Pedestrian-oriented Broadway increasingly shunned by drivers

New York’s Broadway, after giving up 3.5 miles of traffic lanes to pedestrians, bicyclists, and gathering spaces, is seeing its automotive traffic significantly decline.

Some say that Broadway should never have been allowed to cut its diagonal path across the Manhattan street grid to begin with. “The resulting three-way intersections can slow down cars and tie up the broader system,” The New York Times observed Sept. 6 in an article available here.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city has taken major steps to remedy the awkwardness caused by Broadway’s trajectory. “In two years, roughly three and a half miles of the street’s moving lanes have vanished — nearly half of the total between Columbus Circle and Union Square — and in some spots automobile traffic has dropped by a third,” The Times reported. “Dozens of parking spaces are gone, replaced by bicycle lanes and pedestrian picnic areas. For the first time in New York’s modern era, Broadway no longer offers a continuous path from the Bronx to the Battery.”

By this fall, “nearly all of once-bustling Broadway from 33rd to 17th Streets will be reduced to a single lane of moving traffic, save for an occasional stub for left turns,” the paper noted. Compared with a year ago, the number of vehicles using Broadway between Columbus Circle and Times Square has declined by about 25 percent, according to the city.

The reduction in traffic led reporter Michael Grynbaum to ask New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan whether the ultimate goal is to ban cars entirely from Broadway. She denied it, saying such a plan would not be “realistic” right now. But the reduction in traffic appears to have generated a self-reinforcing cycle, allowing the city to take still more lanes out of motor vehicle service.

Sadik-Khan contends that the north-south avenues and the east-west streets work better without a large volume of conflicting traffic on Broadway. Traffic accidents have decreased, according to transportation officials. Injuries are down. Nearby avenues in Midtown are said to be less backed up. “We are accommodating thousands of more pedestrians,” said Sadik-Khan. Sidewalks have been extended into what was street space. In some places, parking lanes have been established in the middle of the street.

Jeffrey Zupan of the RegionalPlan Association said the incremental changes, as they’ve accumulated, have given people “a different feeling about walking in the city.” Increasingly, he said, “the pedestrian isn’t a second-class citizen who has to always be on the lookout of getting run over.”

Posted by Philip Langdon on 16 Sep 2010