Carmaggeddon Averted as Broadway Comes to Life
When New York City opened up new pedestrian zones in the heart of Midtown this summer, naysayers predicted a traffic nightmare. Nearly two months later, we're still waiting for the much-feared Carmaggedon.
In this video, Streetfilms funder Mark Gorton takes us on a tour of Broadway's car-free squares and boulevard-style blocks, where conditions have improved dramatically for pedestrians, cyclists, and, yes, delivery truck drivers. As Mark says, the counterintuitive truth is that taking away space for cars can improve traffic while making the city safer and more enjoyable for everyone on foot. There are sound theories that help explain why this happens -- concepts like traffic shrinkage and Braess's paradox which are getting more and more attention thanks to projects like this one. While traffic statistics are still being collected by NYCDOT, there's already a convincing argument that Midtown streets are functioning better than before: To understand it, just take a walk down Broadway.
Mark Gorton: [0:00] I am standing on Broadway, between 35th and 36th, right north of Herald Square where the DOT just put in a beautiful new pedestrian plaza with tables, and chairs, and benches, and planters. [0:15] It is a place that is just alive and wonderful and excellent to be. It is an awesome place, and it was made for so little money out of asphalt, out of space that used to belong to cars.
[0:27] When they proposed doing it, what a lot of people said was, "You can't do that. It will cause a traffic nightmare." But, those people were wrong. They were wrong because they don't understand traffic cause traffic is as little counter-intuitive. When you close roads, cars go away. Traffic gets better, it doesn't get worse.
[0:50] The basic rule of the system is whatever space you have for cars will fill up with cars. The more roads you have, the more parking you have, the more cars you're going to have. If you want to get rid of cars, you've got to get rid of parking. You've got to get rid of roads, and the cars will go away.
[1:08] The traffic on Broadway isn't worse, it's so much better. If you are a guy who's got to drive here, you've got to drive that delivery truck here, it's easy to get here now. It's never been this easy to get a delivery on this street.
[1:21] Like FedEx. FedEx has to get to these buildings. There are offices. There are important documents that have to get here. All of a sudden, FedEx has no problem parking, no problem driving down this street. The vehicles that have to get here can get here, and at the same time, people can hang out and enjoy the space.
[1:36] Where I'm standing right now, you could not stand a couple months ago because you would have been endangered. There used to be four lanes of traffic. Now, it's just two lanes of traffic, and it works a lot better for the cars, and it works a lot better for everybody else.
[1:49] Here we are in the Herald Square Pedestrian Plaza, which is just an amazing public space. You've got the people playing chess. You've got just the people hanging out enjoying life. Under the umbrellas, hanging out in chairs, drinking coffee, living. People are living in this space that before was dead.
[2:08] If you look at what DOT did here, it's very simple. They closed the street using a few barrels and planters. They painted the ground. You put in a few chairs and planters, and bam you're done. We can transform our city in a very short period of time. Beating back the world of cars is not something that is going to have to take that long. It is a policy choice that can be implemented much faster than almost anyone realizes.