The Best Worst Place On Earth: Times Square


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This week we’re honing in on one block of Times Square, Broadway and 7th Ave between 46th and 47th Streets. Home to numerous souvenir shops, a TKTS ticket booth (those steps), and that McDonald’s your cousin peed in once.

Times Square, or The Crossroads of the World, is the premier hangout spot for Spidermen, Elmos, and soldiers from some video game that Mountain Dew-obsessed tweens play.

We know how you feel, Birdman.

It’s a complete assault on the senses; lights, jumbotrons, hot dogs, comedy club promoters, jugglers, musicians, half-naked cowboys, and crowds that look like the weird love child of a Nickelback concert and Dairy Queen’s Free Cone Day.

“I love it! I live in a quiet suburb and when I’m in Times Square, I feel alive! ” — an actual human being.

New Yorkers love to hate Times Square. It’s a mess. It’s touristy and full of overpriced versions of America’s most middle-of-the-road shopping and dining destinations. Still, it’s hard not to be a tad impressed, and where else would you put a Rainforest Cafe in New York? Think about it.

On average, Times Square welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each day. Yes, that’s the amount of sweaty human bodies you’ll have to push through every time an out-of-town friend comes to visit.

Just remember though, it could be worse! Just five years ago you would’ve had to deal with the added threat of speeding taxis and buses.

In 2009, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked the NYCDOT to investigate strategies to reduce traffic and improve pedestrian safety in the area. The Green Light for Midtown project was born.

The agency utilized an approach now called tactical urbanism and ran a series of experiments.

First, they shut down Broadway with inexpensive, temporary materials and monitored traffic. Next, with the extra space, NYCDOT played with public seating, landscaping, and vendors.

Tactical urbanism allows for quick iteration at low costs, and many urban planners argue it is the future of urban planning.

Anyway, in the end, surprisingly (or not surprising at all, as shutting down roads tends to work out, eh!), travel speeds actually increased, bus service benefited, and fewer accidents occurred.

Best of all, it greatly improved the lives of pedestrians: injuries fell by 35%, and 80% fewer pedestrians have to walk in the roadways.

When surveyed, 74% of New Yorkers agreed that Times Square had “improved dramatically”.

Best stat: 43% fewer people claimed they would avoid the area! Yay!

For example, the Incredible Hulk had some close calls.
No one was happier than him to see the changes. Look how pissed off that guy was.

So, what does Times Square look like now?

Let’s dig into foot traffic data from Placemeter, and maybe we can find the best time to take your agoraphobic 14-year-old-sister there and avoid a panic attack.

Directional foot traffic data (3/3/15–3/15/15), Placemeter

This block is quite different from others we’ve highlighted on BONY.

While we see discrete commuter peaks (Times Square is the busiest transit hub in the city, like it or not), pedestrian traffic stays fairly constant every day, and all day. All. Day.

The area is especially busy in the early evening and late evening. What are all these people doing?

Going to Broadway musicals? Gorging endless appetizers? Browsing the latest wares at the Disney Store? Waiting for their chance to bite into Guy Fieri’s Unyawns Cajun Chicken Ciabatta slathered in Donkey sauce? Probably all of the above, all at once.

Guy Fieri, America’s Jiro Ono

It’s clear from the data: if you want to avoid the crowds, don’t visit Times Square on the weekends (unless you get there early).

Also, Wednesday, March 11th, 2015. That’s a bad time to go.

Why? Our best guess: D’Angelo played at the Best Buy Theater. Or was it Buffalo Wild Wings’ Bloody Mary Mix Down? What the hell is that? Or maybe it was just an exceptionally nice March day and everyone felt like going for a joyous stroll.

Weekdays VS weekends averages, Placemeter

If you really must take your friend or relative to Times Square, we suggest you skip work, and check it out sometime between 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on a weekday.

Or, if you’re willing to admit that it really is worth seeing all lit up in the evening, maybe a weekday around 9:00 PM (except Wednesday March 11, of course). The light is staggering.

Weekdays VS weekends averages by direction of traffic, Placemeter

As for directional traffic, the Subway Station located just south of our block certainly explains the morning and evening weekday peaks.

We can also verify something interesting the BONY team members noticed (and if you notice anything yourself, let us know).

Overall, more people come from the North than from the South, suggesting that tourists tend to visit this area from top to bottom rather than the other way around. One explanation could be that more hotels are located North of Times Square: people set out to see the streets then take a cab back when they’re tired or walk back up another avenue.

To maximize comfort, you might want to go with the crowd and visit Times Square from top to bottom as well.

CONCLUSION

Some locals may dread Times Square, some going as far as calling it the worst place in New York. Still, no one can deny it’s a special place, unique enough to attract millions of visitors each year.

We should also celebrate it as an historic milestone in improving pedestrian safety and access in New York.

One can only hope the NYCDOT take their learnings from the Green Light for Midtown project and apply it to the numerous and hazardous arterial streets throughout New York.

As always, if you think this story is interesting, please recommend and share. If you have any comments, please write a response below and feel free to reach out to us.

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The BONY Team

Download the dataset here (.CSV)

Interested in Placemeter? Register for their Beta here.