Plans are in the works to close a stretch of Bedford Avenue to traffic during four Saturdays this summer, allowing the vibrant street to function as an outdoor plaza.
Under the plan, Bedford Avenue would be car-free from Metropolitan Avenue to North 9th Street, perhaps from as long as 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Organizers are targeting June 7, 14, 21 and 28 as preliminary dates.
Traffic would be allowed to go across Bedford Avenue on every street except for North 6th and North 7th streets, the most bustling intersections on the Northside.
Jason Jeffries, a local business owner and purveyor of the community web site billburg.com, announced the proposal at Tuesday’s Community Board 1 meeting. He is heading up the loose consortium of business owners spearheading the effort.
“It looks like it’s going to happen. So far everyone is on board,” Jeffries said at the meeting, receiving applause from many Board and audience members.
“Bedford Avenue has really changed dramatically. Every weekend there are people spilling into the streets from the sidewalk. It has a festive, community feel; we thought it would be fun to open up the streets to the neighborhood,” he said.
Jeffries met with the Department of Transportation officials last week, who were receptive to the idea.
He still needs to meet with other city agencies like the Police Department, the MTA and the Department of Sanitation to work out potential kinks, such as coordinating delivery hours for businesses. Ultimately, final approval will need to come from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.
He stressed that the plan is subject to changes.
“We will adjust our plan in order to make it the most palatable to get approved,” he said.
Jeffries took pains to differentiate this proposal from a street-fair, the traditional event for which city streets are closed on summer weekends.
Rather than bringing in generic vendors from outside the neighborhood, Jeffries’ idea seeks to highlight the existing local businesses unique to the Northside.
“This isn’t about tents and fried dough; this is about the community viewing the space as a place to congregate and enjoy,” he said.
The proposal owes some of its inspiration to the Car-free Bedford Avenue movement, which seeks to permanently close Bedford Avenue from traffic and convert it into a green plaza replete with grass strips on the street.
The idea was proposed by freelance graphic designer Emil Choksi in 2005 and has been favorably received in urban planning circles.
(Detailed renderings are available on Choksi’s website, carfreebedford.com.)
Jeffries sees these four Saturday close-offs as a potential first step in such a revolutionary re-thinking of Bedford Avenue.
“This is a test – we want to do this in small steps. Ideally, if it goes well, we can do it again and maybe expand on it,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the idea has the support of Transportation Alternatives, the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization.
“Bedford Avenue is really an exceptional street – it’s one of the great walking streets in the city. This will let us breathe and stretch our legs on Bedford Avenue,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director of Transportation Alternatives.
Jeffries is still awaiting final word from the city on the project, but expects to hear back soon.
He is excited about the proposal’s potential to bring the community together.
“My prediction is that some people will know about it the first Saturday, but then everyone will know about it the second Saturday, and it will just explode,” he said.