Bloomberg Puts Forward a Bold, Transformative New Vision for Broadway

CarFreeBway-TSQ_1.jpgBefore and After: A rendering of a car-free Broadway at 7th Ave., Times Square, looking north. Download a larger image.

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.

CarFreeBway_HSQ.jpgBefore and After: A rendering of a car-free Broadway at 6th Ave., Herald Square, looking south. Download a larger image.

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.

Bway_improvements.jpg

  • Glenn

    Awesome. Go JSK

  • Joy! This is why I voted to re-elect Bloomberg. New York deserves a European-style city center free of vehicular violence. Nothing I’ve read in years has given me such a jolt of optimism for the future of our city.

  • oscarfrye

    awesome

  • Am I the only one concerned with the widening of seventh Ave?

  • This is big, this is bold, this is fantastic and it’ll show tourists visiting from every corner of the word that NYC is slowly giving its streets to people, not just to cars. Perhaps it’ll wake up NYers too and show ’em they can reclaim their city. There’s bound to be some moaning and groaning just like when Madison Square Park improvements were rolled out, but let’s have our collective praise drown our the mumble and grumble of car loving curmudgeons.

  • Rhywun

    Am I the only one concerned with the widening of seventh Ave?

    I’ve heard that a couple times now. Where is that in the plan? Anyway it’s almost unbelievable–those avenues are so incredibly wide already. How many lanes already? Like 6??

  • It was in the Times article and if you look at the image above, seventh ave is only 3 travel lanes through times square but in the after image it is 4 lanes.

  • Rhywun

    Ah. I can’t make it out in the picture, but yeah it’s a terrible step backward. But totally predictable given that they’re billing it primarily as a way to “improve motor vehicle traffic flow” and only incidentally as a way to relieve the choke of pedestrian traffic.

  • Indeed. NY! is reporting that Seventh Avenue will be widened.

  • oscarfrye

    it doesn’t look wider, just restriped to fit 4 lanes instead of 3?
    is that possible?

  • This is all much greater than my own little wish list, but I sure would have loved the ability to legally bike UP Broadway for its full length…

  • momos

    The Times article reports: “Seventh Avenue would be widened slightly within Times Square to accommodate the extra traffic diverted from Broadway.”

    gary fisher and Rhywun, you ought to consider whether this trade off is worth it to gain a pedestrianized Times Square and Herald Square. Remember, Broadway already was narrowed by two lanes last summer. This is a major net gain for pedestrian space.

    Significantly, when these improvements are made New Yorkers are going to wonder why they were never done before. And by demonstrating pedestrian reclamation in the heart of Midtown, the DOT will show that it can be done anywhere in the city.

    The DOT is pitching this as a strategy to improve traffic flow (a narrative the Times predictably bought in its story). But by now JSK should have earned some credit from Streetsbloggers: you know she’s keen to rebalance transportation modes in NYC away from fuel-sucking private autos.

    Give it up for JSK!!! This is AMAZING news!!!

  • Veritas

    Thank you Bloomberg and JSK!

  • Definitely great news. Props to the city for tackling something like this. Let’s hope it works out.

  • Timz

    I can only dream of the day when Broadway is a 100% pedestrian blvd all the way from Columbus Circle to Union Square!

  • The fourth lane on 7th south fo 42nd appears to be a replacement of the parking lane. Switching from parking lane to traffic lane is OK with me.

  • Max Rockatansky

    un-be-freaking-lievable

  • Fantastic news.

    A fitting honor for the (at least) six pedestrians mowed down and killed on December 27, 2001 by an out of control van in Herald Square. Not to mention the hundreds of other people killed in vehicular crashes in Herald Square over the past few decades.

    Hopefully this can be replicated on other streets in New York – particularly some of the ones in the boroughs, like Queens Boulevard, which remain incredibly deadly.

  • luc

    Where are the 7th Ave and Bway bikeways on this rendering?

  • They’re not on the rendering, but they are on the detailed plans.

