Take a walk through Manhattan and it's clear that pedestrians think they own this city. They dash through red lights on the way to work, meander through traffic-clogged streets and can sometimes bring cars to a standstill with their power in numbers.
Starting on Sunday, pedestrians will really own a piece of the city.
Broadway will be closed to vehicle traffic for five blocks at Times Square, turning part of the "Crossroads of the World'' into a pedestrian mall of throbbing lights, animated billboards and towering skyscrapers. The city believes the move will reduce pollution, cut down on pedestrian accidents and actually increase the flow of traffic.
A second pedestrian promenade will be created from 33rd to 35th streets on Broadway by Herald Square, where Macy's dominates the intersection. The city will try out the pedestrian malls for the remainder of the year, and if things go well it could make the change permanent.
Planners hope that the uncontrolled chaos that has long defined the heart of this city will shift to a gentler landscape, one where a visitor could conceivably use the word "stroll'' to describe getting from one side of Times Square to the other.
No one's strolling there now. Crowds press up against each other, body to body, pushing the unlucky onto the street to walk alongside the cars. A sea of yellow cabs trickles foot-by-foot down Broadway. People who want to enter stores play a game of human Frogger, dodging pedestrians going in both directions, getting a toe crushed here and there.
Those caught in the crush of people say some added breathing room would be a welcome change. After spending his 52 years in New York, Carlos Grande hopes the pedestrian walkway can transform midtown into a grand, Old World-style space.
"You go to Europe and it's different. You see people sitting at sidewalk cafes, enjoying life,'' he says. Settled at a small street-side table already placed by the city on Broadway, he is interrupted by a chirping sparrow that lands by his feet, right by the rushing wheels of trucks.
"We don't have the history where we can sit in a piazza that's 1,000 years old, but it's still a wonderful idea,'' he says. "It slows the pace of life.''
As Times Square has morphed from a peepshow haven to a glossy, commercial showpiece, the frenetic human theater that has long played out alongside the stage musicals of Broadway has remained.
Businessmen speed by the underwear-clad Naked Cowboy; a desperate-looking woman accosts strangers to hand out fliers for palm readings; a table crowds the sidewalk loaded with not-quite-name-brand handbags selling for $20. One man rushing by does the classic "New York swerve'': As he walks triple-time in a straight line down the street, he suddenly juts just his hip out to the right, just barely missing a woman heading the other way.
Even in bright sun, the light of the famous billboards of Times Square still attract attention. Walkers stop to stare upward; everyone hopes the drivers aren't doing the same. Tourists who don't know that New Yorkers usually plow through crowds single-file walk side-by-side instead and attract nasty grumbles from the locals who can't get by.
With 350,000 people walking through Times Square every day, and many stepping onto the asphalt road to edge around the human traffic jams, injuries here are 140 percent higher than in nearby areas, says city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who compares walking through the crowds to "a human slalom course.''
New York does have a history that has added to its traffic woes, Sadik-Khan says.
In 1811, traffic commissioners developed the grid system that would define the city's streets, but they left in place a precolonial footpath cutting diagonally across Manhattan. Broadway's irregular path created a number of the squares that define city life -- from Union Square to Times Square. But it also jammed up the flow of vehicle traffic, creating three-way intersections at hot spots throughout the city.
"It contradicts the order of the city's grid,'' Sadik-Khan says. "We're really trying to knit the city back together and fix something that's been broken for 200 years.''
With cars no longer cutting diagonally across the grid, planners believe traffic will actually move 17 percent faster. Cars will still be allowed to cut across the new pedestrian promenade at cross streets, but they will then be rerouted to a newly widened Seventh Avenue and other north-south avenues across the grid.
From 42nd Street to 47th Street, planners hope pedestrians will lounge at outdoor seating and stroll along the avenue. They hope drivers will begin using Broadway between the two promenades only if they're headed right there.
As construction on the project continues throughout the summer, the city has hired an array of musicians, magicians and other performers to keep lunchtime crowds in the area. Next month, they will broadcast the Tony awards on the new Broadway promenade. And in December, the Transportation Department will complete a report meant to help decide whether the set-up should be permanent.
Like many New Yorkers, Phyllis Douglas says she avoids Times Square whenever possible because of the crush. But since her office is on Broadway she often finds herself stuck in the crowds, being poked by someone's umbrella, or stranded behind a visiting family, trying to get to work.
Now that she's contending with a broken ankle, Times Square has become a new kind of obstacle course, as she edges slowly along the sidewalk with the help of a crutch -- hoping no one bumps her leg.
"Wow!'' she says, considering the idea of a pedestrian-friendly Broadway. It could completely change her sense of the place -- and her lunch hour. "We can come sit outside!''
The transformation will "take some getting used to," Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told the paper.
For those who travel downtown from Times Square, below are some important changes to bus routes:
The M5 will make local stops northbound between Houston Street and 14th Street. All northbound Limited stops in this segment will be converted to local stops.
The new southbound route will operate on 7th Ave to 14th Street, at which time the bus will turn east on to 14th Street to Broadway, where it will make aright turn continue southbound along its regular route. Northbound M6 service remains unchanged.
The new southbound route will take the M7 from Central Park South, south on 7th Avenue, east on West 14th Street, north on 6th Avenue, to a layover along 6th Avenue north of 14th Street. The northbound route will begin at 6th Avenue and West 14th Street.
The new southbound M10 route will travel south around Columbus Circle, east on Central Park South, and south via 7th Avenue to West 31st Street. The northbound route remains the same.
The new southbound route will travel east on Central Park South from Columbus Circle, south on 7th Avenue and continue on the regular route. There are no changes on the northbound route.
The westbound M27 will now turn south on 7th Avenue from 49th Street and continue on the regular route. The eastbound route remains the same.
The eastbound M30 will travel east on West 58th Street, south on 7th Avenue and continue on the normal route. No change to westbound service.
The southbound M104 will turn east on Central Park South from Columbus Circle, then south on 7th Avenue and continue regular route east on 42nd Street. The northbound route remains the same.