8:21 am Oct. 19, 20122
A prominent New York architect and urban planner will at Friday's Municipal Art Society conference propose a promenade up the middle of Park Avenue.
"I was very involved early on in the High Line," Vishaan Chakrabarti, Director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, told Capital. "In some ways this promenade, even though it's on the ground, is not a dissimilar proposition."
Chakrabatri is proposing that the city basically double the width of the medians along 11 blocks of Park Avenue, between 46th and 57th streets, and run a 12- to 15-foot-wide pathway up the middle, thereby creating 2.24-acre promenade surrounded by the sort of lush gardens and sculptures that already occupy the medians.
The city is trying to rezone the area around Grand Central Terminal to allow for much taller buildings, and unlike some of the proposed designs for the new neighborhood, this one might actually come to pass. First, the city could pay for its cost, projected at less than $50 million, using the fees it plans on collecting from developers building taller buildings.
Its principal advocate is also someone who knows his way around real estate, architecture and government.
Chakrabarti is a partner at SHoP Architects, which designed the Barclays Center and is working on early designs for a new Major League Soccer stadium in Queens.
Before taking the Columbia gig, he worked as an executive at Related Companies, overseeing its Moynihan Station project and its planning and design for undertakings like Hudson Yards.
He's also the former director of the New York planning department's Manhattan office under commissioner Amanda Burden, one of the main proponents of rezoning Midtown East.
"We're talking about building new skyscrapers in Midtown and I think that's great, but that needs more public space than we have in Midtown right now," Chakrabarti said.
Burden also wants to turn Vanderbilt Avenue into a pedestrian plaza similar to Times Square's, something Chakrabarti said will interact nicely with a Park Avenue promenade.
Which is not to say there won't be substantial opposition. The project would involve removing one lane of traffic in each direction, almost certainly meaning spirited objections from the same coalition of voices that has opposed many of the city's new bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.
But Chakrabarti argues that by carving out left-turn lanes from the medians where necessary, traffic will actually flow more smoothly.
"Obviously [the Department of Transportation] would have to do a traffic study to validate this, but we think left turns are really what mess up a lot of the traffic on Park Avenue," he said.
Chakrabarti would also shorten the distance between medians in the north-south direction.
Right now, a theoretical crosswalk running between two medians along the avenue would stretch about 60 feet. Under the plan, those would be shortened to about 20-foot gaps.
North-south crosswalk signals would be installed.
At one point, there was actually a pathway up the central medians of Park Avenue (see photo below).
According to Chakrabarti, the medians slowly narrowed through the middle of the twentieth century, as pedestrians lost control of streets to the automobile.
"I think it's all very doable," he said.