A Square for People

New York City, one of the densest urban environments in the United States, had little to no information about pedestrians, cyclists, and how people spend time in the city prior to undertaking this public life study in 2008. To jumpstart the process, the city government worked with local advocacy groups to identify key nodes within Manhattan’s central business district and then collaborated with them to engage hundreds of volunteers to collect this data. These volunteers visited main streets and public spaces across seven neighborhoods in four boroughs and used public life tools to “count” people while they went about their daily routines.

The results of this study helped in places whose managers struggled to change the design of the pedestrian space, such as in Times Square. For many years, the Times Square Alliance and other civic groups implored the city to take action on Times Square where so many pedestrians crowded onto narrow sidewalks and spilled over onto the congested streets. One key finding was that 90 percent of the space in Times Square was dedicated to cars, even though surveyors counted that 90 percent of the movement through Times Square was actually on foot. (call out on image) Equipped with this data, the DOT commissioner could convince the mayor to funnel investment and channel political capital toward bold ideas like creating new pedestrian-only public spaces along Broadway between 14th and 57th Streets, including in Times Square.