This summer, New York City celebrated the tenth anniversary of its pedestrian plaza program. Seventy-four pedestrian plazas have been built throughout the city since the Department of Transportation (DOT) began the program. Building these plazas are a major component of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to improve public safety and reduce traffic fatalities.
To build a pedestrian plaza, DOT turns underused street space into social spaces where pedestrians can walk freely without the intrusion of vehicles. These plazas often help boost local businesses, spur neighborhood interactions, heighten pedestrian safety, and encourage walking. When fewer people drive, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted from tailpipes.
As part of Vision Zero, DOT is bringing streets into the public realm by building pedestrian plazas. Turning streets from car-filled conduits into attractive places to relax makes city streets more inviting for pedestrians and help drivers become more aware of the need to drive slowly and attentively.
According to NYC’s DOT, their goal is to have pedestrian plazas within a ten-minute walk from everyone. Since many people in the city don’t have their own yards, creating open spaces within walking distance may reduce the need to take any form of transportation to relax in an outdoor open space.
Not too long ago, areas with heavy foot traffic like Herald Square and Times Square were completely open to cars, so pedestrians would often spill off the sidewalk creating a dangerous walking environment. Since these crowded areas were turned into pedestrian plazas in Times Square, traffic safety has greatly improved. There have been 40% fewer crashes annually since 2006.
Less congestion and improved traffic flow also means that cars are stopping or stalling less frequently, which helps to emissions. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, New York City produced 6.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person in 2015. Any measures we can take to lower this number is a step in the right direction.
There is an application process for organizations to get plazas built in their neighborhood. For more information, click here.