Case Study: 31-32 Streets
How to Improve a Block of Broadway
Some blocks of Broadway are already fantastic pedestrian plazas (like around Times Square), some are car-centric throughways, and some are something in between.
Broadway is improving under the DOT's Broadway Vision plan, but there's so much potential left on the table. Let's take the 31st-32nd St block, shown below in mid-2022 and mid-2023. Right now, this block doesn't do New York justice.
Broadway between 31st and 32nd Streets in mid-2022
The same stretch as a new shared street in June 2023.
The new shared street design has some improvements but many design issues. The extensions to the pedestrian space with a few rock barriers to sit on is welcome, but as shown in the photo above these frequently have cars parked in them illegally. Pedestrians can now legally cross at any point in the block, but legal and illegal parked cars inhibit people from feely the agency to do so. Not only can pedestrians cross at any point, but they can walk anywhere in the street and cars are supposed to slow down. However, the middle of the street becomes a dead space with no greenery or points of interest to facilitate car traffic, which keeps most pedestrians using the sidewalk.
Bikes lose a protected bike lane to share the space with cars and pedestrians. Given the horrific crash of a taxi leaping onto the sidewalk and injuring a cyclist and multiple pedestrians a few blocks south in June 2022, we question the merits of getting rid of a dedicated bike space. Moreover, two-way cyclist traffic now needs to share the space with one-way car traffic, leading to increased possibilities for conflict.
All-in-all, the new space delivers a few improvements but falls short of what New York deserves. There are a few main ways we think these shortcomings can be addressed.
What if we got rid of the parking? Then pedestrians could see the whole street and navigate through it freely. Almost freely; traffic is still flowing through it, so any attempt for pedestrians to cross from one side of the street to the other becomes a dangerous activity.
What if we got rid of the traffic too? Then the space is free of cars completely, looks inviting and safe, and opens up for use hundreds of square feet of space. Right now,
There's one last thing to remove: curbs. The curb is an indicator of where pedestrians should go, and where cars should go. But there would be no cars, so curbs would serve no purpose, and only confuse users. When we raise the level of the street, the non-delineated space looks inviting. Cars literally have no place there, and the block is finally a complete unit.
After we remove everything, we are left with a stage: Broadway. And, as with all Broadway stages, we know it will host something exciting and great for New York City. This is just one block, but we can repeat this up and down Broadway, creating a richness of opportunity, limited only by our imagination. But how feasible is this?
Broadway serves way more people than cars - its design should reflect this
DOT's Broadway Vision hinges on preserving car access and parking for all vehicles. Given that many plazas exist along Broadway, including right north of 32nd Street, through traffic is eliminated, yet so much of the street space design still revolves around accomodating drivers. The truth is, the vast majority of street users are not in a car - our survey found that only 1% of street users from 4-5pm on weekday are car drivers. That's 39 cars per hour compared to 212 cyclists per hour and a whopping 3,495 pedestrians per hour. With these percentages, why should we lose so much valuable real estate on Broadway to a few suburban drivers?
When you eliminate car traffic from the street, there's a whole new canvas to work from. Broadway can become not only a pedestrian thoroughfare but a linear park with park-like features such as bioswales, gardens, and trees. We can provide shade, install seating, showcase public art, and enhance business by creating permanent outdoor space for restaurants and retail establishments alike to enjoy.
Our plan provides
A full park-like plaza that blends Koreatown, Herald Square, and the Flatiron District together.
Lush greenery on both sides of a two-way bike path to protect both bikers and pedestrians.
Inviting turf surrounding a hanging-garden pavilion.
Plentiful and comfortable seating.
More equitable street space allocation to allow ample room for pedestrians.
A modular fountain or water feature.
Space to showcase art from local artists.
Dedicated loading zones on 31st and 32nd Streets to facilitate deliveries.
DOT's Broadway Vision Plan
Does not support enhanced greenery
Does not provide inviting seating and lounging space
Limits pedestrian space to accommodate minimal drivers
Keeps a monotonous layout through Midtown, not taking into account local circumstances.
Forces bikes to ride into oncoming traffic
Only uses paint to delineate shared areas with cars and only-pedestrian areas
Looking southeast on The Broadway Linear Park from 32nd Street.
An aerial view of the Broadway Linear Park from 32nd Street to 31st Street looking south.
High-quality seating would be prevalent on The Broadway Linear Park.
Greenery would protect The Broadway Linear Park bike path instead of parked cars.
The Broadway Linear Park would be set up to conduct street fairs in a welcoming environment instead of on asphalt.
Let's Get This Done
Manhattan Borough President Levine, and Council Members Rivera, Bottcher, and Powers have called for full pedestrianization of Broadway between Herald Square and Union Square. However, the DOT is "not considering" any full pedestrianization of Broadway now, leaving the corridor needlessly hampered by car-accommodating designs for the foreseeable future.
There are issues to work out about deliveries and accessibility, but these are not insurmountable. Delivers, for instance, can be scheduled for non-peak times to use the pedestrian space or can take place on the side streets in dedicated loading zones. We're always looking for community input and appreciate any design ideas or logistics considerations from the public; please don't hesitate to get in contact with us.