November 22, 2005

Pedestrianize Broadway!

From crap urban planning to great ideas: Gothamist today interviews Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives. Of course he comes out in favour of congestion pricing: no surprises there. But he also has an idea you might not have come across before:

Broadway, because it cuts across the street grid, snarls traffic. Ideally, the city should make Broadway car-free. It’s not as crazy as it sounds: it would be a boon for pedestrians that are currently spilling into the street , and traffic patterns would actually improve. Imagine a pedestrian-friendly promenade connecting the crown jewels of Battery Park, Union Square, Times Square and Central Park. The tourism draw alone would make it worth it.

I'm not such a big fan of tourist draws myself. And I don't think this idea works south of Canal: Broadway is really the only major southbound street in Lower Manhattan, and South Street can't cope on its own. But from Columbus Circle down to Canal Street, I think this is a great idea. Take it in chunks:

  • Columbus Circle to Times Square: 7th Avenue could cope with the extra southbound traffic, and a pedestrianised precinct would create a wonderful alternative to 7th Avenue for people wanting to walk from Times Square to Central Park.
  • Times Square to Herald Square: Broadway here is essentially an obstacle to crosstown traffic more than anything else. Get rid of the cars on it, and traffic would probably flow smoother in midtown.
  • Herald Square itself: The mother queen of Broadway snafus. 6th Avenue and Broadway run across each other, almost parallel, but in opposite directions. No traffic planning can deal with that. This solves the problem at a stroke.
  • Herald Square to Union Square: An ugly, unloved stretch of road which could only be improved by pedestrianising it and bringing in some retail as opposed to wholesale shopping.
  • Union Square to Houston: OK, I can see the argument for keeping this stretch: I'm not sure that pedestrianising Broadway would be a huge improvement.
  • Houston to Canal: Desperately in need of pedestrianisation. There are simply way too many people on that street to fit onto the sidewalks: they spill onto the road already. The cars, especially the parked cars, add nothing except hassle. Get rid of them!
Posted by Felix at 05:26 PM GMT

Manhattan should gradually begin to restrict all full-size automobile traffic except commercial delivery vehicles. Get Albany to come up with a street-legal golf cart license, if there isn't one already, and allow carts and scooters on all streets. Ideally you'd get to the point where only one in every four or five e/w streets would permit regular traffic, and maybe every second n/s thorougfare.

You could put some kind of EZ Pass device on delivery trucks to lower the gates, and give keys to store owners for out-of-town trucks. Or you could just lower all the gates between midnight and 5am.

Posted by: Sterling on November 23, 2005 06:11 PM

Makes a lot of sense (and is eminently doable right now) down to 14th. Below 14th, elimate parking, and have a double loaded bus lane, or make it bus only. Too many express routes and local routes use B'Way. The real challenge is that the side streets downtown have been as carefully engineered as possible to limit side street traffic, and there isn't a major southbound route between the Bowery (which is a primary feeder for the Manhattan bridge) and Seventh (major feeder for the Holland Tunnel). Eliminating on street parking and side street turns on B'way would be fine. Speed could be controlled with timed light neckers or turndowns at major intersections.

Posted by: 99 on November 23, 2005 07:45 PM

Brilliant. PSWhite is a genius. The BIDs must love this idea. When can we start walking?

Posted by: D Hooray on November 23, 2005 07:48 PM

will never happen. bloomberg has "fixed" the city's budget problems almost entirely with parking tickets, moving violation tickets. good old "republican taxes"

Posted by: HAH! on November 23, 2005 08:38 PM

Well, one of the problems with Manhattan traffic is the size of each vehicle. If you can cut the average vehicle size by 50% or so, you eliminate much of the problem.

Another problem is people from outside Manhattan who bring their cars into the city - the main thing that keeps people from doing this are the limitations of driving in Manhattan. Raise the limitations, reduce the inflow.

A third problem is the lack of New Jersey-Long Island access. There are only two routes to do this that bypass Manhattan. Once the inbound traffic was cut, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel should be linked, either underground or with a freeway, with no entrances or exits on Manhattan.

Posted by: Sterling on November 24, 2005 02:45 AM