include the property under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which occupies the majority of the triangle.”

A rep from the mayor’s office said design-commission officials are reviewing the community board’s request to reconsider the redesign. The city intends to begin its makeover of the pedestrian island this spring pending the Public Design Commission’s approval.

Transportation-department employees began work on the much-needed improvements to the plaza’s surrounding streets in November, and expect to wrap that job sometime this spring, according to a spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.