Union Square: Better bike lanes, public programs and more

Enjoying a movie night at Summer in the Square. Photo by Liz Ligon

With an influx of new residents, commercial tenants and commuters traversing the district every day, it’s no secret that Union Square remains one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods. To keep up with the demand, the Union Square Partnership continues its work with city agencies, neighborhood partners and stakeholders to improve the experience of everyone who lives, works and plays in Union Square.

With biking on the rise across the city — and especially in Union Square — U.S.P. has worked with the city’s Department of Transportation to upgrade Union Square’s intricate bike network. Improvements were implemented on Fourth Ave. in 2016, and this year, U.S.P. and its city partners are focusing on extensions and safety measures along Fifth Ave.

“In a bustling district like ours, the network’s expansion has improved one of the city’s busiest and most popular biking destinations, making the area safer and more accessible,” said Scott Hobbs, U.S.P. deputy director. “We are continuing to work with our city partners to improve the bike network, and we’re anticipating additional improvements in the coming year.”

The district has seen a variety of other capital improvements over the last year. U.S.P. worked to upgrade the lighting around Union Square Park with more than 70 new energy-efficient LED bulbs to provide additional safety at night. This spring, U.S.P. invested in more than 200 new bistro tables and 400 chairs throughout the park and pedestrian plazas for visitors to enjoy during the warm months.

In addition to its extensive landscaping and beautification work in the park and around the square, U.S.P. overhauled the median malls along Union Square East and Park Ave. South to include 80 new trees and a brand-new landscaping design. With help from U.S.P.’s partners at ORDA Management and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, new understory plantings will be added to the malls this spring, as well.

As the district continues to see high-level foot traffic, U.S.P. has worked to expand its public programming to engage even more people and connect them with Union Square’s vibrant business community.

“With such a wide variety of area businesses, we’re working to grow our public programs to showcase everything our district has to offer,” said Jennifer Falk, U.S.P. executive director. “We want to ensure that our public programming is geared toward variety, so we can offer something for everyone and enhance their experience in the district.”

This past winter, U.S.P. presented the third annual Union Square Sweat Fest to highlight the abundance of innovative studios, gyms, athleisure retailers and healthy eateries in the area. Following past years’ successes, U.S.P. expanded the week-long health and fitness event series with even bigger opening and closing celebrations, a full schedule of fitness programs for kids and the largest lineup of new and returning partners than ever before.

“Union Square Sweat Fest was a great way for us to connect with the community, and as a New York brand, this is extremely important to us,” said Richard Morris, general manager at New York Health & Racquet Club 13th St. “It’s always great to see new faces come through our doors, and the event series helps us engage with the neighborhood in a fresh and exciting way.”

With the summer months approaching, U.S.P. is gearing up for Citi Summer in the Square, the organization’s nine-week free summer entertainment series in Union Square Park, which returns on June 15. Thanks to a title sponsorship from Citi, U.S.P. is adding new programs to the lineup of live performances, fitness classes, family activities and movie nights in the park.

Early-morning fitness on the park’s South Plaza, in collaboration with neighborhood partner Paragon Sports, will feature a variety of classes led by boutique studios based in Union Square.  In the evening, the local New York Health & Racquet Club will also host free fitness classes on the North Plaza.

Kids programming will include an extensive lineup of children’s performances and activities, including the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre’s “The Princess, The Emperor, and The Duck,” Karma Kids’ Yoga StoryTime, Pop Fit Kids and a special preview performance of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.” A Children’s Pavilion will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with engaging activities.

Attendees can also enjoy live jazz with The New School on their lunch break in the park, and a new performance competition with dueling participants every Thursday, featuring music, dance and more at 5 p.m. on the main stage. The series closes with two “Throwback Thursday”-themed movie nights in August, when moviegoers will gather on the North Plaza at dusk to enjoy cult classics “The Karate Kid” and “Back to the Future.”

In the fall, the 22nd Annual Harvest in the Square will return to Union Square Park on Thurs., Sept. 14. The highly anticipated foodie extravaganza has expanded to include more than 50 local restaurants and more than a dozen wineries and breweries, drawing more than 1,200 attendees. Last year, through the generosity of the community, the event raised more than $378,000 to support U.S.P.’s vital work to maintain, beautify and program Union Square Park.

“For more than 40 years, the Union Square Partnership has worked to effect growth and positive change in the district — and thanks to our incredible partners, Union Square is stronger than ever,” Falk said. “As our district continues to grow and attract new businesses, residents and visitors, we look forward to many more years of supporting this incredible community.”

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