Home New York City NYC’s 20-Year Construction Project Could Be A Traffic Nightmare

NYC’s 20-Year Construction Project Could Be A Traffic Nightmare

by SharonKurheg

I grew up just a ferry ride away from Manhattan and know that huge traffic jams are just naturally a part of New York City. Despite trains and subway lines that come from and go to just about every area surrounding “The City,” many, many people still drive in and out of the borough, and rush hour has been a mess for decades.

Thanks to an upcoming NYC Department of Traffic (DOT) construction project on Park Avenue that will take at least 20 years to complete, it looks as if car traffic potentially could get a whole lot worse in a part of the Big Apple. Like, for forever. On the upside, the project will make space for more foot traffic and parkland space on the popular street.

So what’s this 2-decades long project going to be? Believe it or not, we actually can look at the past to visualize the future.

Going back about 100 years or so, Park Avenue was called “Park Avenue” precisely because the street’s central median actually was like a park, complete with trees, benches, bushes, flowers, etc. Nowadays it would be called a “linear park” (a type of park that’s much longer than it is wide. Think more like the High Line than Central Park).

Park Ave. & 51st St. (Facing north, 1921) PC: NYC DOT

However in 1927, this “park” area of Park Avenue was greatly narrowed, by about 50%. This was to ease traffic congestion by having the space to build one more lane of car traffic in each direction. It’s been that way ever since, with just a 20′ median between the two directions of traffic.

Park Ave. & 51st St. (Facing north, Oct., 2021) PC: Google Maps

The plan now is to re-imagine the median between 46th and 57th Streets so it’s closer to what had been there in the very early 20th century – expand it so instead of being just 20 feet wide, it would be 38 to 48 feet wide.

PC: NYC DOT

This will allow more foot traffic, walking and biking paths, park benches, trees, flowers, art, concessions, etc.

Artist’s Concept, PC: NYC DOT

The reasoning for these plans appear to be fourfold:

  • Save for new buildings, Park Avenue hasn’t had an upgrade since 1927 and some of the medians are in really rough shape
  • The area ranks last in terms of square footage of open space per office worker, in comparison to other NYC Office districts
  • The Long Island Railroad is set to be redirected from Penn Station to Grand Central Station this December, which will make space for more pedestrian traffic a priority (see map)
  • Probably most importantly, the infrastructure of subways underneath Park Avenue is in great need of rehabilitation (although it looks like and is used as a street, Park Avenue is essentially a bridge over these lines and, like so many other bridges in the country, this one is falling apart, too), so since there’s going to be massive construction anyway, it’s a good time to do it

They’re calling it a “once in a century” infrastructure project.

Obviously, building upwards of nearly 30 feet of parkland up and down 11 blocks of Park Avenue is going to mean losing the one lane of traffic in each direction that was gained in 1927. The DOT’s fix for this will include new, dedicated left turn lanes (to decrease blocking traffic in left hand lanes). They’re also counting on more people using mass transportation (the LIRR redirection is one of a few train/subway updates that will happen in the city in the not-too-distant future. Another plan is the possibility of congestion pricing – assessing a fee for driving into Manhattan during certain times of day, as a way to encourage taking mass transit).

The project hasn’t begun yet (they’re currently looking for an architect to make the master plans for the project), but it’s said it will be done in phases and will take at least 20 years to be completed. That’s a LONG time for there to be ongoing construction in East Midtown. But it’s being done in conjunction with rehab and improvements of the subway lines that run directly underneath Park Avenue. So it will have to be done bit by bit, as the subway rehab is done.

Once the project is done, Park Avenue between 46th and 57th will surely be a nicer place to walk on. To drive on? With 33% less lanes for traffic, maybe not so much. I’ll meet you on the corner of Park & 51st in 2042 (or later) to make that decision, OK?

Click here to see the NYC’s DOT plans.

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4 comments

Christian February 11, 2022 - 7:36 pm

In my town, they call having less roads with the same number of vehicles in a badly overcrowded area “traffic calming”, a euphemism worthy of George Orwell. I once asked a city representative if the purpose of making an area that needed more road to ease congestion instead have less was to make things so unpleasant that people would avoid the area altogether. In a surprisingly candid public moment the representative said yes, that was exactly the goal.

Reply
derek February 11, 2022 - 8:30 pm

Not a good idea. The extra space for the park is still not big enough. I don’t know the area well enough to know if it would be ok to be a one way street. If so, add another lane but remove all the other lanes going the opposite direction.

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JohnB February 12, 2022 - 3:35 pm

With the long range plans of eliminating a significant amount of vehicles in Manhattan, the lane closure is about right sizing to future needs. The city needs to have more and bigger parking garages available at the tunnels and bridges that go into Manhattan. Having better parking available that feeds into public transportation would allow visitors to not have to drive onto city streets.

Reply
Art February 12, 2022 - 7:14 pm

Another plan than no one asked for, that will cost millions and will ultimately benefit very few people. Turning bays do not work. All this will do is permanently mess up traffic forever. But isn’t that the goal of these “plans.”

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