Bloomberg announced on Feb. 26 that beginning in May Broadway between 42nd Street and 47th Street will become a pedestrian mall, with café tables, umbrellas, planters and room for cyclists and foot traffic. Seventh Avenue runs (somewhat) parallel to Broadway at Times Square and would take on the major southbound traffic burden. Cross streets would continue to be open, feeding the theatre district.
The experiment, called "Green Light for Manhattan," which will continue to the end of the year, may become permanent if it's successful. The plan is part of the mayor's continuing goal to reduce automobile traffic congestion in the city.
Broadway slices diagonally though the street grid pattern of Manhattan and traffic tends to clog when avenues intersect with Broadway, as it does in Times Square, officials say. (A section of Broadway near Herald Square will also be closed to traffic, becoming a haven for shoppers, office workers and pedestrians).
According to the creators of the plan, "At Times Square, where currently all Seventh Avenue traffic is forced onto Broadway, capacity will be increased by eliminating the lane squeeze where Seventh Avenue is reduced from four travel lanes to three between 47th and 44th Streets. By opening a new fourth lane at that location and making an 8 percent increase in green signal time for cars on Seventh Avenue at Times Square, there is expected to be an overall reduction of 20 percent travel time along Seventh Avenue approaching Times Square."
Seventh Avenue would be widened at Times Square. Below 42nd Street, Broadway would open up again to traffic (only to be shut down again between 33rd and 35th streets). Cabbie and car-service drivers will have to find new cross-street routes for service to some Broadway theatres, but if traffic moves better than in the past, there should be little impact on theatregoers who prefer to get to their curtain by car.
Bloomberg said, "By making targeted adjustments at Broadway's two main pinch points, we believe we can ease traffic congestion throughout the Midtown grid. We are going to closely monitor the results to determine if this pilot works and should be extended beyond its trial period."
"For Midtown traffic — Broadway is a problem hidden in plain sight," said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. "We're going to the heart of the matter and piloting a simple solution to a complex problem. The 'Green Light for Midtown' plan will work with the grid instead of against it, correcting the complicated intersections that create traffic congestion, while creating enough space to enhance safety."
The result will be "simplified traffic patterns, longer green lights and reduced travel times throughout Midtown Manhattan," officials said. "East/West vehicular access through Times and Herald Squares will not be impacted and travel times are expected to improve on some of those streets."
The pilot program will maintain a fire lane in Times and Herald Squares, free of fixed objects at all times so emergency response vehicles will have full access. Work on the pilot traffic improvements to Broadway will begin Memorial Day weekend, with traffic being diverted from Broadway beginning that weekend. All work will be completed by September. The results of the pilot will be tracked closely through the end of the year to determine if the program should continue. The estimated cost of the pilot is $1.5 million.