Vinegar Hill Residents Want to Save Belgian Blocks


Two petitions just emerged out of Vinegar Hill about proposed streetscape changes to the neighborhood, which leave, as Curbed put it, “residents of the tiny ten-block enclave less than thrilled.” The first petition asks the city to preserve the original belgian block streets in Vinegar Hill and opposes the “use of machine-made or machine-altered cobblestones of any kind.” The original blocks are scheduled to be removed for infrastructure changes along Water Street, as well as a bike lane down Water. The second petition specifically asks that the bike lane planned within the Brooklyn Greenway skip Vinegar Hill altogether, considering that the DOT plans to make the path by reconfiguring the Belgian blocks by rotating them lengthwise. The Brooklyn Greenway would stretch three blocks through Vinegar Hill on Water and Plymouth Streets. The DOT already undertook a similar project down in Dumbo, which mostly restored the old Belgian blocks and added new blocks to create a bike lane along Water. In our humble opinion the restoration job did a good job of eliminating potholes and uneven paving as well as accommodating bikers. Do you think the proposed streetscape changes threaten the historic feel of the neighborhood?
Vinegar Hill Residents Really Don’t Want Bike Lanes [Curbed]
The City of New York: Preserve Original Belgian Block Streets in Vinegar Hill [Change.org]
The City of New York: Bypass Vinegar Hill When Implementing the Brooklyn Greenway [Change.org]
Photo by jackie weisberg

27 Comment

  • The Belgian Block absolutely has to be preserved. It provides so much character and history to the neighborhood. While they did do a pretty good job in Dumbo, the replaced block does not feel old and historic. It does not have the smooth stone surface that the old block had. So critical to preserve these neighborhoods history.

    • False nostalgia once again. These blocks were smooth when originally installed, its 100 plus years of horses, carts, cars, trucks and now bikes that have worn them down and made them so aesthetically uneven. In time the new blocks will wear down a bit too. This isn’t Disneyland, This is a city. We should fix things here, make improvements.

      • Id invite you to visit almost any European city that has old (smooth) belgian blocks. The blocks need to be reset but it would be a shame to see them replaced with new ones as they did in Dumbo. It’s not false nostalgia it’s real nostalgia. The fact that the blocks only get smooth after years and years of wear is exactly what makes them nostalgic. If it were Disneyland id be fine with new blocks but seeing as this is a historic district in a city, Im keen on preserving it’s history.

  • dittoburg

    The took them up from the large plaza at the top of Manhattan Ave. In Greenpoint ave. a few years back, thousands of them covering a large swath, never to be seen again. The mayor put a sign up crowing about the improvements. Locals thought otherwise.

    • iiliiiiill

      The ones on Manhattan Avenue looked like crap. And all that plaza was good for was the Polish kids to park their cars there and drink and throw bottles.

      • dittoburg

        I think they looked great. But then coming from England I do have a fondness for old stuff that still works ok, the fabric of before. I don’t believe there was another other expanse of Belgian block so large left in the city.

        Now its just a parking lot period, though the park they added was a nice touch.

  • I love the cobbelstones of Vinegar Hill. I think they just need to be lifted and re-set exactly they way they are.

    DUMBO looks good with the cobblestones, but even as a bike rider, I have mixed emotions of the bike lane through vinegar Hill…..

  • The new Belgian block streets in Dumbo are beautiful and are a huge improvement over the old potholed and uneven condition.DOT should use the same method to improve the roadways in Vinegar Hill. there should also be a bike line and greenway going through Vinegar Hill as well; the bike lane solution for Dumbo is great. This same issue came up years ago when they began repaving Dumbo; remember that when the streets were first made in the 19th century, they were smooth and flat.

    I go on bike rides through that area all Summer, and I have broken wheels on those potholes which often force cyclists to ride on the sidewalks, which is both illegal and dangerous to pedestrians. It is also dangerous driving those streets in their current condition.

    This sounds like a thinly veiled attempt to keep the public out of their little enclave, and that is just plain wrong. NIMBY at it’s worst.

    These streets are not a private museum, they are a public right-of-way. If the DOT is willing to redo the paving using Belgian blocks as opposed to asphalt, they should be thrilled, not complaining!

  • Agreed. This is an attempt to keep the bike lane out. The opponents are being very disingenuous since DOT offered a solution to preserve the stone and accommodate bikes. Either way, if this is about “historic preservation,” then let’s ban all of those historically anachronistic automobiles and turn the streets back to dirt.

  • Smooth, polished cobblestones are extremely dangerous when wet, and are hazardous even to walk on in the rain. uneven old stones are also difficult to plow in the snow. I wonder how these people would feel if a nice old lady slipped and broke her hip on one of their precious preserved cobbled streets.

  • yea belgian blocks are so cool. treacherously slippery when wet, really nice fetid pools of water form after rain. but hey, brooklyn is like disney “yesterdayland” so lets do it.

  • Just run the bike lane on York St and avoid the whole controversy. Not like it’s necessary to run it on a cobblestone street, and this fight is not worth it at all.

  • Huge and numerous piles of horse poop would really make these streets feel “authentic.”

  • expert_textpert

    I forget which European city, but the bike lane was on the sidewalk. It was delineated by a different material. The bike lane was brick. It took us a day to figure out we were walking in the bike lane after so many cyclists kept yelling at us. I thought it was a nice solution.

