The New and Improved Times Square, New York

16 02 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that the small sections of Broadway that were closed to traffic last spring will become permanent pedestrian-only plazas.

The experiment was conducted last spring to test whether or not closing the section of roadway would improve traffic flow. Despite its inability to truly acheive this goal, Bloomberg states that a large reduction in pedestrian injuries coupled with a favourable response from business owners convinced him to shut the street down for good. And though traffic slowed on some cross-town routes, it actually did improve quite significantly on others. But safety was the defining factor.

From the New York times:

Advocates for the project said it had vastly improved safety in the area, pointing to a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passengers, according to city data. Foot traffic grew by 11 percent in Times Square and by 6 percent in Herald Square, and a survey of local businesses found that more than two-thirds of the area’s retailers wanted the project to become permanent.

What I find most interesting about this whole thing is the response from the business owners. In all my experience I’ve found that one of the most difficult things to deal with in trying to create a more pedestrian friendly space is business owners insisting that the loss of vehicles in any way will negatively affect their business whether it be shutting down a street on a Sunday, removing a large surface parking lot, redusing on-street parking, etc. Here, in one of the busiest places on earth, we have two thirds of business owners requesting that the area become a permanent pedestrian plaza. This looks to me like a fantastic precedent, not just as a space converted to pedestrian use, but as an example of businesses actually requesting it.

There have been allegations of the city not wanting to expose their traffic data and that Mayor Bloomberg has made another decision for the city without undertaking proper consultation with the city. The decision was made to close the streets permanently before the data was released for public viewing. While this may be true, it is no mystery that Times Square belongs to the pedestrians. If you’ve been there, you know that the sidewalks just aren’t big enough to handle the demand. So lets say this were a highway, becoming increasingly congested because traffic demand is getting higher. In such a case, the road would be widened, or another would be built. Here we have exactly the same problem, except for once it is the people who overpower the cars. I can side with that.

New York times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/nyregion/12broadway.html?hp

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