With 34th Street Plaza in Doubt, Local Business Group Expresses Support

busway_34th.jpgDOT’s plan for a public plaza on 34th between Fifth and Sixth may be in jeopardy, but Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, wants to see more pedestrian space on the block. Image: NYCDOT

Earlier this week, DNAinfo reported that NYCDOT may nix the pedestrian plaza in the agency’s ambitious proposal for a 34th Street busway. But support for more pedestrian space between Fifth and Sixth Avenues remains strong in certain quarters. The head of the 34th Street Partnership, a group representing local businesses, supports the principle of adding pedestrian space on 34th. After all, most people using the street are on foot. 

The first draft of plans for a protected busway on 34th Street included a major new pedestrian space between Fifth and Sixth. Auto traffic would flow one-way west from Fifth and east from Sixth, with no cars in between.

When DOT has presented its 34th Street plans to the public, they have
assiduously made clear that all designs are preliminary and subject to
revision. DOT hasn’t responded to our requests about the current status of the plaza, but according to DNAinfo, agency staff have expressed a willingness to drop the pedestrianization of that block, either splitting traffic at Fifth or converting 34th to a one-way, eastbound through street. In both cases, the protected busway would remain in place.

One important local stakeholder group, however, doesn’t want to lose the pedestrian plaza. "In general, we think that the DOT’s initiative of adding more public space to roadbeds is very much the right answer," said Dan Biederman, the executive director of the 34th Street Partnership. "We are supportive of some added space for pedestrians between Fifth and Sixth," he specified. 

Biederman reiterated that plans for 34th Street remain very fluid and noted that a few conditions need to be met to lock in support from his members: Tourist buses need to be able to pass through on the busway, DOT needs to develop a plan to ensure businesses can receive deliveries, and cars on West 34th Street should be able to turn around and head east on other side streets without an excessively difficult detour. 

Biederman suggested he wasn’t too worried about those conditions.

"The past history on Broadway is that DOT finds ways to deal with that," he said. "I’m hearing absolutely no screaming or yelling about how the Broadway boulevard is killing this or killing that," he continued. If bike lanes and pedestrian space can be made to work along Broadway, he reasoned, bus lanes and pedestrian space can work on 34th Street.

The real sticking point for the 34th Street Partnership isn’t about pedestrianization at all, but rather the revenue from possible concessions on the new pedestrian space. Biederman wants his organization to manage the space under terms akin to the special deals at Bryant Park and Herald Square, where the managing organization gets to keep all revenues from food kiosks and the like. Negotiations are ongoing, and according to Biederman, continued disagreement is "threatening the whole thing." But that’s not a debate about the merits of providing more space for pedestrians, merely over the distribution of some of its benefits.

And for a concise explanation of the project’s merits, here again is DOT’s own image, showing why 34th Street should receive a pedestrian-priority design:

who_uses_34th_stsmall1.jpgImage: NYCDOT.

  • lic lovr

    why is it that everytime the “who uses 34th st” image is posted it doesn’t work? is anyone else having problem seeing this image?

  • It would be great if NYC could not only establish more car-free spaces in Manhattan, but link them into an integral whole comparable to the bike network, so that pedestrians could make north/south or east/west trips of significant length without being molested by noise, direct inhalation of exhaust fumes, and mortal danger.

  • lic lovr

    a simple improvement of existing conditions on most thoroughfares would be a godsend. simply getting around that neighborhood on foot at rush hour is a death wish. why not more neckdowns etc around 34th st, 7th ave etc. (penn station area)

    weren’t there plans to improve that area for pedestrians posted on here about 1 year ago?

  • Lic Lover, do you have an ad blocker installed? It might be that the “Who uses 34th Street” image is the same size as some banner ads.

  • It would be nice if New York established car-free spaces in the places where they’re most needed. 5th-6th on 34th is not such a space; everything about this plan screams, “We want to make the entire street bus-only, but because it’s too radical we’re going to do it by salami method.” On 34th, the most important block to pedestrianize is 7-8; it would be nice to also close off the lane or two nearest to Penn Station on 7th and 8th, to provide more passenger circulation space. Penn spews more pedestrian traffic than 5th Avenue at rush hour, and has alternative routes for taxi pickups.

    Regardless, there are way more important pedestrian hotspots in the city. It just so happens that NYCDOT likes bundling SBS, bike lanes, and pedestrianization projects, and rarely considers implementing them separately, on different routes if needed, and when it does implement it separately it’s usually done to screw an ungentrified neighborhood.

  • IanM

    To add to the above point: 32nd between Penn and Herald Square would also be a much more worthy candidate for expanded pedestrian space. If you’ve never experienced that block at rush hour, well, consider yourself lucky. The crush of commuters and reverse-commuters practically takes over the street as it is. You could turn the whole block into a pedestrian thoroughfare (maybe one bus lane?), barely affect car traffic, and make thousands upon thousands of pedestrians lives more tolerable. A plaza on 34th btwn 5-6 might be pleasant for shoppers and tourists, but in terms of real transit needs, it seems like there are much more crucial pain points right nearby.

  • Jay

    Am I the only person who thinks it would be inappropriate to use city tax money to construct the space, and then turn over all the profits to the local BID?

    This approach is largely what is holding back the outer boroughs. They can’t get the initial investments from the City, and then they’re left less competitive because they don’t have the new “private” revenue to fund “additional” services as the City continues to cut back.

    Just another example of how the rich get richer, I guess.

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