Bill de Blasio, who adopted an aggressive street safety platform during the Democratic mayoral primary, reverted back to a livable streets skeptic at last night’s mayoral debate. The mayoral frontrunner claimed “the jury’s out” on the city’s popular Midtown pedestrian plazas, which among other benefits have led to dramatic reductions in pedestrian injuries. Republican candidate Joe Lhota was non-committal too, but given the de Blasio campaign’s stated commitment to eliminating traffic deaths, his response was especially jarring.
At the 51-minute mark, moderator Maurice Dubois asked the candidates a question dripping with windshield perspective: ”Would you take out the tables and chairs from Times Square and Herald Square and reopen Broadway?” De Blasio responded:
I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue. I’m a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated. And then I’ve also seen on the other hand that it does seem to have a positive impact on the tourist industry. So for me, the jury’s out on that particular question. I think it’s worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I would keep an open mind.
“He may be the judge but the jury has spoken,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog this morning. Since the plazas were installed in 2009, they’ve been the subject of numerous polls, traffic studies, and business reports from the city, independent pollsters, and business groups. Given the evidence, de Blasio’s assertion that there needs to be even more review defies credulity.
“The position de Blasio articulated last night is completely inconsistent with Vision Zero,” White added, referring to the candidate’s campaign plank to eliminate traffic deaths within 10 years. “Putting pedestrians first is clearly saving lives and boosting business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Times Square.”
Two months after the Times Square plazas were first installed, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers supported them, with only 35 percent opposed. A Times poll this year showed that 72 percent of New Yorkers, including strong majorities in every demographic, support the citywide plaza program.
Before the plazas were made permanent in 2010, surveys from the Times Square Alliance business improvement district found that the majority of property owners and retail managers supported the program. In 2009, 70 percent of Times Square residents and workers supported the plazas; in 2012, the percentage jumped to 80 percent, the Alliance said. After pedestrianization, Times Square has consistently ranked as one of the most desirable retail destinations on earth.
Citing the plaza’s popularity and safety gains, including dramatic reductions in the number of pedestrians walking in the roadbed and a 35 percent drop in injuries, the Alliance said there’s no reason why the city should halt construction on a permanent plaza. “The current capital project to build a world-class plaza in Times Square — already well underway — makes sense to continue,” the group said in a statement.
The sentiment is similar on 34th Street, where the local BID is looking to come to an agreement with the city that would give it more control over maintaining and programming the plazas. “The pedestrian plazas are a huge success, and must stay,” Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, said in a statement. “They have created great new urban life, raised real estate values, and cut pedestrian injuries.”