The Times Square Plazas Are No Longer a Construction Zone

Broadway and 43rd. After photo: David Meyer
Broadway and 43rd. After photo: David Meyer

Construction on the Times Square pedestrian plazas wrapped up last month just in time for last weekend’s ball drop festivities. Officials from both the de Blasio and Bloomberg administrations gathered Wednesday to mark the completion of four years of construction.

“It’s been almost eight years since Broadway at Times Square was first closed to vehicular traffic and I’m happy to say now, with this beautiful project done, it’s never looked better,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

Before 2009, when the Bloomberg administration’s “Green Light for Midtown” project first blocked off car-free zones on Broadway between 47th Street and 42nd Street, Times Square was a hellish place to walk. While pedestrians outnumbered vehicles nine to one, the old design confined them to just 10 percent of the street space.

For a moment in 2015, de Blasio administration officials (especially former police commissioner Bill Bratton) made some noise about potentially reversing the plazas, but they came to their senses.

It’s hard to imagine going back to the way things were. With the plazas, traffic injuries have dropped, foot traffic is up, business is booming for retailers. The changes polled extremely well among New Yorkers.

Past and present DOT commissioners cut the ribbon last week.
Past and present DOT commissioners cut the ribbon last week.

“Transforming car space into people space helped the local area grow and thrive,” said former NYC DOT chief Janette Sadik-Khan. “Times Square has created a powerful example for the rest of the world.”

When DOT first implemented the plazas under Sadik-Khan, they consisted of paint, planters, and chairs. Capital construction began in 2012 under the supervision of the Department of Design and Construction, and was originally slated to wrap up in 2014, DNAinfo reported at the time.

Like many DDC street construction projects, the Times Square plazas took years longer to complete than anticipated. The full spatial benefit of the plazas was hard to appreciate as long as the streets and sidewalks were a construction zone.

Last week city officials celebrated the project’s “on-time” completion — meaning before the ball drop ceremony. But even early last year, DDC’s project database listed the completion date as April 14, 2016.

The city often attributes those delays to the layers of infrastructure under each project. Work at Times Square, for example, included the installation of all new fiber-optic cables by Verizon, according to DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora.

I asked Peña-Mora if DDC learned anything from the Times Square project, but he didn’t cite any specifics. “Each location has a lot of different complexities,” he said. “We try to learn from each one, but each one is unique.”

Included in the final project is a bike connection between 47th Street and 42nd Street via Seventh Avenue, providing a detour around the crowded plazas. From Broadway, cyclists take a block-long contraflow protected lane on 47th Street, then go to the eastern side of Seventh Avenue, which has sharrows for one block before a raised bike lane begins. Signage directs cyclists onto 42nd Street, where they can turn back onto Broadway.

Photo: David Meyer
The raised bike lane on 7th Avenue. Photo: David Meyer
  • That raised bike lane is a problem unless you don’t mind taking the roadway. There are people walking in the bike lane almost 100% of the time; it isn’t often trivial to go around them, as there’s just not a lot of space to do that if they’re particularly oblivious pedestrians walking three-across.

    This is easily solved with a little traffic direction, but NYPD seems to be tied up with staring at the police cruisers/SUVs that they park directly in the middle of the plazas and crosswalks.
    (we need an elected official or two to see how these plazas are abused on a routine basis)

  • vnm

    I’ve been riding through on the raised lane, extra slow, heavy on the bell. So far, so good.

  • qrt145

    The raised lane works well in the morning in my experience, but the sharrow lane between 46th and 47th is a complete joke, even by sharrow standards. What it really is is a standing lane for taxis.

  • MatthewEH

    This is on my sometimes-commute route now. Part of the problem, IMO, is that at the south end of the lane there was no indication that this was a bike space (no green paint, no bike stencils on the lane) until very recently. I’m interested to see how people start dealing with it now that the treatment is more complete.

    Tho honestly, this isn’t the worst place that I’ve seen ped encroachment in NYC. 8th Avenue feels a lot worse. Maybe I also know it’s only 4 blocks, and it’s not like I’m coming into the lane looking to maintain a huge head of steam.

    Some streetpost signs clarifying intended users might be helpful. Pedestrians in red crossed-out circles on both sides, bikes in green circles (in the correct direction). Would be nice.

    I have gently admonished a few errant peds about this “Hi. This space is for bikes, please don’t walk here.” Most aren’t too gruff about it, though some have acted like I just kicked a puppy or something.

    Honestly, I sometimes have problems in this lane if I get caught behind a super-slow cyclist! There isn’t enough space in the lane to pass, except maybe at an intersection if you’re really sharp about it. Maybe you can pass in the leftmost traffic lane instead of on the raised bike lane if it happens to be completely clear that block.

    Failing that, toodling along at 7-8 mph from 46th Street is a PITA! You’ll miss the light at 42nd, whereas riding at a more reasonable speed you won’t.

  • I should clarify the point I was trying to make about the lane: It isn’t easy to use and it is just one more piece of bike infra in NYC that gives resistance to inexperienced cyclists (or to those without impeccable hand-eye coordination) to the extent that they do not see bicycle commuting as an ideal way to get around. The least we can ask of separated bicycle infrastructure (which is extremely difficult to get the city to agree to in the first place) is that it does not get regularly, fully blocked.

    Drivers scream about anything similar that they have to put up with. You don’t want to be taking the blood pressure of a cab driver who just turned onto a one-lane side street & found that a sanitation truck was about to take its sweet time doing pickups for the next 200 yards.

    I don’t have a problem with using it. I don’t like it much but it doesn’t stand out as an unworkable route. Worse comes to worse, I just jump back into a car lane, as is my right to do, and which is pretty safe (relatively for the area) due to the slow pace of cars, usually.

  • Vooch

    Times Square phase 2 is completed !

    Now onto the design of Times Square phase 3 – a full pedestrian zone.

    Of course – Tied in with Pedestrianized Broadway from 42nd to Central Park

  • Guy Ross

    Exactly. I would never expect to have a bike-only way through TS and engineering it would basically require 5 foot walls on one or both sides. The bigger problem is that there is no proper southbound lane in the area in general. 6th so desperately needs to get the 8th treatment.

  • Maggie

    Came here to say the same thing: these sharrows are just not going to work. I don’t understand how they were even approved. The 468-room Doubletree hotel here is going to have curbside demand for loading, right on top of the sharrows lane. This design leaves cyclists in harm’s way.

  • I think we really can’t overstate the scale of this accomplishment here. If a people-first design revolution can be staged here, in the heart of Midtown, then it can be done anywhere. We can also credit JSK for doing the heavy lifting of ensuring that a bike facility down 7th Avenue was included with this project. With this lane in place, extending a full length protected lane down 7th avenue from 59th St to the Battery is only a matter of time and political will. The precedent has been set already.

  • AnoNYC

    I love the aesthetic. I want to see this used for plazas citywide.


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