Streetfilms: Carmaggeddon Averted as NYC’s Broadway Comes to Life

When New York City opened up new pedestrian zones in the heart of Midtown this summer, naysayers predicted a traffic nightmare. Nearly two months later, we’re still waiting for the much-feared Carmaggedon.

In this video, Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton
takes us on a tour of Broadway’s car-free squares and boulevard-style blocks, where conditions have improved dramatically for
pedestrians, cyclists, and, yes, delivery truck drivers. As Mark says, the counterintuitive truth is that taking away space for cars can improve traffic while making the city safer and more enjoyable for everyone on foot. There are sound theories that help explain why this happens — concepts like traffic shrinkage and Braess’s paradox which
are getting more and more attention thanks to projects like this one. While
traffic statistics are still being collected by
NYCDOT, there’s already a convincing argument that Midtown streets are functioning better than before: To understand it, just take a walk down Broadway.

  • Good to see this in New York. Should we implement this on Market St next month?

  • Can we do this to Folsom Street, pretty please? 🙂

  • marcos

    The reason why these midtown plazas work is that there is already critical mass, where pedestrians and subway travelers overwhelmingly outnumber motorists and where there is a 24 hour economy which contributes to almost continuous street life.

    17th and Castro offers up something close to that kind of critical mass because it has intensive transit and a vigorous neighborhood commercial, while 28th and Guerrero is much more remote, all residential and less dense, some 28K persons/mi 2. Time will tell, but until then we have to evaluate previous experiments, try to draw similarities and differences between what we’ve observed and what is planned, and to try to determine what is the same, what is different and to anticipate how this will all play out.

    @jamie, there have been multiple planning processes underway for the better part of the past decade which have planned for Folsom in all of its incarnations. None of them contemplate such a treatment as in midtown for Folsom because under none of the scenarios on the table will Folsom or adjacent SoMa streets supply the residential or commercial densities required to make such a treatment work. There are proposals for mid block crossings to bring the granularity of those massive blocks down to human scale. The thinking was that SoMa should retain its industrial heritage and urban character as well. The term we used to describe a vision of Folsom was “Valenciazation” only absent the trustafarian hipsters and overpriced boutiques.

    It sure would be nice to develop a planning tool to quantify potential viability of such projects based on densities of adjacent use types.

    As far as Market Street goes, people with the wherewithal to move that agenda have been pressing the snooze bar on the alarm since Willie Brown promised to close Market Street to private automobiles during his first inaugural speech in 1996. Was it last year that the SFBC called a meeting on Market or was that 2007? During the streetsblog party on Sunday, I met and chatted with a woman who mentioned that she became interested in all of this due to the SFBC’s Market Street Project. When I asked her how that’s going, she didn’t have anything new to report.

    -marc

  • I was in NYC just before they implemented this, and I have to say, I sure wish it was around. I usually stay in Midtown as that is where my meetings usually end up being, and it’s near the train station for the acela. one thing I remember though is that the sidewalks were so jammed with people it was really hard to get through the crowd if you were trying to get to the subway station.

    I would also imagine improved pedestrian access, particularly near places like Times Square would be good for touristy stuff as it allows people to walk through at a more relaxed pace rather than feel like an ant in the middle of an ant hill on picnic day.