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UWS Group Shows DOT Why a Pedestrianized Broadway Would Be Great

This was a portion of Broadway on the Upper West Side on September 21 — neighbors meeting neighbors, kids playing, life slower. Photo: Jeff Prant

Talk about a streetopia! An Upper West Side group demonstrated over the weekend how easily a short stretch of Broadway could be given over to pedestrians — and the Department of Transportation is considering doing it more often.

Residents got a taste of the good life on Saturday as the community group StreetopiaUWS put out tables as part of its "Celebrate Broadway" event between 73rd and 79th streets on the northbound side of the roadway. Attendees relaxed, played, conversed and enjoyed the roadway — all common occurrences in cities with large pedestrianized zones, but almost completely unheard of in car-dominated New York.

"Everyone was saying, 'Why can't we do this every weekend? Why can't this be permanent?'" said Lisa Orman of StreetopiaUWS, which organized the event.

Orman said that DOT is "supportive" of the nascent idea and that agency workers have been conducting local surveys.

Performers from Time Lapse Dance got a chance to really stretch out. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Performers from Time Lapse Dance got a chance to really stretch out. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Performers from Time Lapse Dance get a chance to really stretch out when roadways are closed to cars. File photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

"They've been studying the entire Broadway corridor," Orman added. "I, of course, favor completely rethinking Broadway for the entire length of Manhattan, but this short stretch on one side of the street is a no-brainer."

In some ways, banning cars from this tiny portion of northbound Broadway is the lowest-hanging fruit of pedestrianization, a process of banning cars that Mayor de Blasio opposes (in fact, an Onion-esque April Fool's Day Streetsblog post announcing the mayor's car ban in Lower Manhattan remains one of our most-viewed stories — most likely because of its implausibility). There is already a park at the confluence of Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue and 72nd Street that prevents northbound cars from directly accessing the uptown-bound lanes of Broadway. If car drivers want to get back onto northbound Broadway, they have to take Amsterdam to 73rd Street, turn left and then turn right onto Broadway — a two-step that most drivers don't even bother with.

For now, DOT didn't commit to anything — except being open to change.

"We are in the very early stages and plan to meet with the CB7 Broadway Steering Committee in October to share an overview of DOT’s toolkit to enhance the public realm, to learn more from the board about issues, opportunities, and priorities at this location, and to discuss potential partners for such a project," agency spokesman Brian Zumhagen told Streetsblog.

Two Upper West Side sources (neither of whom is Orman!) said that the DOT will, in fact, create a plan for something more elaborate than a mere space for temporary tables. Locals are expected to get a gander next month. Here's what it could look like:

Wow, Broadway on the Upper West Side could be awesome ... if the city would remove the cars. Rendering: WXY/StreetopiaUWS
Wow, Broadway on the Upper West Side could be awesome ... if the city would remove the cars. Rendering: WXY/StreetopiaUWS
Wow, Broadway on the Upper West Side could be awesome ... if the city would remove the cars. Rendering: WXY/StreetopiaUWS

Clarence Eckerson's mini-documentary below captured all the action from Saturday:

Streetopia UWS: Celebrate Broadway Open Streets from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

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