Deadly Times Square crash leads to call for safety upgrades to pedestrian-occupied areas

A New York City Council member joined transportation advocates on Friday to demand major safety upgrades to Times Square and other high-traffic areas occupied by pedestrians following Thursday’s deadly crash. 

Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the transportation committee, addressed safety concerns and possible updates to areas “vulnerable to terrorist attacks or drunk drivers” during a Times Square news conference Friday morning. 

Speaking at 45th Street and Broadway, Rodriguez said the out-of-control driver who caused chaos in Times Square was stopped by metal posts known as bollards, likely saving countless lives, and he is now calling for new metal bollards to fortify pedestrian plazas.

“Be it a terrorist, a reckless or drunk driver or even someone who loses control at the wrong moment, many of our sidewalks remain terribly vulnerable to the type of tragedy we witnessed in Times Square [Thursday],” the councilman said. “To save more lives on our streets, we need to enhance safety measures that have already proven successful, such as the metal bollards that likely saved lives.”

Rodriguez was joined by state Sen. Brad Hoylman and Paul Steely White, executive director of transportation alternatives, who said the fatal crash “shows how desperate the need is” for protected, car-free pedestrian zones in the city.

“Had it not been for the newly installed bollards on the edge of a pedestrian plaza, which stopped Richard Rojas’ car, yesterday’s tragedy could have been even worse,” White continued. “More of these interventions to protect vulnerable street users are needed all across the city, along with a radical re-thinking of how we allocate public space.”

The news conference took place one day after a Navy veteran from the Bronx drove his car onto a sidewalk in Times Square and continued along a three-block stretch, hitting 21 pedestrians. One of the victims, 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. 

Rojas, who is facing a slew of charges, including second-degree murder, drove his Honda “at a high rate of speed” onto the sidewalk at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue at 11:55 a.m. and continued to 45th Street before crashing into a metal stanchion, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said during a news conference Thursday. 

Though his motive remains unclear, a police source said the suspect told investigators he “wanted to kill them.” 

In the wake of the crash, Rodriguez and White also renewed their call for a completely car-free Times Square. Pointing to a potential blueprint provided by a one-day event in April that was timed to coincide with Earth Day, Car Free Day involved a fully pedestrianized 1 1/2-mile stretch of Broadway, between Times Square and Union Square.