DOT’s New Flatiron “Shared Space” — a Rarity or the First of Many?

Pedestrian-priority treatments make sense for many streets in NYC. So far, DOT is thinking about turning a few more blocks into shared space, but not expanding the concept on a citywide scale.

"Shared space" in action on Broadway. Photo: David Meyer
"Shared space" in action on Broadway. Photo: David Meyer

DOT officials cut the ribbon this morning on the new “shared space” on Broadway near Madison Square Park. Between 24th and 25th streets, motor vehicle pick-ups and deliveries are permitted, but pedestrians take precedence [PDF].

Pedestrians outnumber motorists 20-to-1 on this particular block of Broadway. The shared space design recognizes that by formally letting people on foot use the whole street. “It’s a space where motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists all travel together safely, with cars traveling at a reduced speed and with pedestrians having more options to circulate in an area,” DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez said.

Now the question is — how far will NYC DOT run with this idea?

The Midtown East rezoning approved by the City Council today will pay for several street-level changes, including a pedestrian-priority street outside Grand Central on 43rd Street between Lexington and Third. DOT is also conducting a shared space pilot on Mott Street in Chinatown from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first three Fridays of this month. Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be a strategy for scaling up shared spaces.

On one August Saturday last year, DOT tried out a bigger shared space experiment for a few hours in a 60-block radius in the Financial District, where narrow low-traffic streets are ripe for pedestrian-priority treatments. Sanchez said DOT’s experience with the Financial District informed its decision to move forward with permanent shared space projects, and in an interview with Streetsblog last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said other neighborhoods downtown, like SoHo, are good fits too.

But DOT has no plans to revisit the bigger, neighborhood-scale Lower Manhattan shared space concept at this time.

Pedestrians outnumber cars on blocks all over the city, and the concept of giving people more freedom to use the whole street could work on residential streets as well as commercial areas like the Flatiron. This new “shared space” template could be New York’s answer to Barcelona’s “superblocks,” which maintain local access for motor vehicles, not through routes, while putting pedestrians and cyclists first.

With one shared space in the bag, it’s time to think big about where else the treatment can work.

Imagine local streets where cars have access, but don’t take priority. Image: Street Plans Collaborative/Carly Clark
Imagine local streets where cars have access, but don’t take priority. Image: Street Plans Collaborative/Carly Clark
  • J

    For this idea to actually work across the city, it’ll need much more than signs. You need to dramatically limit the number of cars and the speed they travel, or else it all breaks down. The Lower Manhattan experiment naturally has both with few cut-through streets (keeping car volumes low) and very narrow roadways (keeping speeds low). The Flatiron design has the former, but not really the latter, maintaining wide travel lanes and turning radii.

    To do this elsewhere will require a more proactive and aggressive approach. This means vehicle diversions to limit access, as well as severely constraining the driving space to limit speed. Despite the Vision Zero rhetoric, it remains to be seen if DOT has the political will to actually prioritize ped safety and access across the city.

  • Vooch

    Do not even think of closing 24th street like this horrific example in Europe. Cars need to be free to travel everywhere !

  • BrandonWC

    Are deliveries actually permitted? DOT presentation showed parking regs being changed from No Parking (permitting deliveries) to No Standing (prohibiting them). Signs in the photo look like No Standing.
    Also any idea when the Citi Bike dock is going in?

  • As long as new york drivers are allowed to illegally use their horn, it will not be a shared space

  • AMH

    Does honking still carry a $300 fine? The signs have come down, but I still report gratuitous honking on my block to 311 nearly every day (to no avail of course).

  • N_Gorski

    Street parking in the financial district needs to be eliminated as well. And I’m still bummed that Broadway was returned to a four-lane road following the water main work which limited it to one or two lanes for much of the past six years.

  • Vooch

    this is a profound insight – that somehow streets can be car free for years during roadworks with may a hitch.

  • JarekFA

    I work in FiDi and 100% concur. You get so little car traffic but the traffic you do get just ruins the pedestrian experience. Plus the placard abuse that pushes all the loading onto sidewalks/travel lanes, which further leads to honking and unpleasant ped experience (and they’re putting in bike lanes too).

    On my lunch break I took a quick look at the cars parked on one block of Pearl, which was 3 hour commercial parking only. About 5 city agency placards, a couple handicapped placards and no actual commercial loading (plus about 6 motorcycles).

  • Andrew

    And, to top it off, you’re describing an area served by an incredibly dense collection of subway lines and stations. Perhaps in some parts of the city there’s a case to be made for special parking privileges, but not in Lower Manhattan by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Ian Turner

    Make the horn sound as loud inside the car as it does outside the car.

  • Rex Rocket

    Honking OK, Block the Box, no problem, using the car to move pedestrians out of the crosswalk, fine, just be sure to hang around if someone is dying–slowly getting back to normal.