    If DOT thinks they need to sell this by emphasizing that it’ll move traffic faster, not by pointing out its great effects for peds and bikes, I can deal with that. It’s still a great project.

  • (n)

    >Where are the 7th Ave and Bway bikeways on this rendering?

    Hiding in plain sight where ppl won’t complain about taking out car lanes for bike lanes! I love it!

    “Street enhancements” FTW!!!

  • Clarence Eckerson

    This of course is NICE!

  • Looks amazing. I wish other US cities were as forward thinking as NYC.

    My only question is, was this project designed to speed up cars, and the pedestrian benefits are a side effect?

    Or was the project designed for pedestrians but is being sold as a speed improvement for political reasons?

  • Evan

    Whoa. You mean I’ll actually want to visit Times Square now? Awesome!

  • John Kaehny

    Great work DOT! I’ve been hoping for this day for a long while.

    NY Times
    Taking Some of the Chaos Out of Herald Square
    August 26, 2000
    Mr. Kaehny has advocated similar changes for years, particularly those that provide pedestrians more walking space. He said he envisioned this as a beginning step in ”Broadway eventually being choked out of existence,” closed to cars. The city’s plan, he said, ”would make traffic move more smoothly because it would restore the grid and it would create a lot of precious pedestrian spaces.”

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E0D71331F935A1575BC0A9669C8B63&scp=2&sq=kaehny&st=nyt

  • Kate Slevin

    Good work, Mayor Bloomberg, JSK, and the rest of NYC DOT.

    Watch out, La Rambla, here comes Broadway!

  • Pat
  • Moser

    Pat, the narrowing extends south to 24th or so where it meets the plaza areas the city created in Madison Square last year.

  • Jass, I don’t think it does us* much good to keep our transportation modes in silos (that is, “project A benefits cars” or “project B benefits pedestrians”). We should look at our streets holistically, and how we can accommodate their users in the safest and most efficient way for everyone.

    *Advocates for progressive, smart transportation. Planners and engineers should also avoid siloing the modes. Marketing these improvements to the general public is a bit different, especially when we’re still educating others about our issue.

  • Kate

    If Seventh Avenue is widened, give one lane to bicycles… not cars.

  • BrooklynBus

    I hope this works, however, I wouldn’t count on a fair evaluation by NYCDOT. They want it to be a success, so even if congestion is increased in Midtown, it will most likely be deemed a success. It would have to be a complete disaster for it to be evaluated as a failure.

    The reason I say this is that it is difficult for me to understand how speeds could actually improve with less street capacity. Okay, I see how there is more green time for 7th Avenue and 34th Street, but is that enough of an improvement to compensate for the reduced street space for vehicles? The vehicles have to go somewhere. They will not just dissappear. With the loss of Broadway, the cars will not just be diverted to 7th Avenue. They also will be diverted 9th, 11th and 5th Avenues. Choking those streets in order to improve air quality and pedestrian space around Times Square and Herald Square, does not in my mind automatically constitute a success.

    A fair evaluation of this project involves studying what happens to traffic on 5th, 9th and 11th Avenues as well, not just what happens on 6th and 7th Avenue which are probably the only streets that will be studied.

    Double parking is a bigger cause of congestion than traffic volumes. This project must address that issue to for it to be successful.

  • The reason I say this is that it is difficult for me to understand how speeds could actually improve with less street capacity.

    Maybe this will help?

    The vehicles have to go somewhere. They will not just dissappear.

    Actually, they don’t have to go somewhere and they may, in fact, just disappear. More precisely, they’ll be left at home while their former passengers take transit, and maybe eventually scrapped.

  • Noodle

    YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! This is exciting.

  • Could this be the day that America actually starts to move beyond the automobile?

  • Ditto Cap’n Transit. The popular myth is that there is some absolute number of cars that are on the streets. The truth is that our designs determine how many cars will be on the streets.

