As with all projects in NYC that reclaim space from the automobile the critics will be loud and many. Having lived in the city for 7 years I avoided Times Square like the plague because it is simply too crowded to walk, ride your bike, and drive. I think this is a great step forward in more public space for New Yorkers. This NY Times article asks the experts, so don't take my word for it.
The reason that the word counterintuitive keeps coming up on this excellent experiment planned by the Bloomberg administration is that we have our heads on backward when we think about public space in the city. This is understandable: in the 1950s, we decided to dedicate the streets to cars. Now, cars are no longer a smart or practical way to use public space, and we now feel a need rededicate ourselves to it.
Making pedestrian malls work is difficult, as the scores of failed experiments across the country demonstrate. New York’s success will depend on applying what works, not what it hopes will work, and adjusting to the realities of street and pedestrian traffic. Otherwise, New Yorkers run the risk of having this experiment, like so many that have come before it, undermine the very qualities that make Times Square and Herald Square modern-day urban success stories.
Some people will point out that most pedestrianized streets in the United States have been remotorized because they diminished local shopping, rather than improving it. Virtually every one of those remotorized streets was an essential component of a city street grid and often its most important street. This cannot happen to Broadway, which predates the Manhattan grid and has no impact on its functioning.
Indeed, the city should engage the public in coming up with activities and uses for these new spaces that attract all kinds of people, not just tourists. They should reflect the culture of their neighborhoods and the city as a whole. And they should have design flexibility to support a variety of uses — from outdoor cafes to art exhibits to street performers to markets — allowing them to evolve as public destinations. Imagine Times Square with an outdoor version of the “Broadway stage” or fashion shows on Broadway in Herald Square.
New York City says its plan to close five blocks of Broadway to automobiles will both improve traffic flows on cross streets and turn Broadway into a haven for pedestrians. The problem with this plan is that you cannot reliably kill two birds with one stone. Closing Broadway to auto traffic may reduce congestion on cross streets and avenues, but limiting auto access could also turn Broadway itself into a deserted wasteland.
After Memorial day get your walking shoes on and decide for yourself.