Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Times Square

Public Spaces


Where could DC make space for pedestrians?

Since the pedestrianization of Broadway, the Times Square Alliance has found that foot traffic in Times Square is up 15%.

The BBC has a great video about counting foot traffic in New York's busiest pedestrian space:

What places in our area would be nicer as pedestrian spaces, either part or full time?

At Thursday's Cities in Focus event at EMBARQ, an audience member asked about pedestrianizing 18th Street in Adams Morgan. DDOT Director Gabe Klein said he has had discussions with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham about closing 18th Street to cars on the weekends, and the department is continuing to pursue the idea.

Initially skeptical, Graham and 18th Street business owners have apparently shown growing interest. This is not surprising since, much like Times Square little more than 18 months ago, 18th Street has reached a point where it doesn't really work for pedestrians or motorists.

Other places where this might be beneficial, especially on weekends: M Street in Georgetown, as Georgetown Metropolitan wrote, 7th Street downtown, or King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Where else might this work?

Roads


Closing the bowtie

Times Square is one of the most crowded pedestrian areas in the city. As

On Sunday, the New York Post reported that DOT has agreed to a six-month test of this change.
Here is a diagram of the new pattern.

I'm now at Borough President Scott Stringer's transportation conference, where DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall just announced the change and also talked about DOT's efforts to create more public spaces, such as the closing of a portion of Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and their commitment to creating more such spaces in neighborhoods throughout the city.

If DOT follows through on this in a big way, it could mean a significant improvement in the quality of life in New York. Just last weekend I was walking around SoHo, on Spring Street, where the sidewalks are very narrow, but the streets fairly wide. Each block had about 16 parked cars, and over a hundred pedestrians, yet the pedestrians were squeezed into a much smaller space than the empty cars. On the other hand, DOT could simply change a few minor spots extremely slowly, and change is certainly needed. I hope they will make a serious effort in this area.

Public Spaces


New York public spaces good and bad

Speaking of public space, the Project for Public Spaces has put together a detailed commentary on New York's public space - the good spaces, the terrible ones, and the opportunities for the future.

Their list of great public spaces covers a wide variety of spaces, from architectural masterpieces like the steps of the Metropolitan Museum to Grand Central Terminal, parks that have truly created usable and welcoming spaces for the public like Bryant Park, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Washington Square Park, and mixed-use streets from the public Bleecker Street to the fairly astounding private space of Rockefeller Center where, PPS writes,

"Thirty-five years ago, this complex was insular and almost privatized. ... PPS was asked what kind of spikes would be appropriate to keep people off of the yews. Instead, we suggested politely, 'Try benches.' This was a revelation ... after which they began to see the potential of inviting people into the Plaza, accommodating them, and eventually entertaining them."
New York has some wonderful public spaces, but also some disasters. There are the large expanses of asphalt where traffic engineers cleared an area of people to encourage the fast movement of traffic, as at Astor Place, Central Park South, or Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. And there are the buildings designed as "blank walls" to isolate rather than engage pedestrians, such as Rockefeller Center West, Grace Plaza, the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem, or many of the buildings around City Hall. I'm not very familiar with many of these, but can think of plenty of other examples: the back of Manhattan Plaza on 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, or the entire Lincoln Center complex. Worst of all, planners and architects still haven't learned - just look at the Atlantic Yards proposal, which combines many of the biggest urban design mistakes into one tidy package.

Never one to pass judgment without a variety of specific recommendations, PPS identifies a list of opportunities for spaces that could be so much more than they are. In addition to the aforementioned Atlantic Yards and Lincoln Center (whose "abundant parking" is where I park my car), they identify and give quality recommendations for Broadway, Fifth and Madison Avenues, Times Square, Union Square, 125th Street, Allen and Pike Streets, Battery Park City, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Roads


Good riddance ugly planters

Times Square is crowded. At almost all hours, the sidewalks are full of pedestrians. But that didn't stop a bunch of buildings from installing large planters or other barriers after 9/11. They ostensibly kept potential terrorists from driving up to the buildings, but more often (i.e. almost constantly) kept potential pedestrians from having room to walk around.

Now, according to the Times, NYC DOT is making the buildings remove the planters. Apparently security experts concluded the barriers are useless or even counterproductive (a vehicle could smash the planter into deadly flying fragments). While commonsense security decisions are uncommon these days, more uncommon yet welcome is DOT caring about pedestrians.

The article lists a variety of buildings around Times Square who are ditching the planters, including the Times Square Tower which did a good job of making attractive barriers in the shape of globes and oval sundials. One building not mentioned, which I'd like to know about, is the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which has the largest and most intrusive planters of all. Those almost completely block very busy sidewalks, with only small openings just wide enough for one person to pass through and insufficient for two to pass each other.

Public Spaces


Two plans for Times Square

Times Square was once a seedy place that many New Yorkers avoided, except for brief forays to a Broadway show. Today, many New Yorkers still avoid it, but for the opposite reason - it is really, really crowded. According to the Times Square Alliance, streets in Times Square burst with up to 16,817 people per hour on the busiest sidewalks, plus 1,279 people who can't fit on the sidewalks and walk in the street.

Meanwhile, most of the public space in the area is devoted to cars, even though those hardly move. Two groups have developed detailed proposals to reclaim some of the street space for pedestrians.

The Times Square Alliance recommends cutting the connection between Seventh Avenue and Broadway and creating new sidewalk space in that area. There is a very narrow median right now, which many people walk on, even though transportation officials have placed obstacles to discourage it. Their plan would create a pedestrian area between Seventh and Broadway as well as expanding many of the surrounding sidewalks. You can read a summary (PDF) or the detailed plan (PDF).

Another group, Vision 42, goes one step further, advocating for turning all of 42nd Street into a pedestrian boulevard with a light rail line running the length. 42nd Street has very wide sidewalks which are nevertheless always extremely packed. But traffic on 42nd crawls at best, and the M42 crosstown bus, connecting such important sites as the United Nations, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Javits Center, and until recently The Tank, moves no slower than a walk. I once walked all the way from Grand Central to 9th Avenue with a bus about half a block behind me, waiting for it to catch me so I could board, but it never did. Light rail could allow people to finally get from one side of Manhattan to the other just a little bit faster.

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