L.A. Times Looks at NYC’s Car-Free Times Square

Today’s Los Angeles Times published a mostly glowing review of the crown jewel of New York’s recent efforts to make the Big Apple a more-friendly city to cyclists and pedestrians by Tina Susman.  While the story isn’t a new one for regular readers of all the Streetsblogs, and perhaps an uninteresting one for those who’s advocacy efforts don’t extend outside of Los Angeles; there’s a lot that can be learned from the piece.

First, Susman does give space to the minority of New Yorkers who don’t support closing Times Square to vehicular traffic.  After the NYCDOT announced their plans to close the square, the Car Culture warriors coined the term "Carmagedddon" to describe what would happen to New York’s streets when a sliver of it was given over to people instead of cars.  Today, all they can offer was that the car-free Times Square hasn’t made traffic any better…as though that’s the only reason to make changes in the transportation system.  The only people that say car traffic is worse are cabbies who have to driver longer routes.

Speaking forcefully against the plan is a political rival of Mayor Bloomberg’s who complains that it is " it was unfair to punish drivers" by taking away "their" road space.  It’s a shame that the councilman can’t see of the car-free Times Square for what it is, the opening of public space to everyone to use; including the minority of New Yorkers that own private automobiles.  That explains why New Yorkers overwhelmingly approve of a car-free Times Square.

The other complaint is that taking cars off the road and increasing pedestrian traffic is bad for business.  Foot traffic is up over 50% on both weekends and weekdays in Times Square, and the business-friendly Times Square Alliance forcefully backs the plan.

The question that isn’t addressed is that if car-free Times Square is such a hit in New York, why isn’t a plan like this even on the radar for our Downtown?  The closest the Times comes to an explanation is this:

There are about 6,375 miles of paved streets, including the sidewalks,
in New York City, whose population is 8.9 million, according to the
transportation department. Los Angeles, with a population of 3.8
million and far fewer walkers, has 10,000 miles.

Based on these figures there is somewhere over 8.8 million walkers in New York as opposed to nearly 3.8 million walkers in Los Angeles.  With over 50% more streets serving less than half as many people; it shouldn’t be such a challenge to turn over some of that car-only real estate for everyone to use.

  • Paul

    It takes leadership and so far in LA we really don’t have it in city hall. Someone has to be willing to put there butts on the line. The only people making waves are the transit and ped advocates. They still want to build even more parking downtown which also doesn’t help promote more walking.

  • Alek F

    To your question: “why isn’t a plan like this even on the radar for our Downtown?”, I can only answer that – unfortunately our City of Angels was built for Cars! L.A. was not intended for pedestrian our public transportation, but primarily for cars, which is sad, dumb, pathetic (you name it!) but it’s sad reality. That is why you will never see streets for pedestrians (except for a couple of artificial places designed for people to walk in circles like puppets, e.g. The Grove, 3rd Street Promenade, and Americana.)
    BUT…
    Thankfully, the face of our city has started to change, after decades of neglect. Many dull/suburban areas are now taking a new & improved Urban look, with mass transit including subway, so… thank goodness – L.A. is changing. However, it will take perhaps a few decades for L.A. to level with other cities, including New York, in providing pedestrian environment and in giving people priorities over cars.
    I fully support the idea of “de-caring” L.A., and providing a car-free space similar to Times Square. However, our city leaders think otherwise… unfortunately, car addiction is a typical syndrome of most Angelenos, who would never sacrifice their precious car space for the pedestrians.
    Nevertheless,
    I do have hopes one day we will be able to see drastic improvements in our Pedestrian life, as well as Mass Transit.

  • Pete from NY

    Actually, the traffic flows better because the diagonal Broadway has been removed from the street grid in Tmes Square. The Broadway – 7th Ave. merge was always a mess – now those 3-way intersections are only two-way. Having walked through TS daily for 27 years, I can see the difference.

  • Marcotico

    Alek F – While that is a common perception that isn’t entirely accurate. Any area that was laid out and predominantly built out before the mid to late 1950’s was probably designed around PE rail lines. So it was designed for a mix of modes. For example look at the Mid-Wilsher area . ALl the neighborhoods east of Fairfax north of the 10, and south of Sunset are full of apartment buildings with 8 units w/out any dedicated parking. How is that designed for cars. Granted the arterials have taken over, and walkability is low at first glance, but it won’t take the massive re-engineering your imagining, just more incentives for corner stores that people can walk to for groceries. And that is just one example. Other car-freindly neighborhoods are designed for one car per house, so what did the other occupants do all day during the 50’s?

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