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In Appreciation of the NEW Times Square

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce his verdict on Times Square's new pedestrian spaces very soon. Will the changes be permanent? This morning Bloomberg told radio host John Gambling that we'll find out sometime next week. In the meantime, it seems like the media has decided to fixate on rumorsthat Midtown traffic speeds may not have increased across the board, without paying much attention to the tremendous difference this project has made for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day.

It's been eight months since this part of Broadway went car-free, and maybe it's hard to recall just how bad Times Square used to be for everyone walking around. To really appreciate what we have today, you've got to take a trip back in time to see the crowded, dangerous mess that used to fester at the crossroads of the world. Naturally, the moment calls for a Streetfilms retrospective.

[music]
Man 1: [0:30] It's like a beach. It's like an urban beach. It's very nice oasis. It's just really nice. It's just the way it's supposed to be. It just makes a lot of sense.
Man 2: [0:38] It works a lot better without all the cars here. It's easier for the people and safer for walking. [0:45] Man three I worked here before all this happened. There were cars everywhere.

[0:50] Woman one I feel like Times Square should just be an area that we should be able to sit down and relax and enjoy ourselves.

Mark Gorton: [1:00] I mean Soo-Yan you've done work all around the world helping cities make themselves more friendly to people and pedestrians. Just standing here in Times Square, what are some of your obvious thoughts about what we could do here to make Times Square a little less overbearing for pedestrians? Soo-Yan: [1:17] If you look at the people who are milling around on the sidewalks or trying to get across, each of them has a rather unpleasant situation. They are being pushed. And we'll see very few children, very few handicapped people, very few elderly people under conditions as chaotic as they are here. We have a typical conflict: It's a very popular place, there are hundreds of thousands of people and there are many, many cars, and there is not room enough.
Tim Tompkins: [1:51] The number one complaint in Times Square has been the pedestrian congestion, what it's like just to walk through Times Square, the need for more pedestrian space and how that intersects with cars. Michael Bloomberg: [2:03] Our pilot traffic improvements will also open more space to pedestrians. The affected blocks around Broadway and Times Square and Herald Square will be made pedestrian only accesses. Right now, if you go out and look, an enormous number of people can't fit on the sidewalks. We're going to have out of all this, some pedestrian-only areas and about two and a half acres of new public space will be created in the process.
Janette Sadik-Khan: [2:27] E plan that we're unveiling today is a new solution to the traffic and safety problems in midtown that have bedeviled traffic engineers probably for about as long as there have been traffic engineers. [music] Man 4: [2:59] was traffic commissioner in the 1980.s. We would propose public areas. People said "No, you've got to have viewing gardens with big spiked fences. We can't have open space." If we had suggested that you can have moveable chairs? They would say that everybody will steal the chairs. By morning, there wouldn't be a chair left. We have proven; we've done it in Bryant Park, we've done it on 9th Avenue, we've done it in the meatpacking district and now in Times Square. People are going to absolutely enjoy coming out, sitting in the middle of one of the greatest locations in the world.
Janette Sadik-Khan: [3:36] It's good for traffic, it's good for pedestrians, it's good for safety, and it's good for business. So what we did was we decided, wow, if we took Broadway out of the system, we could make it much easier for the half a million people that walk through this part of town everyday, and for the cars that go through this part of town everyday. They get stuck. Because Broadway cuts on a diagonal through the heart of midtown Manhattan and it complicates how the street network needs to work.
Tim Tompkins: [4:02] Everybody knows about the wonders of an urban natural or peaceful place like a park in the middle of city life and how great that is. But this was kind of a variation which was this is a place where you can be still but you're still in the city. You're experiencing the city, but you don't have to just stand or walk through it the way you did before. [music]
Man 7: [4:44] It's better. The seating is cool. It's better at night, too. If you just sit down and relax. There's a carefree atmosphere now.
Woman 4: [4:51] It's better because we don't have to wait. Because traffic as you can see is real bad. So it's a little better.
Man 7: [4:56] It's nice, it's nice. We enjoy sitting in the seats, listening to music. Yeah, it's something, I'll keep coming down.
Man 8: [5:03] I didn't imagine we were going to have so many people out here and so many people playing music, enjoying themselves in places that used to be just traffic jams.
WoTim Tompkins: [5:11] You get to hang out in the middle of Times Square and not have to worry about getting hit by a car. Yes.
Jan Gehl: [5:17] Oh yes, I have been down to Times Square again. I have many memories of Times Square over the years. All of them are memories of being squeezed absolutely flat. And it's completely amazing to see the transformation now. With all these people who everyday visit that small place, it was obvious that more space and more comfort was needed and also some opportunity to rest for a while. So I think it's a fantastic improvement from the time when you were squeezed as a sardine in a tin to this present situation where you have some space and you can sit down and you can enjoy. [music] Man 10: [6:14] Folks, you are watching history. History is being made. Broadway is now closed.


Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Jerica

    Wow! wouldn't it be cool if other places had things like this. Awesome!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/davidyoon David Yoon

    Absolutely wonderful tribute to a brilliant, brilliant idea whose time has truly come. If we can re-invent Times Square, we can re-invent anywhere...no excuses! All it takes is imagination and will--two things that don't cost a dime. 

    This video actually made me tear up a little. Beautiful, inspiring stuff, which I reposted at once to Narrow Streets Los Angeles...thank you guys!

