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New York's Times Square goes green

Video by Rachel MARUSAK

Latest update : 2009-05-25

New York City's iconic Times Square, known for it's neon lights and eternally clogged traffic, will experiment with pedestrian-only streets throughout the summer as part of an effort to reduce the city's air pollution.

AFP -The heart of New York City, Times Square, will undergo surgery this Sunday as work starts to create a pedestrian zone in an area renowned for clogged traffic jams.
   
The idea is relatively simple, with vehicles being barred on Broadway between 42nd and 47th streets.
   
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pushed for the plan as a way of handing part of the so-called "crossroads of the world" over to pedestrians.
   
But the idea, similar to projects in other major cities, including in London's Trafalgar Square, is something of a revolution for New York, where the car is king.
   
"It is a radical change for American culture," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance business group.
   
Times Square has always been hectic. Even the name is a misnomer: there is no real square -- certainly nothing remotely resembling a European-style plaza, place or piazza.
   
Instead there are cars and endless numbers of taxis, major media and corporate offices, the Broadway theaters, and the famously garish electric advertising boards.
   
Into the middle of this maelstrom flock huge numbers of visitors. Forbes Traveller magazine lists Times Square as the top US tourist attraction.
   
A good, if extreme example of what can go wrong when you put all that together is an incident earlier this month.
   
A stunt driver in an upcoming Nicholas Cage movie lost control of his Ferrari on Times Square and ran into two pedestrians and a lamppost. Luckily, no one was hurt.
   
Tompkins said Times Square is a victim of its popularity, which has soared since police managed to drive out the drug dealers and prostitutes who until a few years ago made the area a byword for sleaze.
   
"The number one complaint we used to get 15 years ago was crime. Now the number one complaint is how crowded the sidewalks are," Tompkins said.
   
Bloomberg has pushed hard, although in small increments, for a greener city, by building more bicycle lanes and promoting clean energy projects.
   
His transport commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, sought inspiration in Copenhagen, where she hired urban planner Jan Gehl as a consultant.
   
"It will make the street work like it should," Sadik-Khan said this week. "It's good for traffic, it's good for businesses and we think it is going be a great deal of fun."
   
In a first stage, traffic will be shut off, and pedestrians allowed in. The plan is for traffic to bypass along 7th Avenue or to disperse in other streets.
   
Special events will be held there such as broadcast of the Tony award ceremony from Radio City on June 7 onto giant screens and a mass yoga session at dawn on June 21, the summer solstice.
   
Times Square is already a very dynamic and interesting public space but the ground floor of Times Square is not particularly attractive," Tompkins said.
   
"Our aspiration is, if this work from a traffic point of view is to really create a great world-class public space."

Date created : 2009-05-25

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