City Scraps Pedestrian Plaza Option for 34th Street Transitway

As currently configured, 34th Street doesn't work for the majority of people who use it. Image: NYC DOT

Pedestrians who navigate Midtown’s crowded sidewalks won’t get as much as they could have from the proposed 34th Street Transitway. The Times reported last night that NYC DOT will not pursue plans for a pedestrian plaza between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue as part of the project.

The plaza was the focus of serialized attacks in the opinion pages of the New York Post last week. But just as you’d never know from reading the Post that the breakthrough feature of the 34th Street project would be the use of physically-separated bus lanes, you’d never know from Steve “The Cuozz” Cuozzo’s jubilant tweeting last night that the plaza concept was only part of the effort to improve 34th Street for the vast majority who depend on transit and walking. Together, pedestrians and bus riders account for 90 percent of the people traveling on 34th Street.

DOT will present its current 34th Street plan at a public meeting on March 14.

The ultimate design of the project has been taking shape over the course of dozens of public meetings. At a Community Board 5 meeting last fall, the pedestrian plaza was included in one of three transitway concepts that the DOT presented [PDF]. All three included a two-way busway.

A transitway without a plaza would likely still include new pedestrian amenities on a street that currently suffers from high numbers of traffic injuries and deaths. Renderings of the various options have shown bus boarding areas that double as pedestrian refuges, for instance.

“We expect the design to still include all other pedestrian improvements like neck downs, no turns, and protected turns so that the pedestrians, who are the vast majority of users of 34th Street, get the space they need around the transit hubs and the safety they are entitled to,” said Christine Berthet, co-founder of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety.

The setback over the plaza is not a verdict on the overall transitway, but it is a sign of the tenuous political support for it. Despite positive words from 34th Street Partnership President Dan Biederman, who today told the Wall Street Journal, “Generally, I’m a believer in pedestrianization and fewer traffic lanes full of traffic,” the pedestrian amenity at the center of the project has been quashed.

New Yorkers who want to see one of the city’s innovative and potentially precedent-setting transit projects succeed should contact their council members and Borough President Scott Stringer to make sure it moves forward.

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