Pedestrians, Including Bill Clinton, Breathe Easier in the New Times Square

Graph: Office of the mayor

A new study commissioned by the city finds that air quality in Times Square has notably improved since the 2009 installation of pedestrian plazas on Broadway.

Street-level readings taken by the New York City Community Air Survey, a city-wide air quality monitoring program created as part of PlaNYC, show that “concentrations of traffic-related pollutants were substantially lower than measurements from the year before and were less than in other midtown locations.” From a media statement announcing the findings:

The report confirms that major sources of air pollution generated in New York City are vehicle traffic and buildings burning high-sulfur heating oils. Additionally, in Times Square, concentrations of nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), two pollutants closely associated with traffic, were among the highest in the city. After the conversion to a pedestrian plaza, NO pollution levels in Times Square went down by 63 percent, while NO2 levels went down by 41 percent.

“The new Times Square is a showcase for New York’s vitality and energy, rather than for congestion and pollution,” said NYCDOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan. “The changes here have been big wins for safety, mobility and business. Now we can see that they have delivered great environmental gains as well.”

The city says that some 250,000 pedestrians enter Times Square every day.

Data from the survey were released ahead of the next edition of PlaNYC and will be used to “inform” unspecified new air quality initiatives. The PlaNYC reboot is set for April 21.

Among the fans of the new Times Square are former President Bill Clinton, who joined Mayor Bloomberg today in announcing a merger of their climate groups, the Clinton Global Initiative and C40. Regaling reporters with tales of the Times Square of old, writes City Room:

Mr. Clinton concluded by recalling that when he was a college student, he was agile — and reckless — enough to dodge the cars zipping through Times Square.

Today, thanks to the pedestrian mall, he said, there is no need. “Now you can be my age and walk in Times Square and not get run down. That is pretty cool, too.”