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They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway...
May 27, 2009 4:18 PM   Subscribe

On Sunday New York City closed two of the busiest sections of perhaps the most famous street in the U.S. to traffic and created pedestrian plazas in the "Crossroads of the World" (and also in Herald Square) [brief plan / NYCDOT detailed plan].

Spearheaded by Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (featured in an excellent New York Magazine article) and the Bloomberg Administration as part of the "Green Light for Midtown" program, the pedestrian malls are ostensibly a pilot program to determine the feasibility of permanent conversion later this year, with the stated goal of increasing traffic flow through midtown (warning PDF).

Criticism from motorists, especially taxi drivers (New York Post), and for the quality of the chairs and planters used in the conversion aside (New York Times Architecture Review), the urban plazas have received generally favorable reviews (New York Times YouTube channel, NYDailyNews.com, AMNY) and national attention.
posted by 2bucksplus (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pretty cool no?
posted by caddis at 4:57 PM on May 27, 2009


I, for one....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:03 PM on May 27, 2009


To me, it's like killing a stuffing a beautiful animal and putting it in a museum, instead of observing it in the wild. They're famous streets and notorious intersections because they're streets and intersections.
posted by potch at 5:11 PM on May 27, 2009


To me it's like dressing a dead hooker in a Minnie Mouse costume, then propping it up on a folding chair.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 5:24 PM on May 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


To me, it's like making preliminary roadway improvements, followed by a preliminary narrowing of Broadway, and then making targeted traffic changes at Times and Herald Squares, such as reconnecting 7th Ave., simplifying 6th Ave. at 34th street, and closing Broadway at Times and Herald Squares, followed by implementation of markings, pedestrian refuge islands, new signals and public space amenities.

But maybe that's just me.
posted by dersins at 5:31 PM on May 27, 2009 [10 favorites]


Also, have you been to either Times or Herald Squares? They're unnavigable wastelands of tourists and chain stores. They're the farthest possible thing from "beautiful, wild animals," and they haven't resembled dead hookers for decades. There's no possible way to make them any worse than they are, so why not make some changes?
posted by dersins at 5:34 PM on May 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is brilliant, I cant' imagine anyone actually using Broadway in those sections for their commute, the only people those taxi drivers are picking up are tourists who they can probably loop around the island a few times to rack up the tab. Is anyone inconvenienced by this at all?
posted by geoff. at 5:42 PM on May 27, 2009


by that I mean why would you take something that became a tourist destination because it's a notoriously busy intersection, and close the roads? I mean, I know the advertising and sheer spectacle of times square is the point of it nowadays, but it seems to remove the soul from it.
posted by potch at 5:42 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, it's just Broadway. That's why I didn't notice any difference as I walked down 34th the other day. Well, coming out of Penn Station and trying to get to a more human part of town, any little bit helps, I guess!
posted by Casuistry at 5:43 PM on May 27, 2009


Looking at Manhattan thru Google Maps, I had the sudden urge to load up SimCity.
posted by Xoebe at 5:49 PM on May 27, 2009


Robert Moses paved over everything he could .. now we are tearing up the blacktop and putting in green. Thanks to Moses the space is available for human traffic.
posted by stbalbach at 5:51 PM on May 27, 2009


I haven't had a chance yet to run over and check this out, but I look forward to it. I think the pedestrian areas between 34th and 42nd are great, as are the tables and chairs that were added to Duffy Square (along with all the seating available on the new TKTS booth). There used to be not a square inch of seating in this area, which made killing time in the area a total pain, but just last week, I was able to sit in Duffy Square and do a little people watching before my matinee. It was great.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I really enjoy the chairs. Before this, in Times Square, there was no place to pause.

Not that you would know this, walking through, having to stop every two feet behind someone standing slack-jawed on the sidewalks or being paid to do the (brutal) job of trying to hand you something. But I empathize. I really do. The buildings are VERY TALL. And the adverisements are VERY BIG. Of course you want to look.

