NEW YORK – it Is time to the cars of the Crossroads of the World?
The vehicle rampage death of a teen tourist in New York’s Times Square this month has prompted discussions of whether the city should still be making cars, taxis and trucks cruise over the neon-lit streets where the great mass of the people gather daily to buy tickets for the theatre, gawk at street performers and admire the crush of humanity.
Vehicles were banned from Broadway where it passes through the square eight years ago. Some city officials and traffic experts say that the ban should be extended to include the north-south thoroughfare of Seventh Avenue, turning Times Square into a series of beautiful squares.
“The vulnerability of Times Square was only visible during the most recent attack and I think there is a conversation about the closure of this area for regular traffic,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a Manhattan Democrat. “This is one of the most trafficked areas in the world for tourists, and we can not remain a ‘soft spot’ for those with the worst of intentions.”
Known throughout the world for the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square is the most busy day with a tour groups, costumed characters, sightseeing bus, hawkers and office. Foot traffic slows to a crawl as the Broadway theater-goers spilling. Taxis, buses, trucks and passenger cars clog the streets.
TIMES SQUARE CRASH: SUSPECT ALLEGEDLY SAID THAT HE WANTED TO ‘KILL THEM ALL’
The police says Richard Rojas, a Bronx man who has been discharged from the Navy, was high on PCP when he made a U-turn off of Seventh Avenue and plowed down sidewalks in Times Square for three blocks on May 18, killing the 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, of Portage, Michigan, and the wounding of 22 others.
Rojas, 26, was indicted for murder and attempted murder and is being held pending a July 13 arrest. A lawyer for Rojas not return a call seeking comment.
While the police say that there are no indications that Rojas was inspired by a militant ideology, Times Square was also targeted in 2010 by would-be terrorist Faisal Shahzad, who built a powerful bomb that can’t explode. Shahzad is where life in prison for the failed attack, which authorities said could have killed hundreds, so his bomb had gone off.
WATCH: WITNESSES DESCRIBE THE VEHICLE STRIKING PEDESTRIANS AT TIMES SQUARE
Temporary concrete fences are placed along the Seventh Avenue sidewalk after the May 18 massacre, while officials of the city roads to a long-term solution. That may relate to the installation of steel posts along the avenue, the so-called bollards, such as which finally stopped the progress of Rojas’ car.
“We are now sitting and have a deeper discussion about what the appropriate elements in the design, where possible we put the bollards, what are the ways that we can make wise protection, but also hopefully keep the room somewhat inviting and attractive for pedestrians,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said.
Trottenberg said the closure of Seventh Avenue to cars in the Times Square area “is certainly one of the things that is being discussed.” She said that the police anti-terrorism unit “set priorities” for each of Times Square traffic restrictions.
David C. Kelly, now the associate managing director of K2 Intelligence in New York, the City that used to be the New York Police Department’s assistant commissioner for the fight against terrorism, said a prohibition of movement is attractive from the point of view of security, but should be carefully planned.
Kelly noted that when the area around the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan was closed to cars, a garage owner, filed a lawsuit with the argument that its livelihood would suffer. “You would have to consider the commercial impact,” Kelly said.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, moved in 2009 to close Broadway to cars and create pedestrian plazas in Times Square and a few blocks south in Herald Square.
Officials said that the traffic in both areas would flow more smoothly without any cars on Broadway, which runs diagonally and makes awkward corners turning.
The car ban also helped turn times Square into “one of the most vibrant public space in New York City,” said Alyssa Pichardo, senior planner for transportation at the Regional Plan Association. “It is not only a place where people gather on New Year’s Eve,” she said.
Pichardo and David Burney, a professor of urban planning at the Pratt Institute, who served as Bloomberg’s commissioner of design and development, believes that it is now time to ban the cars of the Seventh Avenue at Times Square.
Burney said that it should be “a bridge too far” to close on both Broadway and Seventh Avenue in 2009. But he said that the conclusion of the Seventh to the cars between 42nd and 47th street, and space required for pedestrians.
“When you think of the overwhelming number of pedestrians that use the space, they need more,” he said. “Too much space is taken up by vehicles.”
Cars should be allowed on the east-west streets, Burney said.
Pichardo said that the car rampage strengthened her organization’s support for more auto restrictions on Times Square. “Unfortunately, this tragedy has highlighted the need to expand the pedestrianization of Times Square,” she said.
Pichardo said a possibility would be to have cars on Seventh Avenue early in the morning so businesses can receive deliveries, it saves you the boulevard to foot travelers.
Burney said that with Seventh Avenue closed, cars “find other places to go.”
Others are skeptical.
Livery cab driver Tony Hyseni said that he is not in favour of prohibiting cars of more Times Square streets.
“Everything that happens with the traffic is killing us,” he said. “You are now going slow and loss of time, money and everything.”
Pedicab driver Azamat Nuguspanov was questionable.
“The whole midtown would be the traffic,” he said. “If they’re going to close it, they will have more trouble.”