Horrifying Crash Renews Business Groups’ Calls for a Pedestrian-Safe Broadway

Leaders of business improvement districts urge the city to up its game on its pokey 'Vision' as safe-streets activists rally to end traffic violence.

NoMad Piazza, a pedestrianized section of Broadway just below the site of Monday's horrible crash. Photo: Noah Martz
NoMad Piazza, a pedestrianized section of Broadway just below the site of Monday's horrible crash. Photo: Noah Martz

If they build it, you won’t die.

The city must accelerate pedestrian improvements on Broadway, leaders of business improvement districts said this week after Monday’s horrific crash on the iconic boulevard — and safe-streets advocates planned to rally on Thursday night for full pedestrianization.

The city’s “Broadway Vision” project — started under the Bloomberg administration with the goal of creating a “pedestrian friendly” corridor on the two and a half miles of Broadway between Union Square and Columbus Circle — has fully pedestrianized only six blocks since its inception in 2009. Elsewhere on the Great White Way, the Department of Transportation has redesigned several blocks as “shared streets,” where car drivers are supposed to (but not required) to drive at 5 miles per hour in order to traverse the route safely with cyclists and pedestrians.

The business improvement districts, eager to promote safety and foot traffic in their areas, have worked with the city on all of these arrangements.

But after a taxi-cab driver jumped the curb at 29th Street and Broadway on Monday, hitting a cyclist and critically injuring three women, the BIDs are saying, what are we waiting for?

“Now, more than ever, we stand ready to assist our city partners in quickly shepherding DOT’s Broadway Vision plan, including life-saving pedestrian areas and fully protected bike lanes, from paper to pavement,” James Mettham, the president of the Flatiron NoMad Partnership, which covers an area from 31st to 20th streets, said in a statement. “We have collaborated with our partners in city government on safety and accessibility improvements in Flatiron and NoMad for over 15 years. These efforts have created the Flatiron Public Plazas and pedestrian-focused shared streets on Broadway through the heart of the neighborhood. Our most recent Broadway project, the NoMad Piazza pop-up, an open street from 25th to 27th Streets on Broadway, is an extension of this ongoing belief in streets that prioritize the enjoyment and safety of people.”

The executive director of the Union Square Partnership, Jennifer Falk, said that her BID was “shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic crash on Broadway” this week, adding that, “through our own district vision planning work, we continue to advocate for putting a greater focus on making busy corridors like Broadway — as well as 14th Street and the streets surrounding Union Square Park in our own district — a top priority, and we support efforts to make thoroughfares like these safer for pedestrians and more accessible for all.”

The president of the Times Square Alliance, Tom Harris, emphasized the urgency of Broadway pedestrianization. “We work daily with the Department of Transportation to come up innovative solutions to improve safety for all along with the overall pedestrian experience,” he said.

The calls come as Transportation Alternatives will lead a march on Broadway today at 6 p.m. from West 33rd Street to West 23th Street culminating in a rally “in support of streets for people, not cars” and “to end traffic violence.”

Study after study shows that reclaiming space from cars and putting people first on the street is good for health, safety and business, said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Cory Epstein. “There’s no better way to reach Vision Zero and drive more foot traffic to business than creating pedestrian space. This is a win-win not just on Broadway but on many corridors across the five boroughs.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Adams dampened hopes for a new city push on Broadway in the wake of the crash, saying that he wasn’t interested in more pedestrianization of Broadway “at this time” and punting any response to the transportation commissioner.

“I love open streets,” he said at an unrelated press conference. “Ydanis Rodriguez, our commissioner [will] come forward and tell me what’s the best way to do it. I love Times Square, that extra space we have. … So he’s looking at if that’s one of our target areas.”

Under Broadway Vision, the city in partnership with the local BIDs established pedestrian plazas, bike lanes and other appurtenances at Times, Herald, Madison and Union squares, using what the DOT calls its “toolkit” of traffic-calming elements. The plazas, in particular, were an instant hit with residents and tourist alike, drawing crowds of coffee-sippers and sunbathers and providing much-needed breathing space during the pandemic.

During the de Blasio administration, also with the BIDs, the city installed shared streets in the Flatiron District and Union Square and added a plaza block and upgraded bike facilities in Herald Square and the Garment District. The pace of such efforts on the part of the DOT had slowed noticeably, however, even before the pandemic. The BIDs, meanwhile, have gone full bore ahead with their part of the effort: The Union Square group has been rolling out parts of a $100-million plan to remove cars from the Union Square-14th Street area and create almost 100,000 more square feet of public space.

Safe-streets activists, meanwhile, have advocated for a much more expansive vision — a car-free Broadway from Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side to Houston Street on the Lower East Side — in order to create a livable pedestrian and bike corridor along the spine of Manhattan on a meandering boulevard that many regard as superfluous for moving vehicles around the city.

On Wednesday, one woman injured by the taxi driver lost her leg as she was fighting for her life.

The DOT said that it would be sharing more information about pedestrianization on the section of Broadway affected by the crash soon. The Mayor’s Office declined to comment.

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