Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan have created quite a lot of buzz today with their announcement of the pilot program “Green Light for Midtown.” The idea is that both automobile traffic flow and pedestrian safety (and sanity) can be improved, and public and green space can be increased, through two targeted street improvements at Times and Herald Squares that would remove vehicular traffic along Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets, and 33rd through 35th Streets.
Over here at the Omnibus we can’t help but compare last week’s feature, Ulrich Franzen’s Street, and its engaging, if unfeasible, vision for a complete restructuring of the streets of Manhattan, with this seemingly smart, easily implementable plan to improve the safety and experience of pedestrians and drivers alike. The thing is, they both boil down to the same point: in Franzen’s words, “the reorganization of the streets can become the great strategy for urban rebirth.” The reorganized street. Though Franzen suggests reorganizing the streets on a wildly ambitious scale, his fundamental argument can be reduced to precisely this kind of intervention. They aren’t tearing apart the existing city and redesigning it from scratch. They are taking a problematic area – and what a problematic area it is. I don’t care if you are a pedestrian, a cyclist, or a driver, a resident, a business traveler, or a tourist, these areas are congested and hazardous – analyzing how it can be made better, and adjusting it to make it work for all involved parties. If the DOT’s studies are correct, and this will improve life for drivers and businesses as well as pedestrians, it will be an incredible and laudable endeavor that could dramatically change the way New Yorkers view their streets. Cheers to the city for testing this out. I wish you the best of luck. And while I’m at it, thanks to Ulrich Franzen for his bold, far-reaching visions – though I must admit I’m pleased that “Green Light for Midtown” doesn’t include a roofed-over, air-conditioned shopping mall spanning Broadway. We should all think big, and use our inspiration to tackle what’s at hand.
I find myself in Times or Herald Squares infrequently at best, but now I look forward to not dreading the times that I am. The narrator of Street concludes: “Ulrich Franzen believes that the vast street gridiron now choking the life of the people can now be reorganized to liberate it.” Hear hear.
Read details of the “Green Light for Midtown” plan at nyc.gov.
Varick Shute is the project manager of Urban Omnibus. She grew up in Manhattan and currently lives in Brooklyn.