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Posts from the Times Square Category

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Better Rules for Plazas — It’s Not All About Times Square

Before today's hearing, Robert Burck, otherwise known as Times Square's famous "Naked Cowboy," spoke out in favor of legislation proposed by Council Members Corey Johnson and Dan Garodnick (second from right).

Robert Burck, a.k.a. the Naked Cowboy, has become the top spokesperson for clarifying which city agency regulates plazas. Council Member Dan Garodnick and Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins are to the right.

The City Council heard testimony today on Intro. 1109-A, which would give DOT authority over designating and regulating pedestrian plazas across the city. DOT has carved out nearly 70 plazas since 2008, but its jurisdiction over those plazas remains ambiguous.

This matters for a few reasons. The reason that gets all the attention is the made-for-tabloids storyline of Times Square and its desnudas and costumed hustlers. The city wants more authority to dictate where people can legally work for tips in Times Square, and investing DOT with that authority makes more sense than handing plazas over to the Parks Department, which would come with a host of drawbacks.

But it also matters for smaller plazas throughout the city, especially ones without a business improvement district to manage the space. The small organizations responsible for running these plazas often struggle to cut through the red tape involved in getting a permit for, say, an amplified performance.

The legislation does not specify new rules for plazas, but rather gives DOT the mandate to develop and implement such rules.

In Times Square, DOT intends to follow many of the recommendations from the Times Square Alliance and local electeds in last year’s “Roadmap for a 21st Century Times Square” report. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT will classify zones where commercial activity and vending are permitted, the intent being to keep walking routes and public seating areas clear of performers working for tips.

Speaking outside City Hall with council members and the Naked Cowboy, Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins said the legislation doesn’t aim to stop performers, but rather to get a handle on the overly aggressive behavior of some of them. “We want a variety of activities, but we need to also recognize that for years now this has been a consistently growing problem,” he said.

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Broadway Ticket Sales Are Through the Roof. Damned Plazas!

bway_sales

Broadway sales stats aren’t exactly slumping. Table: Broadway League via @BrooklynSpoke

In case you missed it, the Broadway theater business is booming.

According to the Broadway League, the 2014-2015 season saw the highest attendance in at least 30 years. In 2009-2010, gross ticket sales topped the billion-dollar mark for the first time in history, and have only gone up since.

Something else happened in 2009. It’s when New York City reclaimed a few blocks of Broadway in Times Square for people. But to hear the Broadway League and the Daily News tell it, the Broadway plazas are actually a drag on ticket sales — or something.

Jennifer Fermino has the scoop:

In 2010 — the year the pedestrian plazas went up and closed off [sic] huge swaths of Times Square — some 21% of all ticket sales went to people from Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties, and northern New Jersey, according to the Broadway League’s “Demographics of the Broadway Audience” survey.

That number has dropped since then to 15.6% in the 2014-2015 season, which just passed.

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What’s Up With the Short Raised Bike Lane By Times Square?

Yes, there is now a short segment of raised bike lane on Seventh Avenue at Times Square. TransitCenter’s Jon Orcutt tweeted the picture above last month.

The Department of Design and Construction, which is building the permanent pedestrian plazas and other street improvements at Times Square, has so far only put down the raised lane between 46th Street and 45th Street. It’s supposed to be part of a short detour for cyclists using the Broadway bike lane to bypass the pedestrian plazas.

We checked in with DDC about the project, and a spokesperson directed us to DOT. DOT said more is coming. The finished product will provide a contraflow protected lane from Broadway to Seventh on 47th Street. From there cyclists would be directed to the eastern side of Seventh, and for the block between 47th Street and 46th Street there would only be sharrows. Then the raised lane will extend from 46th to 42nd, and the detour will conclude with sharrows on 42nd Street from Seventh to Broadway.

Bike lanes were not in the original design for the permanent plaza project but were added later in the process at the request of DOT, according to a spokesperson from the Times Square Alliance. Raised bike lanes are unusual in NYC but there are a few precedents, like the block of Sands Street between Navy and Gold near the Manhattan Bridge.

I checked in on the progress along Seventh Avenue recently and there was some construction going on south of 46th Street, where the rest of the raised lane is supposed to be built.

DDC’s online database of capital projects list an April 14 completion date for the plaza construction, but judging by the current conditions it will likely finish later than that.

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Times Square Coalition: Keep the Plazas, Regulate Naked People

Image: Times Square Alliance

Image: Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance and a coalition of electeds has a plan to address complaints about Times Square without destroying the hugely successful pedestrian plazas.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to legally redefine the Broadway plazas as a public space with three regulated zones: “civic” zones for public seating areas and programmed events; “flow” zones for pedestrian throughput; and “designated activity” zones for costumed characters, desnudas, and other people hustling for cash.

A second component of the proposal is a study to evaluate vehicular and pedestrian conflicts, safety issues on 42nd Street, and the effect of tour bus traffic. And a third aspect is the creation of a new NYPD Times Square unit, comprised of officers specially trained “on the nuanced forms of intimidation by solicitors [and] the complex legal issues related to enforcement,” which would direct all civil citations to Midtown Community Court, rather than 100 Centre Street. In addition to Times Square, the coalition wants to establish rules intended to keep 42nd Street sidewalks from getting obstructed during peak hours.

The proposal has the backing of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, Community Board 5, and a number of business and real estate interests, including Rudin Management Company and the Durst Organization. It will be presented to Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today.

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Turn Times Square Back Into Traffic Hell? Tell Bratton and de Blasio: No Way

Replacing people with cars? Not a good idea, public space advocates say. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Try to picture ramming a road through this crowd and cramming them onto the sidewalk. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t rule out the threat of removing the Times Square plazas, first raised by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, it’s time to take action. Two petitions are circulating to urge the mayor not to give Times Square back to cars.

One petition organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and backed by the Municipal Art Society and a similar petition from Transportation Alternatives call on Bratton and de Blasio to do the right thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in Times Square every day.

“Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio want to rip up the pedestrian plazas. We can’t let that happen,” the Design Trust’s petition says. “Aggressive street performers and ‘desnudas’ are an enforcement problem. They aren’t a plaza problem.”

Here’s what some of the signatories are saying…

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Times Square Flashback: Revisit the Bad Old Days With Streetfilms

New Yorkers might have forgotten just how bad the bad old days were in Times Square. Gridlock blocked crosswalks. Pedestrians were relegated to crush levels on the sidewalks. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be.

Relive the nightmare with this Streetfilm from 2006, in which Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton interviews Danish architect and public space expert Jan Gehl about the problems with Times Square.

“When we talk about the conditions for pedestrians here, it’s really lousy,” Gehl said.

“Thousands of people are literally pushed into the street because it’s so congested on the sidewalk,” Gorton added. “It’s beyond unpleasant. It’s unsafe and it drives people away from this neighborhood.”

That Police Commissioner Bill Bratton wants to return to the bad old days — and Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering it — is a clear signal that they don’t believe New York’s streets are for people.

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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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