Bloomberg, Sadik-Khan Commit to a World-Class, 21st Century Broadway

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and leaders from the Midtown business community announced this morning that the new public spaces along Broadway will become permanent features of the city’s landscape now that an eight-month trial period has ended. The city will seek to build on the trial project’s success by creating, in the mayor’s words, "an enduring, world-class" street in the heart of Manhattan.

After weighing a dramatic decline in traffic injuries and data from millions of taxi trips showing an average seven percent increase in west Midtown traffic speeds, Bloomberg characterized the results of the trial as very encouraging. Safety improvements alone, he noted, were "reason enough to make this permanent."

In a rather extraordinary Q&A session that followed the announcement, Bloomberg fended off several questions from reporters who expressed skepticism that overall traffic speeds had improved. The mayor did not shy from the chance to frame pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements in a way that New Yorkers rarely hear from their elected officials.

“Are the roads for multiple uses — everybody, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists,” he asked, “or are they just for motorists?” When it comes to streets that safely serve all users and create vibrant public spaces, he suggested, New York has fallen behind its competitor cities around the globe.

Data from the trial period [PDF] indicates that the changes in Midtown are helping NYC to catch up. Pedestrian injuries along the project corridor declined 35 percent compared to average injury levels from 2006 through 2008. The safety improvements were most dramatic at the major pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square, where injuries dropped by 40 percent and 53 percent, even as more people walked to those destinations.

times_square_dot.jpgPhoto: NYCDOT

With more space to walk and socialize and fewer pedestrian conflicts with streams of traffic, public opinion of the area has swung upwards by a large margin. Surveys conducted by the Times Square Alliance revealed that 74 percent of people who work in the area today are satisfied with the experience of Times Square, compared to 43 percent in 2007. Three-to-one majorities of respondents — both New Yorkers and suburbanites — said they wanted the changes to be made permanent.

The transformation was aptly summed up by Dan Biederman, director of the 34th Street Partnership. "This is a 21st century idea," he said. "The 20th century idea was three lanes of noisy, annoying traffic."

Sadik-Khan, who called the observed improvements "an example of the results we want to deliver on the streets of New York citywide," said DOT would "move immediately to transform the plazas into iconic spaces worthy of their iconic setting." The permanent design of the plazas will incorporate new pavements, new seating, and event spaces.

As for those traffic speeds, the principal source of doubt had to do with methodology. DOT compiled one dataset by hiring drivers to travel straight on a selection of streets, using their own judgment to mimic the average speed of traffic. The hired drivers performed 5,723 time runs using this method.

A separate dataset came from millions of taxi trips tracked with GPS units, recording trip lengths and times to determine average speeds. The GPS data depicted faster travel times in every direction except southbound traffic, while the hired drivers produced more ambiguous results. Bloomberg expressed much greater confidence in the GPS data, which, he said, provided a huge sample size and reflected the real-world, zig-zagging complexity of traffic.

At one point, the prevalence of reporters’ questions about traffic prompted Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins to step up to the microphone. "I just want to say that the overwhelming majority of people who come to Times Square are not driving,” he said.

The new Broadway has succeeded because it functions much better for that supermajority of walkers and transit-riders. And don’t think other neighborhoods haven’t noticed. “There are other parts of the city where we are getting lots of calls from merchants who want the same kind of thing,” Bloomberg said. The widespread embrace of the historic re-purposing of Broadway, he later added, “gives you confidence in Janette’s innovation. It’s also building acceptance among the public, when they see that something new has worked.”

Video: Robin Urban Smith

  • Albert

    Wonderful news!

  • I hope the overwhelming popularity of 21st century Broadway among the people most affected by it will inform the future words and actions of the city leaders who follow Bloomberg and JSK. New York became a greater city today and could improve still more in the future.

  • The mere idea that New York is a destination and not an obstacle to auto-mobility is progress. Kudos to everyone who fought long and hard for this day.

  • I gotta tell our (LA’s) Mayor @Villaraigosa about this!

    Bloomberg: 1, Villaraigosa: 0.

    Bloomberg is so whipping Villaraigosa in the bike/ped infrastructure arena. It’s like LA is still in the starting block and NY is just about clear outta sight. Congratulations to Mayor Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and all the others working so hard on these key forward-looking livability issues.

  • Best news I’ve heard all day. Bravo!

  • Awesome news! I can’t wait to come back to NYC now, after visiting a few years ago and see the changes.

  • Matthew

    And to think that Europe had the same idea of creating plaza’s for the people hundreds of years ago!

  • Blair Mastbaum

    Portland passes Bike Master Plan 2030! Just wanted to tell you. http://bikeportland.org/2010/02/11/the-bike-plan-live-from-city-council/

  • Well, in all fairness, most public urban spaces (including most streets) were indeed “plazas” (even if it meant stepping aside to let a horse and carriage or a streetcar go by every once in a while) before the you-know-whats showed up and the streets were re-purposed into traffic corridors, hence no real need to explicitly set aside such space.

