De Blasio Has Yet to Say Traffic Is More Dangerous Than Painted Breasts

Mayor de Blasio had a chance today to quell the uproar over his suggestion that the city may rip out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Instead he equivocated and didn’t take the idea off the table:

This issue is now much bigger than the plazas themselves (and the plazas themselves are a big deal — the city’s most recognizable public space, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day).

De Blasio has made street safety and the elimination of traffic deaths a signature policy goal. Until this episode with the plazas, the main question about City Hall’s commitment to those goals was whether the mayor and his deputies were moving fast enough. Advocates could contest whether de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and others were doing everything politically feasible to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But at least things were moving in the right direction.

Now the whole enterprise is feeling disingenuous.

We know that making Broadway car-free through Times Square has, among other benefits, cut pedestrian injuries by 40 percent even as the number of people using the space has soared. Reversing that progress, in whole or in part, runs completely counter to the principles of Vision Zero that the administration purportedly espouses.

A day after the idea of ripping up the plazas surfaced in what could charitably be ascribed to off-the-cuff remarks, de Blasio could have reasserted the primacy of pedestrian safety as a core value. He didn’t. If the mayor thinks people might be better off exposed to moving traffic than painted breasts, how seriously should anyone take his commitment to Vision Zero?

  • BBnet3000

    De Blasio should have consulted the lawyers before even suggesting that the city go ripping up a brand new capital project anyway, even if it were a good idea. He’s either going to backpedal this or let it go quietly and try to pretend he never said it.

  • Yesterday I thought it would be a blip. But de Blasio is still talking about it after a day of getting shredded on Twitter, in the NYT, and by a good cross-section of local elected officialdom. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe this will have legs.

  • J

    I don’t get it. What could he possibly gain by pushing this point? Yes, there are some lunatic, drive-everywhere, I-actually-voted-for-Joe-Lhota folks who he may score a few small points with, but even they would never actually VOTE for him. Maybe he’s actually losing it, mentally.

  • I don’t get it either!

  • Bobberooni

    How can you reconfigure the space to be HALFWAY between what it was and what it is now? Are you going to restore Broadway HALFWAY? Don’t forget that the existence of Broadway created a huge traffic snarl, and now Time Square has a sane rectangular grid like the rest of the city.

  • J

    Nothing he’s been saying is rooted in much logic or thought. Instead of ditching this rapidly sinking ship of an idea, he’s boldly standing his ground as it takes any hope he had of a 2nd term down with it. He’s looking more and more like Rob Ford. Here’s an interesting comparison of the two from the start of de Blasio’s term:
    http://maisonneuve.org/post/2014/01/23/populism-rob-ford-and-bill-de-blasio/

  • Halfway between zero and several thousand pedestrians maimed and killed every year, a balance must be struck.

  • Just caving to Bratton, because every stray belch from the police commissioner’s mouth has to be treated with the utmost respect.

  • I made a Rob Ford comparison back when de Blasio was public advocate, but I think now he’s looking more like David Paterson. He’s flailing, trying to find purchase on something. Banning public boobs/ripping out plazas was a dumb issue to pick.

  • rao

    He’ll spend a few months “studying” it and then issue a report proposing some convoluted scheme, like he did with the carriage horses. By then, cold weather will have sent the offending nipples on their way.

    I’m sure his team will be able to think up lots of creative “halfway” uses of the space. For example: What automaker wouldn’t salivate over having an outdoor showroom in the Crossroads of the World? Broadway could become a literal parking lot!

  • Bob

    StreetsPAC endorsed BDB in 2009 for wholly political reasons, when Quinn was the one who worked for new design.

  • Maggie

    Quinn had no bona fides on pedestrian safety. None. The day after Sian Green was maimed on the sidewalk by a reckless cabbie in her district, Quinn held a press conference and issued a statement to complain about something Maureen Dowd said Bill de Blasio’s wife said. Her priorities were so off-kilter.

  • Sean Kelliher

    There is also another thing more dangerous than painted breasts. That other thing is air pollution, which there is much less of in Times Square since the plazas were installed and roadways in the area were reconfigured. That means the 400,000 plus visitors that go there each day are healthier and more productive.

    It’s good to remember that the dangers of too many vehicles are not always immediate. They can also be slow moving and long term as in increased health problems, higher medical costs, and lower productivity.

    I admired Michael Bloomberg’s ability to think long term. I think he understood this when he called congestion something like a public health and environmental disaster and pushed for congestion pricing. I wish Bill deBlasio would understand this too.

  • Miles Bader

    It’s more than just dumb though, it seems downright bizarre… It doesn’t even make sense by flailing craven politician standards.

    Maybe someone is blackmailing him behind the scenes, or he has a brain tumor or something… oO;

  • K M

    The discussion seems to focus on Times Square only as a tourist hang out place. As a pedestrian who does not own a car, my experience is that the new plazas are better than before the infrastructure improvement. But as someone who reluctantly goes to Times Square just for business appointments and to attend the theater (a couple times a year) I can say that walking around remains a phobic nightmare.