  • http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/ Erik B.

    Hang in there NYC, it looks like you are under siege by the traffic engineers, cab drivers and the media.

    How unfortunate that the city is considering only how many cars are going through as the output measure for the success or failure of the project.

    That only makes it place worth driving through and not stopping at.

    Make sure all of your local politicians see the video.

    Perhaps you could have people where are walking through the area cast their vote on which design they like.

    You may need to call upon the powers of Veronica Moss and her A.U.T.O. forces.

    Don't lose this one Streetfilms, the whole world is watching and will use it as a reference however it comes out.

  • Ken

    Awesome job, Clarence! You've outdone yourself again. If you keep this up, you won't recognize yourself.

    This is a defeat if Midtown traffic speeds haven't increased across the board? If I remember correctly, the predictions were for total gridlock, as they always are when a proposal is made to remove a street from the grid.

  • http://ridinginriverside.blogspot.com Justin N

    I was in NYC over the summer- Times Square was a high-quality bit of public space that was just pleasant to be in. Compared to what I see in this video, I hope for residents and visitors alike that Mayor Bloomberg makes the right decision.

  • Bev

    Well done! High fives!!

  • Eric Thomann

    I love the plazas! It shows real forward thinking on the part of the Mayor and DOT. Thank you, Michael and Janet!!

    If I were king of the city, I'd actually go for WIDER bike lanes (Class 1 Greenways) connecting PERMANENT PLAZAS!

    It's our public open space. These are our living rooms! Robert Moses is dead. It's about time we took back our city from the automobile.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Jeff Daly

    Times Square is world famous with thousands of foreign and domestic visitors each year. It is great to have an area where you can look at all the activity in Times Square without blocking the sidewalk. A town square oasis with access to chairs, light food and drink, and street performers is just what the area needs.

  • Stu Sirota

    I took my family, including three small kids, from Baltimore to NYC this summer. The "new" Times Square was a true highlight for us. Originally from the NYC metro area myself, I remember well how hostile and dysfunctional Times Square was to pedestrians, which is ironic since it probably has the highest concentration of pedestrians anywhere in the U.S.

    It used to feel unsafe and unpleasant, with pedestrians being crowded and vying for limited sidewalk space and crossing streets at their peril. I would not have felt comfortable bringing my children there under these circumstances. However, having heard about the recent changes, we wanted to experience it for ourselves, and I must say that it exceeded my wildest expectations. After returning to Baltimore, I have been telling friends and associates about this and others have become interested in visiting to experience it for themselves. With just modest infrastructure changes (paint, planters, and folding chairs!) Times Square has been transformed into a much more welcoming place to linger and enjoy a world class urban experience. It is exciting and vibrant as ever, but there is now clearly a sense of balance between vehicles and pedestrians that simply did not exist before.

    I only hope that the Mayor will make these changes permanent and make further improvements to Times Square and other public spaces throughout NYC. This is a true model that should be emulated!

  • http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/ Erik B.

    Congrats everyone on keeping Times Square open.

    Here is my post on Bloomberg's decision:

    http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/despite-opposition-nyc-mayor-bloomberg/

  • Daniel

    Yey for times square, the changes are permanent, today is a beautiful snowy day, I will go to times square to relax and have a snow ball fight with the naked cowboy!

  • Dave

    This film would have been a whole lot more helpful if it had shown precisely what changes to times square were actually made. What parts used to be pedestrian, what parts used to be vehicular? Which parts were reassigned? What happened to the traffic- where was it rerouted?

    A bunch of happy talk from a few satisfied pedestrians, on balmy days, no less, tells us next to nothing. I could have made that film from Ohio (which is where I live). Never mind that they didn't interview anyone that doesn't like the new scheme (area residents? businesses? cab drivers? theater goers?).

    Just show us what the planners actually did! Poor film making.

  • Steve Bowman

    It's no exaggeration to call this "mind-blowing." It's a glimpse of what happens when we design things to serve people instead of always-always-always the almighty automobile.

  • http://www.wattsmedia.us charlie watts

    This video and this project inspire me. Thank you New York!

  • Dahlia

    In response to negative comments, and I know this is a a few months after the fact but 1) Streetfilms is not exactly designed to be a "nuetral" party that represents both sides like a news cast would. While you have a point that no one who disliked the space was interviewed and chalked it up to "poor film making", you neglect the very real, and quite obvious public space advocacy intentions of Streetfilms. 2) While you might have a point that there is no info on what planners "did", that ALSO might go towards proving just how little planners had to do, ALSO proving how simple and therefore great the idea actually IS. To answer your question, they "did" what was said: closed the Times Square portion of Broadway to cars. That's it. Installed planters and places chairs. Voila! The avenues to the east and west and all the streets running east and west remained open. Less people logically choose Broadway to drive down and instead use one of the many other relatively less congested thoroughfares to travel on, balancing out traffic and comparatively directly benefiting far more people than it directly inconveniences. In New York, unlike how I imagine Ohio, if one street or highway is closed, the traffic on it does not have to be "rerouted". Unlike the sprawl of other places, the density of Manhattan means there are many pre-existing and nearby routes by which to travel in a car. Any traffic on those streets has much more to do with the dense nature of the city in general and much less to do with the new Times Square. Visit and you'll see.