Reclaiming Broadway's Public Space

New York City, New York

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


For years, traffic congestion and pedestrian injuries and fatalities plagued Broadway in midtown Manhattan, a destination for tourists and residents alike. In addition, despite high volumes of pedestrian traffic, locations along Broadway such as Times Square provided minimal space for people.


Improvements in bicycle infrastructure, combined with rising fuel costs, from 2000 to 2010 have resulted in unprecedented spikes in bicycle commuting, and improvements to pedestrian facilities have increased safety. But the need to tackle problems such as inadequate public spaces and insufficient amenities for pedestrians and bicyclists culminated in a commitment to create a livable community. In 2007, New York City released PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York, a long-range, comprehensive plan to address economic, social, and environmental concerns facing the city's five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. NYC DOT commissioned a consultant to conduct public life surveys around the city to determine what was missing from NYC sidewalks and streets, which was later released in the report World Class Streets: Remaking New York City's Public Realm. According to the count results and surveys, several key types of public space needed improvement and only 11 percent of Times Square was designated as resting and walking space, while 89 percent of the area was road space accommodating cars. In the report, the department outlined an overall approach called the World Class Streets initiative. Included under this initiative are a number of new programs and guidelines that respond directly to overall problems and individual issues on specific streets, including Broadway Boulevard.


In the summer of 2008, NYC DOT quickly and dramatically reclaimed much of the street space along Broadway for pedestrian use. In some cases, the transformation occurred overnight. The department converted parts of Broadway between 42nd and 35th Streets into "pedestrian living rooms," areas delineated by pavements that have gravel mixed into the surface. These pedestrian spaces are furnished with planters and lawn chairs and other street furniture, creating an inviting environment for residents and visitors to experience one of the city's most famous landmarks.

Another improvement was the addition of new bicycle lanes. The lanes, painted green, are adjacent to the furnished pedestrian spaces, which separate the bicycle lanes from automobile traffic. To accommodate these facilities, NYC DOT narrowed the road from four lanes of traffic to two. Other improvements, such as changes in signal timing to remediate existing traffic congestion, coincided with the addition of the public spaces.


In February 2010, NYC DOT announced that it will incorporate permanently the changes implemented along Broadway as part of its Green Light for Midtown pilot program. The Green Light for Midtown Evaluation Report provides a detailed look at the analysis performed to measure the outcomes of the network changes and justification for the decision to adopt the improvements permanently. In addition to pedestrian safety improvements, such as a 35 percent decrease in pedestrian injuries, improvements in traffic flow and mobility were demonstrated. The enhancements were also shown to be beneficial to businesses, as 42 percent of surveyed residents indicated that they have shopped in the neighborhood more often since the changes were made.


According to The New York Times, NYC DOT spent an estimated $700,000 to construct linear plazas along the seven-block stretch of Broadway. Three area business improvement districts partnered with the city and agreed to maintain the new plazas.


World Class Streets Report:

PlaNYC 2030:

Green Light for Midtown Evaluation Report:

Filed in: Promoting Walking and Bicycling, Plans and Policies, Case Studies

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