33rd Street at Penn Station Will Go Car-Free This Summer

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps
33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue and east of the Madison Square Garden loading docks will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

Real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust last night unveiled plans to open up space for people on a couple of busy blocks near Penn Station. The proposed car-free zones include a new pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue. Phase one will consist of a three-month trial this summer and fall, and the changes could be made permanent afterward.

Vornado is proposing to make part of 33rd Street off-limits to through traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza from Seventh Avenue to the Madison Square Garden loading docks about halfway down the block toward Eighth Avenue. Vornado executives told CB 5 the space could be used for seating or events, reports Bloomberg.

The company is also proposing more limited extensions of pedestrian space on 32nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue. The street will get a sidewalk extension along the entire north side of the block, as well as plantings on the south side of the block near Seventh Avenue, with traffic trimmed to one lane. The pedestrian areas will connect with plazas at Herald Square.

The proposal received a unanimous endorsement at a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 parks and transportation committees last night, reports Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Tom DeVito. It now advances to the full board on June 11.

Endorsing the plan were the 34th Street Partnership, the Municipal Art Society, and the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, which uses 32nd Street for loading and access. DOT also supports the trial project, an agency spokesperson said, and will work with Vornado to measure conditions before and after installation. Vornado has hired Sam Schwartz Engineering to monitor 10 nearby intersections during the trial period, the company said.

The three-month pilot will be in place from July 18 to October 11, said Vornado spokesperson Bud Perrone. “This is truly a trial period to decide how it works,” he said, “and if people decide to move forward with it, there would be a public process.”

Community board members last night wanted to ensure that the project would not encourage additional street vending, DeVito said, and they asked Vornado to use high-quality materials for the trial project. Perrone did not have any information on the materials that will be used, and would not release a copy of the presentation Vornado made to CB 5.

Vornado is a major property owner in the area, with holdings including Penn Plaza, the Hotel Pennsylvania, and the Manhattan Mall. The company will be paying for the project; Perrone said an exact cost estimate had yet to be determined.

More changes could be on the way. The real estate giant has hired Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, which designed the permanent Times Square plazas, to develop “a ‘framework’ for the redesign of Vornado’s buildings and street-level spaces in Penn Plaza,” reports Bloomberg.

  • AnoNYC

    I want to see many more pedestrian plazas in all five boroughs.

  • Niles

    If only they had endorsed the 34th Street Transitway.

  • c2check

    It is indeed absurd that with so many pedestrians, there’s often way too little sidewalk (and way too much space dedicated to cars)—especially in places like Midtown.

  • I just knew this kind of land grab would happen after all the pedestrian friendly changes in Times Square. Give pedestrians more space and what will they want? More Space! It’s called induced demand lookitup.

  • BBnet3000

    Unfortunately there is still no talk at all of restoring sidewalks to their pre-1950s configuration despite more pedestrians than ever in Midtown. No idea how they pulled it off in Flushing.

  • EC

    As long as this isn’t a land grab by Vornado, and the public remains in control of the public space. The way the article is written leaves this question a bit ambiguous…

  • J

    Cool! All of 33rd Street should be a bike boulevard, as it has at least two existing diverters (Park Ave & Broadway), which prevent through access for cars, but could easily be modified to allow through bicycle traffic. This will make three diverters, so it should be a no brainer.

  • no one

    This website is incredibly anti-motor vehicle. If motorists bring up wanting a motor vehicle only road ( besides interstates ), the bicycle coalition and their followers start screaming, but it is OK when roads are turned into bicycle only spaces. The hypocrisy is absolutely over the top.

  • Alicia

    What valid reason is there for a road (besides interstates) that excludes pedestrian and bicycle access, exactly?

    Also, there are zero proposals for closing off a whole road to automobiles. This proposal closes off less than a block. So your examples are false equivalents, nothing more.

  • joe shabadoo

    not quite clear, are they pedestrianizing about half the block so trucks can still access the loading docks, presumably from 8th Ave?

    32nd street will also be narrowed to one lane.

