Warming up the frozen zone: Downtown Alliance unveils plan to make NYSE security area a welcoming plaza

A report commissioned by the Downtown Alliance proposes the installation of new signs and outdoor furniture, which would support growing beds for foliage.
Downtown Alliance

BY COLIN MIXSON

They want to make Wall Street’s forbidding “security zone” feel as comfortable as a security blanket.

The business boosters at the Downtown Alliance unveiled plans on May 14 for transforming the notoriously prickly high-security area protecting the New York Stock Exchange into a lively pedestrian plaza more welcoming to locals and tourists alike.  First and foremost, the proposed redesign aims to configure the streetscape to how it’s actually used, now that car traffic has been largely banished.

“This is a largely pedestrian-ized zone,” said Alliance president Jessica Lappin. “If you were to design it today, you would never design it like this,” she said, indicating the narrow sidewalks, curbs, and empty, unused roads.

The Alliance showed off renderings of a Wall Street area without roads or sidewalks, in favor open space, ample seating and greenery — one of several alterations proposed to make the high-security zone surrounding the New York Stock Exchange a more friendly place for area residents, workers, and tourists.

The security zone — three-square blocks of dense urban real estate bounded by police checkpoints, barriers, and interdiction devices — was hastily cordoned off in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and its architects’ concern for safety over comfort is evident in the lack of seating, poor lighting, sparse greenery, and inadequate signage throughout the area, according to Lappin.

In response, Alliance bigwigs and local property owners collaborated on a nine-month study to devise a master plan for reworking the streetscape around the stock exchange at Wall and Broad streets, with a focus on improving the pedestrian experience and easing freight deliveries, while also making sure the area still feels like the beating heart of America that it is, according New York Stock Exchange President Tom Farley.

“This is truly one of the most historic spots in the entire world,” said Farely, noting that George Washington was sworn in at nearby Federal Hall, and that Alexander Hamilton wrote the country’s financial plan in his office, also located within the security zone.

The Alliance proposed eliminating sidewalks as a way of creating additional space to accommodate the area’s ever-increasing throngs of pedestrian visitors. Researchers recently found the pedestrians outnumbered vehicles by as much as 26 to 1 on some streets in the zone.

Cars would still be able to commingle with foot traffic under the Alliance’s proposal, but would be subject to the same extra-low speed limits as they are in the Department of Transportation’s Shared Streets program, which the agency piloted Downtown last year.

The Alliance report also suggests installing “distinctive architectural features” at the entry points of the security zone, giving visitors something besides bollards and fencing to signify the boundaries of the zone.

These specialized signs, dubbed “Interactive Gateway Markers,” would be outfitted with digital maps, historical trivia, information on notable sights, and other useful tips tailored to prevent confusion among the hordes of sightseers, according to the report.

The Alliance’s study advocates local landlords teaming up to produce more cultural events centered on the plaza at Wall and Broad streets, while also classing up the place with new cable lighting strung between buildings, and the installation of spotlights highlighting the security zone’s nine landmarked structures, with a specific emphases on Federal Hall and the stock exchange.

Alliance researchers worked with the NYPD and the city’s Economic Development Corporation to create a new security plan for the area, which the study noted currently suffers from unnecessary redundancies that developed over the last 17 years. Not only would security procedures be simplified under the new plan, but the imposing, brass “No Go” bollards would be replaced by slimmer versions, and more attractive fencing would replace some barricades lining the zone, according to the report.

Finally, the report proposes ways for improving freight and parcel deliveries at residential, retail, and office buildings within the zone, which has suffered as a result of cumbersome traffic restrictions that prohibit vehicles on parts of Broad Street and Exchange Place.

The report suggests reworking some aspects of the traffic layout, including installing additional parking on New Street and adding bollards on Broad Street to delineate the boundaries of vehicular and pedestrian areas.

One of the more interesting proposals is the Alliance’s request that delivery companies, retailers, and property owners pool resources and identify a central location for package drop-offs, which would host most, if not all package deliveries before they’re sent to different buildings within the security zone.

The overall plan, which Lappin said would cost taxpayers about $30 million, has the support of some city officials, including Manhattan transit commissioner Luis Sanchez and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Alicia Glen, who both offered statements backing the scheme in a press release announcing the study’s publication.

Currently, however, no funding exists for the project, which Lappin currently describes as merely “a vision and a plan,” and when asked about a possible timeline for implementation, the BID honcho pointed to the seven years it took following then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement that the city would remake Times Square before the project was actually completed as an example of the glacial pace these efforts sometimes take.

“And he was the mayor,” said Lappin. “I am not.”

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