Heading downtown on Saturday? Make sure your cabbie knows not to take Broadway. Or better yet, says the Department of Transportation, ditch the cab altogether and celebrate Earth Day with a stroll or a bike ride down America’s most famous street, which will be temporarily car-free.
The DOT announced last week that Broadway will be closed to vehicles between Union Square and Times Square on April 22, leaving the street open to pedestrians and cyclists from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All cross streets will remain open except 33rd Street.
Plazas along the mile-and-a-half-long stretch of Broadway will host various DOT-sponsored events and activities, including musical performances, dance classes and walking tours. Citi Bike will offer free bike-sharing citywide throughout the day.
“Overreliance on cars causes a lot of problems: danger to pedestrians, air pollution, congestion, street noise, wasted space to make room for parking, and more,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said last week at a press conference in Times Square announcing the event.
The second annual Car Free NYC is an expansion of last year’s inaugural event, during which Broadway was closed to vehicle traffic from Union Square to Madison Square. The DOT will also close a half-mile span of St. Nicholas Avenue in Washington Heights for the day. City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, called for a further extension of the Earth Day initiative next year. “I think that we should aim together to close Broadway from the tip of the island all the way downtown,” he said.
The DOT won a victory in its efforts to improve pedestrian safety and access on Broadway last week, when Community Board 5 approved the department’s proposal to convert a single block of Broadway near Madison Square into the city’s first full-time “shared street.” Under the shared streets concept, which is in use in Seattle and Pittsburgh and was piloted by the DOT on several downtown blocks last summer, pedestrians and cyclists share the road alongside slow-moving vehicles, without designated lanes or crosswalks.
The DOT’s plan will redirect traffic on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets to flow northbound (so that vehicles can only enter from Fifth Avenue), lower the speed limit to five miles per hour, narrow traffic from two lanes to one and change the color of the asphalt. The location was chosen due to its heavy foot traffic — a DOT study found that pedestrians outnumbered cars 18 to one on the block during peak hours. The DOT plans to implement the changes this summer.
“We’re going to improve pedestrian circulation, we’re going to provide more public space for the public to enjoy, and still provide vehicular access to the buildings and continued traffic flow,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at the press conference.
Asked whether car-free Earth Day and the shared block in the Flatiron District could be a preview of more expansive traffic changes to come on Broadway, Trottenberg declined to address specifics. “I’d say we’re starting the journey,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re going to get there immediately, but I think we’re taking some exciting steps this year.”