City Scraps Pedestrian Plaza Option for 34th Street Transitway

As currently configured, 34th Street doesn't work for the majority of people who use it. Image: NYC DOT

Pedestrians who navigate Midtown’s crowded sidewalks won’t get as much as they could have from the proposed 34th Street Transitway. The Times reported last night that NYC DOT will not pursue plans for a pedestrian plaza between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue as part of the project.

The plaza was the focus of serialized attacks in the opinion pages of the New York Post last week. But just as you’d never know from reading the Post that the breakthrough feature of the 34th Street project would be the use of physically-separated bus lanes, you’d never know from Steve “The Cuozz” Cuozzo’s jubilant tweeting last night that the plaza concept was only part of the effort to improve 34th Street for the vast majority who depend on transit and walking. Together, pedestrians and bus riders account for 90 percent of the people traveling on 34th Street.

DOT will present its current 34th Street plan at a public meeting on March 14.

The ultimate design of the project has been taking shape over the course of dozens of public meetings. At a Community Board 5 meeting last fall, the pedestrian plaza was included in one of three transitway concepts that the DOT presented [PDF]. All three included a two-way busway.

A transitway without a plaza would likely still include new pedestrian amenities on a street that currently suffers from high numbers of traffic injuries and deaths. Renderings of the various options have shown bus boarding areas that double as pedestrian refuges, for instance.

“We expect the design to still include all other pedestrian improvements like neck downs, no turns, and protected turns so that the pedestrians, who are the vast majority of users of 34th Street, get the space they need around the transit hubs and the safety they are entitled to,” said Christine Berthet, co-founder of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety.

The setback over the plaza is not a verdict on the overall transitway, but it is a sign of the tenuous political support for it. Despite positive words from 34th Street Partnership President Dan Biederman, who today told the Wall Street Journal, “Generally, I’m a believer in pedestrianization and fewer traffic lanes full of traffic,” the pedestrian amenity at the center of the project has been quashed.

New Yorkers who want to see one of the city’s innovative and potentially precedent-setting transit projects succeed should contact their council members and Borough President Scott Stringer to make sure it moves forward.

  • Dominican in Bklyn

    This is a huge loss. That strip gets enough foot traffic to create a thriving pedestrian mall. This could easily have been as successful as the pedestrianization of Times Square.

    The retail stores and property owners on that block should be up in arms. They have the sway to make it happen and there is potentially huge profits for them in the near future if they do.

  • Morris Zapp

    Apropos of nothing, how crazy is it that the term “pedestrian refuge” is accepted street-design parlance?

    On second thought, that’s apropos of everything.

  • Streetsman

    Really sad that the addiction of a few to front-door curbside vehicle access is forcing everyone who lives works and shops on that stretch of 34th Street to suffer with all this traffic and miss out on a beautiful public space. This could never have happened in reverse – removing the public space for delivery access. It’d be like ripping out the public space in Rockefeller Center so the little shops in the plaza could get 18-wheelers to their front doors.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Incredible.

    This is going in the exact opposite direction that it should be going.

    We should be talking not just about a pedestrianized block but 34th Street should be doing a big car-free shopping day on Black Friday, the day after the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Just like London does with Oxford Street before Christmas. It’s a huge success and massively beneficial to local business.

    What good is 34th Street as a traffic-choked shithole with jam-packed sidewalks? Give me a car-free Black Friday and I’m there with my kids and in-laws buying tons of crap I don’t need, pumping up the tax base.

  • Westchesterite

    Times Square has become a destination for my family BECAUSE of how safe and inviting the pedestrian plazas are. Before them, I was terrified that my kids would be pushed off the crowded sidewalks into car traffic lanes.

    And like Marty B. above said, we do A LOT of shopping in and around Times Square with the kids. T-shirts, food, the Hershey’s vs. M&M stores, etc. We often walk from Times Square to Union Square, following the new pedestrian and bike-friendly Broadway.

  • Bolwerk

    Man, I wish they’d bring back the prostitutes on Times Square. But perhaps they could be located next to the curbside parking on 34th?

