An estimated 58.5 million people visited New York City in 2015, and as anyone who has ever been to the Big Apple can attest, the city is always in constant movement. The hustle and bustle is what a lot of people love about Manhattan. But even though so many residents and visitors rely on their feet (rather than their cars) to get around, many city streets are filled with impatient drivers who don’t like to stop for those who have the right of way.
That’s going to change this spring, at least in a one-block stretch of East Midtown, where vehicular traffic will be severely restricted to create a “shared street” that will allow pedestrians to reign supreme.
Late last month, the Department of Transportation gave New Yorkers a little preview of what they can expect once the East Midtown rezoning plan goes into effect. For several hours, East 43rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues was closed to all vehicular traffic. Passersby enjoyed the sounds of a jazz trio while workers in the area ate their lunches at colorful bistro tables that had been set up. Next year, this same area will become a pedestrian paradise, according to a press release from the Department of Transportation: sidewalks will be extended, the chairs and tables will become permanent, and beautiful plants will add some much-needed greenery starting in the spring on 2018.
In fact, the plan includes the entire area around Grand Central. On the west side of the terminal, the One Vanderbilt development will eventually have a large public plaza. Other plazas will line the north and south ends of Pershing Square.
In a statement, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said, “Our newest Shared Street, steps away from Grand Central Station, will be an amazing public space in the heart of one of the densest parts of New York City. In a part of Midtown where pedestrians can outnumber cars by as much as 16 to one, we will strike a better balance.”
While pedestrians over age 65 accounted for 19% of all pedestrian deaths and 13% of pedestrian injuries in 2015, New York officials say these changes will improve the quality of life for all local residents and visitors.
“This shared street will make a big difference in the quality of life for people working and traveling near Grand Central,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “In the years ahead, this neighborhood will see major upgrades to subway stations, more expansive space for pedestrians, investments in its iconic landmarks, and a new generation of office buildings that will spur good jobs for New Yorkers.”
The project will mark New York City’s second permanent shared street. Currently, there’s one on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets. The DOT also set up a shared street on Mott Street between Bayard and Worth in Chinatown this past summer, but that project was a one-day affair.
The shared street program will include both above-ground and below-ground improvements to make the area more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. All told, 78 blocks in the neighborhood will be impacted. The improvements will eventually create 6.8 million square feet of new office space and will subsequently bring 28,000 full-time jobs to the city. Construction is expected to be completed in July 2021.