Times Square: Too Many People, or Just Too Many Cars?

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Why is Times Square so crowded?

An article in yesterday’s New York Times considered that question, asking real estate brokers if businesses might be shying away from the area due to packed streets and sidewalks. According to a survey cited in the article, 68 percent of Times Square office workers say congestion is the top reason they would consider working elsewhere.

Though not everyone the Times spoke with shared his opinion, Robert L. Sammons, a researcher for a commercial brokerage firm and resident of 42nd Street, is concerned.

"I hear a lot of talk about how it’s just so congested in Times Square, and office workers really loathe the area because of that,” he said. "I’ve heard that for a while, but it seems I hear it more and more lately."

Older, crowded buildings are one thing, but at street level, rather than being a "victim of its own success," as the Times puts it, maybe Times Square is a
victim of inequitable allocation of public space. That doesn’t roll
off the tongue quite so nicely, but as pavement-hogging vehicles spread from curb to curb, city pedestrians continue to be crammed into the margins from Park Slope to Penn Station — and, of course, points north.

Ironically, as pointed out in the story, one of the primary reasons Times Square is so popular is its status as a major transit hub, bringing in millions of people who must fight with cars, trucks and, consequently, each other, once above ground.

Relief could be on the way, though.

Now a plan, financed by the city and headed by the Times Square Alliance, is being developed to alleviate the growing pressure from pedestrian and vehicle traffic in Times Square by widening and redesigning its central plaza, Duffy Square, where the TKTS discount booth is located. More details are to be announced in the next couple of months, and further work is expected to begin in the spring of 2009 to manage the success of Times Square.

Sounds like a job for a certain Danish urban consultant.

Photo: midweekpost/Flickr

  • tmchale

    It’s because of all the tourists. They stand around on the pavement and clog things up. The city should institute “gawk in awe” stations specifically designed for such a purpose so commuters can be on their way.

  • epc

    Make 6th & 8th aves two way from 59th to 34th to release traffic that’s going downtown which only goes through times square because that’s where Broadway and 7th funnel it.

  • Not a Car Fan

    Over the years, the sidewalks have widened, and more recently there has been the elimination of the 7th Ave/B’way crossover. That central space has since been handed over to the pedestrian.

    Once Duffy square is finished, that’ll help some more. Still, these measures are not enough.

    Perhaps time to take away yet another traffic lane to extend the sidewalk and/or put a buffered bike lane.

    Still, these measures might not suffice, in which case, this photo demonstrates perfectly why we NEED congestion pricing NOW!

  • Mark

    Post #1 above is ludicrously selfish and myopic. As far as this New Yorker is concerned, tourists are welcome to come to my city and gawk as much as they like. I see them as freshly released prisoners, happily liberated from their cars, learning for the first time in their miserable lives what it’s like to explore a great city on foot — and of course, Times Square is in many cases their first stop. Welcome, Americans! New York loves you! Come and gawk! If you get lose, we’ll even give you directions!

  • The tourists are welcome . . . but they do gawk. And they take pictures of each other on the sidewalk. Or in the bike lane. Sometimes in large posed groups. Repeatedly, with each member of the group rotating out in turn to take a photo of the rest. All the while with the apparent expectation that no one will walk into the camera’s field.

  • brent

    We should ban all photography within the city limits just like was done in the subway. Anyone wishing to take a photograph should be required to carry a permit. If they are in a large tour group, I hope they have a parade permit.

  • Harry Hood

    Good idea #1 but why blame the tourists?

    Last summer New York’s finest, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) did a survey of Times Square and found that tourists need more places to “gwak in awe.”

    Times Square is not a question of mid-town employee vs. tourist. As Streetsblog correctly asserts, it is the allocation and design of public space that we should be talking about.

    PPS used observational research techniques circa William Holly Whyte (google this mastermind Streetsblog fans) and in a nutshell recommended:

    1- the sidewalk at edge of the building should be for window shopping at slow pedestrian speeds. Building bases should be designed to create environments that provide sheltering opportunities or nooks for people to pause out in/at,

    2- the majority of the sidewalk should accomodate tourists and those comfortable with a leisurely pace,

    3- the edge of the sidewalk closest to the street (separated from the rest of the sidewalk by benches, phone booths, news boxes, and maybe a small curb) should be designed for the daily users as an express lane of the sidewalk. This is actually already in existence with all those plastic bollards and people walking in the gutter,

    4- PPS also noted “there is no square there.” Like the Duffy Square improvements, all the traffic islands could become a series connected squares (linked by north-south crosswalks) for tourists to take pause in and gawk with out being trampled.

  • Bass ackwards

    But there is more to look at on the curb side than the store windows in Times Square – three card monte, black muslims yelling about white satan, vendors, flyers, etc. and you need to step back — way back — to see the signs and sights. Nope, Times Square needs its own solution.

  • AM

    Post #3 – I’m not sure this photo does demonstrate perfectly why we need congestion pricing. I count about as many vehicles exempt from the congestion charge as would be subject to it…

  • Paul

    Times Square should be made a true square. Eliminate auto traffic, throw down some cobblestone and make it a happy place. Too much traffic, noise and exhaust to enjoy it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about turning 7th Avenue from Central Park to Broadway, and Broadway from Times Square to Herald Square, into a no-traffic except off hour deliveries zone like Nassau Street in Downtown. No need to have two downtown avenues right next to each other.

    There could be a two way bike path right down the middle. Pedestrians could have the rest.

  • mork

    Brent, you sound like a troll to me, but just in case there are any impressionable folks reading this, the subway photo ban was not enacted.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/2005/05/22/2005-05-22_click_away__no_ban_on_subway.html

  • tourists come to times square for no other purpose than to spend money. increasing the cash throughput by widening sidewalks, increases tax revenue. duh.

  • Eric

    I think all of Broadway should be made into a pedestrian mall. If they can do it in Ithaca and Burlington (and other cities I’ve never been to) then why not in NYC?

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