Times Square Flashback: Revisit the Bad Old Days With Streetfilms

New Yorkers might have forgotten just how bad the bad old days were in Times Square. Gridlock blocked crosswalks. Pedestrians were relegated to crush levels on the sidewalks. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be.

Relive the nightmare with this Streetfilm from 2006, in which Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton interviews Danish architect and public space expert Jan Gehl about the problems with Times Square.

“When we talk about the conditions for pedestrians here, it’s really lousy,” Gehl said.

“Thousands of people are literally pushed into the street because it’s so congested on the sidewalk,” Gorton added. “It’s beyond unpleasant. It’s unsafe and it drives people away from this neighborhood.”

That Police Commissioner Bill Bratton wants to return to the bad old days — and Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering it — is a clear signal that they don’t believe New York’s streets are for people.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    All of Broadway should be OPENED fully to pedestrians from 33rd to 60th.

    Every World Class City has vibrant and large pedestrian zones. It’s time New York City has the same.

  • c2check

    New York is falling WAY BEHIND other cities.

    And seriously, it’s not like the status quo is that nice, efficient, or enjoyable anyway.

    Even LA is looking more serious than New York. Most walkable city in the US? Vibrant street life? I feel like New York is only somewhat walkable DESPITE its streets. http://la.streetsblog.org/2015/08/11/l-a-city-council-approves-new-mobility-plan-vision-zero/

  • Nemo

    Or how about 23rd Street/Madison Square Park, or 14th Street/Union Square.

  • c2check

    34th and 42nd should be made ped-transit streets too

  • BBnet3000

    Most great things about New York were inherited from earlier generations. We’ve done little but neglect or actively destroy the city since the 1950s. Finally the Bloomberg administration came and tried to improve our streets a bit, and now De Blasio threatens to undermine even their limited success.

  • As long as New York keeps electing limousine liberals this will keep happening. Like Cuomo, all the mayor cares about is that him and his cronies can get to the next fundraiser quickly in his limo. Fortunately he has shown how out of touch he is and will be primaried.

  • Simon Phearson

    With characteristic obliviousness, BdB once explained that his opposition to the Times Square plazas was connected to his own personal experience being inconvenienced as a “motorist.” Most drivers (on CBs, City Council, etc.) have at least learned to explain their opposition to rebalancing the street equation in terms of “asthma,” “pollution,” and the like.

    This mayor has “windshield perspective” written right up and down his entire policy platform. It explains so much about him, including his petulance over contributing more to the MTA, his preference to add ferries immediately (while merely “studying” the Utica line), the incompetence of the DOT under his administration, continuing NYPD crackdowns on cyclists, his foot-dragging on MoveNY, and now this. I half expect him to decide to deal with congestion in the CBD by removing bike lanes, since his Uber solution was DOA and he’s not interested in MoveNY. What’s left to blame, to a lunkhead like this, if not all those pesky cyclists?

  • Absolutely. Curb separated bike lanes were removed in the 70s due to congestion. I guarantee we will hear about “conversations” happening on doing that again to “ease congestion”

    Theres a reason 99% of bike lane expansion ended when this idiot came into office.

  • Mark Walker

    It does not seem to have occurred to Bratton or de Blasio that the supposed problem of nudity in Times Square could be quickly solved with slightly stepped-up foot patrols and a handful of arrests. New York is one of the country’s richest cities and has more cops per capita than most. Someone should ask Bratton: You can’t find an extra half-dozen uniformed officers to walk the beat and enforce your idea of order in the city’s highest-profile location? Really? De Blasio: This is a problem that requires a task force? Really?

  • nanter

    The “problem” is that these painted girls are doing nothing illegal, so he needs to find another means by which to enforce his puritanical beliefs.

  • ohnonononono

    Yep, a “progressive” mayor would be pedestrianizing large parts of Midtown and Downtown.

    We finally got a pedestrianized street across from Penn Station thanks to the real estate company that owns the buildings that surround it, not due to City government initiative. It seems like the BDB administration is less progressive than just about everybody in the city on transportation and public spaces.

  • Jesse

    If they are engaged in “aggressive panhandling” then that’s illegal. But so is everyone in Times Square. It’s suspicious that it’s female bodies that have suddenly made this an issue.

  • MrSpaces

    The Mayor needs to watch this video and then issue a full apology to the people of NYC.

  • Bolwerk

    Are they though? This seems to be getting conflated with another issue. AIUI, the “aggressive panhandlers” seem to be stupid dress-up characters, a well-known and longstanding problem.

