The most visited destination in the United States now has double the public space—an amazing feat unimaginable just ten years ago. When New York City temporarily closed part of Broadway Street at Times Square to traffic and created a pedestrian plaza in 2009, many dismissed the experiment as foolish. But the removal of cars in favor of public space proved an incredible success and with the pilot project turned permanent, Times Square was forever reinvented. Today, the city announced the official completion of their reconstruction project: a 2.5-acre permanent pedestrian-only public plaza on Broadway designed by architecture firm Snøhetta.
With an average of 45 million visitors each year—many of who look up at the billboards instead of the path in front—Times Square is notorious for its pedestrian traffic. Before the addition of pedestrian plazas, the exposure to vehicular traffic, slow-moving pedestrians, and small sidewalks made visiting Times Square an unpleasant, polluted, and sometimes unsafe experience. However, with the re-direction of vehicular traffic and the return of public space to pedestrians, Times Square dramatically transformed into a welcoming civic space. Pedestrian injuries decreased by 40 percent and crime in the overall area decreased by 20 percent. Air pollution has even fallen by as much as 60 percent.
This week marks the official opening of the completed Times Square reconstruction project, designed by Snøhetta and completed in 2016. Together with the NYC Department of Transportation, Department of Design and Construction, and the Times Square Alliance, the architecture firm carved 2.5 acres of pedestrian space out of a project site known as the “Bowtie” in the heart of the Times Square Theater District, bounded by Broadway and 7th Avenue between 42nd and 47th streets. The first phase of the pedestrian street opened to the public in spring 2014. An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers and visitors agreed that the plaza has enhanced Times Square and made it a more pleasant place.
“Conceived as a project whose success would be measured not only by its new aesthetic but also the long-term physical, psychological and economic benefits on its community, the reinvention of Times Square stands as a model for how the design of our urban landscapes can improve health and well-being of its users while providing an important stage for public gathering,” said Craig Dykers, Architect and Founding Partner of Snøhetta.
The Bowtie is designed to accommodate multiple speeds of pedestrian circulation—330,000 people move through Times Square on average every day—using subtle design cues. Street furniture and other design elements also create a welcoming space to linger. Conceived as “an outdoor room right in the heart of Manhattan,” the plaza includes ten fifty-foot-long granite benches plugged into the city’s power grid and connected to 400-amp, 200-amp, and 20-amp power sources. The reconstruction project also allowed for major overhaul of outdated infrastructure, including the sewer lines below.
Images © Michael Grimm