With 34th Street Plaza in Doubt, Local Business Group Expresses Support

busway_34th.jpgDOT’s plan for a public plaza on 34th between Fifth and Sixth may be in jeopardy, but Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, wants to see more pedestrian space on the block. Image: NYCDOT

Earlier this week, DNAinfo reported that NYCDOT may nix the pedestrian plaza in the agency’s ambitious proposal for a 34th Street busway. But support for more pedestrian space between Fifth and Sixth Avenues remains strong in certain quarters. The head of the 34th Street Partnership, a group representing local businesses, supports the principle of adding pedestrian space on 34th. After all, most people using the street are on foot. 

The first draft of plans for a protected busway on 34th Street included a major new pedestrian space between Fifth and Sixth. Auto traffic would flow one-way west from Fifth and east from Sixth, with no cars in between.

When DOT has presented its 34th Street plans to the public, they have
assiduously made clear that all designs are preliminary and subject to
revision. DOT hasn’t responded to our requests about the current status of the plaza, but according to DNAinfo, agency staff have expressed a willingness to drop the pedestrianization of that block, either splitting traffic at Fifth or converting 34th to a one-way, eastbound through street. In both cases, the protected busway would remain in place.

One important local stakeholder group, however, doesn’t want to lose the pedestrian plaza. "In general, we think that the DOT’s initiative of adding more public space to roadbeds is very much the right answer," said Dan Biederman, the executive director of the 34th Street Partnership. "We are supportive of some added space for pedestrians between Fifth and Sixth," he specified. 

Biederman reiterated that plans for 34th Street remain very fluid and noted that a few conditions need to be met to lock in support from his members: Tourist buses need to be able to pass through on the busway, DOT needs to develop a plan to ensure businesses can receive deliveries, and cars on West 34th Street should be able to turn around and head east on other side streets without an excessively difficult detour. 

Biederman suggested he wasn’t too worried about those conditions.

"The past history on Broadway is that DOT finds ways to deal with that," he said. "I’m hearing absolutely no screaming or yelling about how the Broadway boulevard is killing this or killing that," he continued. If bike lanes and pedestrian space can be made to work along Broadway, he reasoned, bus lanes and pedestrian space can work on 34th Street.

The real sticking point for the 34th Street Partnership isn’t about pedestrianization at all, but rather the revenue from possible concessions on the new pedestrian space. Biederman wants his organization to manage the space under terms akin to the special deals at Bryant Park and Herald Square, where the managing organization gets to keep all revenues from food kiosks and the like. Negotiations are ongoing, and according to Biederman, continued disagreement is "threatening the whole thing." But that’s not a debate about the merits of providing more space for pedestrians, merely over the distribution of some of its benefits.

And for a concise explanation of the project’s merits, here again is DOT’s own image, showing why 34th Street should receive a pedestrian-priority design:

who_uses_34th_stsmall1.jpgImage: NYCDOT.