The Pedestrian Crush: It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This

Although there is undoubtedly an amazing streets renaissance
going on in NYC, there still remain places in dire need of
improvement. Every workday, heavily-used areas like the blocks surrounding Penn
Station are overwhelmed with
pedestrians making their way home via buses, subways, the Long
Island Railroad and Amtrak. The sidewalks are so
clogged by this "crush of humanity" that people are forced to walk in
the streets. If you’ve never seen it, or if you’re claustrophobic, get ready.

Open Planning Project Executive Director Mark Gorton
recently went out to sample the atmosphere on a typical weekday evening and posits that we can do much better in how we choose to allocate street space. His words sum it up nicely:

The reason it’s so crowded here is not because there’s not enough space. It’s because we give all of our space to the least spatially-efficient form of transportation available. 

Of course he is referring to the automobile — especially the single-occupant vehicle. Oddly enough, I did a PSA over three years ago
which aired during our New York City Streets Renaissance campaign launch. I filmed most of
it in the same location. It still looks much the same, perhaps
worse.

  • Streetfilms does it again.

    Superb!

    PS – It’s been a while since the last Streetfilm. We’ve missed you guys!

  • Gwin

    I never ride my bike down 7th Ave near Penn Station because there are so many fools walking in the street (and there is room on the sidewalks!).

  • Shemp

    More Gorton ranting: not Streetfilms’ finest hour.

  • Mark Fenton

    People forced to walk in traffic during rush hour is a worthy thing to rant about. When is this going to change? Does Bloomberg ever walk around here?

  • Jeremy

    Great video.

    But why does the post below it not mention NJ Transit rail riders? They FAR outnumber Amtrak riders. I am tired of NJT riders being treated as invisible, even by transportation advocates. NJ Transit runs the third largest commuter railroad in the country, and yet you’d never know it.

  • er

    There’s nothing inaccurate about this video, and I wholeheartedly agree with the message, but it is not something that will (or is necessarily meant to) communicate effectively to anyone outside the Streetfilms/Streetsblog choir.

  • PaulCJR

    I also think we as peds could also be more effiecient. One side of the street should be or walking southbound and the other going northbound. And we could also do this for the east-west walk as well. I swear as a child I remember it being this way.

  • curly

    Mark’s ranting is like the White Album. It might bug you the first time you hear it,and maybe even the second, but then you realize that its kinda entertaining and oh so right. Do you want a revolution or canned pr?

  • momos

    I LOVE THE PASSION! KEEP IT UP!

  • Clarence

    Jeremy:

    Sorry my apologies. Was not intentional, I was having some computer issues and had to do the write up in a document and cut and paste it over once I was able to solve my log in issues. So somewhere I lost the NJ Transit reference in my haste. Believe me, 80% of the time I am in the Penn Station area it is to go on NJ Transit trains to visit my family, so it was the first one I listed when drafting the write up. I wouldn’t have left it out on purpose.

    I’ll fix that now.

  • Galut

    So when can we expect wider sidewalks? Not sure about the “in a day” comment, but I am sure you could get this done in weeks!

  • Veritas

    Every time I walk in this area, I think that 7th Avenue should have much, much wider sidewalks.

    I also think that there is a lot of potential for the block of 32nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. That block is very heavily trafficked by pedestrians, but not too many cars seem to use it. It would be very successful as a car-free block. The only caveat is that there are many loading docks on the block; perhaps it could be open to cars/trucks at night only.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Great piece, it should be shown to the planners working on moving Penn to the Farley post office. It is a great opportunity to redraw the planning map and is in the interest of LIRR, AMTRAK and NJT (and, hopefully, MN). This area could become the transportation center of midtown, only the cars stand in the way.

  • I totally disagree with both shemp and er.

    I think you guys did a great job of pointing out a continuing problem and I do think the video can reach those outside the of the “converted.”

    And I must add, what will those sidewalks look like once “THE Tunnel” is complete in several years and then maybe Moynihan Station? What if gas hits $5 a gallon before then? Both! $10 bucks!!!

    THINK ABOUT IT!

  • Echoing Niccolo, didn’t the MTA mention plans recently to bring some Metro North Trains into Penn as well????

    More trains mean more pedestrians!

  • Geck

    “I also think that there is a lot of potential for the block of 32nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.”
    Make it a kind of woonerf; a pedestrian street that only allow delivery vehicles at very slow speeds for loading and unloading only.

  • Michael1

    Worthy to revisit this previous Streetsblog article:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/04/17/a-transit-miracle-on-34th-street/

    Obviously, there always room for improvement in the plan but BRT on 34th Street is definitely a good start. It would be more efficient that the current bus lane layout. As for inserting planters and paint and just dropping it on 7th Avenue, as Gorton suggests, well the DOT put more thought into that (referring to Broadway as the example). The reason Herald Square was opened up to pedestrians was because of Times Square. With the new configuration at Times Square, this created a major traffic flow shift of all southbound Broadway traffic to 7th Avenue. Therefore, any changes made to 7th Avenue at 34th Street has to be consistent throughout 7th Avenue up to at least Times Square. I’m hesitant to say installing the bike lane setup on 7th Avenue (as done on Broadway and 9th Avenue), because hitting the Penn Station area will be tricky. On top of which, the Penn Hotel and Penn Station access to designated taxi areas has to be factored in. So for now, I would say increase sidewalk space on 7 between 42 and 34 by surrendering traffic lanes.

