Coming Soon, Maybe: The Return of Pedestrian-Friendly 32nd Street

Will 2017 see the return of this expanded sidewalk on 32nd Street? Photo: Stephen Miller
Will 2017 see the return of this expanded sidewalk on 32nd Street? Photo: Stephen Miller

In the summer of 2015, NYC DOT and real estate titan Vornado made two big changes to the streets around Penn Station, where sidewalk crowding is incredibly intense.

One of those changes, Plaza 33, turned the western third of 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues into a car-free public space and now seems like a permanent Midtown fixture. (After , the plaza remained in place through this winter.)

The other change, an expanded sidewalk on 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, was even more important for pedestrian circulation. It relieved crowding on a block with heavy foot traffic between Penn Station and the Herald Square subway and PATH station, but it was scrapped after the 2015 trial run.

Vornado attributed the decision to complaints about the lack of commercial loading on the block. But the company is changing course thanks to a push from groups like the Municipal Arts Society, the Regional Plan Association, and Transportation Alternatives.

At a meeting of Community Board 5 last Thursday, TA volunteer Gabe Heafitz, who walks on 32nd regularly on his way to work, said the sidewalk is just too narrow to handle all the foot traffic. “I can scarcely make it 10 feet without having to dodge several people heading the other way,” he said.

Vornado’s new plan for 32nd Street would restore the wide sidewalk and relocate an MTA bus stop to make more room for commercial deliveries [PDF]. At last week’s meeting it earned the near-unanimous support of CB 5.

Currently, both the M4 and Q32 buses stop on the south curb of 32nd Street (the expanded pedestrian space was on the north curb). Vornado wants to move them to 32nd Street or 30th Street between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

Vornado's proposal, bottom, would move MTA bus stops elsewhere in order to make room for more commercial loading space. Image: Vornado
Vornado’s proposal, bottom, would move MTA bus stops to make room for more commercial loading space. Image: Vornado

Relocating the bus stop would speed up travel times on the routes, which currently jog crosstown a few long blocks to take passengers directly to Penn Station. But people connecting to Penn would have longer walks. On both routes, ridership has dropped more than 15 percent between 2010 and 2014.

CB 5’s support, laid out in a letter to DOT Acting Manhattan Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez, is conditional on the MTA agreeing to move the bus stop [PDF].

With the project still in need of approval from the MTA and DOT, there is no timeline yet for implementation, a Vornado spokesperson told Streetsblog.

Update, 1:54 p.m.: MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz tells Streetsblog that the agency will review “how Vornado’s new proposal impacts [the MTA’s] operations.”


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