Let’s start with some basic facts: Most people like Times Square better now that it has more room for people. Gone are the days when the sidewalks were so meager that you had no choice but to walk in traffic. After Broadway went car-free through Times Square in 2009, pedestrian injuries plummeted 40 percent. Retail rents soared. And yet, going against just about everyone else who has something to say about it, Mayor Bill de Blasio is entertaining the idea of eliminating the plazas.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton started things off when he said he’d like to remove the plazas to curb topless women and people in cartoon costumes hustling for tips in Times Square. “I’d prefer to just dig the whole darn thing up and put it back the way it was, where Broadway is Broadway and not a dead-end street,” Bratton told 1010 WINS.
Asked about Bratton’s comments, de Blasio didn’t reject the idea. “Commisssioner Bratton and I have talked about that option… That’s a very big endeavor, and like every other option comes with pros and cons,” he said. “So we’re going to look at what those pros and cons would be. You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems.”
Tearing out the plazas would, among other things, run directly counter to de Blasio’s Vision Zero street safety goals. After the plazas were installed, pedestrian injuries fell 40 percent at Times Square, and injuries to car drivers and passengers dropped 63 percent along Broadway in Midtown, according to a 2010 DOT report [PDF]. The incidence of people walking in the roadway at Times Square fell 80 percent.
“People forget just how disastrous it was. There was clearly no room to walk and people were just forced into the street,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said by phone. “Times Square rivaled Queens Boulevard as the most dangerous location in the city.”
“To suggest that cars and trucks be reintroduced into the most pedestrian-rich intersection in North America is just unbelievable,” White added. “It betrays just a fundamental misunderstanding of traffic safety, and I think it’s very worrisome for the future of Vision Zero that relatively minor challenges having to do with hustlers and hucksters in Times Square is enough to go back to the bad old days when Times Square was deadly.”
The reaction to Bratton and de Blasio’s trial balloon from politicians and leaders in the local business community was fast and furious: