The Most Obvious Idea Ever

Who needs the space on 32nd Street more?

NYC’s Penn Station is the busiest transit hub in the country, handling more people a day than the three NYC-area airports combined. Every day, thousands upon thousands of commuters and travelers spill through its entrances. So why is the surrounding area so inhospitable to pedestrians?

The Tri-State Campaign office is mere blocks from Penn, so Campaign staffers often ponder this question as they circumnavigate vehicles in crosswalks on their way to work. With increased attention focused on Penn as the Empire State Development Corporation’s Moynihan Station environmental review moves forward, now is as good a time as ever to change this state of affairs. That’s why Tri-State is launching a campaign to win pedestrian improvements around Penn Station.

Others are concerned about this lack of regard for pedestrians, particularly Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer. Last week Stringer proposed widening sidewalks and creating bike lanes on West 33rd Street, an idea supported by the Regional Plan Association, Transportation Alternatives, and the Tri-State Campaign. Stringer and the three groups are also pushing for inclusion of pedestrian improvements in the Moynihan Station environmental review.

The prioritization of cars reaches its most absurd on 32nd Street between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. This stretch of 32nd Street is one of the heaviest traveled areas around Penn Station, since it leads directly to the Seventh Avenue entrance of Penn Station and links it to the Herald Square subway and PATH stations on Sixth Avenue. Its narrow sidewalks are made narrower by scaffolding and street vendors, and can’t handle the commuters’ parade which unfolds every weekday morning and afternoon. (Images after the cut.)

A typical morning outside of Penn Station.

The imbalance exists in both halves of the space-time continuum. On Tuesday Tri-State staffers timed the traffic lights at the intersection of 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue (at 9:15 a.m. and at 5:20 p.m.) and found that pedestrians were allotted 20 seconds to cross the street. Cars got a full minute.

Waiting to cross 7th Ave (at 32nd Street).

NYC DOT could take quick action at this trouble spot by restricting vehicular access to 32nd Street during rush hour. Public comments on ESDC’s scoping document for the Moynihan Station project are due on Monday.

9 Comments on "The Most Obvious Idea Ever"

  1. 32nd Street / 6th to 7th Avenue
    4pm to 5pm

    # of
    pedestrians = 8,020
    private auto = 54
    taxi/limo/shuttle = 125
    truck/delivery = 22
    gov’t = 2

  2. looks like another mike primeggia masterpiece.

  3. You’re absolutely right about 32nd and 33rd streets, but my experience is that the sidewalks on Seventh and Eighth Avenues from 31st to 36th Street are almost impassable – and I think the volume of pedestrians is even higher.

  4. Re Cap’n transit’s post: There’s a giant flow of pedestrian traffic on 7th between 33rd and 42nd, uptown in the AM and back down in the PM. It’s really tough going. Another yard or two of sidewalk width would be like water in the desert.

    “you mean it would start a war?”
    “no – well maybe yes actually — but I meant it would be a lifesaver.”

  5. Kenneth J. Vogel | December 17, 2007 at 11:09 am |

    I believe both the new World Trade Center and the Hudson Yards had some sort of Disneyequesk type people movers shown in their orginal designs. I believe though because of costs, they were not going to be built. It is too bad that maglev technology is so geared towards long distance commuter travel in other countries rather than someone local building an something with those pedestrian needs.

  6. Start by jettisoning the planters. How about finally getting a handle on the concrete cubes and boxes of dirt strewn around Penn Station? They could find some much more space efficient bollards that would look better and work better. These many years after 9/11 and we still have to stumble around garbage like this. Why can London and Paris do it and we can’t?

  7. Re #4: “Another yard or two of sidewalk width…”

    Why stop there? I suggest closing 32nd Street between 6th & 7th Avenues to general traffic altogether and creating a “transit mall” with broad sidewalks and sheltered bus stops.

    I’d suggest that block be completely pedestrianized, but the only vehicular use that currently seems important is large number the buses that layover near 7th Avenue.

  8. Responder #4 is right on target. Close this street so useless for motor vehicles and give pedestrians the break they deserve.
    Jeff Zupan
    Co-author, Urban Space for Pedestrians

  9. Absolutely sidewalks must be widened on this street, as well as many other streets in New York. In particular, the sidewalks in the Village are ridiculously narrow, and pedestrian space is further reduced by street vendors, mountains of garbage and recycling bags, sidewalk signs to draw customers into shops and restaurants, bicycles chained, newspaper boxes, etc.

    Why not also put large trash receptacles in the street for pick up, so residents need not put garbage bags and cans right in the sidewalk? Let that be an inconvenience to drivers, who are rather oblivious to garbage anyway, rather than to pedestrians and residents of the neighborhoods.

    Definitely it is also a very positive idea to completely transform certain streets to pedestrian (or pedestrian and public-transit) only.

    Furthermore, congesting pricing must be pushed forward. The recent defeat in Albany should only be seen as a temporary setback. The age of the ubiquitous private automobile in urban environments is over, and it is high time.

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