For the past six years, more and more streets in the five boroughs have been transformed into pedestrian havens. From Times Square to Jackson Heights, the city controversially stopped all motor vehicle traffic at 59 spaces, allowing New Yorkers to have the areas to themselves.
Although Mayor Bill de Blasio and new Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg have been tentative about expanding the program, advocates and other elected officials predict that plazas won't be closing. In fact, they say demand for them is high.
"What we have in New York are neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs that want to have more plazas," said Caroline Samponaro of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
During a mayoral debate in October, de Blasio, who previously supported creating more public space, said he had "mixed feelings" about the Times Square and Herald Square plazas, citing concerns from drivers who have trouble navigating the streets.
"I think it's worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I will keep an open mind," he said.
De Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak said the mayor is committed to ensuring that streets are safe for all New Yorkers. "Pedestrian plazas are, and will remain, a part of that approach," Walzak said in a statement Sunday.
When asked about the plazas during her first speech as a commissioner last week, Trottenberg would only say the agency would be working more collaboratively with communities.
Samponaro said she didn't understand why de Blasio was hesitant, because she has not seen major criticism of the program. She acknowledged that the issues she's heard about over the years came from homeowners and businesses concerned about how the lack of vehicle traffic would affect parking, but she said they changed their minds once they saw the benefits. Approval for the plazas increased from 48 percent in 2009 to 77 percent last year, according to a report by the city's Department of Transportation.
The two most popular and famous pedestrian plazas, at Times Square and Herald Square, not only got rave reviews in public feedback, but also brought major decreases in traffic congestion and accidents, the DOT said.