In the neighborhood around the Holland Tunnel, just west of SoHo, a recent study found pedestrian cross-walks blocked one hundred percent of the time, and horns honking at a rate of 500 times an hour. (Keep reading for more on this study.)
The Hudson Square neighborhood, which stretches roughly from Houston down to Canal Street, from Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River, was once, like neighboring SoHo, largely industrial. It was the center of the city's printing district, and most people knew it only as they drove through it on their way to the Holland Tunnel.
The neighborhood was rezoned in 2003 , and real estate developers aggressively courted media companies (including New York Magazine and WNYC, which relocated here in 2008). Trump built a condo/hotel in the neighborhood, and gourmet food trucks now ply Varick Street.
Crossing the six lanes of Varick Street has become a daily challenge for the 30,000 people who now work in the neighborhood.
Now the local business improvement district has added a function that might, in flusher days, have been taken on by the NYPD -- private "Pedestrian Traffic Managers."
Hudson Square Connection, the local BID, has hired the yellow-vested guardians of the crosswalks at a cost of $90,000 for a the six-month trial project. (Disclosure: WNYC's president, Laura Walker, chairs the BID Board.)
"Although we recognize the need to balance the needs of the regional transportation facility," said Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Connection, "and of the Jersey-bound motorists with the needs of the local community...our concern is really for the people in this neighborhood, so it is the pedestrians [we're] trying to accommodate."
The BID hired Sam Schwartz Engineering to manage the program. Prior to the start of the pilot, which began this week and runs through January, Schwartz's firm measured three variables on Varick Street: the number of times cars blocked the pedestrian crosswalks; the number of times cars blocked the intersection, preventing east/west traffic; and the number of times drivers honked their horns. They found that during the worst of the evening rush hour, intersections were blocked nearly 100% of the time, and horns honked at the rate of 500 times an hour.
Sam Schwartz said his firm has been providing Pedestrian Traffic Management in high-volume areas for about two years, in locations like Queens Center Mall, the World Trade Center, and Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards. "We've crossed an estimated 70 million people already," he said. Schwartz said all the PTMs he hires are retired law enforcement personnel, and they receive two days of training. Because they're not police, however, they have no enforcement ability, and can't hand out tickets. "Traffic management is a police department function," said Schwartz. He says the job of the PTM is to be the first one in the crosswalk and the last one out -- sort of a cross between a traffic cop and a school crossing guard.
After six months, the Hudson Square BID will evaluate the program. Right now, the Pedestrian Traffic Managers are out on Varick Street from Wednesday through Friday, 3pm to 7pm. You can read more about the program here.