  • Alex 3speed

    I’d love to see hop on hop off light rail between Union Sq and Columbus Circle. It would pay for itself in tourist dollars. That would limit the need for the tour buses clogging already crowded midtown streets.

  • Bolwerk

    1950s? LaGuardia was mayor in the 1930s, and brought Moses to power in city government.

    Though I suppose that was the last decade of aggressive subway construction.

  • Jesse

    I don’t know what “aggressive panhandling” is. When I walk through Times Square I have earbuds and the gait and body language of someone who is clearly a waste of their time. So no one ever bothers me.

    I’m just saying that even though it’s totally legal that they are topless, they might still be doing something that’s illegal. But don’t get me wrong: I still think this is all about prudery and sexism.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    property owners recognize pedestrian zones increase property values

    and motor vehicles decrease property values

  • Bolwerk

    Well, I usually take it to mean actively soliciting whilst blocking the way, touching, etc.. Nothing I haven’t seen PETA, Doctors Without Borders, and Greenpeace do.

    Beyond that, there have been media reports of, say, characters getting physical over not getting good enough tips. I hate to speculate based on that though because it’s pretty anecdotal.

    Anyway, was just wondering. I almost never go there, but it seriously sounds like they’re just throwing stuff out there to see what sticks.

  • Mike

    It already exists. It’s called the N, R, and Q to 57th and 7th. Or, if the walk is too much, you can transfer to the 1 at 42nd.

  • nanter

    BdB acknowledges in his comments that their activity is likely protected and that he’s going to need to be creative to put a stop to the women (but notably not to the cartoon characters). He pretty transparently admits boobs are the problem.

    It’s pretty sad that it’s 2015 and we still have elected officials who think that putting lives at risk is preferable to someone seeing a topless woman.

  • Alex 3speed

    That’s the subway. I mean actual surface street cars for a quick easy scenic ride through and between places on the typical tourist drags.

  • Mike

    With a limited budget for infrastructure, I’d rather spend on projects that don’t provide redundant functionality.

  • J

    Indeed. It’s a sad day when the real estate companies are significantly more progressive than the “Liberal” mayor.

  • Alex 3speed

    Complementary I’d say. What’s your view on the plazas? Don’t say redundant!

  • Yawn Gehl

    Look, hippies, this isn’t Copenhagen. This is a place where our politicians and police okay with the daily slaughter of innocent pedestrians who are doing nothing more than walking on sidewalks or crossing legally with the right of way. We “real” New Yorkers turn a blind eye to reports of a kid getting mowed down. And our mayor, out of fear of not getting re-elected and advancing his own political career, is more than happy to sacrifice a few dead people here and there if it means not falling out of favor with the police, even though they already hate him.

  • Mike

    As a native New Yorker, I never bothered learning how to drive, so plazas beat car lanes for me every time.

  • Alex 3speed

    I hear you. I didn’t learn until 30 and still haven’t seen the need to do so in NYC.

  • Geck
  • neroden

    This is a place where the so-called police actually murder people; we shouldn’t be surprised that they also refuse to enforce the laws.

    NYC needs a real police department. I’m not sure how to accomplish that.

  • neroden

    It’s worth noting that San Francisco has BART, Muni, and the Market Street Streetcars on three layers all running right down Market Street. They’re *all* full.

    A really, really busy corridor can fill them all up.

  • Alex 3speed

    I’m familiar with downtown SF and agree it would be similar. Times Sq consistently ranks #1 in the system, Herald Sq in the top 3, Union and Columbus in the top 10. There is also no existing redundancy in that no bus runs on Broadway between those destinations. It’s not a question of *if* it would fill up.
    Also, there are a lot of less touristy cities than ours that have public transit lines aimed at tourists. It would be great to close that stretch to cars and have two way transit (LR/SBS) and a two way bike lane.

  • Flakker

    …so you’re saying it will never stop

  • gregoire alessandrini

    Who cares about these desnudas ? Prudish people indeed…just remember
    what the area used to be !!! A few painted boobs don’t mean that the
    smut is back in TS ! And regarding the pesdestrian areas, yes, they
    provide a more breathable family friendly atmosphere…but beware…if
    not well thought they also make neigborhoods look like giant dull
    malls…it’s already the case in many cities around the world (from Paris to Shanghai)…which
    all start to look the same !



Streetfilms: A Streetside Chat With Jan Gehl

In November 2006, Danish planner Jan Gehl met Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton in Times Square to reflect on the state of the city’s public spaces. In this Streetfilm by Clarence Eckerson, EIC Aaron Naparstek catches up with Gehl in the new Madison Square to talk about what has changed in the intervening two years, and […]