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NYC Transpo Department's New 34th Street Design Wins Business, Local Plaudits

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 07:20 AM

How a new design would divide up parking, buses and vehicular traffic on parts of 34th Street (Graphic by NYC Dept of Transportation)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Last night at a public meeting in Midtown Manhattan, the New York City DOT unveiled a new design for 34th street. Major parts of the old plan were scrapped. There will be no wide pedestrian walkway on what was to have been a carless stretch of 34th Street between Herald Square at Sixth Avenue and the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue, in an area that lacks as DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has mildly put it "quality public space."

Also gone from the plan are bus lanes protected from traffic by concrete barriers. Instead the bus lanes will be marked with terra cotta paint, as on Select Bus Service lanes along First and Second Avenues. And two-way traffic will remain along the corridor, allowing vehicles to move in both directions toward approaches to the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels at either end of 34th Street.

Urban planners, who did not want to speak for attribution, lamented the death of what transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan once called "the the only true bus rapid transit plan" on the boards for New York, with physically segregated plans.  The plan had been modeled on successful bus rapid transit systems in cities like Bogota, Columbia, and Ghanzhou, China.  In those cities, cars cannot wander into the bus lanes, as they frequently do in New York, making buses far more speedy than cars.  The plan for 34th street, planners say, would have provided a true "subway-on-wheels" experience river-to- river in midtown, connecting Bellevue hospital, the Empire State Building, Penn Station, and the Javits Convention Center.

But major businesses had complained the previous plan had too little space for pick-ups and drop-offs. The new plan has 300 loading zones, a seven-fold increase.

“This is good," Dan Biederman of the 34th Street Partnership said of the plan. "The property owners who were most upset before—Macy's, Vornado and the Empire State Building—were all either happy or not quite ready to endorse it but thinking this is a much better plan.”

Christine Berthet, co-chair of Community Board 6 transportation committee, said the city's attention to public feedback had produced a better design.

“I think this is the one which has the most interaction, where they seem to be listening the most,” she said.

More public meetings about the 34th Street design are scheduled for March 30th and 31st.

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