  • Bolwerk

    This isn’t just a “road.” It’s a street.

  • no one

    Stop the doublespeak, it is dishonest, and hurts bicycling.

  • Maggie

    Love the idea of this plan, and very interested to see how it shakes out. Car-free access for pedestrians and bicyclists will be a huge, huge value add. I agree with you- the city and community board will need to make sure this public interest is preserved. I can imagine this turning into a privatised use of public space (fenced off for concerts, stuff like that) instead of supporting safe, enjoyable pedestrian and cyclist access, if no one’s looking out for that objective. But think of the possibilities if this becomes the pedestrian and cyclist path from Penn Station over to Hudson Yards. I’m picturing the pedestrianised Strøget, in Copenhagen.

    Vornado also just acquired the Herald Square Old Navy store on 34th, east of Seventh Ave. Will be interesting to watch what they do in the area.

  • erica holder

    Was 8th Avenue one of the streets that was widened for cars back then? Because we could really, really use bigger sidewalks there from Penn Station up through the theater district.

  • BBnet3000

    I suspect trucks will have access during very early morning hours.

  • stairbob
  • Simon Phearson

    If you thought ten minutes about all the costs that drivers impose on our cities, all the costs that cities take on to cater to them, the ways in which catering to them in fact ruins urban fabrics and makes them inherently less liveable, and the transportation options that are cleaner, more efficient, less costly, and safer than driving (especially in single-occupancy vehicles), then you’d be anti-car, too.

    This isn’t a question of what’s “fair.” It doesn’t make sense to try to balance a half-block pedestrian plaza at Penn Station against whether cyclists deserve to be able to use Queens Boulevard as an arterial road. In every case, the question is: how do we best get people to where they’re going, efficiently, safely, and quickly? There is plenty of demand for more pedestrian space throughout the city, while there is virtually no good reason to ban pedestrians or cyclists from any street within the city – apart from the generally false belief held by drivers that they meaningfully slow traffic down.

  • Daphna

    There is a problem citywide with companies taking public space and treating it as if it is private space. One example of public space is 6 1/2 Avenue, which is in the 40’s and 50’s between 6th and 7th Avenues. It’s likely supposed to be open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Some blocks are. But on other blocks, the adjacent building owners have installed gates and close them at 7pm. They unfairly deny the public access to this public passageway that should be open the same hours as roads and streets: 24/7/365

  • Joe R.

    This website is about using very limited space in urban areas to move as many people as possible. You can’t do that if they’re all in cars. At best, motor vehicles only serve a tiny minority in large cities but their presence makes life miserable for everyone else. Do we allow helicopters or small planes or horses access to everywhere in the city? No we don’t, nor is there any valid reason we should. It’s much the same with motor vehicles. As things stand now, allowing access by motor vehicles to as much of the city as we already do is very costly on many levels with few benefits. Moreover, those benefits, if they exist at all, only accrue to a tiny minority who drive everywhere.

    If anything, I think ALL minor Manhattan side streets should be closed to everything but delivery vehicles. That would greatly improve things for just about everyone else.

  • Daphna

    I am excited about this. After the failed plan to make 34th Street a pedestrian plaza and bus transitway between 5th and 6th Avenue, it is great to see another plan for pedestrian space in the area instead. However, this needs to be shared space and allow bicyclists through the car-free section of 33rd Street. It would be awful if it were done like Baruch’s pedestrianization of 25th Street where cyclists must dismount.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, large numbers of motor vehicles slow things down quite a bit for pedestrians and cyclists just by virtue of the need for traffic signals to keep the motor vehicles from colliding with each other. That alone is a valid reason to restrict motor vehicle use in NYC. Of course, there are plenty of others.

  • Daphna

    Kudos to Vornado for requesting this conversion from car space to pedestrian space. Maybe NYC real estate interests are learning about the value gained from adding pedestrian space. This is a positive contrast to a few years ago when the plan proposed by the NYC DOT to increase pedestrian space on 34th Street between 5th/6th Avenue was fought off and defeated by the real estate owners on that block.

  • com63

    haha, nice chart!