  • I \v/ NY

    While I definitely love this proposal and support it… in someways this just shifts all the traffic to 7th and makes it more inhospitable to pedestrians.

    I would have prefered having the car traffic stay on Broadway but have a Broadway and 7th with fewer lanes, wider sidewalks, more crosswalks, slower traffic and maybe even a two-way Broadway.

    Something still needs to be done to make all of the avenues in NYC slower, calmer and less wide. Obviously NYC is the most pedestrian oriented city in the US by far but yet NYC’s avenues are almost more auto-friendly than the streets in any other american downtown… there arent too many other american city centers with 6-lane high speed one way avenues running through the heart of them.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Folks – one thing I’ll point out – traffic can disappear. It has been proven, T.A. has an entire list somewhere. Especially when there is a grand strategy for the entire city like this – putting in physically separated bike lanes here, pedestrian plaza there, more traffic calming, Broadway Boulevard, Madison Square, removing parking spaces, more dedicated bus lane, etc. etc. if it continues some drivers decide to leave the car at home, some shift their trips to other times during the day, some decide to stay local and spend their money in restaurants that probably really need it right now.

    As for increasing one lane of traffic on 7th Avenue. Leave it be for now. That’s another project. After this is successful, the process will continue – maybe in a few years there will be a physically separated lane on 7th, who knows?

    On a side note, I feel a little sad that I am in L.A. of all places right now filming (though filming some real good stuff.) I think if I was at the press conference I might have teared up.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    it is difficult for me to understand how speeds could actually improve with less street capacity.

    Is this really that complicated of a concept, Brooklyn Bus?

    Slicing diagonally through Midtown, Broadway creates geometrically awkward, three-way intersections. Removing Broadway makes them into simpler two-way intersections.

    Let’s say you have 120 seconds of green light time at each intersection. If it’s a three-way intersection, you get 40 seconds of green time and 80 seconds of waiting. At a two-way intersection you get 60 seconds of moving and 60 seconds of red time. You also get fewer turning movements at the two-way intersection.

    So, two-way intersections = more moving, less waiting.

    I’m no traffic engineer but it seems pretty clear to me why removing Broadway from the grid would make the avenues move faster.

  • That’s not the part I have difficulty understanding. What I questioned was would this increase in speeds be enough to counterbalance the negative effect (for vehicles) by removing street capacity? That is the reason this is being called a test. Because no one knows if it will be a success, not even DOT. But you and your friends here are so sure it will work you couldn’t care less if this is evaluated fairly. You just want it to remain permanent regardless of what any test results show. That I find objectionable.

  • BrooklynBus, did you read the links I posted? They explain how removing street capacity can have a positive effect, even on vehicles. Please don’t reply until you’ve at least glanced at them.

    That said, this project has multiple goals. Some of us think the pedestrian improvements are worth it in their own right, and don’t really care if vehicles are slowed down a little.

  • Cap’n Transit:

    “Actually, they don’t have to go somewhere and they may, in fact, just disappear. More precisely, they’ll be left at home while their former passengers take transit, and maybe eventually scrapped.”

    Nice thought but won’t happen as long as the MTA is going to reduce service like they will do on weekends, and as they are threatening to do unless they receive more state and Federal aid. This at a time when ridership ia at a 60 year high. Someone who won’t take a train on a weekend because he doesn’t want to stand, certainly won’t take one if the trains become even more crowded and slower.

    I\v/NY:

    “Something still needs to be done to make all of the avenues in NYC slower, calmer and less wide.”

    Slower and calmer also means more congestion and more air pollution. There are times of the day in Manhattan when you can drive down one of these wide avenues for two miles straight at 35 mph before hitting a single traffic light. Are you proposing to narrow these avenues, so they will always move at 10 to 20 mph or stand still at all times? Is that what you call an improvement? And don’t give me the line that if we did this, there would be fewer cars and less traffic, because buses also use these avenues and those people would also be inconvenienced which everyone here (except me) seems to forget.

