Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
The deck chairs and umbrellas that began populating Times Square last spring will become a permanent fixture on Broadway, at least as long as Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in office. The mayor says statistics show that traffic on the West Side of Manhattan has improved seven percent since parts of Broadway were closed to cars last summer. Bloomberg acknowledged the traffic improvements weren't as great as early models predicted, but says that was just one factor in his decision.
The mayor also cited statistics showing that since the closure there has been a 63 percent reduction in injuries to motorists and passengers and a 35 percent decrease in pedestrian injuries. And he says a majority of businesses, tourists, and theater-goers surveyed approved of the closure.
Times Square before the closure
Times Square after the closure
Meanwhile, cabdrivers outside the Times Square Visitors' Center, where the announcement was made, were not impressed.
'That's the worst thing they did in Times Square,' Martin Antiqua, a livery cab driver, says.
'Broadway is closed. How can traffic go faster?' Hussein Kamrul asked.
But the mayor says by making the intersections of Broadway and the regular Manhattan street grid more rational they have done just that. He cited GPS data from the the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which tracked about about 2,000,000 cab rides and showed traffic improved overall in West Midtown, though traffic on Seventh Avenue was slightly slower. Neither hit their projected goals of decreasing traffic by 35 percent in Midtown and 17 percent along Seventh Avenue but the mayor says crosstown traffic has significantly improved.
Below is a map of data compiled by taxi GPS data.
The Mayor says no approval process is required to keep the streets closed and they will remain that way throughout his term. The City's Department of Design and Construction will oversee the design of the new streetscape. The head of the Times Square BID, Tim Tompkins, says the new streetscape will be (un)structured like a black box theater, able to be re-organized for large events associated with Times Square.
The closure won the praise of Tompkins and other business leaders, including the President of the Herald Square BID, Dan Biederman, Macy's Senior VP Ed Goldberg, and the Broadway League's Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin.
Restaurant workers in the nearby T.G.I. Friday's had reactions ranging from nonchalance to praise. One server was supportive saying: 'That's great, keeps it open, keeps business going.'
The mayor stuck to his line that the project had been an 'experiment' and the decision to continue the street closure was 'data-driven.'
'It's clear we have a Broadway hit,' he says, adding that he was skeptical when Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, first proposed the idea.