So now you can sit. And look.

And now, there is this new thing that wasn't there before, part of the landscape. Everything so glossy and precise, even if you want to call it hideous, and in the middle of it all, hundreds of people half-squatting in lawn chairs in the middle of the road. This enormous, spontaneous tailgate party that never gets underway.

But the best thing is, when you walk past, sometimes you notice people set up in a row next to each other, like on a couch, facing one of those iconic video towers, watching the screens run on a loop. Staring at a postcard.
posted by StopMakingSense at 6:15 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I always felt cars were a fluid blight on the city. Last time I visited, I only felt I was back after I had walked ten or so blocks.
posted by pointilist at 6:17 PM on May 27, 2009


I would like to think this would make it easier to walk through Times Square crowds, but the opposite is probably true: won't be able to cut into traffic to get around the tourists.
posted by grobstein at 6:28 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm all for this. Close all of Broadway. Manhattan will be better because of it.
posted by monospace at 6:57 PM on May 27, 2009


I mean, I know the advertising and sheer spectacle of times square is the point of it nowadays, but it seems to remove the soul from it.

I think the "soul" you're talking about hasn't been there since the Giuliani administration. And no, I'm not talking about "oh mercy they closed the porn shops" -- I'm referring more to the fact that they were replaced with chain stores you can find in every damn mall in the country. Times Square has more in common with the Mall of America than it does with the rest of New York City.

This way, at least if I have to walk through it to a subway in a hurry, I won't get stuck behind slow-moving crowds of tourists -- I can just walk around them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 PM on May 27, 2009


I really enjoy the chairs. Before this, in Times Square, there was no place to pause.

Unless you're a tourist. In that case, right in front of me is apparently a good place to pause.
posted by oaf at 7:08 PM on May 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is one of those things where I just cannot even imagine being in opposition. The complaints by the taxi drivers and such just seem so weak and self-serving.
posted by smackfu at 7:14 PM on May 27, 2009


Before this, in Times Square, there was no place to pause.

That was the point! It's a crossroads. There is no lounging in crossroads!

I like the novelty of it, but I wish they'd put it back when the "pilot" program is over. Not that I think they will.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:44 PM on May 27, 2009


And smackfu, traffic in the neighborhood (my neighborhood, damnit) has been a honking parking lot this week.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:45 PM on May 27, 2009


They should put in a petting Zoo. Maybe… sheep?
posted by OwlBoy at 8:09 PM on May 27, 2009


potch, speaking from a distance which you perhaps can't, I very much recognise the tourist value of Times Square, but can assure you that I do not think of its traffic congestion as in any sense iconic or an attraction.
posted by wilful at 9:13 PM on May 27, 2009


I cant' imagine anyone actually using Broadway in those sections for their commute, the only people those taxi drivers are picking up are tourists who they can probably loop around the island a few times to rack up the tab. Is anyone inconvenienced by this at all?

Well, the MTA just had to reroute eight bus lines that served the area. I can assure you that it isn't just tourists who utilize those.

As far as the cabs, Macy's had a widely used cab stand outside of it. Not solely used by tourists. Well, now it's not being used by anyone.

I haven't had a chance to see this in person yet, but I, like TPS really like all the seating that they had previously put in. But yet, even as a native, I've always loved the area, even now. I fear that the lack of traffic will remove some of the spirit of the area.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:33 PM on May 27, 2009


This is an interesting turn. The pedestrian mall definitely had a heyday but is largely on its way out:

There were once more than 200 pedestrian malls nationwide, beginning with a two-block mall built in 1959 in Kalamazoo, Mich.... [but] most are gone.... Cities such as Boston and Memphis, Tenn., are talking about opening up their pedestrian malls to cars.

The height of interest in pedestrian malls was in the mid- to late-1960s.... Some have been great successes, such as Santa Monica’s thriving Third Street Promenade. Others, built to combat competition from suburban shopping malls, re-opened to cars after retailers saw sales dip and sidewalks fall into disrepair.

“They were designed in some ways after European cities that had pedestrian streets, however we made several mistakes in doing this in the U.S.,” Feehan said. “We didn’t look at the way European streets work or are designed.”

One big problem, he said, was a lack of maintenance. Plants died and pavers cracked. In addition, the U.S. was even more automobile-oriented at the time, and shoppers wanted to drive up to storefronts. Safety was a concern.

Successful malls are maintained, managed and marketed, said Feehan, who gives talks on the subject. It’s also helpful to create a place that “has some magic to it.”

“You want to create those magical moments, that feeling of this is where you should have been all your life,” he said. “The more that you can create that feeling of, ‘Gee, I want to go back there,’ the more it will create return traffic. ... You need repeat business.” -- K Street: Last of the Pedestrian Malls (Sacramento Business Journal)


I imagine that Times Square and Herald Square will both pass the test of having enough pedestrian traffic. But to be sure, even downtown Chicago's State Street was turned into a transit-only pedestrian mall for some 20 years, and that was taken out. The urban design consensus is that creating wide sidewalks that are uncrowded makes an urban area look dead. While it was a mall, State Street lost almost all of its major retailers.
posted by dhartung at 10:04 PM on May 27, 2009


I would be happiest were this the minute beginning of a big trend, to reclaim Manhattan from automobiles. I want people to discover how the cars detract from civilization. Living in an environment with lots of people can be quite nice, but when you add lots of cars, with their exhaust and noise, it spoils much of that.
posted by Goofyy at 10:06 PM on May 27, 2009


I appreciate how the unsaid bit is "making Broadway a diagonal was really a bad idea".
posted by smackfu at 10:09 PM on May 27, 2009


Give my regards...
posted by trip and a half at 11:51 PM on May 27, 2009


Its just one step closer to the day when times square is covered in tall grass and has lions hunting the wild deer that graze there. Just one step closer, my friends.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:31 AM on May 28, 2009


This is brilliant. I say this as a car owning manhattanite. It is congestion causing but that's intentional - Bloomberg wants to get cars off the road and he can't get congestion pricing by the idiots in the state legislature so he's creating intentional congestion. People who are reading this as an attempt to create a retail driven pedestrian mall are missing the point. Its a massive traffic calming experiment.

I appreciate how the unsaid bit is "making Broadway a diagonal was really a bad idea".
I'm not sure you are being serious - but Broadway predates the grid. Actually it predates European settlement supposedly.
posted by JPD at 5:12 AM on May 28, 2009


Weekend before last, in Barcelona, they shut down the Carre de Sants (a major commercial boulevard) to open up a huge open-air market and street festival. Now, Barcelona is already pretty darn pedestrian and bike friendly, but this was something special. I dunno if they do it every Saturday, bu they should... and other big cities should investigate following suite.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:32 AM on May 28, 2009


This is tremendous. If ever there were a place where removing cars would make things better, Times Square is it.

Now let's drop everything and get the motherfucking cars out of Central Park already.
posted by gum at 5:43 AM on May 28, 2009


To me it's like dressing a dead hooker in a Minnie Mouse costume, then propping it up on a folding chair.

I don't understand, was that supposed to be criticism?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:51 AM on May 28, 2009


So.... can I bike through these closed areas or are they pedestrian only?
posted by exhilaration at 8:13 AM on May 28, 2009


exhilaration — the couple of times I've seen the new set-up you'd have a hard time finding the room to ride your bike between all those meandering tourists.

I, for one, am all for the idea of adding more walking/sitting areas in the city. Hell, I've long had a pipe dream that they'd shut down 11th avenue and run trolley cars on it.

However, living right on the corner of 9th and 47th street — this really REALLY sucks me for and the neighborhood. They'd already made traffic changes years ago that makes 9th avenue into a near parking lot between 42nd and 49th streets every afternoon as everyone heads to the tunnel.

