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Art Commission Holds First Hearing on Future of Columbus Circle

After more than a year of studies, the City administration announced that the new traffic configuration at Columbus Circle — aimed at taming vehicular traffic and giving more space back to pedestrians — proved more successful than anticipated. The new configuration follows the actual circle and allows for a center space close to 180 feet in diameter, as well as substantially widened surrounding sidewalks. The traffic studies concluded that this layout works–for cars, for pedestrians and for bicyclists.

The NYC Parks Department implemented an interim design for the Circle’s center space that creates a welcoming oasis of seasonal plantings, seating and an improved paving surface. The Society praised the interim plan in letters to Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and City Planning Chairman Joseph Rose, but we called upon the City to add a crosswalk between the center circle and the Merchant’s Gate entrance to Central Park. This would make pedestrian access between the two destinations safer and easier.

After an extensive RFP process, the City selected the engineering firm Vollmar Associates and the design firm McCobb and Associates to develop a permanent new design for Columbus Circle. When their plans met opposition from community groups, civic organizations, community boards and city agencies, the City hired the Olin Partnership in the Spring of 2002 to develop a proposed scheme for the re-design of the public space at Columbus Circle. The MAS has advocated that Columbus Circle become one of the great civic spaces of the world, and that a world-class design be created for this site. In l997, the MAS invited six prominent designers to propose designs for the circle; these results were published in a special issue of The Livable City entitled Columbus Circle Livable City The Olin Partnership, in conjunction with Machado Silvetti, formed a team for this consultation.

The Department of City Planning is currently presenting the Olin Partnership design to the Tri-Board Task Force on Columbus Circle, the MAS and other interested civic groups. On September 9th, 2002, the Art Commission held the first public hearing on the Olin Partnership proposal, where the MAS delivered testimony.

Once the design is approved, the City hopes to begin construction in the Spring of 2003.