NEW YORK — The retail industry generally applauded plans by the Bloomberg administration to turn part of 34th Street into a pedestrian-only area and change the flow of traffic on the remainder.
Under the 34th Street plan, cars would be banned between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, although two-way bus service would operate on one side of the street. The plan calls for general traffic traveling in one direction — west of Sixth Avenue toward the Hudson River and east of Fifth Avenue toward the East River.
The move follows Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to turn the Broadway intersection of Times Square into a pedestrian-only zone. A Department of Transportation report found that foot traffic increased by 11 percent.
“It’s a big hit in Times Square from the retailer standpoint,” said Ronald A. Solarz, executive director of Eastern Consolidated, which has sold properties on 34th Street and was marketing the Old Navy space at 150 West 34th Street. The location is not being sold at this time, Solarz said. “It’s bringing tremendous foot traffic and making [Times Square] almost kind of festive. You take the cars away and it takes part of the element of danger away. You can have a cup of coffee and go shopping at Quiksilver.”
Motorists, however, may not be too keen on the plan. “From the traffic point of view, it’s going to very unpopular,” Solarz said. “The retailers are going to be tickled pink. If you drive by, you’re not getting out to buy a pair of shoes. If you’re walking by, you might. The retailers are loving the concept that they’re going to make more money.”
The area already has a smaller pedestrian mall on Broadway between 33rd and 35th Streets, encompassing two parks, Greeley Square and Herald Square. “The east side of [Broadway] in front of Herald Center is popular,” said Daniel Pisark, vice president of retail services at the 34th Street Partnership. “We have tables and chairs at Greeley Square. We had programming there last summer that kept people interested and occupied. We see that as all helping the shopping experience. Given the tens of thousands of people who visit 34th Street every hour to shop, the two small parks, Herald Square and Greeley Square, get overtaxed by visitors.”
Pisark said the Bloomberg proposal will help alleviate some of that stress. “It’s going to be a huge addition to the area because it will allow the public to gather in a public space,” Pisark said. “A lot of tourists in Manhattan are Europeans and they appreciate public plazas because they have them back home. It’s a place to gather and reenergize and grab a cup of coffee. We don’t know how the street will ultimately be used. Will kiosks be added for food service? What will the barriers between the buses and car lanes look like? Will there be other amenities such as planters for flowers?”
Even with unanswered questions, Pisark praised the plan. “It’s a major project, and we commend the work and planning of Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner,” he said, adding: “34th Street is going to be a far different place in a few years.”
“I think this will be great for 34th Street and terrific for the retailers and the shoppers,” said Brian Feil, vice president of leasing for the Feil Organization, which owns Herald Center at the corner of 34th Street and Broadway. “I hope the aesthetics are better looking than some of the prior projects that have been completed. Also, they should extend it to Seventh Avenue.”
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