It’s Opening Day for the Newest Stretch of Broadway’s Green Ribbon

Officials from NYU, Community Board 5, the Union Square Partnership and the Flatiron __ Join DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to cut the ribbon on Union Square improvements.
Officials from NYU, Community Board 5, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the Union Square Partnership and the Greenmarket joined DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to cut the ribbon on Union Square improvements. Photo: Noah Kazis

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:

Just north of Union Square on 17th Street is a new protected contraflow bike lane and pedestrian lane. Greenmarket trucks are parked immediately curbside. Photo: Noah Kazis
Just north of Union Square on 17th Street is a new protected contraflow bike lane and pedestrian lane. Greenmarket trucks are parked immediately curbside. There is now only one vehicle lane on 17th Street. Photo: Noah Kazis

Along Union Square East, the bike lane continues down to 15th Street, though without physical separation. Photo: Noah Kazis.
Along Union Square East, the bike lane continues down to 15th Street, though without physical separation. Photo: Noah Kazis

It was hard to find an open seat at the corner of 17th and Broadway, even before the height of the lunch rush. Photo: Noah Kazis
It was hard to find an open table at the corner of 17th and Broadway, even before the height of the lunch rush. Photo: Noah Kazis
  • For all my criticism of other new bike lanes, I must say that in the past couple weeks they have made this area about 100 times more bikeable and safe. The dramatic realigning of this area they tried last year was ambitious and attractive, but it had some things that didn’t work (eg placement and size of the bike lanes, a weird fork in the bike lane that rarely got used as intended). In the past two weeks the place has become 100% better for bikes and pedestrians and motorists too, I think. Love this stretch of Broadway.

  • mike

    So glad this went in, and I’m excited to try it.

    However I don’t agree with JSK’s assertion that Broadway below 14th doesn’t suffer from speeding. I find Broadway right below 14th to be highly dangerous with fast and reckless car drivers, and the rest of it crammed with cars and difficult to navigate by bike. Because of this I almost always avoid Broadway, which is a shame, since this will make e less likely to use Broadway above 14th.

  • Do any other cyclists find this intersection difficult to navigate?

    To turn left from Broadway southbound onto 17th, you need to cross from the bike lane on the right side of B’way, which means either merging with traffic, or waiting for the red light and crossing in the “bike box”.

    Once you’ve crossed Broadway and have a green light, you’re faced with some difficult maneuvering through a cramped corner, while a flood of pedestrians (who have the right of way, of course) use the new bike lane and “beige space” as a staging area while waiting to cross.

    What’s the right/best way to do this?

  • One major flaw I noticed with the design is for cyclists intending to go westbound on 17th St. The options are either to wait in deadlocked auto traffic, salmon up the contraflow lane, or worse, misuse the expanded pedestrian space. I find the aforementioned random strip of pedestrian space between the greenmarket loading zone and the contraflow bike lane a bit awkward and perhaps unnecessary, and think the space would be better utilized as part of a two-way bike lane.

    Other than that, the traffic calming effects are quite pleasant.

  • Woody

    Broadway south of 14th should be high on the agenda for the boulevard treatment. The three lanes of traffic should be restricted to two lanes. Even more important, the block between 14th & 13th Sts should be closed, the way Broadway is closed between 35th and 33rd Sts.

    Now 14th St needs to be recognized as a major shopping corridor, with added space returned to pedestrians, especially on the south side. It’s very difficult to bike down Broadway now because of the huge crowds of pedestrians impatiently spilling into the street. But I’d be willing to forego having any bike lane between 14th and 13th if the whole block were made a pedestrian plaza.

    I guess the problem with this idea is that buses run down Broadway. OK, limit lower Broadway to one lane for buses, one lane for bikes, none for cars. (The cars can have ALL of Jersey for all I care.)

  • I don’t know, Woody, the jet stream will blow all the Jersey car pollution onto us. Instead of Jersey, I nominate the Atlantic Ocean.

  • ChrisCr

    The only thing I don’t get is why isn’t the bike path along 17th on the north side of Union Square two-way? There’s clearly tons of room for it to be two-way.

  • Columbus Circle…Times Square… Herald Square…Madison Square Park… now Union Square. Every big Broadway intersection has now been reformatted for people rather than just cars. It’s a huge improvement that I do hope continues farther south, but if you look at a map – I think Astor Place on Lafayette would be the next logical plaza to redesign, not more of Broadway per se. Lafayette extends from the bottom of Union Square and has so much excess capacity, you could very feasibly put a two way protected bike path AND pedestrian plazas all along it.

  • Tralfaz

    There is so much change underway I have almost given up trying to follow it all.