  • Maybe a few pigs and chickens running around and a dead horse or two for full effect. Let’s pump in some clouds of coal soot too – but just in Vinegar Hill, since they like that nostalgia thing so much.

  • They did a great job on Water St. using old blocks but Washington St. is not historic restoration. Looks more like a suburban mall. This treatment appears to be the plan for VH.
    VH street are very narrow, it’s a little dangerous to have parking, traffic and bike lanes on these small streets.

  • The Belgian block is a nice system, similar to many that are used currently throughout Europe. If laid in a sand/gravel layered bed, they are a permeable pavement, allowing stormwater to dissipate. It is repairable using the same materials. It is a low energy system, requiring minimal equipment. It is labor intensive, but since we have a structural unemployment problem in the US, this isn’t a bad thing.

  • By the way, f#@k the “historic feel.” If you want historic accuracy, cut down the trees and everyone heats with coal, has privies in the back yard, shivers in the winter and bakes in the summer. The Belgian block is an intelligent system. The question of bikes is a good one, and perhaps another paver, or other stone could be laid to provide a more bike-friendly surface.

    I like the scale of the neighborhood in general, not because of any devotion to history, but because the rowhouse is an efficient type providing a could critical mass density, but not so big that it cannot be adapted to 21st century energy technologies.

  • Re-use the historic and original block. The patina of old stones, laid CORRECTLY in place by real stonemasons or skilled craftsman ( such as the kind one finds in Europe, not the meatheads the dot employs here), is irreplaceable and a large part of what gives European cities their special feeling and gravitas.

    The stones we have should be replaced properly to create an even and relatively flat road surface – again, acceptable for Paris and Rome, it would be acceptable here.

    And why can’t the bike lanes go down York street? Because bikers should avoid the Farragut housing? Instead the small and charming streets of vinegar hill should become densely packed with extra traffic and wear, while a perfectly suitable major thoroughfare lies just one block over? Bikers must be turned to wind down among small Belgian block streets – that then have to be altered destroying their historic value – because the bikers can’t ride straight line from the Navy Yard

  • ( finishing comment)
    … Bikers cannot ride a straight line from the Navy Yard to Washington or Jay street in Dumbo? York is the most logical street to use for this roughly 5 block stretch.
    Bikers can turn off and view and enjoy vinegar hill anytime – it is destructive to route hundreds of bikers through that very small neighborhood , and completely unnecessary. The charm of VH – which may be what draws visitors to see its very historic and almost unaltered character – will be severely compromised by the introduction of this density of traffic. It is illogical to run the bike route though there, and the reason for wanting people to see and enjoy this calm preserved treasure will be destroyed in the process of making it accessible.

  • Let me try dispel a misconception that runs through a number of these posts: Vinegar hill is far from opposed to making our streets more cycle-friendly, and we don not live in a NIMBY bubble that feel we must protect from “outsiders” at all costs. But how much careless modernization can this very small and fragile piece of old New York and sustain before the major studios cease to film here, until fashion magazines lose interest in photographing here, and until our regular weekend tour groups stop coming to marvel at this unique place? Would Boardwalk Empire have filmed horses and carriages on Hudson Avenue if it had bee paved with uniform, machine-tooled cobblestones like the widely detested ones on Washington Avenue in DUMBO? As planned, those same cobbles are just what the Greenway would bring; just look at page 14 of their implementation plan as published on their website (http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/greenway/files/2011/11/111102_Downtown-Brooklyn.pdf ). Would the Vinegar Hill House continue to draw in the crowds who come to enjoy the feeling of being lost in time? With careful planing, there is a way to make our neighborhood safe and welcoming to to cars, cyclists, and all New Yorkers without chipping away at the things that make it compelling. But making Hudson Avenue a major cycle artery and introducing poor replicas of old stones are not the ways to do it; those are the reasons we oppose bringing the Greenway and modern cobblestones here, NOT our hatred of bicycles or our desire keep the “rest” of New York out of our private haven. That’s not a fair characterization of who we are.

    • Your fears are totally unfounded and verging on paranoia. Improving the paving of a street will do nothing to harm a neighborhood or scare away visitors or film crews. In fact, the new stones will look more like the newly laid stones from the 19th century, making a movie look even more authentic. It’s just a damn street.

      In every case that a neighborhood fears change from some civic project, the disasters they fear never come to pass, ever. Just a lot of wasted time, money and effort.

      And FYI, the problem with the old paving stones is more than being unevenly laid. The high domed rounding off of the surface is what creates that bone chattering effect when you drive over them – they are old and worn out and could use replacing after more than 150 years.

      • I think it’s important to remember that these people live in the neighborhood. You obviously do not or you would be more sensitive to their concerns. Why shouldn’t a neighborhood try to protect it’s character? And I am sure you think that Park Slope/Boerum Hill and Fort Greene didn’t get shafted by the the stadium traffic as well? Were their concerns were unfounded in your eyes? Only those who live in this neighborhoods opinions should carry any weight on this issue. Everyone else is either naysaying just to be Negative Nancies or jealous of those who live in Vinegar Hill.

  • This neighborhood is one of the few unique places left in new york. It should not get the same look and feel treatment as any of the neighborhoods near it. It is unique. Leave it that way. I personally like the slow pace that the uneven difficult to speed down streets creates. I don’t quite understand why this DOT construction needs to happen at all?