  • NM

    Morris – awesome. Just awesome.

    And can we get this graphic for each city neighborhood? And can we exclude anyone not representing productive travel (meaning taxi/towncar/pedicab drivers and anyone cruising for parking)? This is powerful.

  • Sean

    As a resident of Murray Hill I’m deeply saddened to hear this news. I thought, for sure, that saner minds would have prevailed in this particular situation, given that most of the actual “backlash” (ignoring The Post and related faux-backlash nonsense) was from a very small handful of “get off my lawn” cotton-tops whom I can guarantee don’t represent the general mindset of the neighborhood. Sad that they have the ability to squawk at CB meetings while the rest of us are at work or tending to our families, but sadder still to think that this decision has been made so hastily over such little turmoil.

    I find myself in denial, actually, about this. Is it possible this “announcement” from the Mayor’s office was just to shut-up the newspapers and fear mongers?

    I still believe that the city’s long-term unspoken plan is to pedestrianize the route from Times Square to The Empire State Building (along Broadway and 34th St) as our city center, and it would have been nice to see something like this take hold.

    One needs only look to Broadway between 42nd and 43rd street… it is the only section where the new pedestrian plaza does not run along the street, the only part of the city where you cannot drive up to the front door of the building. No one has even noticed, let alone complained, about this. Having 34th Street to further prove that pedestrian malls are OK (better than OK!) would have been a great way to show that we can do this elsewhere in the city as well.

  • Marty B — Yes, re car-free Black Friday, but let’s do it between Xmas and New Year’s too, when the block is crawling with post-Xmas shoppers, college kids home for vacation, et al. Had it been that way in December 2001 there would have been seven fewer funerals. (The seventh died too late for the next day’s paper.) How quickly we forget.

  • Sprooklyn

    Definitely back asswards. The pedestrian plaza was the most inviting part of the design.

  • JK

    It wouldn’t hurt to have the mayor reiterate how well the Times, Herald and Madison Square pedestrian reclamations are working, provide factual evidence in a larger forum with 34th St partnership and business and property owners who support those projects at his side. This would help jolt the Times, NY1 and other fact based media into a more clear headed place. The Times coverage in particular has been sloppy and lazy and devoid of useful context. Today’s weak article used 450+ words but failed to tell readers who uses 34th street, or that DOT has mounted an extraordinarily extensive outreach efforts — far bigger decisions are made by government with far less public participation. Nor did the Times bother interviewing any of the crowds of bus riders or pedestrians on 34th who would have been happy to have more walking space, and a quicker ride. Really low quality work from a paper that is blowing the whistle on fracking with an impressive array of facts, multi-media, and human stories. Maybe they should divide the Times into a Facts section, and a Lazy, Snark section to save readers time.

  • New Yorker

    I’m one of those little green people in the chart above. And I walk along and around 34th Street all the time, including to and from Penn Station and my apartment.

    Sometimes the street’s crowded. Sometimes it isn’t. When it’s crowded, I may duck into 32nd, 33rd, 35th or 36th Street or cut across Macy’s (the first floor comes in handy when the weather’s bad).

    And guess what, I’m a pretty happy little green person. (So “green” I’ve never driven a car in my life, one of the benefits of living in this town.)

    I’m glad DOT is beginning to listen to people’s and business’ concerns about the Transitway. We’re among the little green people, too. And we support transit improvements, including pre-board fare payments, rush-hour bus lanes, etc. that won’t cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in concrete barriers and traffic islands.

    See you on 34th Street!

  • kevd

    The most important part of the plan is the 2 way separated bus lanes.
    Everything else is window dressing.

  • Woody

    The most important part of the plan should be to widen the sidewalks to reflect the overwhelming numbers of pedestrian users compared to a small number of private vehicles on this important street.

  • Francesco

    the infogfaphic is very powerful, but I would like to know which DOT’s report that picture was taken from. I checken on DOT website and none of the reports or presentations that I have been able to browse had that chart of 34th street.
    Thank you.
    one of those little green men