Re-purposing the public right of way
21 MAR 2020
Under its overall strategy to encourage active living, reduce carbon emissions and create more walkable communities, New York City is redistributing its road spaces in this ongoing initiative to create more sustainable modes of walking and biking, and new spaces for recreation and rest, while simultaneously calming traffic and improving safety.
Case study 5
|City||New York City|
|Sections||1 In brief
2 Key issues before project
6 Replicable ideas
Times Square before and after © NYC Department of Transportation
- A plan to repurpose and redistribute New York City (NYC)’s road spaces to walking, biking and new public spaces, while calming traffic and improving safety.
- Part of PlaNYC’s vision to encourage active living, reduce carbon emissions and create more walkable communities.
- The NYC Plaza programme led by NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) converts underutilised road spaces into vibrant neighbourhood amenities/plazas by partnering local non-profit organisations and communities.
- Times Square is most visible example, transformed almost overnight and with little expense from a place dominated by cars to one visited by hundreds of thousands of people daily.
Key issues before the project
Broadway 14th Street before the transformation © NYC Department of Transportation
- Increasing population in the city – projected increase of one million people by 2030.
- Congested, poorly designed, and visually unappealing streets and sidewalks in Times Square.
- The need to improve cyclists’ and pedestrians’ safety.
Leadership and governance
- New plaza sites are nominated through a community-based process and selected by the city.
- The sites are then planned and designed by the city in consultation with the community.
- The city funds the construction and partners not-for-profit organisations to maintain the spaces.
- The city further supports plaza partners through supplementary activities such as ‘Weekend Walks’ and public art installation.
Creativity and innovation
Broadway after the transformation © NYC Department of Transportation
- Instead of developing new sites, public spaces are reclaimed from existing infrastructure – a significant shift in the allocation and prioritisation of public spaces.
- Sections along Broadway are reclaimed to create ‘instant public plazas’ using paint, planters and seating – an effective and low-cost way to test public responses before longer-term plans.
- The NYC Plaza Programme aims to ensure all New Yorkers live within a 1ten-minute walk of a park by 2030. It is cost effective, supports social gathering, increases sense of place and enhances pedestrian movement and safety.
- A detailed study demonstrated the plazas’ benefits and enabled them to become a permanent feature of NYC.
- Statistical data from before and after the implementation of protected bike paths proved their safety and played a large role in the success of NYC’s bicycle plan.
- Innovative treatments used such as protected bicycle paths between curbs and parking lanes, high-visibility green bicycle lanes, bike boxes and intersection markings, and redesigned bicycle racks.
- Partnering non-profit groups is a hallmark of the programme and redirects plaza resources to areas with strong local support.
- Pedestrian volume in Times Square increased by 11 percent, injuries to motorists and passengers decreased by 63 percent with and pedestrian injuries decreased 35 percent.
- Several new flagship stores opened in Times Square, with the average asking rent increased by 71 percent since 2009 despite a severe economic downturn.
- Commuter cycling increased by more than 45 percent from 2006-2009, with decrease in cycling accidents.
- 70% of theatre-goers at Times Square found the plazas having a positive impact on their experience; 74 percent of New Yorkers agreed that Times Square has improved dramatically since the plaza was redesigned; and 42 percent of New Yorkers in Times Square have shopped in the neighbourhood more often since the changes.
- In line with NYC’s Bike Master Plan, 50 bicycle lane miles will be installed each year until the citywide 1,800 bicycle-lane mile network is complete in 2030.
Mass yoga session at Times Square © NYC Department of Transportation
- Many cities face similar constraints as NYC, i.e. dense population and built-up infrastructure with minimal available land for new roads or public spaces.
- NYC’s experiences offer replicable ideas, for example, audits of current conditions, community outreach, and using temporary and inexpensive pilots to test new ideas.
- Implementation of public plazas and a comprehensive bicycle network influenced cities from Baltimore to Berlin, São Paulo and Sydney. O