In the Tortured Mind of Steve Cuozzo, Even Street Trees Are a Threat

Well it finally happened. Steve “Quixote” Cuozzo has conceded that the Times Square pedestrian plazas, the project to which he has devoted two years of relentless tilting, are a hit.

Not only are they “popular with burger-chomping tourists,” writes Cuozzo in Thursday’s column, such a draw are Times Square’s new public spaces that they threaten to turn Broadway north to Columbus Circle into a barren, commerce-free wasteland. Where pedestrians and cyclists see a calmer, safer street, Cuozzo sees desolation, a ruinous tampering of the urban fabric.

Cuozzo quotes a handful of besieged business owners who, according to Cuozzo, have to this point kept silent out of fear of retaliation from Mayor Bloomberg. If their complaints sound vague, if not contradictory, that’s because even now they will only speak out in “guarded terms.” (Aside: As a former small business owner who has interviewed and interacted with countless other entrepreneurs, it is my experience that reluctance to complain about the government is about as common as enthusiasm for higher taxes.)

From the three businesses and one business group represented, Cuozzo elicits anecdotal stories of lost income purportedly due to the “confusing” nature of the new Broadway, where even the street trees, it seems, are scaring away pedestrians — not to mention hapless drivers who can no longer figure out how to park. All this concern for Midtown businesses from someone whose disdain for their primary customers — tourists — knows no bounds.

Per usual, Cuozzo has no data to point to, so any correlation between a drop in business and street design rests solely on supposition — though one restaurateur has an interesting theory:

Stephen Hanson is the president of B.R. Guest, the restaurant company that owns Ruby Foo’s at Broadway at 49th Street. He says, “It’s hurt our business there tremendously. There’s no walk-by traffic we used to have at night, because everybody’s in a mad dash to get to the central arcade area.”

Hanson says his Blue Fin at 47th Street has benefited from the Times Square plazas — but that their popularity, combined with the inhospitability of the bike/pedestrian lane to the north, sucked the energy out of Broadway above 47th Street — “anything for 10 blocks up is getting a vacuum effect,” he said.

Taking Hanson’s comments at face value, you’d think that in order to share in the success of Times Square, Broadway north of 47th Street needs more space for pedestrians and cyclists, not less.

We could go on, but engaging Cuozzo on his own terms allows him too much credit. Despite the wealth of knowledge gleaned from his 15-minute stroll, the facts (see them here) are that cycling on Broadway at 50th Street is up by 91 percent, while pedestrian injuries from Columbus Circle to 48th Street have dropped by 39 percent. Across the length of the revamped Broadway, pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent, and in Times Square 80 percent fewer pedestrians are walking in the roadway.

Perhaps because there haven’t actually been as many injuries and deaths lately, the Post can cavalierly pen a headline like “Murder on Broadway” — an irony in all probability lost on The Cuozz, who is no doubt preparing his next charge at the windmill.

  • krstrois

    It’s definitely street redesign and not the fact that if you want seafood and have several hundred dollars to spend on a meal, you could walk four blocks to Le Bernardin to have something far better. Um, yeah. 

  • krstrois

    It’s definitely street redesign and not the fact that if you want seafood and have several hundred dollars to spend on a meal, you could walk four blocks to Le Bernardin to have something far better. Um, yeah. 

  • krstrois

    It’s definitely street redesign and not the fact that if you want seafood and have several hundred dollars to spend on a meal, you could walk four blocks to Le Bernardin to have something far better. Um, yeah. 

  • Freakonomics

    The Times Square pedestrian plaza is so bad for business that even Ruby Foo’s location on 78th Street and Broadway closed in 2009!

  • Freakonomics

    The Times Square pedestrian plaza is so bad for business that even Ruby Foo’s location on 78th Street and Broadway closed in 2009!

  • Like just about everything he says, Cuozzo’s claim that the motorists can’t figure out how to park in floating parking lanes is empty.  In fact, they take to them like fish to water. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/5939744307/in/photostream

  • krstrois

    I’m sorry, I meant drive four blocks. DRIVE. Not walk.

  • krstrois

    I’m sorry, I meant drive four blocks. DRIVE. Not walk.

  • krstrois

    I’m sorry, I meant drive four blocks. DRIVE. Not walk.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve walked up along Broadway from 53rd to Columbus Circle many times but haven’t recently until Wednesday. I honestly don’t know what Steve is talking about. Broadway had about as much foot traffic as I remember it ever having at 10:30AM on a weekday. The stores along the way especially the coffee shops etc were full.

    My experience as a pedestrian was quite remarkable – I actually felt safe. Drivers drove slower on streets that crossed Broadway, behaved themselves when turning onto Broadway and yielded to pedestrians! I felt like I was in an alternate reality. 

    I might add that in addition to all of those things, I could swear Broadway was actually cooler and more comfortable than the surrounding streets but obviously I wasn’t carrying around a thermometer. 

    My only critique of Broadway actually was I wish there were MORE plants and trees and that maybe they could have thrown in sidewalk bulbs with vegetation.

  • community-member

    That Cuozzo now admits he was wrong about his criticisms and attack on the Times Square project really tells you everything you need to know. He’s wrong about the rest of Broadway too. It’ll take him two years to acknowledge his mistake. 

  • Jeremy

    In fairness, that stretch *does* feel pretty dead, and has felt more so since the redesign, but I think it’s primarily due to the unwelcoming buildings, construction on the west side of the street and generally uninteresting retail.  “Safe” and “boring” aren’t synonyms, and there are certainly ways they can improve the pedestrian experience without reversing the safer traffic design.

  • =v= I was on a Broadway sidewalk and a leaf nearly fell on my head.  Alert the tabloid press.

  • Bob Retro

    So why can the owner of 200 e 66th street break the law and get no response from the city.  The City DEP web site show a local ordance that prohibits the use of power tools with in 25 feet of a occupied apartment- dispite many complante  over 4 years the DEP refuse to address this problem.  Also there are no inspection of the construction process so the building cover ups as they put the tenants at risk.  So who is being taken care of as the building supper says he can do to keep everyone away?

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