    The plazas are located in spaces vacated by vehicle traffic. They do not connect to each other. If you are walking, say, from 40th St. to 50th St along Broadway, as I do, you are constantly crossing over from plaza to traditional sidewalk areas to make progress. The sidewalks are so crowded that it’s impossible to focus on anything except not getting knocked over or knocking someone else over. I admit I’m probably a little sensitive, certainly not the model urban warrior.

    While you may think it makes strategic sense to laud the current Times Square I’m afraid that by covering up its deficiencies you kill any hope for improvement. Long way of saying that the crushing number of pedestrians makes for a place I visit as little as possible. The idea of going to hang out at Times Square seems grotesque. I think the current design is an abominable failure when viewed as a part of an overall transportation network, though again an improvement over what was before. To make this area less oppressive and perhaps become an appealing destination, the existing plazas would need to connect to each other and allow people to avoid the overcrowded sidewalks.

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    “Half way” or more like half assed has been the policy drive for De Blasio, Trottenberg, and Bratton when it comes to implementing street safety measures and Vision 0. Considering the lack of innovation in the street designs by DOT and De Blasios comments and NYPDs targeting of cyclists and the usual “no criminality expected nonsense” it just seems likeVision 0 was a campaign moniker for them to run on. Sure some improvements have been made, some rhetoric spoken, but overall im not impressed.

  • Bolwerk

    All these problems with Times Square boil down to crowding, crowding, crowding. Sounds like a good argument for adding a few more blocks of Broadway to the plaza complex, doesn’t it?

  • Bolwerk

    My guess is it’s some kind of pandering. Anyone “shocked” by the tits probably looks at copious amounts of porn and sublimates their guilt and shame into public opposition to this rather benign activity. That includes some “liberals,” but most likely applies to more authoritarian groups: hello, Disney World set and your pimply, mopey teenage sons! Hello, NYPD!

    I get that it objectifies women, and is stupid, but otherwise I can’t think of a remotely “liberal” objection to it. Eiither way, Bill de Blasio never came across as particularly civil libertarian. We’ll probably need a millennial mayor before we get one of those again. This is the third mayor in a row who is a major fucking prude.

  • Pedicab Pete

    Is there an undercurrent here to remove one of the few available protest gathering spots? Technically, the pedestrian areas are not quite sidewalks and not under Parks Dept. jurisdiction (yes?) and certainly not active streets; and so Times Square represents one of the few spots where citizens can gather to express their viewpoints without applying for a permit first, without being charged with blocking traffic, etc. Makes one wonder if these “performers” weren’t summoned to hasten the ped plaza’s demise? Notice this stuff always happen in August, when fewer people are paying attention?

  • Bolwerk

    That actually doesn’t seem too unreasonable given that BdB was running for political office. :-p

  • Bolwerk

    There was nobody good on street design issues in 2013. Bill de Blasio might not have been the least bad, but he probably wasn’t the worst.

    A few were better on transportation. Albanese was arguably even forward-thinking, and to my knowledge didn’t even attack safe streets initiatives. Almost everyone else, no matter what they thought about transit, still did.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    agreed

    therefore all of Times Square should be OPENED to pedestrians

    in fact all of Broadway from 33rd to 60th should be 100% open to pedestrians.

    property values would skyrocket
    businesses would flourish
    congestion would decrease dramatically

    Pedestrian Zones have been around for 40 years in all the World’s Greatest Cities. Pedestrian Zones are proven to increase all the good things that make cities great crucibles of civilization

  • Alexander Vucelic

    might be – but I believe its more straightforward. The NYPD brass hates New York and loves Massapequa

  • Joe R.

    We may end up with a millennial mayor who’s a prude, also. I tend to think the issue here is fatherhood. It seems the minute a lot of guys become fathers, especially if they have daughters, they turn into major prudes. Sure, it was all great when they were young to objectify the opposite sex and chase after anything which caught their fancy. But now that they’re fathers, they don’t want anyone doing that to “daddy’s little girl”. Of course, none of this stops their natural sexual urges, so they just hide them by looking at porn when their wife and kids aren’t aren’t around. I wouldn’t doubt if Guiliani, Bloomberg, and de Blasio all have copious amounts of this stuff. It seems to me the more uptight a person is, them more smut they have in their possession.

    You don’t want a mayor who’s a prude, elect a perpetual bachelor or bachelorette, or at least someone who never had kids. Koch was probably the last mayor to fit that mold.

  • neroden

    Fathers need to get over it and mellow out. Mothers are traditionally trying to push their kids to get married and have sex…

    I don’t know, I see a lot less prudery in the post-1970s generations, outside of the religious-extremist communities. DeBlasio is a bit too old.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Bratton is The one pushing this agenda I think

  • Bolwerk

    Seems to me cultural “regulation” has really tightened up. You used to see the occasional breast in a PG movie when I was younger. Now that probably is automatic PG13. Han Shot First? Spielberg replaced ET law enforcement guns with walkie-talkies? No gun law enforcement might be great for real life, but makes zero sense in fiction.

    Don’t these people ever go anywhere else in the world? People ogle breasts anywhere, but FFS I don’t think anybody in the western world has the hysterics you have here where it’s like painted boobs = hardcore porn or something.

