Bloomberg defends pedestrian plazas from candidate skepticism

Herald Square. (NYC DOT via Flickr)
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At a press conference in Brooklyn on Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed criticism of his pedestrian plazas from the two candidates vying to succeed him.

"The pedestrian plazas have been phenomenally successful," the mayor said after announcing a project to convert street lamps to energy-saving lights.

Bloomberg was responding to a reporter's question about the skepticism Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota expressed about the plazas during a televised debate on Tuesday.

De Blasio said the "the jury's out" on the signature plazas at Times Square and Herald Square, and Lhota suggested the plazas could be temporary structures timed to accomodate traffic patterns.

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Bloomberg defended the plazas as "phenomenally successful."

"Our biggest problem is the number of places that want pedestrian plazas, but you can only do it where you have alternatives for the roads," he said today. "But it has been phenomenally successful in terms of business in the stores that face the plazas."

He urged reporters to "go and count the people that are in Times Square, or any other pedestrian plaza," as a measure of their success, and said the tourist-friendly areas also cut down on accidents.

De Blasio reiterated his general support for traffic-calming pedestrian plazas this morning, in an appearance on WNYC.

"The core concept of pedestrian plazas I'm absolutely committed to," de Blasio told Brian Lehrer.

But he stood by his concerns about the plazas in Times Square and Herald Square.

"We need to look again and see if those are as configured as well as they should be," said de Blasio, without delving into the specifics of how he might revise those plazas to conform to the "core concept" he supports.

De Blasio also restated his endorsement of the Vision Zero, the Swedish road-safety philosophy that aspires to end traffic fatalities, and for the city's bike lanes.

"I do believe in the bike lanes we have, and expanding them further," he said.

Lehrer asked de Blasio about his criticism of Bloomberg's outer-borough taxi plan, and whether it's connected to the contributions he's received from the taxi industry.

"I think that goal is the right goal," he said of the administration's aims to improve service in the outer boroughs. "I think the mayor went about it the wrong way and created a plan that actually undermines some of the elements of our current transportation structure that actually work."

De Blasio said he had heard from "innumberable cab drivers that they suffered from a kind of gotcha enforcement," comparing the fines paid by cab drivers to those imposed on small businesses.