In the Tortured Mind of Steve Cuozzo, Even Street Trees Are a Threat

Well it finally happened. Steve “Quixote” Cuozzo has conceded that the Times Square pedestrian plazas, the project to which he has devoted two years of relentless tilting, are a hit.

Not only are they “popular with burger-chomping tourists,” writes Cuozzo in Thursday’s column, such a draw are Times Square’s new public spaces that they threaten to turn Broadway north to Columbus Circle into a barren, commerce-free wasteland. Where pedestrians and cyclists see a calmer, safer street, Cuozzo sees desolation, a ruinous tampering of the urban fabric.

Cuozzo quotes a handful of besieged business owners who, according to Cuozzo, have to this point kept silent out of fear of retaliation from Mayor Bloomberg. If their complaints sound vague, if not contradictory, that’s because even now they will only speak out in “guarded terms.” (Aside: As a former small business owner who has interviewed and interacted with countless other entrepreneurs, it is my experience that reluctance to complain about the government is about as common as enthusiasm for higher taxes.)

From the three businesses and one business group represented, Cuozzo elicits anecdotal stories of lost income purportedly due to the “confusing” nature of the new Broadway, where even the street trees, it seems, are scaring away pedestrians — not to mention hapless drivers who can no longer figure out how to park. All this concern for Midtown businesses from someone whose disdain for their primary customers — tourists — knows no bounds.

Per usual, Cuozzo has no data to point to, so any correlation between a drop in business and street design rests solely on supposition — though one restaurateur has an interesting theory:

Stephen Hanson is the president of B.R. Guest, the restaurant company that owns Ruby Foo’s at Broadway at 49th Street. He says, “It’s hurt our business there tremendously. There’s no walk-by traffic we used to have at night, because everybody’s in a mad dash to get to the central arcade area.”

Hanson says his Blue Fin at 47th Street has benefited from the Times Square plazas — but that their popularity, combined with the inhospitability of the bike/pedestrian lane to the north, sucked the energy out of Broadway above 47th Street — “anything for 10 blocks up is getting a vacuum effect,” he said.

Taking Hanson’s comments at face value, you’d think that in order to share in the success of Times Square, Broadway north of 47th Street needs more space for pedestrians and cyclists, not less.

We could go on, but engaging Cuozzo on his own terms allows him too much credit. Despite the wealth of knowledge gleaned from his 15-minute stroll, the facts (see them here) are that cycling on Broadway at 50th Street is up by 91 percent, while pedestrian injuries from Columbus Circle to 48th Street have dropped by 39 percent. Across the length of the revamped Broadway, pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent, and in Times Square 80 percent fewer pedestrians are walking in the roadway.

Perhaps because there haven’t actually been as many injuries and deaths lately, the Post can cavalierly pen a headline like “Murder on Broadway” — an irony in all probability lost on The Cuozz, who is no doubt preparing his next charge at the windmill.