  • momos

    Agreed with Mike. Broadway between 14th and Houston has a problem with speeding. South of Houston traffic slows down (but Broadway around Spring St is chaos, with major pedlock. Closure of Spring St to cars and a major redesign of that area is needed!)

  • Anyone who was at the Community Board meeting where DOT suggested closing Prince Street just for one day a weekend for a month would know that changes below Houston are almost impossible to get community support for (remember this incident? http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/03/07/soho-partnership-dot-propose-car-free-sundays-on-prince-st/). Slow and steady wins the race.

  • sorry that link is broken. Just search “mime threat” at the top and you’ll find it. The outrage over closed streets and room for pedestrians was mind-blowing.

  • m to the i

    im a big supporter of all the new bike lanes but i think that people who are bringing up design issues with the lanes have a point. For example, on 1st and 2nd ave at major intersections (34th, 23rd, 14th), the bike lane stays to the left of the left turn lane for cars, at the curbside, putting cyclists in conflict with turning vehicles. The bike lane should move to the right of the left turn lane so that cyclists going straight can continue without having cars turn in front of them. allen street has issues with traffic signals, especially heading south and trying to make the right turn onto canal to the manhattan bridge from the bike lane. and the transition from the navy st bike lane to the sands street median bike path stinks, in both directions.

    anyway, great to see new infrastructure. i just wish that the people who were designing these lanes had a little more forethought so these conflicts could be avoided.

  • Woody

    As good a place as any to gripe about the lack of bike racks. We’ve got two miles of Broadway tamed and boulevarded now. But the reclaimed pavement offers no new places to park your bike.

    If protected bike lanes attract more riders, then the existing number of bike racks will be made inadequate with every extension of the system. So why not design in added places to park?

    And some of the downscale stretches of the boulevard need a few benches or chairs. When I ride through the wholesale district in the upper 20s, some African vendors, or casual workers or whatever they are, will be squatting on the new curbing of the pedestrian safe harbors. A few feet away is an expanse of vacant pavement. Why not add seating even where there’s no umbrellas or planters?

  • The major problem with closing Broadway to traffic below Union Square is that there are limited through streets below 14th St. University Place and Fourth Ave/Lafayette are both one way uptown and Fifth Avenue ends at Washington Square. That leaves Third Ave/Bowery, a two way street, on the East Side and Seventh Avenue South/Varick, which functions largely as an approach to the Holland Tunnel, on the west.

    A similar problem exists with closing Prince Street or Spring Street to traffic. There simply aren’t enough through-streets to absorb the overflow.

  • JW

    Seattle begins construction on their NYCDOT-style plaza tomorrow at the Westlake streetcar terminus.

  • I love all of the attention given to downtown spaces, but how about some of this love spread north, too? The bike master plan calls for bike lanes on Broadway north of Columbus Circle. Broadway in the Upper West Side and Harlem is a beautiful Avenue with a landscaped median. But it’s hard to cross for people and hectic to bike for riders. After the recent “here come’s a bike lane” and “sorry no more bike lane” shenanigans the Uptown people had to deal with for the 1st and 2nd avenue lanes, it’s time DOT shows that the bike network is not only meant for cyclists below Central Park.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The major problem with closing Broadway to traffic below Union Square is that there are limited through streets below 14th St. University Place and Fourth Ave/Lafayette are both one way uptown and Fifth Avenue ends at Washington Square.”

    That indeed is the problem. Broadway/Lafayette are the north-south pair through the middle of Manhattan south of 14th Street.

    A more radical way of looking at it, however, is that the problem only runs from 14th Street to Prince Street, where Lafayette/Centre form a north/south pair, and then from City Hall South. Could Lafayette handle all the north/south traffic from the Center Street merge to Park Avenue South? Would through traffic simply go elsewhere, leaving that whole area to origin/destination traffic? Hard to say.

    I think one way to look at it is through traffic should stay on the east and west sides of Manhattan and out of the center, especially south of 14th Street.

  • Fake Marcia Kramer

    What is this? A challenge? When Ernie and I find some real New Yorkers, there will be nothing but complaints. Where’s the guy that used to drop his 97 year old mother off at that corner every morning? He should call us.

    “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.”

  • Woody

    Cantor Ben, a new protected bike line is coming to the Upper West Side. The first phase on Columbus Avenue is being finished up between 96th and 86th. The next phase is supposed to take it down to 77th St. (Right now all the pavement has been scraped off Columbus in that stretch prior to repaving.)

    We’ve heard that there have been MANY complaints against the little bit of bike lane started on Columbus. You might want to send a note to Mayor Mike, thanking him for the good start and urging him on.

  • No complaints in this dictatorship

    “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.”
    Just because the Dept hasn’t heard the complaints doesn’t mean there aren’t any. No use in complaining to this dictatorship.

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