Now they've added all the cars from Broadway who get down to 47th street and go "WTF? I have to turn? That's what all those signs meant?" And they have no choice but to head to 9th Avenue (or 11th) to join in the parade if they want to continue downtown.

But I'm working on moving out of Hell's Kitchen anyway, so this will just help keep me inspired.
posted by papercake at 8:33 AM on May 28, 2009


So.... can I bike through these closed areas or are they pedestrian only?

She is also adding new bike lanes. From the New York Mag article:
Two lanes of Broadway have been closed to traffic between Times Square and Herald Square since last August, allowing for a new bike lane and a pedestrian esplanade with café tables—a preview of what’s to come this summer. Her most visible markings are the bicycle lanes you see everywhere, 180 miles more of them since 2006.
posted by smackfu at 8:58 AM on May 28, 2009


She is also adding new bike lanes. From the New York Mag article:

Two lanes of Broadway have been closed to traffic between Times Square and Herald Square since last August, allowing for a new bike lane and a pedestrian esplanade with café tables—a preview of what’s to come this summer. Her most visible markings are the bicycle lanes you see everywhere, 180 miles more of them since 2006.


Yeah, good luck with that. Putting a bike lane between a sidewalk and a "pedestrian esplanade" means that you've got a constant stream walking in the bike lane.

While I love the greenbelt around the city and riding in traffic myself, I've found these new bike lanes to be pretty worthless.
posted by papercake at 9:11 AM on May 28, 2009


Yeah, I walked to work through Herald Square today and this didn't make a huge difference. There's still through traffic on 33rd, 34th, 35th, and 6th, so it doesn't really give one the impression of an absence of cars. Does make it easier to get by Macy's which will be a bigger deal in December when the damn Christmas windows are up. It's nice but certainly not transformative - though maybe it makes more of a difference in Times Square.
posted by yarrow at 9:55 AM on May 28, 2009


The urban design consensus is that creating wide sidewalks that are uncrowded makes an urban area look dead. While it was a mall, State Street lost almost all of its major retailers.

The Champs-l'Élysées seems to be doing quite well.

Bloomberg wants to get cars off the road and he can't get congestion pricing by the idiots in the state legislature

As a non car-owning Brooklynite, I'm glad Bloomberg hasn't been able to drive that tax on drivers who wish to travel within the boundaries of their own city through the state legislature. It's an unfair tax, would lead to more congestion in the outer boroughs (so much for that "clean air" crap, because the only places with reduced traffic would be Midtown. Where are the highest athsma rates? Not Midtown. Why not a plan to decrease "congestion" in The Bronx? Because his point isn't that either. It's a boon to the fatcats only.

And anyone rich enough to fork over the cash would still drive in. It basically screws the poor and outer borough residents.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:24 PM on May 28, 2009


so who is driving through midtown manhattan that is going to replace that by driving through brooklyn? Flawed argument. In fact you could make the argument it will have a positive impact on the outerboroughs as businesses seek to minimize the number of deliveries they make to midtown.

And he should institute congestion pricing in the bronx. The Cross-Bronx should cost 20 bucks to go through at rush hour. Direct fees for roads make people realize what the real costs are and lead them to support mass transit.
posted by JPD at 4:24 PM on May 28, 2009


In fact you could make the argument it will have a positive impact on the outerboroughs as businesses seek to minimize the number of deliveries they make to midtown.

Which would be negated by all the people who live in Long Island driving to Queens or Brooklyn, all the people who live in Westchester driving to the Bronx, and all of them parking there and taking the subway the rest of the way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 PM on May 28, 2009


The number of people who commute by driving are probably the wealthiest subsegment of commuters. Parking alone dwarfs the incremental cost of the congestion zone.
posted by JPD at 6:29 PM on May 28, 2009


I love being lectured about NYC commuting patterns by someone who says "lives in Long Island"
posted by JPD at 6:29 PM on May 28, 2009


There are places in this city with crappy public transportation options. Sometimes cars are a necessity or at least, very close to one. Eastern Brooklyn, for example, pretty much lacks subway service. It's also a tremendous hassle to get from say, Brooklyn to much of Queens.

It takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours for me to get from my home to my boyfriend's home by subway. I now know why people drive.

But EmpressCallipygos touched on the point I was trying to convey, which is that traffic will be increased in the outer boroughs, people will use streets here, which are already lacking in parking for residents, as a giant park and ride facility.

What you're getting at is good, JPD, but in practice, improvements in mass transit would have to be realized way before any such initiatives could even begin to work and not just screw over most city residents. Though ultimately, the fee is a terrible idea. New York City is not only Manhattan. Nobody should have to pay a tax to drive within the boundaries of his or her own city.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:55 PM on May 28, 2009


I love being lectured about NYC commuting patterns by someone who says "lives in Long Island"

...would you...care to elaborate? I would have no problem with you saying that I "live in Brooklyn". What is your objection to the way I phrased a reference to people who live in that geographical location?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 PM on May 28, 2009


Nobody should have to pay a tax to drive within the boundaries of his or her own city.

What? Why? You're like Charlton Heston, but for cars. This kind of absolute statement cries out for justification. Answer the call if you dare!

The routes into and through Manhattan are a scarce and expensive resource. In particular, the bridges and tunnels are bottle-necks (much moreso than the routes into the other boroughs, save Staten Island). Access to these bottlenecks is inevitably restricted, if not by tolls then by excruciating waits. Providing free access is an impossible illusion, because if everyone can drive in at no charge, there are massive costs in bridge waits and traffic congestion in and around the downtown: that's not really free, it's just exacting payment in smog, traffic accidents, and millions of hours of commuter time instead of money.

How traffic and parking should be managed in the Bronx, or Brooklyn, or Queens, is a rather separate question from how it should be managed in Manhattan, because although they are in the same city boundaries, their circumstances are very different. The pattern of traffic distribution varies wildly among and within the boroughs. Furthermore, two of the boroughs are islands, a brute physical fact that really matters when you're trying to design the best systems for getting people in and out. When you say, "New York City is not only Manhattan," I sense wounded outer-borough pride. But it should not diminish that pride at all to acknowledge that different parts of the city have different needs.

Now, it is entirely possible that parking or congestion should be controlled in the boroughs, perhaps with more metering, in order to control spillover congestion from Manhattan commuters. All that said, though, the Doomsday scenario EmpressC is peddling is awfully implausible: driving into the Bronx from Westchester to get on the 2 or the 5 is just not very attractive compared to the commuter rail, and if parking in the boroughs was really tight commuters would respond by taking MetroNorth in greater numbers.
posted by grobstein at 8:20 PM on May 28, 2009


"people will use streets here, which are already lacking in parking for residents, as a giant park and ride facility."

This is easily controlled. Restrict daytime parking to 1 or 2 hours and distribute annual parking permits to residents that allow them to park on the street 24/7. People can still visit the neighbourhood (though they'll have to move their cars every couple of hours if they can't park in a driveway). Overnight guests are OK parking on the street. And no one who would have to take public transportation between their car and their destination is going to be able to bogart street parking. Every place I've lived where residential areas were near or in business areas has used this system successfully.
posted by Mitheral at 8:41 PM on May 28, 2009


I love this idea. I love it.

That said, I am so, so, so incredibly lucky to have known New York City in the '70s. Nothing else will really ever hold a candle to it. What a time and place to grow up in.
posted by perilous at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2009


Walked through Times Square tonight on the way to and from a show. I like the extra space, although it feels cluttered due to the temporary nature of the setup (lots of orange cones, signs, all the traffic lines still on the street). They've thrown some of the ugliest brown lawn chairs (both regular and chaise versions) you've ever seen between 47th and 46th.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:44 PM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love being lectured about NYC commuting patterns by someone who says "lives in Long Island"

...would you...care to elaborate?



