When the Bloomberg administration rerouted traffic patterns near Times Square and Herald Square less than a year ago, it maintained that closing Broadway to vehicular traffic from 47th to 42nd streets, and again from 35th to 33rd streets, would lead (counterintuitively) to less congestion and a speedier trip through midtown.
Well, it didn’t work out as the mayor’s office would have liked. But that apparently doesn’t matter. City Hall wants to make the change permanent.
This experiment requires further study and better data before it can be declared a success. Critics like Public Advocate Bill de Blasio are right to say that the community deserves a greater voice in the evaluation of such a drastic change. The impact on local businesses needs careful study. And, quite simply, the long-term effect on traffic patterns remains uncertain. Even City Hall admits that congestion has not been eased as it would have liked.
There’s no question that the pedestrian-friendly plazas created by the closures have been popular. Residents and tourists alike availed themselves to the new public spaces last summer and fall. But part of the attraction surely was the sheer novelty of it. It remains unclear whether these spaces, jammed in the middle of midtown traffic, will retain their appeal after the novelty has worn off.
There’s no reason to declare this experiment a success, not just yet, anyway. City Hall should work with local businesses and other groups in monitoring the effects of traffic flow and the actual use of the plazas.
There’s nothing wrong with creating pedestrian-friendly public spaces. But the city needs to be practical, too. If the plazas prove to be little more than a fad, they will become an obstacle to traffic and commerce. That would be a disaster.