Of all the projects undertaken by NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, perhaps none of them are as high-profile — or were as high stakes — as the public plazas and protected bike lanes on Broadway through Times Square.
Speaking at a panel at the NACTO Designing Cities Conference on Friday, Sadik-Khan said, “If we took a poll before we closed Times Square, it would have never happened. Thankfully, it worked out.”
It sure did…
Times Square is an American icon, and up until its transformation in 2009, it was an icon that included a roadway clogged with taxis and private automobiles. One of America’s marquee streets jammed with cars. It was symbolic in many ways. The throngs of people not in cars huddled onto sidewalks and scurried across the streets, as cars honked and nudged and intimidated them. Now, where cars used to dominate, kids play and people sit, eat and chat. No other project done by the DOT in recent years has done more to capture the spirit of the transportation reform that is happening here.
In addition to many blocks of plazas, there is also a protected bike lane that starts at Columbus Circle at the southern tip of Central Park. The bike lane takes several different forms between 59th and about 13th. Sometimes it’s painted green and curbside, other times it’s buffered with plastic bollards and paint from a row of parked cars on the right and plaza space on the left. There are lots of median islands that also help create separation. At intersections where people in cars turn left, there are bike-only signals to prevent left-hooks. There are “mixing zones” where the space is shared, and there are some plaza areas where you’re made to dismount.
Here are a few more detail shots…
As for bike traffic, it definitely wasn’t crowded; but it was used. I would love to see it even busier, as I think it would help reinforce that the lane is a legal travel lane and that people should not walk or park cars in it. As with much of the new bikeways in New York City, the important thing on Broadway is that the space has been re-allocated. DOT can always go back and beef up the bikeway in the future.
Overall, it’s not exactly the most efficient and stress-free route. There is so much going on on the street that it felt chaotic at times. In front of one hotel, a van operator sat parked right a brightly-colored green bike lane. I asked if he knew he was in a bike lane. He said yes, but that there was nowhere else to park and that DOT had given him a permit (I didn’t press him on that, after all, there was plenty of space to just go around his van). And of course, being so close to public plazas, many people wander into the bike lanes as they take in the sights. Being a transportation tourist simply in awe of everything, I embraced the chaos; but I can imagine if I was late to work or a meeting I might take another route (or just take the lane where I could).
At one point, as I walked my bike in one of the plazas, I saw an older gentleman sitting in a wheelchair. He looked like a local, so I struck up a conversation.
Bill Knox is a 75-year old retiree who lives just a few blocks away. I asked what he thought of sitting in his wheelchair in the middle of Broadway. “I was really against it at first. I was afraid it would be crazy, you know, with all the traffic. But it’s a good deal, a good thing. It worked out OK.” Mr. Knox said he used to roll over to Bryant Park when he wanted to get outside, but he has allergies so he stopped going there. Now he seemed perfectly content people-watching and taking in the view.
I also met a man named Danny. He was visiting from Toronto. He sat, legs crossed, smiling serenely.
The design of the plazas is spot-on. People were playful (which is really the goal of any quality public space), there is plenty to see and do, and there’s great food to eat (thanks to local food trucks parked right in the plazas). At intersections, there were two friendly and helpful “Pedestrian Management” workers. I loved watching them help ferry people safely across a busy street between two plazas.
For another perspective, I made a little video of my ride down Broadway. Check it out below…
The protected bike lanes and the plazas on Broadway are an immeasurable win for livable streets. With high visibility to tourists from around the country and around the world, the impact and inspiration from this new symbol of American streets will reverberate far beyond mid-town Manhattan.
— This post is part of my ongoing New York City coverage. I’m here for a week to cover the NACTO Designing Cities conference and the city’s bike culture in general. This special reporting trip was made possible by Planet Bike, Lancaster Engineering, and by readers like you. Thank you! You can find all my New York City coverage here.