New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan unveiled plans to pedestrianize a large swath of Broadway in Midtown Manhattan at a small briefing in City Hall this morning. Intended to improve motor vehicle traffic flow, enhance safety and provide more and better public space to pedestrians, the plan seeks to solve what Sadik-Khan called a "problem hidden in plain sight for 200 years."
As the only Midtown street that pre-dates the 1811 street grid plan, Broadway "creates pinch points and traffic congestion as it traverses Manhattan crossing busy avenues," Sadik-Khan said. Extending from 59th Street at Columbus Circle to 23rd Street at Madison Square with substantial pedestrian-only areas at Times and Herald Squares, Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for Broadway is, arguably, the boldest and most transformative street reclamation project since Portland, Oregon decided to tear down Harbor Drive in 1974.
In addition to creating a vast swath of new pedestrian space in "pedlocked" Midtown, DOT estimates that the plan will reduce southbound motor vehicle travel times by 17 percent on 7th Avenue and northbound travel times by 37 percent on 6th Avenue. To measure the plan’s effect, DOT will be closely monitoring a number of criteria including economic data. With numerous storefronts vacant and office and retail rental rates lagging behind other prime Midtown corridors, Broadway is currently "underperforming" by a number of economic measures, Sadik-Khan said. Based on experience in other cities, a more pedestrian-friendly Broadway should "get more people out on the street. They will buy more coffee and do more shopping."
Construction on the street redesign — which is being presented as a pilot project and being built with temporary materials — will start in May and continue through August, Sadik-Khan said. Work around Herald and Times Square will be done during the Memorial Day weekend to ease concerns about traffic congestion.
While Broadway’s existing bike lane will remain intact it was, notably, de-emphasized in DOT’s renderings. Broadway will now be considered a "pedestrian priority" street and Sadik-Khan said she expected the bike lane would mainly be used by tourists and pedicabs. The bicycle rental company Bike & Roll is considering setting up a rental facility somewhere along the route. "Fast cyclists are not going to be interested in going through this. Messengers will be directed to use 7th Avenue," she said.