On Broadway… Literally

This past weekend marked a major decongestion experiment in the city. Times Square and Herald Square opened Broadway to pedestrians, re-routing all traffic. As I could only imagine as kid, I went to Times Square to see what it felt like to stand in the middle of the avenue. Maybe because it was Memorial Day, what I found was that it did not feel much different from a weekend street festival.

Lounge chairs were strewn about, street performers tap danced and played instruments, and throngs of people moved through in a lazy daze. All in all, the experience was novel, but it seemed temporary. If the city is going to determine the experiment’s staying power, more needs to be done to make it feel permanent.

Despite the chairs and performers, the street still felt like a street. Painting it green, like other pedestrian-designated lanes carved out of the city’s avenues, is not enough. I think there should be a design competition for street furniture; artists should be commissioned to paint or tile the street. Broadway is so wide it should be divided into paths designated for different speeds of movement. There could be zones designated for slow shoppers, halted loungers, flexible space for performers, and express lanes for people passing through.

It is about time that something is being done to alleviate overcrowding in Times Square and Herald Square. Pedestrians no longer have to fight with taxis over space. I hope that traffic patterns adjust as Mayor Bloomberg predicts — a 30% reduction in congestion. And I hope this experiment endures so its potential can be fully realized.