  • Matt

    I don’t think you understand the current state of roads in the US. Let’s do this. Do some research on the subject, come back here with how many Motor Vehicle only roads there are and how many Bicycle only ‘roads’ there are total in the US and then we’ll have a basis on which to actually have a conversation from a factual starting point instead of an emotional and defensive one.

  • J

    I thought it was angry residents who wanted to keep getting taxis to their doorstep who shot down the proposal.

  • It was the big real estate holders, including Vornado. But the NIMBYs conveniently drew attention away from them.

  • stairbob
  • chekpeds

    I am really disappointed that this plan does not include safety components for the incredibly dangerous 34th and 7th pedestrian crossings. If we are to improve space for pedestrians we need to go beyond leisure spaces and make the sidewalk more usable and the crosswalk safer.

    we should also be wary of the longterm plans to dig the “street” to make an atrium to increase the value of Vornado’s underground mall.
    I guess something is better than nothing.

  • c2check

    Indeed—the bike lanes are pretty much useless because they’re filled with pedestrians!
    Of course, we should have much more space for both bikes and pedestrians in places like midtown, and less for excessive auto traffic

  • J

    interesting. Well, it’s good that the situation seems to have shifted politically to where big realty is supporting more public space. That is a major sign of the times.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t think it’s because their so benevolent, either. They’ve simply realized, despite the rants of the “I drive everywhere” crowd, that most of their potential customers come either on foot, or via mass transit. A significant minority also come by bike. Relatively few drive. I think seeing the situation in places like 42nd Street they realize they’ll gain more customers than those lost if car access is no longer provided. Sure, vocal business owners often complain when parking is lost, but I suspect it’s mostly because it means they can’t drive and park in front of their business.

    Now if only NYC as a whole could come to that realization. Catering to people who drive everywhere is a net negative for the city. In the end since the almighty dollar rules that might be how we’ll finally start making more and more of the city off limits to motor vehicles. It’s good business. Everyone will want a piece of the action.

  • J

    indeed! The economic argument speaks to nearly everyone.

  • Maggie

    Help. What does this even mean?

    Stop the doublespeak, it is dishonest, and hurts bicycling.

  • Maggie

    One of my all time ‘favorite’ bike lane backlash articles covered the city’s $150,000 revamp into the streetscape of West 46th Street (restaurant row) to try to revive life into struggling restaurants, where one restaurant owner said her business had been badly hurt by the local installation of bike lanes – over on Ninth Avenue, where the restaurant scene was thriving.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324136204578641950024916958

  • Bolwerk

    Doublespeak = enough discernment to tell the difference between this and this!

  • Maggie

    Ahhhh… beautiful road. I actually meant what did ‘no one’ mean with his/her comment? I didn’t follow what they were saying.

    Would be so great if Penn Station had a safe, pleasant bicycling connection to and from the Greenway.

  • Simon Phearson

    Totally agreed. Actually, I’m amused by how often driver behavior – apart from the design points you’ve mentioned – slows me down, as a cyclist. Watching a line of cars lurch into a newly-green light is like watching a herd of cows lazily amble out of a barn. Actually, I think the cows would move more quickly. Certainly, they’d be able to negotiate one another’s space more effectively.

  • Bolwerk

    Seems like he was attempting to dismiss my comment, and escape having to think, by using a variation on tl;dr.

    Which is funny, because I made the shortest comment in direct response to his initial post. Bet he didn’t even read the others.

  • sensible internet commenter

    Reclaiming public space from the street will make crossings safer. By removing a traffic lane, it has a traffic calming effect, and vehicles will have to make a wider turn onto the street.

    It will also make the sidewalk more usable by adding more sidewalk space. It’s a sidewalk extension.

  • Bernard Finucane

    You are perfectly welcome to drive all over the place if you want to. North Dakota, for example. There’s loads of room.

    But driving in a dense city simply doesn’t make sense, any more than driving through the halls of a shopping mall does. Or do you think driving should be allowed inside shopping malls as well? If not, why not?

    Bicycles take up less than a tenth of the space that cars do.

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