Study: Sidewalks Can’t Handle Transit Traffic

As New York ponders – and ducks – a solution to gridlocked streets in the wake of the mayor’s 2030 plan, transportation planners across the Hudson are contemplating a marked increase in congestion on the city’s already overburdened sidewalks.

The good news for the region is that New Jersey Transit is expecting train traffic into Penn Station to double. The bad news, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), is that the city’s infrastructure won’t be able to safely accommodate the resulting increase in pedestrian activity.

Though NJ Transit, in its Access to the Region’s Core Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) recommends that sidewalks in Manhattan be widened, the TSTC believes the situation is even more dire than the agency acknowledges.

From the latest edition of the TSTC’s "Mobilizing the Region":

If anything, [the DEIS] understates the problem even while straightforwardly recommending that sidewalks in Manhattan be widened.

The study did not look north of 35th Street, for instance, though the present day impact of Penn Station on Midtown sidewalks and crosswalks certainly extends further uptown. Pedestrians can be seen every morning and evening walking in the street all the way between Penn Station and Times Square on 7th Avenue and also frequently along 8th Ave. between 34th and the PA Bus Terminal. The "pedestrian level of service" findings also seem overly optimistic.  If people are walking in the avenues for blocks, one would expect more "F" conditions than the study finds.  But the specific numbers are largely irrelevant — it’s enough to know that the sidewalks are failing and that New York City forces transit commuters to walk in heavily trafficked avenues to understand that large additions of rail capacity and more development in the area will obviously make the walking environment even worse.

It’s noteworthy that the analysis does not consider the possibility of future high-rise development (the "Garden swap") in the Penn Plaza-Madison Square Garden super-block, which would crowd the pedestrian environment even further. Clearly something will have to give, and community boards, civic leaders and elected officials should use the Manhattan pedestrian and traffic analyses in the ARC DEIS as a starting point to demand a realistic Midtown pedestrian plan from city government. It will have to reallocate space from streets to sidewalks and figure out how to prioritize essential traffic over discretionary car trips that do not need to be in vicinity of what is already the U.S.’ busiest train station. 

Image: uniqlo via Flickr 

  • random

    They needed a study to figure out that most of Manhattan and significant sections of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have major pedestrian congestion?

    Does anyone at the NYC DOT ever just, you know, walk around this city? How about the mayor’s office? Has the mayor tried walking on Canal Street recently? Does he know that the as always counter productive NYPD has taken to using ropes to pen in pedestrians in Herald Square in order to let more cars through during rush hour? A little overcrowding here and there would be fine if the city were otherwise a pedestrian haven — little unobtrusive car and traffic, civilized bike lanes, and dynamic retail and residential streets. But instead we’re still counting cars, moving cars, running from cars, being hit by cars, promoting cars, apologizing for cars, and generally being ruled by an outdated product. Sigh.

  • BorschtBelt

    random – the EIS was done by NJTransit, not NYCDOT. But please continue to bash DOT, it’s oh so satisfying.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The commuters walking in the streets around Penn Station during rush hour are definitely a sight to behold, and the fact that they’ve been doing it for years without the sidewalks being widened is clear evidence of someone’s priorities.

    That said, that’s the only area in New York that I’ve seen such intense pedestrian congestion. Maybe it should be taken as an indication that 34th Street isn’t the best place for the new tunnel to let people off? In an earlier stage of the process I know they considered other sites including Grand Central, and I believe 59th Street, and still chose to essentially send all those trains into Penn Station. Now, were the pedestrian impacts considered in deciding where to put the new terminus?

  • The street formerly known as Prince

    #3 :”That said, that’s the only area (Penn Station) in New York that I’ve seen such intense pedestrian congestion.”

    You mustn’t get out much.

    For example, the photo here is not of 34th Street, but of Broadway between Prince&Spring. Now THAT is congestion, much worse than Penn Station. Or, almost as bad, as another poster noted: Canal Street.

    All roads lead to Rome, and all subways lead to SoHo.

  • Cloggish Town

    Formerly Prince St, sounds like you’re calling out 34th Street for a pedestrian congestion throw down.

    You maybe be right about outright crowding in Soho, but more people walk in the street near Penn, despite the sidewalks being a lot wider on 7th than Bway and Prince. Both locations are absured.

    How about a pedestrian congestion study that shows how much time/money is being lost to pedestrian crowding. It’s got to be a lot since walking speeds are probably halved during peak times in the CBD. Wider sidealks are yet another arguement for congestion pricing of streets.

  • SAJH

    Sidewalks on Broadway (where the photo was taken) on too narrow. Broadway is one of the most narrow “avenue” streets next to Lexington. I generally walk the curb and in the street due to too many people with differing walking priorities (shoppers, nice-day walkers, delivery people and flyer people). Of course I walk faster than most and am constantly battling cars for the cross streets and roadway edge. I’d say 40% of the cities car volume is taxi’s. The other 20% are the commuters and pleasure riders from the burbs. there should be some balance with the number of cabs allowed on the streets at certain times of the day. Broadway should have wider sidewalks or even better, the entire length of Broadway from 59th street to Chambers street should be a bicycle, bus and pedisterian only street. No trucks or cars. That would help both the Penn station cattle drive and the soho shoppers and even the bargain 20s on Broadway (also crowded) and herald square.

  • We think city government was consulted in some of the NJ Transit look at the project’s Manhattan implications. It has stuff in it that will look familiar to anyone reading city EIS’ lately, like the clash between findings in the pedestrian chapter that there will be a lot more pedestrians and the findings in the traffic chapter that there will be a lot more cabs. The latter problem will be solved by “signal re-timing” ! Who do you think suggested that? And how does it work with getting more people through already failing cross-walks ?

  • Lawsuit

    It’s time to start legally challenging the sub-junk “science” in these EIS’.

    From the Sheridan to Atlantic Yards to ARC to the various upzonings, the traffic analysis do not withstand even superficial scrutiny.


TSTC Dangerous Roads Report: NYC Must Fund Vision Zero Street Redesigns

The latest pedestrian fatality report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign finds that New York City’s widest and most heavily-traveled streets continue to be the most dangerous for walking. TSTC’s “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report ranks streets in terms of total pedestrian fatalities from 2011 to 2013, based on data from the National Highway Traffic […]

Canal Street Report Recommends Wider Sidewalks, Smarter Parking

Canal Street, to put it mildly, is due for a makeover. The street is clogged with traffic from the Holland Tunnel and the un-tolled Manhattan Bridge. Pedestrians jostle for space on the packed sidewalks, and they’re especially at risk of getting hit by a car, according to the city’s Pedestrian Safety Study. Fortunately, the funds […]

Flushing Transpo Project Boosted Safety While Curbing Congestion

It might not be as bold or attention-grabbing as the overhaul of Times Square and Herald Square, but a set of changes made to New York City’s third-busiest pedestrian intersection is having its own quiet success. In Downtown Flushing, a 2010 project that expanded sidewalks, daylighted dangerous intersections, and introduced numerous turn restrictions is boosting […]

TSTC Issues Lincoln Tunnel Emancipation Proclamation

When it comes to reducing traffic in New York City, improving transit performance over river crossings is a no-brainer. Faster buses lure people out of their cars and take traffic off the streets, which is why the Tri-State Transportation Campaign is advocating for a New Jersey-bound express bus lane through the Lincoln Tunnel. In a […]