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Posts from the "Times Square" Category

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Memo to Chris Quinn: New York Voters Like Livable Streets

Christine Quinn is not known as a politician who shies away from shying away, but it might be time to ditch her public indifference toward NYC DOT’s street safety and public space program.

If you were chauffeured around by NYPD in a giant SUV every day, you might be "agnostic" about street reclamations too. Photo copyright Steven Hirsch.

Monday evening, the Times reported on a Times Square Alliance study that, Great Recession notwithstanding, shows booming growth since 2007. Currently, the district “contributes one-tenth of all of the jobs in the city and $1 of every $9 of economic activity,” to the tune of $110 billion per annum — 11 percent of the city’s economic output.

Rosemary Scanlon, an economist who has lived in the city since 1969, said the numbers seemed plausible because the area was filled with tourists. Ms. Scanlon, the interim dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate of New York University two blocks from Times Square, said that earlier studies had shown that people who came to the city for Broadway shows and museums stayed two nights or more, on average, and spent significant sums while in the city.

She said the effects of the transformative power of redevelopment may be most visible west of Times Square, where Larry Silverstein and other developers have built luxury apartment towers in places where no market for them previously existed. (The study gives Times Square credit for spawning all of that construction.)

But the most convincing evidence Ms. Scanlon offered was the newfound respect paid by New Yorkers. “I’m hearing people saying, I know this sounds nuts, but I had some out-of-town visitors and I took them to Times Square,” she said. “I find myself saying, I want to walk you down there and I want you to see this.”

Though the Times doesn’t mention it, “this” refers at least in part to the public plaza installed in Times Square in 2009, a project that transformed the “crossroads of the world” from a gridlocked nightmare to a place people want to be. Judging from the fawning Quinn profile in Elle magazine, however, the back of the “Chrismobile” may not offer the best perspective.

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Design For Permanent Times Square Plazas Released

City officials showed Community Board 5 renderings of the design for the permanent plaza at Times Square last night. Image: NYC DOT

By taking out a troublesome diagonal from the Manhattan grid, the Green Light for Midtown program improved street safety and retail business while creating new public space at one of New York City’s most iconic locations. Pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent and injuries to motorists are down 63 percent, even while traffic is flowing more smoothly than ever. Pedestrian volumes are up 11 percent in Times Square, bringing business to area shops and catapulting Times Square to the second-most expensive retail area in the city.

Yet all anyone ever seemed to talk about were the lawn chairs.

That particular media obsession may finally be ready for retirement, though. NYC DOT and the Department of Design and Construction released plans for the permanent reconstruction of Times Square last night, as reported by DNAinfo. The entire roadway is going to be rebuilt for the first time in 50 years, said DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow, repairing the utilities beneath the street. Instead of putting the asphalt back in place, however, the city will be installing a plaza designed for pedestrians from the ground up.

The Times Square design, seen from the TKTS booth. Image: NYC DOT.

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Times Square: Livable Streets Mecca, Retail Sensation

The new Times Square: May 25, 2009. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

Two years after Mayor Bloomberg and NYC DOT remade Times Square, the city’s premiere public space is one of the world’s leading shopping destinations.

Crain’s reports that annual rankings from international real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield place Times Square among the ten most desirable retail locations on the planet, topped in New York only by Fifth Avenue and ahead of East 57th Street and Madison Ave.

This is the first time that the Times Square bowtie, between West 42nd Street and West 47th Street, has made the list. It did so with rents averaging $1,350 a square foot. There is no corresponding annual data from the previous year because Cushman only recently started measuring that specific location. However, as of September 2010, rents there averaged $1,000 a square foot.

“Times Square is the center of the world and it has become another place where retailers want to express their identity,” said [Cushman executive vice president Gene] Spiegelman. He noted that the area is especially popular with moderately priced retailers that would appeal to a mass audience, especially a younger clientele.

This would be big news even during an economic boom. While other factors are no doubt at work, at a time when success stories are few and far between only the most intransigent critic would deny a plausible link between skyrocketing commercial rents and the transformation of Times Square from a car-choked mess into, as Aaron Naparstek wrote in May 2009, “a space filled with people and human activity.”

We look forward to copious city press coverage of this unprecedented development.

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Eyes on the Street: Times Square, May 2, 2011

Ten years ago, after the attacks of September 11, New Yorkers came together in places like Union Square, holding candlelight vigils and creating impromptu memorials to the victims. Following the news late last night that American forces had killed Osama bin Laden, people again flocked to New York’s iconic public spaces. This time the mood was jubilant, and there were a few more public spaces for people to congregate and share a historical moment with other people. Flickr user Josh Pesavento captured these images from the pedestrian plazas in Times Square.

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MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan: What’s Good for Times Square Is Good for America

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Should a pedestrian-friendly Times Square serve as a model for other American cities? Who would ask such a thing? Certainly not the real New Yorkers who constitute the city’s hard-bitten press corps.

No, for meaningful analysis of the use of public space, it’s best to look elsewhere. Case in point: MSNBC’s “The Dylan Ratigan Show,” which recently dedicated a full eight minutes to the redesigned Times Square. Spurred by the report that air quality has improved since Broadway traffic lanes were reclaimed for pedestrians, Ratigan asked Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, and Ben Goldhirsh, publisher of GOOD Magazine, whether such measures are “good for America.”

