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Mayor Adams May Nix Sidewalk Expansions on Bustling Eighth Ave.

Pedestrian crowding on Eighth Avenue used to be so bad that people were forced to walk in the street — but Adams is casting doubt on efforts to give people more space to walk.

Photo: Jackie Zamora|

Most people on Eighth Avenue aren’t in cars, but the mayor thinks there’s not enough space for vehicles.

Painted sidewalk extensions installed in on Eighth Avenue in Midtown to improve safety and accommodate the area's pedestrian majority are under threat after Mayor Adams cast doubt this week on the nearly decade-long effort to address over-crowding in the area.

"I’m a little concerned about the narrowing of Eighth Avenue," Adams told reporters at his weekly open question-and-answer session at City Hall Tuesday.

"Eighth Avenue has been narrowed down to two lanes, and if someone is double-parked it turns into one lane, and there the community says this is having a major impact, so we need to relook at what we’re doing over there."

The mayor said he heard concerns about the wider sidewalks — which the city installed to address pedestrian overflow in the street — during a walkthrough of the area with the "Times Square theater community," adding that he was also worried about the "overuse" of mopeds and bikes on the busy thoroughfare.

"We’re dealing with traffic congestion there, we’re dealing with uncleanliness that’s in the area, we’re dealing with the overuse of mopeds and bikes that are everywhere and parked in disarray, we’re dealing with the proper movement of people," Adams said. "Now we’re sitting down and we’re putting in place the strategy to correct each one of those issues."

Adams toured the area with Broadway theater owners in the lead up to his announcement of a newly formed Midtown Community Improvement Coalition to tackle "quality of life" concerns in the bustling neighborhood — including public drug use, shoplifting, and unhoused people with mental health issues — but he homed in on the painted sidewalk extensions as a problem.

The City Hall press office declined to comment further, but a spokesman for the Shubert Organization, which bills itself as the oldest and largest theater owner on Broadway, confirmed that it joined the mayor for the walk late last week, along with the Broadway League and others.

The organization's rep, Todd Rappaport, also declined to comment further on the street design concerns the theater honchos apparently raised during the confab. The Broadway League did not respond to a request for comment.

The city narrowed the bustling avenue's space for motor vehicles beginning about seven years ago under Mayor Bill de Blasio into Adams's first year in office, expanding the sidewalks between 31st and 51st streets to more safely accommodate the crowds that routinely spilled over into bike lane or the road due to the lack of space. Pedestrian injuries have dropped by 30 percent since 2016, according to city stats.

The roadway once carried between four and six lanes for motor vehicles, despite 88 percent of people in the area traveling on foot and squeezing into 30 percent of the space, according to the Department of Transportation.

Drivers accounted for just 10 percent of the people traveling through, but gobbled up 60 percent of the road, according to a DOT study of pre-pandemic figures. As of 2022, the pedestrian share remained by far the largest, at 82 percent, according to the agency.

The core problems. Chart: DOT

Broadway theater owners have long opposed the roadway's redesign because they falsely believe their customers need automobiles to get there, according to Christine Berthet, who co-founded the pedestrian advocacy group CHEKPEDS and co-chairs the Transportation Committee of local Community Board 4.

"The theater community has always been raising issues about that, since the beginning," Berthet said. "There’s this old canard that everybody’s coming with a cab or everybody’s coming with a car."

Broadway also threw some serious theatrics against the now-paused congestion pricing plan to toll drivers entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.

But even the Broadway League's own numbers from a 2022 report [PDF] showed that around three-quarters of theater-goers get there by foot or mass transit, while only 15.6 percent do so by private vehicle.

The vast majority of theater-goers don't drive there.Chart: Broadway League

"If Eric Adams wants to allocate his space to car drivers, then that’s what it is, but that’s a lot less people coming and doing business in New York," said Berthet.

The area was congested with cars well before the agency overhauled the street grid, the longtime Manhattan advocate and resident added.

"Ten years ago I would go up on Eighth Avenue and it was extremely congested," she said. "We needed this space for the pedestrians. The pedestrians for the last 10 years were walking in traffic, were walking in the bike lanes."

The corridor was also a priority for safety improvements due to its horrible record of traffic violence, with nearly a thousand reported crashes on just nine of its blocks over five years, according to city stats.

Eighth Avenue before...

If Adams decides to undo the road diet, it wouldn't be the first time in his mayoralty that he prioritized the movement of vehicles over safety.

Last year, Adams watered down a road diet for Brooklyn's McGuinness Boulevard to maintain more space for cars after local businesses — led by film studio Broadway Stages — lobbied his administration against the street safety proposal.

New Yorkers walking the avenue on Wednesday hoped the mayor would not put cars over people this time.

"I think it’s a necessity to have curb extensions especially for children and the elderly since they walk a bit slower. It gives them more space to walk, especially in these busy streets," said Evelin Fajardo.

"Without curb extensions, the streets will be way more crowded," added Paolo Lema. "It’s a hassle trying to get through these crowds, but it has been helpful."

Additional reporting by Jackie Zamora

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