Back when I was in architecture school, the woonerf was all the rage -- a European traffic tactic which closed roads to vehicles, giving priority to pedestrians and green transportation alternatives. The woonerf concept quickly spread throughout Europe and as of Memorial Day, it has finally made its way to the most congested corner in the U.S. -- Times Square.
As Siel recently blogged, the move by new transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan closes traffic in one direction for five blocks of Broadway including Times Square.
As bad as automotive traffic is on that particular corner, pedestrian traffic is far worse. Pedestrians often have to elbow their way through the lunch-hour crowd to get to work. The overcrowded sidewalks are not only a little annoying, they are perfect cover for pickpockets who have an eye for pinpointing distracted tourists.
As reported by Damon Winter of the New York Times, The Times Square woonerf fixes the problem by giving pedestrians plenty of elbow room, while allegedly speeding up automobile traffic.
When the plan was first announced, there were grumblings and some minor protesting from crusty New Yorkers who feared this would be the next step in the commercialization of gritty New York. But if Memorial Day was any indication, New Yorkers have bought in.
Several hundred orange barrels, a dozen lawnchairs, and one cello-playing chicken leisurely occupied the now vast pedestrian mall on Broadway. And while some complained about the chopped up spaces, Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that the Times Square experiment is a "work in progress" with the ultimate goal of making New York greener, safer, and more efficient.
The city of Copenhagen embarked on a similar project about 10 years ago, and while it took a while to fine-tune, Copenhagen residents and business owners now praise the move.
The traffic commissioner of Copenhagen was an advisor to Sadik-Kahn, who has also recently installed over 200 miles of bike paths, making New York (suprisingly) one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation.