A Car-Free Broadway for the People?

Broadway Pedestrian Zone in Times Square

Ah, Broadway! The street name has inspired many a song, a movie and is most notably associated with theatrical success.  To the modern New Yorker, however, the name may not first bring to mind musical merriment, but rather a cringe and nightmares of traffic and tourists.  Earlier this year, the city carved out a chunk of Broadway in Times Square to become a pedestrian pathway completely closed off to cars.  More of these pathways are popping up around the city and rumor has it we might be well on our way to a car-free Broadway in Midtown!

Is that fun city news or a traffic nightmare? I’m sure I’m not the only one that listened to a cabbie curse the closed street with disdain, but it is hard to decipher if actually closing most of Midtown Broadway would really result in such a traffic cluster after all!  The way Broadway creates triangular intersections is quite the headache, whether on foot, bike or automobile, so eliminating it as a North-South thoroughfare could seemingly ease congestion.

Broadway highlighted in orange

Broadway highlighted in orange

Aside from the traffic implications, this could be a pretty neat city project to undertake.  I had a friend studying urban design call me in a flurry of excitement about closing Broadway in Times Square last year.  She kindly briefed me on some NYC street history: Broadway was the first North-South traffic-way in Manhattan and has transitioned from a pathway for people, to horse-buggies, to automobiles, to buses as our technology evolved.  Since Broadway was constructed before the city grid took off, it inconveniently swerves through the middle of town (highlighted in orange on the map pictured left) and creates the traffic problems we have today.  She said, “It’s neat, isn’t it? That after all these years of technology they want to give streets— traditional areas for mass transportation—back to the people!”

This idea is surely appealing to walkers, cyclists and store-owners along the famous street, which is why NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is pushing for this motor-ban through Union Square.  If nothing else we can take comfort that our traffic isn’t as bad as Beijing’s and, at worst, this motor-ban could give us a boost in rankings for Bike Friendly Cities and Most Stressed Cities (surely we can do better than #6)!

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