Ratigan, who used to work in Times Square, was once a skeptic, but two years later he’s a convert who ultimately makes no bones about his “bias.” Yet he still manages to hold a rational discussion about car-free spaces, punctuated by facts and figures, leaving the hysterics and fear-mongering to the pros.

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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.”

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Framing the New Broadway: “Green Ribbon” or “Narrow Passageway”?

Recession or depression? Estate taxes or death taxes? How events or policies are named, or “framed,” has become crucial to their viability. Indeed, the ascendancy of the right wing in the U.S. in recent decades is attributed in part to the Right’s mastery of political phraseology to demonize leftist and even centrist policies.

Photo: Payton Chung/Flickr

For the majority of people who use Times Square, Broadway is much broader than it was before the city re-purposed space from vehicles to pedestrians. That's not how the Times has framed the project. Photo: Payton Chung/Flickr

Framing affects the struggle over street space as well. Tabloid headlines about “kamikaze cyclists” and “two-wheeled terrorists” in the 1980s literally framed bike messengers as Public Enemy #1 and emboldened Mayor Ed Koch to try to ban bicycling in midtown. Road widenings are still customarily branded as “improvements” rather than simply identified as expansions. Most news outlets report plane crashes as crashes but call car crashes accidents.

With this in mind, let’s train a verbal lens on the New York Times’ full-page treatment yesterday of the Broadway road diet.

The article, by Times transportation reporter Michael Grynbaum, is exemplary in many respects. It thoughtfully lets transportation guru Jeff Zupan declare that the stepwise transformation of Manhattan’s central thoroughfare is boosting the status of pedestrians throughout town:

“It’s given people a different feeling about walking in the city, that the pedestrian isn’t a second-class citizen who has to always be on the lookout of getting run over.”

On the key issue of traffic flow, Grynbaum notes that Broadway’s “awkward three-way intersections with other avenues created gridlock,” and he has Janette Sadik-Khan explain that “We’re making the [street] network work like it was supposed to.” To back up the DOT Commissioner’s appeal to New Yorkers to embrace Broadway as a “green ribbon,” Grynbaum invokes “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, whom he dubs “the éminence grise of the city’s traffic circles”:

“It sounds counterintuitive that removing a street can make things better. But it was a mistake in 1811 when they left Broadway in as a traffic street.”

Educational indeed… for readers who make it to the tenth paragraph. But earlier, more prominent passages may imprint a less appetizing picture on other, perhaps more typical readers:

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Bloomberg: The Transformation of Broadway Is Here to Stay

times_square_night.jpgThere's no going back. Photo: nanpalmero/Flickr

Eight months after New York City changed traffic patterns in midtown Manhattan, transforming Broadway and reclaiming acres of urban space for pedestrian plazas at Times Square and Herald Square, Mayor Bloomberg announced this morning that the trial has proven successful and the changes will be permanent. Streetsblog will post a full report, including data collected from the trial period, later today. Stay tuned.

Update: We'll post highlights shortly from a very interesting press conference and Q&A with the mayor. If, in the meantime, you want to comb through the data in DOT's evaluation report, here's the PDF.

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Times Square Then and Now: A Streetfilms Retrospective

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce his verdict on Times Square's new pedestrian spaces very soon. Will the changes be permanent? This morning Bloomberg told radio host John Gambling that we'll find out sometime next week. In the meantime, it seems like the media has decided to fixate on rumors that Midtown traffic speeds may not have increased across the board, without paying much attention to the tremendous difference this project has made for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day.

It's been eight months since this part of Broadway went car-free, and maybe it's hard to recall just how bad Times Square used to be for everyone walking around. To really appreciate what we have today, you've got to take a trip back in time to see the crowded, dangerous mess that used to fester at the crossroads of the world. Naturally, the moment calls for a Streetfilms retrospective.

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Great Public Spaces for Midtown

times_square_after_before.jpgThe new Times Square versus the old Times Square -- worth a few seconds of motorist inconvenience on a few streets. Photos: berk2804 and midweekpost via Flickr
Mayor Bloomberg has seen some of the data from the city's trial of car-free, pedestrian-priority spaces in Midtown, and it looks like the changes in traffic speeds are not as impressive as hoped for. This, I daresay, is good news.

As the Times' Michael Grynbaum has reminded us the past two days, Broadway's new pedestrian spaces were sold with a heavy emphasis on easing Midtown gridlock. Safety and economic activity were important indicators from the beginning, but the name of the project said it all: Green Light for Midtown.

The numbers aren't out yet, but Bloomberg revealed at a press conference yesterday that, in terms of moving vehicles, "some of the roads are better; some of the roads are worse." It seems like the trial hasn't quite delivered a win-win-win scenario where pedestrians, merchants, and motorists all received substantial benefits. Instead, we're probably heading for a result that's closer to "win-win-tie."

If you care about livable streets, I think this is a welcome development. It means New York City gets to have a more substantial discussion about what our streets are for and the priorities we assign to them. Ambiguous traffic data leads straight to the question, "What matters more -- safety and livability, or moving cars?"

Bloomberg is already framing the project in terms of safety. "It's not just traffic," he said at yesterday's presser. "One of the things that has happened is pedestrian deaths have come down dramatically in this area. And I don't know how you equate a few lives with a few more seconds of inconvenience."

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