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Neighbors Question Plan To Beautify Traffic Islands Near Holland Tunnel

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A cup of coffee and the morning paper right beside traffic gridlock? It is indeed all part of a plan to socialize and beautify traffic islands near the Holland Tunnel.

As CBS 2's Amy Dardashtian reports, pedestrians have been complaining that there is nowhere to sit in the congested area, and it is just not very pedestrian friendly.

But renderings released Wednesday showed trees and plants in place of traffic dividers on Varick Street and Hudson Street, and wider sidewalks with tables and chairs near Spring Street.

But with traffic funneling to and from New Jersey from every angle, some say it is not the place for people to hang out.

"This is a high-pollution area," said SoHo Alliance director Sean Sweeney, "and I would want to know why you want to bring people into a high-pollution area."

The project carries a price tag of $27 million, and roughly half could end up being publicly funded. Sweeney said that money would be better spent elsewhere, such as on extra traffic agents.

"I think we need more human activity, and less benches," he said.

The sponsor of the plan, Hudson Square Connection, said extra space, extra lighting and clearer boundaries will increase safety for pedestrians in an area that used to be dominated by the printing industry.

"Now, it's a place where there's 35,000 people working every day, and more and more people coming to visit, live and go to school," said Hudson Square Connection president Ellen Baer.

The Hudson Square Connection said the lanes near the Holland Tunnel are extra-wide. The organization said it wants to narrow the lanes down to standard size.

In one section, a lane already has been removed and turned into a gravel-covered sidewalk bordered by potted plants.

But Lester Smith said cutting lane capacity was a bad idea.

"We need to expand the lanes," he said, adding that he believes traffic is bad enough.

The Hudson Square Connection was launched in 2009, in an effort to turn the neighborhood located on the cusp of the West Village, SoHo and TriBeCa into a major creative hub. The Hudson Square district is bounded by Houston Street on the north, Canal Street on the south, 6th Avenue on the east and Greenwich Street on the west.

The mouth of the Holland Tunnel is toward the center of the district.

CBS 2 asked the New York City Department of Transportation whether the changes will affect traffic around the tunnel, but the agency responded that it is still reviewing the proposals.

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