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‘Slow streets’ pilot proposed for the Financial District

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Pedestrians and cars would share narrow lower Manhattan streets under the plan

The New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan’s Financial District
Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A neighborhood group is looking to transform the Financial District’s web of narrow roads into a pedestrian haven.

The Financial District Neighborhood Association issued a report last week calling for a “slow street” pilot district spanning City Hall to Pearl Street to curb overcrowding in lower Manhattan where tourists, locals, trash, and street vendors pack onto cramped sidewalks.

“A 21st century vision for Lower Manhattan would change the way that cars and people interact on city streets, making the lives of pedestrians safer and more pleasant in a ‘slow street’ district where the needs of residents, businesses, and tourists can all be met,” states the group’s report titled “Make Way for Lower Manhattan.”

Under the program, streets would function as shared space for cars and pedestrians without sidewalks or traffic signals. Some roadways would be scrapped altogether, while three pedestrian plazas at Bowling Green, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Stock Exchange would be expanded. Street parking would also be nixed from most streets, though vehicles would still be allowed to pass through.

The plan also pitches a historic walking trail the group likens to Boston’s Freedom Trail.

The proposed slow street district.
Financial District Neighborhood Association

The district’s design takes a page out of the book of European cities, including Amsterdam, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Bonn, Germany. It also feeds off of studies that supported similar proposals, such as a 2018 study by the Downtown Alliance that sought to reimagine the area surrounding the Stock Exchange with a series of recommendations for pedestrian improvements. The group, which manages the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Business Improvement District, supports the pilot program.

“We were pleased to see an endorsement of our vision for improving the pedestrian environment around Wall and Broad Streets and the New York Stock Exchange,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance. “Our priority is to find the resources needed to make real, concrete improvements to that historic storied Lower Manhattan crossroads.”

Lappin stressed the importance of making sure “our existing shared streets function effectively” before expanding that vision throughout the Financial District.

The Financial District Neighborhood Association penned a March 8 letter to Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg asking that $500,000 in funds already allocated to the transit agency be used to initiate the pilot program in April through September of this year.

It’s a project city and elected officials are eager to explore: The Department of Transportation is in the midst of reviewing the proposal and the office of City Council member Margaret Chin, who represents lower Manhattan, said she “fully supports the plan.”

“With its unique colonial-era street grid, including narrow streets and sidewalks, this increasingly congested area deserves more than just a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to essential city services like sanitation and street management,” Chin said in a statement. “I look forward to working collaboratively with the community, city agencies and others to apply fresh ideas to create the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that we all deserve.”