New York City’s population is rising faster than it has in more than 50 years and will only continue growing as the global trend toward urbanization picks up speed. To accommodate increasing densification and a growing demand for services, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has rapidly deployed a variety of projects in recent years to enhance the City’s public spaces to make New York safer, more resilient and more accessible to all.
For the past 5+ years, Arup has partnered with NYCDOT on a range of projects to improve the safety and wellbeing of New York’s pedestrians. We have contributed to the development of the Vision Zero Plan and supported the implementation of pedestrian plazas, bike lanes, and several Select Bus Service corridors throughout the City. We are now working with NYCDOT to transform a variety of spaces across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens into more comfortable, human-centric environments. These efforts began coming to fruition with the opening of Brooklyn’s first full-time shared street.
Located in the heart of thriving Downtown Brooklyn, the new Willoughby Shared Street connects Fulton Street Mall to Jay Street-MetroTech Subway Station. Arup played a key role in the creation of this vital new public space, working closely with NYCDOT, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and other local stakeholders to develop a design concept that serves the needs of a growing pedestrian population and fosters continued economic growth in the area.
1st full-time shared street in Brooklyn
3 blockscomprise the shared street
1000+pedestrian volume during peak morning hours
Downtown Brooklyn’s Willoughby Shared Street stretches from Pearl Street, between Fulton Street and Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza, through Willoughby Street, between Pearl and Jay Street. It is adjacent to a rich mix of hotels, restaurants and schools, and provides easy access to six subway lines and a dozen bus lines.
A comprehensive study
In 2014, NYCDOT selected Arup’s Integrated Planning Team to perform a comprehensive planning study of a three-block site adjacent to Willoughby Plaza to determine if it was an appropriate location for a pedestrian-priority thoroughfare. The study assessed existing mobility conditions (pedestrian traffic, transit, motor vehicles, and cycling); environmental conditions (solar exposure, view corridors, landscaping, noise, etc.); and the character and overall condition of the site. As part of this effort, Arup also completed a crash history review and performed a quantitative analysis of existing pedestrian and vehicle volumes that showed that pedestrians far outnumber vehicles throughout the day and exceed 1000 at the AM peak.
To aid the agency in determining whether to move forward with the project, Arup actively engaged a group of stakeholders that included local business owners, property owners, neighboring educational institutions, the community board, and the business improvement district, to gauge their interest in the project and understand their needs and concerns.
Once consensus was reached that the site was ripe for development, the Arup team was tasked with developing several alternative design concepts aimed at meeting shared stakeholder goals, including:
Creating a safe, comfortable and convenient walking environment
Supporting and enhancing economic and retail vitality
Improving street aesthetics and visual quality
Accommodating all legitimate mobility and access needs
Designing for sustainability, maintainability and resilience
Integrating the project area into the existing streetscape and facilitating connections with surrounding activity centres, like Willoughby Plaza, Fulton Street Mall, MetroTech, and Columbus Park.
To inform our designs, we reviewed Arup’s global portfolio of street design projects to glean best practices and consulted with the team responsible for marquee pedestrian-focused thoroughfares, like Exhibition Road and Brighton New Road in England. While it was clear that many of the world’s most successful pedestrian streets shared common features, like distinct paving, ample open space and high-end street seating, the Willoughby team faced the special constraints that come with designing in a New York context. “Designing human-centric streets in a city context means designing within constraints,” says Arup Project Designer James Francisco. “To me, that’s where the creativity comes in. We understood from the start that the implementation of a shared street at Willoughby would hinge on addressing the concerns and requirements of a lot of different stakeholders and that the opinions of the people who live and work in the area should be key drivers in the design process. This collaboration is really what made this project a success."
The design team ultimately delivered three design concept alternatives, informed by best global practices and the findings of the comprehensive study. To give the selection committee a sense of the full menu of alternatives available to them, each of the concepts employed a variety of approaches to: traffic circulation, mode segregation, passenger and commercial loading, lighting, landscaping, street furniture, street operations, concessions and accessibility.
The importance of public space
Despite growing densification in cities, urban dwellers are becoming more isolated, as apartments get smaller and offer less space to entertain. Creating safe and inviting public spaces has become a critical part of fostering community cohesion.
Delivering Brooklyn’s first shared street
The Willoughby Shared Street combines the most successful elements of the three design alternatives. Based on Arup’s recommendation, the stakeholder committee voted in favour of incorporating the stretch of road between Fulton Street and Willoughby Street. This additional space provides extra room for concessions, which can help the business district generate funds for ongoing operations and maintenance. The circulation pattern maximizes flexibility for future development and provides a prominent link between Willoughby Plaza and Fulton Street. Most importantly, it prioritizes pedestrians without impeding necessary vehicular functions, such as commercial loading and pick up and drop off at Brooklyn Friends School. The shared street provides curb extensions on Pearl and Willoughby Streets and incorporates a range of pedestrian amenities and traffic calming features, including bollards, planters, street furniture, new signage and bicycle corrals.
“Good urban design requires both technical know-how and the ability to create something more intangible—a sense of place. The goal is to leverage technical solutions to design spaces that reflect and uplift the community and become meaningful to the people who live there, work there, play there,” says James Francisco. Willoughby Street’s distinctive streetscape features, paving materials, wayfinding elements and flush surfaces work together to create a calm escape from the normal hubbub, a place that puts pedestrians and cyclists at ease and prompts drivers to slow down and reorient. The project is divided into several zones earmarked for different uses, which are designed to provide access to all from the youngest to the oldest. To ensure that vision impaired users can navigate without the help of curbs, the flush surfaces incorporate tactile pavers to assist with orientation.
Phase 1 of the Willoughby Shared Street project was officially unveiled on September 26, 2019. NYCDOT plans to roll out two more phases in the future.