  • Bravo to all of the parties, Streetsblog included. I don’t know about everyone else, but if not for the big picture — political, cultural, etc. — I get from the blog, I likely would have reacted to the particular news only (Times Sq makeover stays) and would have missed the broader significance: that the mayor has gone from equating traffic with economic vitality (2006) to championing streets as public spaces; and that the JSK’s and Dan Biederman’s and Tim Tompkins’s who had the vision to imagine the makeover and the guts to fight for it have been validated. To borrow a phrase from Niccolo M (the later), “it’s a beautiful thing.” On to the next campaign, and the next, and the next.

  • Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg, to Jannette Sadik-Kahn, to Tim Hopkins, and all those who have made this a success. Americans will look back several decades from now and see this as a watershed moment, a mark of returning wisdom in the management of our nation’s urban streets.

  • Excellent new! More power to NYC and all cities as they strive to accommodate pedestrians. They’re changing the roads, now if they can change the laws and law enforcement so that pedestrians are given the rights that they deserve.

  • This is great news!
    Any one know if this will be expanded to the rest of Broadway (well at least the Manhattan part)? Or what streets/nabes JSK & Co are thinking of expanding this to?

  • Corvus

    THIS is why I voted for Bloomberg this time around.

  • @Ross, Boomberg isn’t just kicking Villaraigosa’s ass, he’s given a through beating to every mayor in america. Most mayors would hesitate to even suggest a street be closed one Sunday a year to vehicles, never mind improve an icon like Broadway.

    I am thrilled that Bloomberg was able to see past “moving cars” as the prime purpose of streets.

    And as this pointed out:

    “At one point, the prevalence of reporters’ questions about traffic prompted Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins to step up to the microphone.”

    How about we get some reporters that aren’t so blinded by the idea that traffic is the only thing that matters? How many of their readers are reading the paper in the subway or on metro north?

  • Corvus

    BTW – Anyone interested in drafting JSK for Mayor in 2013?

  • @jass
    I suspect that most of these reporters don’t even live in the 5 boroughs and drive to work. Thus the obsession.

  • Me

    Why couldn’t the Bloomberg administration frame the conversion as a matter of pedestrian safety and quality of experience, wait one week, declare the project a roaring success and tell the whining auto lobby/motorists to generally go f*** themselves?

  • From a World Streets perspective here at, what is most notable about this accomplishment is not only the thing that you are realizing, the result, but perhaps ever more important the process behind it all. And the fact that behind this process has been a consortium consisting of several hundreds groups of all stripes and very different points of view concerning the detail, and, I would guess, something not far from ten thousand individual citizens who get it, namely that streets are not roads, that they are for people –not for and above all for vehicles.

    What we would much like now would be for someone out there who is in the know to take the time to write up this process in a few readable pages from a critical and independent perspective (no more snow needed these days), so that the world can learn from this great example.

    Volunteers,

    Eric Britton
    http://www.WorldStreets.org

    PS. Read World Streets. It’s the spinach of sustainable transport

  • Great news and a vision of the future.

  • The human capital of this city is by far its most important asset and must be considered above everything else.

  • Glenn

    In the NY Times article this morning, it quoted Liz Krueger (who is usually very good on environmental issues) and Bill deBlasio arguing a few points on process. Seems pretty BS to me. It shows how rare a leader Bloomberg is that shows real bold leadership on an issue while other elected officials just whine and complain about everything under the sun. Pathetic. BOOO!

    No money to Sen. Krueger’s re-election campaign until she says that she wholeheartedly supports the Times Square pedestrian plaza.

  • Glenn

    For those that want to ask Sen. Liz Krueger what she really thinks of the pedestrian plaza, they can call her office at 212-490-9535 or email her at liz@lizkrueger.com. I think it’s best to fight this point now before other electeds join in with their whining and complaining.

  • Fantastic news. It is great to see that the administration continues to take such a proactive, progressive stance on walkability and urban transformation of the streetscape.

  • There was a time, cities did not have crosswalks, did not have traffic signals, did not have painted traffic lanes, etc.

    Streets were used by all. Gradually, the automobile took over streets just for themselves. Finally, returning to yesterday, except for the barriers.

    See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NINOxRxze9k for how one city had it in 1904.

  • Bravo! Next steps: Completely pedestrianize Broadway from Columbus Circle to Canal Street.

  • Like many on this blog, I’ve spent a lot of energy over the years fighting for principles and occasionally winning half-loaves. This is truly a rare moment–a concrete grand-slam success against all odds and “popular wisdom,” coupled with an explicit vindication of the “complete streets” vision championed first by TA, then by Mark Gorton, the business community, and finally by the politicans. Nothing could be more energizing. Where do we start next?

  • I’m glad to hear the changes are permanent. I would like to experience it for myself.

    What street or streets will JSK and her Department transform next?

  • Kevin Love

    What’s with these people in the video using the word “traffic” to mean motor vehicle traffic? Pedestrian traffic and cycle traffic is, well, traffic.

  • To be more accurate it’s a 19th century idea. Or really just any century before the 20th century.

    But thats just fine, our infrastructure was far better back then.

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