  • Boris

    Are even transit advocates forgetting about the Gimbels Passageway? Designers of THE Tunnel don’t remember it either, as they claim that the new Penn Station will have a direct connection to 6th Ave subways for the first time.

  • Ray

    The sidewalk space presently available around Penn Station is further:

    a. littered with scaffolding and illegal street merchants (32nd). Scaffold seems to support no work and needs to come down. I understand street merchants make a living selling knock off merchandise, but they need to find another place to do it.

    b. overwhelmed by tourist bus sales, advertising street teams and free newspaper distribution (Penn Plaza); While, city parks and BID’s charge tens of thousands of dollars for “event space” – its clear to me that none of the stake holders, Amtrak, the 34th street partnership or Vornado is able to regulate this zone – its is open to anyone with the balls to risk a ticket (which don’t seem forthcoming). The free newspaper distribution is a menace that slows down the (all ready dangerous number of) people pouring out of Penn Station stairs/escalators.

    c. new bus services directly competitive with Amtrak regional service (enabled by the city DOT to load/off load and park in the immediate vicinity); There are lines of passengers waiting to board buses on the sidewalk (33rd/7th Ave). We have a BUS STATION for this purpose!

    d. sidewalks are filthy. One area in particular stands out. The QSRs operating on the East Side of 7th Avenue between 32nd and 34th are not property bagging their food waste. They are not washing their sidewalks down each day. The sidewalks are covered with organic material. Frankly this is true of the entire 34th Street Area. The zone is overwhelmed with lack of maintenance.

  • zach

    So exactly which lanes do we convert from motor vehicle traffic to pedestrian traffic? One lane on one side of the street for extra sidewalks and on the other side of the street for BRT?

    I think readers of this blog are ready to acknowledge that motor vehicle traffic is not a fixed quantity. If we reduce the motor vehicle traffic flow in one place, some of it reroutes itself, and much of it converts to pedestrian and transit traffic.

  • Michael1

    BRT can be more easily implemented on 34th Street, than 7th. 7th Avenue is 4 travel lanes wide with two parking lanes. One idea is to at least shift lanes to the right by moving the north parking lane into the leftmost travel lane, therefore making 7th Avenue three travel lanes wide. This will double pedestrian space on the north side. Another idea could be to equally increase pedestrian space on both the north and south sides, therefore causing one lane to be surrendered and squeezing the roadway from both sides. I don’t know how feasible that could be. The Gimbels Passageways are a good idea, but they have to be at least double that size shown in the photo in order to handle large numbers of people. Another great idea is to prohibit vehicles W 33rd Street between 7th and 6th on peak hours to allow for more people to walk on the street. It’s also notable to mention that when Penn Station was revamped in the 1990s, taxi dropoff was in the area between Penn Station and Madison Sq. Garden. I guess after 9/11, security became a factor and that was shut down to public access. Opening this area again to taxis will greatly reduce traffic on 7th Avenue.

  • gecko

    Yes, cars are really in the way. You can be the only cyclist on a street flanked with cars parked and otherwise and a car comes down the street and the driver feels compelled to honk at you as the cyclist even though the most of the street is blocked by cars doing absolutely nothing.

  • er

    @Ray: This regional bus service is competitive with Amtrak, especially for students, because tickets cost a fraction of the price of Amtrak ($20 by bus vs. $125 by train). This is a complicated matter, of course: Amtrak has never been adequately funded and there is not enough control over using and expanding rail infrastructure to increase service and possibly offer lower prices. But it’s important that, in the meantime, there be bus service available to the thousands of folks who (like me) don’t have a lot of money and need travel along regional routes like DC-to-NYC.

    And yes, that is what the bus station is for – except that the bus station is over capacity, which is why there are so many bus services operating along side streets instead. What we need are policies (and the funding flexibility) to provide better service by bus and rail, and to improve station space accordingly. A more attractive and user-friendly station wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • a cyclist

    peds are using the bike lanes to walk in even when space is avail on the sidewalk just because it makes their commute easier. they don’t seem to mind that it puts a cyclist life more at risk as well as their own. this is true around both penn and port authority

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Times Square Flashback: Revisit the Bad Old Days With Streetfilms

|
New Yorkers might have forgotten just how bad the bad old days were in Times Square. Gridlock blocked crosswalks. Pedestrians were relegated to crush levels on the sidewalks. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. Relive the nightmare with this Streetfilm from 2006, in which Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton interviews Danish architect and public space expert […]

Battery Park City: An Opportunity for Innovative Street Design

|
A "woonerf" or "shared space" street design in the Dutch town of Haren. Yesterday a Streetsblog reader reported that the Department of Transportation is removing stop signs and installing traffic signals at some intersections in Battery Park City as a way "to provide for the safest streets possible citywide." The reader noted, "The area is […]

In the Tortured Mind of Steve Cuozzo, Even Street Trees Are a Threat

|
Well it finally happened. Steve “Quixote” Cuozzo has conceded that the Times Square pedestrian plazas, the project to which he has devoted two years of relentless tilting, are a hit. Not only are they “popular with burger-chomping tourists,” writes Cuozzo in Thursday’s column, such a draw are Times Square’s new public spaces that they threaten […]