‘The jury’s out’: De Blasio evolves on the Times Square pedestrian plaza

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Times Square pedestrian plaza. (Ed Yourdon via Flickr)
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Bill de Blasio isn't so sure about that pedestrian plaza in Times Square anymore.

Last night, at the second-to-last debate before the mayoral election, CBS reporter Maurice DuBois asked de Blasio if he would "take out the tables and chairs from Times and Herald squares and reopen Broadway."

"I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue," the Democratic candidate for mayor responded. "I'm a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated, and then I've also seen on the other hand that it does seem to have a positive impact on the tourist industry. So for me the jury's out on that particular question. I think it's worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I will keep an open mind."

This marks something of an evolution for de Blasio.

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Earlier this election season, de Blasio "lauded the pedestrian plaza concept, crediting the car-free zones with easing congestion, improving safety and enhancing neighborhoods," according to the New York Times. He also "singled out Times Square and Herald Square," describing them "as wildly successful."

De Blasio's shifting rhetoric provoked immediate anger among pedestrian advocates.

"Ped Plazas are still more popular than any politician," tweeted Glenn McAnanama, a boardmember of StreetsPac, the street-safety group that endorsed de Blasio for mayor.

"Does anyone brief this guy?" asked Jon Orcutt, the transportation department's policy director and the former executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Over the course of the Democratic primary, de Blasio, who once described transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan as a "radical," transformed himself into a champion of bike lane and pedestrian advocates in New York City.

His comments yesterday mark something of a step in the opposite direction and brought him into closer agreement with his Republican rival Joe Lhota.

"I too am of a split mind," said Lhota. "You know I don't understand why it's there 24 hours a day. Why can't we do it on a part-time basis, open it up during periods of time when there's a lot of traffic during rush hour and then put it back? Look, we've got 300,000 workers in the city of New York. We can find a place to put the chairs and put the tables and then put it back—which are really being used mostly by tourists. It's important to have a tourist industry in New York but at the same time we need to get traffic moving around this island."

Last night, I emailed de Blasio's spokesman to ask if the jury was still out on other pedestrian plazas too. He has yet to comment.