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There’s a new $100 million plan to create a completely car-free Union Square

The plan would create a town square of sorts.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Union Square could be completely car-free if a new transformational plan by the Union Square Partnership and architecture firm Marvel goes forward.

"The Vision Plan" for Union Square Park, which was created over the course of two years with work from Marvel and help from community members, business leaders and transportation experts, would increase public space by 33 percent by extending the park to surrounding buildings and closing streets to traffic.

Essentially, 14th Street would be transformed into a transitway (it was already turned into a busway in 2019), and there'd be a new expansive open space at the park’s southeast corner. There'd also be a "Broadway Gateway" at 17th Street.

Union Square vision plan rendering
Photograph: Marvel Courtesy of the Union Square Partnership

In order to achieve all of this, pedestrian areas would be expanded and bus boarding zones would be created along 14th Street. New trees, planters and parklets (small areas with park amenities like benches) would also be installed and sidewalks would be doubled in width.

Then, enlarging the pedestrian area along Union Square West, adding more seating and a larger subway entrance at 16th Street and building permanent flexible infrastructure for the Greenmarket would create a "town square" feeling and reduce crowding, the plan states.

To the east, the Triangle Plaza at Fourth Avenue would be joined to the park for more space to walk and gather.

The Union Square Partnership also says a new master plan is needed for the park to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, like transportation realities, needed upgrades to the park’s infrastructure (bike parking and upgraded public restrooms), utilities (high-speed data, new lighting, better drainage) and landscape (renovated dog run, improved wheelchair access, new accessible subway entrance).

"Having lived and worked in and around Union Square for over 35 years, I’ve experienced just about every moment of evolution and development in the Park and its surrounding neighborhood,” said Danny Meyer, the founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. "Now, after a year in which so many in our community have been isolated and forced to be socially distanced, it’s refreshing to re-imagine a once again thriving Union Square made more commodious with additional public space carved out for people to be with people. We crave and need that."

Union Square vision plan rendering
Photograph: Marvel Courtesy of the Union Square Partnership

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera said she is on board with the plan, too.

“As we’ve seen from the success of the 14th Street Busway, prioritizing streetscape and open space for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation, can have a unique and positive effect for nearby businesses, residents, and our City as a whole," she said. "The Union Square Partnership Vision Plan demonstrates the next step that we can take in collaboration with the community to promote a connected and accessible Union Square Park and District of the future."

The plan also "creates a welcoming 'gateway' and aligns with DOT’s Broadway Vision plan to complete a pedestrianized corridor from Columbus Circle to Union Square," according to Ed Pincar, DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner.

The Urban Design Forum is hosting an event to discuss the plan on Tuesday, January 26. You can attend by registering here 

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