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BY COLIN MIXSON
After spending a small fortune on outside consultants to create a plan to safeguard pedestrians and improve traffic flow on South End Avenue that enraged locals two years ago, the Battery Park City Authority has turned to a new source of inspiration for its scheme to revamp the notorious roadway — residents.
“As far as I can tell, the BPCA has worked really hard to mend bridges, and they’ve been successful as far as I’m concerned,” said Justine Cuccia, a member of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee. “This time around they’ve listened, they’ve changed their plans, and they’ve made an effort to speak with the community board certainly, but individual members of the community as well.”
The BPCA — a public-benefit corporation tasked with managing Battery Park City — adopted a more grassroots approach in crafting a safety plan for South End Avenue after members of Community Board 1 blasted a previous design in 2016 that cost the authority a whopping $272,000 to develop.
That money purchased the services of an outside contractor to survey locals and draw up plans, but the Authority is now consulting directly with residents, hosting tours of South End Avenue and adjoining streets, and engaging with members of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee on a more regular basis.
The walk-through tours in particular have attracted considerable interest from residents, who have proven willing to share their time and two cents with authority reps, according to the neighborhood’s civic honcho.
“They were fairly well attended, and I was impressed by the level of dialogue that took place on them,” said Anthony Notaro, chairman of Community Board 1. “I think that the community has stayed constant in wanting to work with the authority, and the authority has finally realized it’s in everybody’s interest to collaborate.”
Locals expressed a variety of concerns over the past plans, including filling public arcade space along South End Avenue with ground-floor retail, and moving a bus stop near the Gateway towers on South End Avenue around the corner onto Albany Street. Both schemes have since been abandoned.
As a result, the authority has managed to win over some of its harshest critics, including Battery Pointe Condominiums president Pat Smith, who said in 2016 that the BPCA’s proposal and the $272,000 spent on creating it “borders on the criminal.”
But recent iterations of the South End Avenue revamp have improved Smith’s opinion of the Authority, and he’s now willing to concede that it is “a good plan.”
Specifically, Smith came away very pleased with the idea of raising the road bed at Rector Street and South End Avenue, which would in effect create a gentle speed bump encouraging motorists to slow down, and which the condo president hopes will be installed quickly.
“We like these ideas and would like them to move quickly with them,” he said.
But other plans, such as widening sidewalks along West Thames in order to narrow the road, still have the community at odds with the authority, with locals fearing delivery trucks will be forced to double park there despite the addition of new loading zones, and negating one of the neighborhood’s key advantages.
“I think it’s a little crazy, one of the nice things about Battery Park City is the large streets,” said Cuccia.
But there’s a growing sense of optimism now that, after years of trying, the authority is on the right path towards finding consensus with its biggest critics — the residents it serves, according to one community leader.
“This has been in the works for eight years, but we’re in a better position now, because they’re willing to have a dialogue with the community directly,” said Tammy Meltzer, chairwoman of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee. “It’s a different type of process, which is what’s really exciting to me.”