  • If you think we forget that buses get stuck in traffic, you haven’t been reading the series on BRT. Did you check out the paper by the physicists yet?

  • Cap’n Transit:

    Yes I did read the links you posted before I replied. I didn’t comment on them because I thought they were well-written and didn’t object to anything in them.

    I would also appreciate if you would also consider my comments. I realize that on this message board I am like a salmon swimming upstream but still feel I should be heard which is why I even bother commenting although I fully realize that most everyone here already has their minds made up and all they do is pat each other on the back.

  • Brooklyn Bus
    If streets are slower and calmer by design then they tend to have less total car that are all moving constantly at a slower but not idling speed some times even achieving a average speed that is higher than when the street was wider and had a greater total number of cars accelerating faster, braking faster and idling longer. All of those factors in the later case increase pollution and make streets more dangerous for all users. This is not theory either, it is fact supported by numerous different studies. If you want to read about several of them go to you public library and take out Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic”

  • Cap’n Transit:

    “If you think we forget that buses get stuck in traffic, you haven’t been reading the series on BRT. Did you check out the paper by the physicists yet?”

    I skimmed through the BRT series being somewhat familiar with it having attended a few meetings on it. Except there is a small problem. NYC doesn’t have BRT and isn’t proposing it for the future. What we have is something called Select Bus Service, a scaled-down version of BRT that is being implemented at a snail’s pace. When the first presentation was given in 2003, we were told there would be five tests, one in each borough and if successful, the program would be expanded to 20 or 30 routes.

    No one said that it would take 5 years to implement the first five routes. At that pace we are talking 20 years for 20 routes. There are hundreds of bus routes in the City, so talking about BRT as if it’s some sort of panacea to improve bus service in this City is ridiculous. It will only make a small dent, at best, and it’s not even real BRT. The MTA is first now testing it’s first 3-door articulated bus. (This should have been done years ago instead of filling the crosstown streets with two-door artics that slowed bus travel to a crawl.)

  • Gary Fisher:

    “If streets are slower and calmer by design then they tend to have less total car that are all moving constantly at a slower…”

    Sounds good on paper and would be true if congestion was caused by high volumes of traffic. But in midtown at least, that is not the case. I firmly believe that double parking is a greater cause of congestion than high traffic volumes. Cars cruising at a constant speed of 20 mph when there is high volume to me is not a problem. (Of course it would be better if there were fewer cars and they could go faster.) The problem is on double parked car or truck or taxi stopping in a moving lane to cause a 20 mph moving stream to instantly become a mass of standing still idling vehicles. That is where the attention should be focused.

  • Maria Milkova

    It is a great idea but the execution of it is not quite there. The layers of traffic and pedestrian space must be separated by a buffer (green space). The rendering of a car-free Broadway at 7th Ave. displays the fact that without the buffering zone this open space will become a sauna in the summer and a wind tunnel in the winter. Some green space will provide people with some shade in summer time and perhaps some seating area; it can be modeled after the Spanish Steps which are a great example of a successful public space.

  • It is true that double parking wrecks havoc on traffic congestion, it effectively cuts capacity in half. But with less cars wouldn’t there also be less cars double parked? Stronger parking enforcement and smarter parking policies are needed to curtail double parking in Manhattan.

  • I think the reason you don’t see trees in the renderings is because this is a trial run. It is setup to be temporary if it doesn’t go well. Hopefully it will go as planned and some green can be added.

  • I used the BRT threads as an example of how we don’t forget that buses get stuck in traffic. I could also use it as an example of how we’re not always patting each other on the back. The reason that many of us are so frustrated with Walter Hook’s pat palaver is that it focuses too much on marketing and fancy vehicles and stations, and not enough on getting buses moving.

    One of the main reasons it’s taking so long to implement the first five routes is because they’re getting so much opposition from local merchants and drivers. You must have seen that in the Bedford Avenue pilot. Have the local leaders and merchants lined up behind it, or have they done everything they could to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt without coming up with their own workable plan to move buses?

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