New York Gets Pedestrian FriendlyBY SATOMI YAJIMA
In the middle of Times Square, on a recent warm late fall day, a little boy sat on a red chair with his mother eating an ice cream cone. Places like this — places to sit and relax in the middle of the city’s notorious traffic — are increasing around New York.
This pedestrian-friendly spot is one of several such areas created by the city government’s Pedestrian Project and Greenlight for Midtown. Since 2006, 10 pedestrian malls have been created and another is under construction on Allen and Pike Streets on the Lower East Side.
“I really enjoyed some street events on Broadway this summer. Some people just wore bikini tops and lay on the benches there. It was almost like a beach in the center of the city,” said Maya Yatabe, 23, speaking in Japanese. She has lived on 48th Street and Eighth Avenue for more than a year.
In Manhattan, there are seven pedestrian malls, including Allen and Pike Streets. They are Broadway between 42nd and 47th streets, Broadway from Times Square to Herald Square, Madison Square in front of the Flatiron Building, Ninth Avenue and West 14th Street, Gansevoort, and City Hall. Three malls in Brooklyn are Grand Army Plaza, Pearl Street Plaza, and Willoughby Street Plaza. The other one is at the Bronx Hub, which is on third Avenue and between East 148th and 150th streets.
The pedestrian projects have started to improve pedestrian safety and increase people’s access to places that were previously not available to them, according to the city Department of Transportation website.
The pedestrian areas were inserted in places where streets were too wide to cross. The city decided to split them in two or narrow them down. Between those streets, the pedestrian malls were created, and tables and chairs were placed there for people to enjoy.
“The results are promising,” said Randy Wade, a director of the Pedestrian Project in city’s Department of Transportation, about Broadway’s Greenlight for Midtown project. She explained that her commissioner and top advisors decided it was time to see how removing the complexity of Broadway from the city’s traffic grid would work.
People who use those areas, especially tourists, feel happy about the pedestrian streets because they make it much easier to walk around and move freely in areas that are heavily congested with pedestrians such as Times Square.
“I think that’s really wonderful to have as many pedestrian areas as possible and parks,” said Cindy Uhrich, of Nebraska, who visits her son frequently in New York City.
In an e-mail response to questions, David Golab, director of marketing for Super Structure Company, which is working on the pedestrian project in Times Square with Community Board 5, said that so far they were succeeding in improving pedestrian safety and increasing accessibility to the area. He said that the number of visitors to Times Square seemed to have increased since Labor Day, but he said he did not have specific numbers at the time.
The section of Broadway in Times Square that was turned into a pedestrian mall under went its transformation last Labor Day.
The city’s attempt to make New York City more pedestrian friendly is expected to improve pedestrian’s safe environment as well, though there are still several difficulties to overcome.
Some problems have arisen around the pedestrian malls. One problem is that many cars park right next to the pedestrian streets, disturbing the views of people trying to enjoy the new spaces. Also complicating the situation are the many bike lanes that the city has added in recent years.
Ms. Wade said the community in Lower East Side had held many workshops over the years before deciding to narrow the number of moving bike lanes from outside the parking lane to within an expanded mall.
“ I often get confused because the sidewalks that used to be for pedestrians are now for bicycles,” said Ms. Yatabe.
In Times Square and Herald Square, bicycle, pedestrian and car lanes are divided by different colors, but often they are ignored.
“I was yelled out by a delivery guy with a bike, saying like ‘Get out my way!’,” Ms. Yatabe said, laughing.
Ms. Wade said the Parks Department had federal funding to build the temporary widening out in high quality materials that should provide the community with a terrific new public space though she said “We are still evaluating the Allen-Pike project to make minor improvements.”
The city has not yet decided whether they would make this project on Allen and Pike streets permanent or temporary.
“I hope they’ll do. I hope they’ll keep it safe for pedestrians,” Greg Jerome, a resident in Queens, said.
For more information about pedestian malls, go to DOT website.
A map of the pedestrian malls is on a Google map.
View Pedestrian Projects NYC in a larger map