Last night NYCDOT showed plans for a package of safety upgrades and public space improvements for Union Square [PDF] to Manhattan Community Board 5’s transportation committee. Under the plan, the north and west sides of the square would see much less traffic and receive more space for pedestrians and new cycle tracks. Several elements of the project are novel for New York, including a contraflow bike lane proposed for Union Square North and two blocks that would be car-free some of the time.
Reader Mike Epstein tells us that the committee reacted positively to the overall plan but chose to put off a vote until DOT returns with another presentation detailing the impact on 18th Street traffic.
On Broadway from 23rd Street to 18th Street, the plan calls for a parking-protected bike lane and pedestrian refuge islands while removing one driving lane. DOT told CB 5 that because of changes to Broadway at Times and Herald Squares, this stretch of Broadway now carries only about 250 cars per hour at its peak, or one quarter of the road’s capacity. Without removing a lane, the extra space promotes unsafe speeds.
Cars driving down Broadway would be diverted east onto 18th Street, a move which prompted some outcries from 18th Street residents worried about more traffic in front of their homes. "The amount they’re adding should be one or two cars per minute," said Epstein, who noted that new turning lanes and signal timing should make the impact of that increase negligible.
Cyclists will be able to continue down Broadway to 17th Street, where they will have the option of turning onto a new contraflow lane along the north side of Union Square. The protected bike lane will then continue along the eastern edge of Union Square until it ends at 15th Street.
New plazas are slated for Broadway between 17th and 18th and on 17th between Broadway and Park Avenue, and pedestrians would get parts of Union Square West to themselves, at least some of the time. Between 17th and 16th, and 15th and 14th, the street will be closed to traffic part-time. DOT wasn’t ready to announce when those two blocks would be pedestrianized or how they’d be programmed, said Epstein. He hypothesized that the need to get trucks in for the Union Square Greenmarket was a key consideration.
The block between 15th and 16th Streets is remaining open to traffic so that eastbound local traffic on 16th could loop back west onto 15th.
In a straw poll taken after the presentation, most committee members said they approve of the plan. "All but one of them expressed general support for the project, tinged with a little bit of concern about details" like signal timing and turn lanes, said Epstein. The one opponent, however, couldn’t marshal a particularly strong argument: He claimed the project needs federal approval because Broadway is also US Route 9, a designation that doesn’t apply south of the George Washington Bridge.