One of Manhattan’s premier public spaces is now safer, roomier, and livelier. DOT officially opened its improvements to the Union Square area today, including new pedestrian plazas and a continuation of the Broadway bike lane into a contraflow lane on the north side of the square.
Several pieces of the re-design were already in heavy use today. Greenmarket trucks were in an orderly new alignment, opening up more sidewalk space for crowds of shoppers. Cyclists were riding safely down Broadway and turning left onto 17th Street into a spacious, protected lane. And scores of New Yorkers sat, ate, read, and chatted at the tables and chairs — increasingly-iconic markers of the city’s public space improvements — installed at the northwest corner of Union Square.
The new treatment should help make the area far safer for the more than 200,000 pedestrians who visit Union Square on peak days. Between 2004 and 2008, 95 pedestrians were struck by drivers on the stretch of Broadway below 23rd that was redesigned. The traffic-calmed street should be far safer. “We don’t think that New Yorkers should have to second guess their safety when they cross the street,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Also praising the new public space were Vikki Barbero, the chair of Community Board 5, Jennifer Falk, the executive director of the Union Square Partnership, Marcel Van Ooyen, who runs the greenmarket, Lynne Brown, a senior vice president at NYU, and Jennifer Brown, the executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership.
Brown noted the “thriving new businesses opening adjacent to the plazas” that opened two years ago near Madison Square, and Van Ooyen made a surprise pledge to supply plants to decorate the new plazas. Sadik-Khan noted that in the week since 17th Street has been converted from two-way to one-way traffic flow, the department hasn’t heard a single complaint.
DOT made the case for this re-design in part by noting that previous traffic calming efforts further north on Broadway had reduced congestion and left excess capacity on the road, leading to dangerous speeding. Interestingly, Sadik-Khan said she didn’t expect this to be true of Broadway below 14th Street.
More pictures of the new space after the jump: