Paving the Road to Hell's Kitchen
All sorts of forces align to make Hell's Kitchen a tough place to navigate. The Lincoln Tunnel ensures a steady stream of traffic, much of it big trucks and buses, heading down Ninth Avenue throughout the day. The Port Authority bus terminal, Times Square and Penn Station produce a fountain of foot traffic, largely funneled onto eighth and ninth by a bevy of stores and restaurants and the relative retail scarcity of 10th. A lack of bike lanes forces riders to squeeze between cars on the street or people on the sidewalk. The planned extension of the 7 train only stands to make the crowds worse.
But there's hope in Hell after all. It comes in the form of a thorough study of neighborhood traffic conducted by the New York City Department of Transportation. Over the past four years the department has examined the congestion situation — from the perspectives of pedestrians, riders, and drivers alike — in an area stretching north-south from West 29th Street to West 55th Street and east-west from Eighth Avenue to the West Side Highway. Last Monday, it presented many of its recommended improvements in a public meeting. The upgrades, driven by community feedback, should go a long way toward raising quality of life in the neighborhood.
Many of the changes have been implemented already. Officials have relocated bus layovers to less busy streets, increased "Don't Block the Box" signage at major crossings (we're looking at you, bridge-and-tunnel drivers), "feathered down" green lights from 50th to 43rd Street to decrease congestion, and extended crossing times as part of a focus on safety for seniors. They also have adjusted the pedestrian signals at six intersections to provide lead time for those walking across the street — a sensible move, considering that many pedestrians begin to cross once auto traffic is stopped regardless of whether or not they have the immediate right, as we've pointed out before.
But those are just the start. Other plans include nudging truck traffic onto 11th and 12th avenues, adding curb space to shorten crossing distances, and expanding protected bike lanes. The department also intends three specific efforts that should bring joy to those who know the area best. One will open the west side of 36th Street and Ninth to pedestrians; at present, a low fence forces walkers to cross the avenue, at best, or join cars heading toward the tunnel in the street, at worst. Another will create a "mini-plaza" at 41st Street and Ninth, where a current misalignment slows traffic and confuses walkers. A third will turn a stretch of 21 diagonal parking spots on 36th Street between Ninth and Tenth into a micro-park:
The mirco-park will become something of a trend in Chelsea-Hell's Kitchen, if some residents have their way. The genesis is a six-by-six foot Thumbelina Park and Community Garden, trapped between the sidewalk and a bike lane at West 25th Street and Eighth Avenue. The amusing persona of Arnold Bob presides over Thumbelina and hopes to bring a hundred or so similar parks to the area. "Most gardens grow plants," Ranger Bob recently told DNA Info, "But at a community garden, what we grow is community."
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jack Zalium.