Something nice: Greeley and Herald squares

There’s going to be plenty of ranting and moaning and righteous indignation to come, so let’s start off with a cautiously optimistic salute to something on the streets of New York City that’s being done right: the redesign of the Greeley Square/Herald Square bowtie at the heart of lower Midtown Manhattan.

The area in question (click for larger)

Until the last street redesign, 10 years ago or so, this area was a mess. Tens of thousands of people a day stream to and from Penn Station, the PATH, and the 6th Avenue subways, and a seemingly equal number of tourists swarm (for some reason) around the Empire State Building. Meanwhile, 6 Av is the only northbound motor route between 8 Av and Madison, a separation of about half a mile, which might as well be 10 miles in crosstown terms.

On top of that, the DOT is doing its best (about which plenty more later) to create a network of safe bicycle transportation through routes in the core of the city, and there’s no way to do that without passing through here. The southbound Broadway bike lane was one of the first serious attempts to tackle safe passage through Midtown, and for all its imperfections it remains an integral part of the network. The northbound 6 Av route is equally important, and finally got some recents.

The redesign that came online in 20202 provided (among other things) more and better space for both pedestrian movement and human-scaled plaza activities, and a much better bike route in both directions, including solid protection along the most dangerous stretches and better handling of the southbound dogleg via 32 St. (This isn’t a great solution at 32nd, but it may be the best that the density of use allows for.) There was a park in Greeley Square before; now there’s upgraded space for people all around it.

We’ll never achieve European-grade street life (i.e., the quality of street life that most of the world throughout human history has taken for granted) in New York City until we close large parts of the city to motor traffic, and even during covid we only got a little of that. But this redesign is Extremely Good given the constraints, some of the best street-level work ever to come out of the DOT and DDC.

Part of the improved bike connectivity at Greeley Square, with a USPS truck parked in it

This space is at Manhattan’s heart; it’s arguably as important as Times Square, because of the volume of people who use it daily and the diversity of their reasons for being there. It’s hasn’t been managed very well most of the time I’ve lived in the city, and now, for the first time, it has the feel of a destination public space. (Not a “festival space,” but still a place people might pass through on purpose and enjoy.) We deserve many, many more of these, but this is a good start.