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Times Square Bids Goodbye To Gridlock

First Posted: 06/26/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

Times Square

On any other day, Cheryl Akers' decision to sit down in the middle of the street in the heart of congested, traffic-choked Times Square might have been a bad, possibly even fatal one.

But there she was on Memorial Day, her teen daughter next to her, taking advantage of the city's latest efforts to make life a little calmer -- the creation of pedestrian plazas on two stretches of Broadway.

"I can't believe it, it's so wonderful," Akers, of Camp Hill, Penn., said as she and 14-year-old Logan sat on beach chairs laid out along Broadway between 42nd and 47th streets.

In hopes of reducing pollution, increase safety and improve traffic flow, the city has closed that stretch of road to vehicles, as well as another section of Broadway between 33rd and 35th streets at Herald Square.

On Monday, a steady stream of cars traveled down Seventh Avenue, but those on Broadway were turned off to other streets at 47th Street. Contrast that to what it was before -- a crush of people trying to get across and around Times Square as vehicles hurtled by from seemingly every direction.

In honor of the new traffic configuration, the Times Square Alliance created a festival atmosphere on the closed sections of Broadway, with street performers, a movie screening, and rows of folding chairs set out to encourage passers-by to sit down and take a load off.

Leighton Gaynair was happy to take advantage of the offer. The 21-year-old Manhattanite was stretched out, reading a book and enjoying the sunshine.

"I like it this way," he said. "There's too many tourists to have the streets open up for the cars, this makes it much less congested." He was glad to hear that the city was planning on keeping it the new look, saying it would encourage him to spend more time in Times Square.

With cars no longer cutting diagonally across the grid, planners believe traffic will actually move 17 percent faster. Cars will still be allowed to cut across the new pedestrian promenade at cross streets, but they will then be rerouted to a newly widened Seventh Avenue and other north-south avenues across the grid.

As construction on the project continues throughout the summer, the city has hired an array of musicians, magicians and other performers to keep lunchtime crowds in the area. Next month, they will broadcast the Tony awards on the new Broadway promenade. And in December, the Transportation Department will complete a report meant to help decide whether the setup should be permanent.

Count Mel Addison among those who thinks it should be. The legal assistant visiting from London was standing on Broadway at Herald Square, and wasn't missing what she called the "mayhem" she's seen on other visits.

"I love it," she said. "It's just so easy to get around now."


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Filed by Dan Collins  |