Goodbye FOREVER, cars! Last May the DOT introduced an innovative pilot program that closed seven blocks of Broadway in Times Square and Herald Square to vehicular traffic, transforming the space into 2½ acres of new urban pedestrian oases. The primary stated objective was to ease traffic congestion along Sixth and Seventh Avenues, allowing drivers to spend less time at stoplights at intersections with Broadway. And although the DOT's study, released today, shows that the goal was only partially met, Mayor Blooomberg has decided that the pedestrian plazas will be made permanent.
Using G.P.S. data from more than 2 million taxi trips, the DOT determined that northbound trips up Sixth Avenue were 17 percent faster, but southbound trips down Seventh Avenue slowed by 2 percent. Travel speeds east, west, and north were all faster, combining for an overall seven percent increase in vehicle speeds. And since the changes were implemented on Memorial Day Weekend 2009, injuries to motorists and passengers in the project area are down 63 percent, while pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent. (You can read the entire Green Light for Midtown Evaluation Report here: pdf.)
"The new Broadway is here to stay," said Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan in a statement. "We will now design a world-class public space that’s a new center stage for the greatest city in the world." The city will begin work immediately with local partners to improve the look and feel of the plazas in Times Square through a series of surface treatments. A Times Square Alliance survey this fall found 76 percent of all New Yorkers and 68 percent of retail managers in Times and Herald Squares said the project should be made permanent.
Of course, not everyone likes change, most notably two cranky columnists at the NY Post, who argued that the plazas were ruining Times Square. Naturally, groups like Transportation Alternatives are elated; spokesman Wiley Norvell tells us, "It’s hard to argue with a project that’s cut down on injuries by a third. And all the while foot traffic has spiked. Besides a couple columnists at the New York Post, who exactly has anything to gain by going back to all-cars, all the time?"