Mayor Bloomberg has announced plans to close 34th street between 5th and 6th avenues to traffic, creating yet another pedestrian plaza and installing a two-way bus lane on what will now become a one-way street. Screw you, car drivers.
The plan would create a pedestrian plaza similar to the one in Times Square, running between Herald Square and the Empire State Building. 34th street traffic on either side of the plaza would flow away from it and towards either the Hudson or East Rivers, effectively splitting the road into two one-way streets. Through the middle of all that, a two-way, two-lane bus zone would be separated from traffic by concrete barriers, but would bisect the pedestrian plaza. The plan is intended to reduce the transit time for cross town busses by up to 35 percent. Those busses are the only mass-transit to serve commuters who need to travel cross town below 42nd street.
On the surface, this all sounds great, right? Manhattan gets another European-style plaza full of chairs and cafes and busses will run faster. The problem is, the plan will utterly screw car drivers throughout the city and residents who live along the street or nearby.
34th street is currently the only major route between the Lincoln and Queens-Midtown Tunnels, closing it will snarl crosstown traffic throughout midtown, effectively closing the only major route for people traveling between Queens and New Jersey and impacting anyone traveling through the area by car. With concrete barrier bus lanes running adjacent to sidewalks, residents will also lose the ability to receive curbside deliveries or park momentarily in front of their buildings. As there are no plans to offer drivers an alternative route, the plan will also shift congestion from 34th to other nearby streets, impacting residents there too.
Shifting Queens/Jersey traffic away from midtown also sounds like a good idea, but that traffic will have to go somewhere. 114,000 vehicles currently use the Lincoln Tunnel daily, while the Queens-Midtown tunnel carries 80,000 a day. With commercial traffic banned from the gridlocked Holland Tunnel, that means the George Washington Bridge and Staten Island will likely bear the brunt of the shift, but both are hardly in a position to accept it, already suffering from round-the-clock traffic jams.
Our fear here is that, while a few midtown office workers will get a nice new place to have lunch and tourists visiting the Empire State Building will get shorter bus rides, the rest of the city will pay with heavier congestion and longer travel times into and out of town while area residents will be inconvenienced by the bus lanes. This is shaping up to be yet another case of Mayor Bloomberg screwing city residents and commuters while merely paying lip service to improving the city's infrastructure. According to Bloomberg's proposal, only 17,000 people currently utilize some part of the two bus lines that operate along 34th street, a far lower number than are dumped into the area daily by the two tunnels alone. Improving public transportation is an admirable goal, but doing so for only a limited number of users at the expense of many more drivers is a net loss for the city. [NYC.Gov via NYTimes]