Ungridlocked: Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation reforms have unclogged New York’s streets and made them safer
Back in February 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that, in three months’ time, New York City would permanently close Broadway to car and truck traffic in Times Square and Herald Square. The plan would “ease traffic congestion throughout the Midtown grid,” the mayor said. Though he called it merely a “targeted adjustment,” everyone understood that the initiative marked a big shift away from a century’s worth of New York transportation policy, which had generally tried to ease traffic by adding ever more space for cars. Many New Yorkers were upset by the proposal. “I’m worried because I don’t know if it will work,” Charlotte St. Martin, the director of the theater industry’s Broadway League, told the New York Times. “I certainly don’t want things to be worse for theatergoers.” A cabdriver, Garba Mahaman, got right to the point: “Now they’re going to make it worse.” City public advocate Bill DeBlasio spoke for many when he later complained, “We cannot make such a fundamental change to Times Square without first giving the community a greater say.”
Three years on, it’s clear that the worriers were wrong and the mayor right. Midtown traffic flows better, not only for cars and trucks but for the majority of people who use the area: pedestrians. A walk down the closed section of Times Square—Broadway between 47th and 42nd Streets—makes it hard to imagine changing things back. Where stuck drivers once fumed, people sit happily in chairs munching on dumplings. More important is that the district’s huge crowds can now walk down the middle of the street instead of overflowing the sidewalk.
Though drivers in New York City are a minority, outdated traffic engineering long allowed them to reign unchallenged, with clogged streets and too many accidents the results. Over the past five years, however, the city, led by transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, has devised ways to reduce that dominance. Through several new initiatives, mostly outside Times Square, New York has been rationally using its limited physical space to get more people moving more quickly—and that means not in automobiles. New York has achieved its improvements on the cheap. Better still, the changes have saved lives.