Broadway Pedestrian Plaza Here to Stay

Good news, loungers. Bad news, hacks. The Times Square pedestrian zone is here to stay.

Two swaths of Broadway closed to cars in the heart of Manhattan as part of a traffic experiment that drew international attention will be permanently made into public plazas for pedestrians and bicyclists, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.
The eight-month pilot program in Times Square and Herald Square has been embraced by pedestrians and people who work or live nearby, but it has been cursed by drivers and had lackluster results in traffic studies.
Since last May, Broadway has been closed to vehicles between 42nd and 47th streets in Times Square and between 33rd and 35th streets in Herald Square. With painted pavement, outdoor furniture and other landscaping, the city created outdoor plazas intended to evoke public pedestrian areas popular in many international cities.
Greg Mocker, a 35-year-old New Yorker, said he enjoys the plazas as "a different way to experience Times Square.''
When the weather is warm, he said, "it's a nice place to come and sit and see weird people walking by at the center of the world.''
College student Hannah Proud likes the calm amid the hustle.
"It breaks up the city's busy-ness,'' she said.
As part of the experiment, officials examined traffic flow before and after the program, and the results released Thursday were mixed.
Still, officials declared the plazas a success and said the administration is considering creating more in other areas of the city.
The existing Broadway plazas will also be updated with new paint and redesigned in coming years with more permanent outdoor features that could accommodate large events like concerts and other gatherings.
"The new Broadway is here to stay,'' Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.
The city examined traffic in two ways -- city transportation consultants drove and timed more than 5,700 vehicle trips through midtown before and after the Broadway closures.
Officials also studied GPS data from taxicabs that picked up and dropped off passengers within a specific zone in the west midtown area. A control zone in east Manhattan was also analyzed.
The car trips taken by consultants yielded disappointing results, with improvements falling far short of goals set by officials.
Southbound travel time did not change, while northbound travel time was faster by only five percent.
And crosstown travel time actually worsened, with trips slowing on nearly every major street.
For example, the average westbound trip on Central Park South was 94 percent slower, increasing from 2 minutes and 24 seconds to 4 minutes and 40 seconds. Eastbound 50th Street trips increased from 8 minutes and 5 seconds to 12 minutes and 23 seconds, a 53 percent jump.
The study of taxi data was more encouraging, Bloomberg said.
Taxis make up 45 percent of all vehicles within the area studied, and officials looked at more than 1.1 million trips taken in the zone before and after the pilot program.
Taxi trips were 7 percent faster in the zone, although they were also 5 percent faster in the control zone.
Bloomberg insisted that the taxi data is more reliable because it reflects real-world drivers navigating the roads without influence of a traffic study.
But it is also true that taxi drivers make specific decisions to avoid crowded streets, including passing cars and maybe stepping on the gas to get through a yellow light. The traffic consultants did not do that.
Evgeny Freidman, a taxi fleet owner and member of the local community board's transportation committee, said he was disappointed that the plazas were being made permanent.
He said his drivers "try to avoid the area as much as possible,'' and end up wasting fuel as well as passengers' money because of longer detours.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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