It's "on" Long Island.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:56 PM on May 28, 2009


"on" Long Island.

Hey, that's where Brooklyn and Queens are!
posted by dersins at 12:17 AM on May 29, 2009


..would you...care to elaborate?

I would expect someone who professes to have a knowledge of how middle class people commute to Manhattan from Long Island actually be enough of a NYer to instinctively know our localisms. Just as NY'ers wait on a line not in a line they also live on Long Island rather then in Long Island.
posted by JPD at 4:16 AM on May 29, 2009


I would expect someone who professes to have a knowledge of how middle class people commute to Manhattan from Long Island actually be enough of a NYer to instinctively know our localisms. Just as NY'ers wait on a line not in a line they also live on Long Island rather then in Long Island.

...Are you seriously dismissing my argument because I happened to use a pronoun you don't like?

Wow. That's like responding to someone's argument by saying, "Well....you're ugly!" You must not have a better response, I guess.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on May 29, 2009


It would be cool if you read what I wrote. No I'm not dismissing your argument based on a pronoun use. I'm dismissing your argument based on it being ignorant of how middle class people commute into Manhattan from the Suburbs. Go take a look at Penn Station at around 3:45 and ask the guys holding Bud Talls in paper bags on how the math works already on driving vs LIRR. And its even more laughable that Driving to Queens, parking, and taking the Subway would be a reasonable commute - in terms of both time and Money.
Jamaica Center to Penn Station on the E takes 40 minutes. The express from Ronkonkoma (its in Suffolk out where middle class people can afford to live) takes an 1hr 9minutes. It would take you at least an hour to drive from Central Suffolk to Jamaica at Rush Hour - and that's wildly optimistic.

The fact that saying "in Long Island" doesn't instinctively sound incorrect to you is just a cute little bit of evidence that you don't have the background to speak on the issue.

The fact is that people who drive into Manhattan either )need their vehicle for their job ) are wealthy enough that paying the congestion fee isn't a big deal. Neither cohort is likely to park in Jamaica or Flushing and take the subway.
posted by JPD at 7:25 AM on May 29, 2009


The fact that saying "in Long Island" doesn't instinctively sound incorrect to you is just a cute little bit of evidence that you don't have the background to speak on the issue.

It's funny that you would say such a thing, because the NYC that you so obviously prize wasn't born out of a static homogeneous mass of people but rather the complete opposite: NYC as its best because of all the sprawling diversity and difference. Exhibiting a specific grammar tendency in a specific language that's obviously only going to be used by a specific number of people, especially in NYC, strikes me as a laughably incongruous way to separate 'those who can speak about this' with 'those who can't'.
posted by suedehead at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2009


Of course it not static and its not homogenous and that's what makes it great - but just as there are South Asians in East London with a cockney accent, the second generation El Salvadorian immigrant living in Hempstead says they live on Long Island. It is a regionalism that cuts across class and ethnicity.

It was a snide remark directed towards someone who is ignorant of the economics of the commute but uses an argument predicated on that as a rationale for opposing congestion charging.
posted by JPD at 8:09 AM on May 29, 2009


Well, if your complaint was that "I don't think you know enough about the situation," why didn't you just say that?

And if you were wrong about whether "everyone" says "in" or "on", then isn't it possible that maybe you're also wrong about the economics of this situation as well?

If you've got real proof that I've got a mistaken understanding of the commuting economics, then show it to me, don't nitpick at semantics.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on May 29, 2009


Everyone does say "on"

And yes there is real proof. I'm not nitpicking at semantics. I gave you an anecdote before about the math of commuting via train vs commuting via car + subway - which is the one mode that would impact the outerboroughs.

But here is actual data
posted by JPD at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2009


if you were wrong about whether "everyone" says "in" or "on"

Yeah, he wasn't.
posted by oaf at 3:36 PM on June 1, 2009


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