  • Bolwerk

    Sure you could, but I bet you won’t ever get a non-prude from the late boomer/early Gen-X crowd. At least not in the Democratic Party, which for practical purposes is still pretty much the NYC single party.

    Absolutely about uptightness, but I don’t know about the daddy theory. Most people just recognize there must be space for some “vice” and they probably know that it’s somebody’s daughter performing the striptease or burlesque show. Or, as the case may have it, as a prostitute. This is more base; they’re just reacting to their own feelings/arousal about it.

    Koch actually seemed kinda uptight himself. Rumor had it he was a repressed gay man.

  • Bernard Finucane

    The real story is this:

    http://aeon.co/magazine/society/step-by-step-americans-are-sacrificing-the-right-to-walk/

    The supposed social problems are just an excuse to get pedestrians off the street.

  • WoodyinNYC

    At least up to Columbus Circle, Broadway needs to be tamed. Cut it down to two laws of traffic, or one plus a turn lane, like the stretch from 34th to Times Square. That lower segment allows trucks, taxis, private cars. But I always feel completely safe riding there. Next step, tame the segment up to Lincoln Center.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Tame Seventh Ave, by taking a lane or two out of it from 59th St down to 34th, at least. Use the liberated space to widen sidewalks and add a protected bike lane.

    The tamed segment of Broadway south of 42nd St has bus service, allows trucks to make deliveries or pick up parcels, keeps taxi service, and even lets private cars get where they might need to go.

    In NYC nowadays, we need to keep in mind that taxi service and even private cars need to be accessible to many city citizens and visitors. And businesses will shout and scream if you try to close a street entirely.

    But traffic taming by cutting down the traffic lanes gets almost all the benefits of fully traffic-free plazas.

    Btw, fully traffic-free plazas are very popular in Europe. But in America, they have failed everywhere and have been removed from most, if not all, cities that tried them.

  • JoshNY

    IIRC Albanese was the best pick on transportation issues, but didn’t have much at all in the way of name recognition.

  • WoodyinNYC

    I’ve been ready to fire him from the day DeBlasio took office. He still believes in “broken window” policing, like stop n frisk. It’s fundamentally based on the theory that young black guys are all criminals, so bust their chops and lock em up.

    Never mind the damn choke hold. Bratton’s force thinks it’s good policing to send two squad cars and a bunch of cops to hassle a poor soul selling loosies on the corner. Because Bratton thinks selling loosies is a threat to public safety, or just a good excuse to bust black men?

    A real threat to cigarette tax revenue is when 18-wheelers full of untaxed cartons drive into the City. But they are perhaps “protected” by a corrupt system. Or should I say, protected by a system including high-ranking corrupt cops?

    So, yeah, Bratton is all bent out of shape by somebody selling loosies to willing buyers, and by some women going topless in public spaces. An authoritarian mind obsessing on petty infractions to oppress non-whites, and non-males.

    btw, Courts have ruled that since it’s legal for men to go topless, women have the equal right. But Bratton probably longs to bust black guys playing “shirts n skins” basketball. LOL.

  • Maggie

    Broadway’s got a good protected bike lane from Columbus Circle down to Times Square, where NYPD and construction equipment are plunked down in it. I’d like to see: 1) that bike lane specified for two-way bicycling; 2) the southbound green wave timed for cyclists and pedestrians – pedestrians literally get stopped at ten lights in a row when we walk down Broadway; 3) one or two crosstown streets dedicated to cycling, walking, and buses only.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Every single reason you provided why a pedestrian plaza can not technically exist (deliveries, cabs, etc, etc ) was solved decades ago. Those are red herrings.

    there are plenty of pedestrian plazas in the US that are wildly successful, especially in USA

    Santa Monica
    New York City

    hundreds of shopping malls 🙂

  • WoodyinNYC

    Tell it to Google:

    Feb 12, 2014 · EUGENE, Ore. – Downtown Eugene has changed in recent years, and Thursday the last piece of the old pedestrian mall was removed.

    Pedestrian Mall Removal Breathes New Life into Downtown Raleigh. Mar 20, 2006

    http://www.governing.com/…/trouble-with-pedestrian-malls.html
    Once popular, these car-free zones are slowly disappearing from the urban landscape.

    http://www.humantransit.org/2010/09/on-pedestrian-malls-look-to...
    Why are pedestrian streets in commercial areas so common and successful in Europe, but not in North America?

  • Its a talking point that probably went over well at a dinner with donors and billionaires, and so he decided if that table loves hearing it, why wouldnt everyone else?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    the old canard

  • Matt

    Yeah, it’s crowded and fills most regular New Yorkers with Anxiety, but how does making less room for the people who go there make any sense as a solution? It’d be like an overcrowded beach solving the problem of too many people by throwing sand into the ocean.

  • dr2chase

    If there’s pedestrian congestion, doesn’t that argue for making more space for pedestrians?

  • Adam Anon

    Because of car fetish. Americans think that walking is for the poor. Driving is equalled with higher status. In Europe walking is the norm.

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