Mall idea is a step in the right direction

A Department of Transportation proposal to make Prince St. in Soho into a pedestrian mall on Sundays in the warm weather has opened up a fierce local debate.

As The Villager was going to press Tuesday evening, Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee was hearing D.O.T.’s first presentation. We covered that meeting and will give a full report on it in next week’s issue.

Right off the bat, though, we think the idea has much in its favor. Indeed, pedestrian advocates see it as a no-brainer. And, unless we can be convinced otherwise, we would tend to agree.

The concept is to close Prince St. to car traffic between Lafayette St. and West Broadway on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day — or for about three months.

D.O.T. assures there are rules on the books to prevent the street from becoming a corn dog-filled carnival. Opponents are probably right to be somewhat skeptical about these claims, and police and city agencies will have to be vigilant to keep Prince St. from morphing into a full-blown vendors’ bazaar.

Yet, the main effect of this plan is that it will, for just one day per week, reclaim one street from cars and give it to pedestrians. One street where we can walk freely without being rushed and bullied through crosswalks by aggressive and impatient drivers — many from out of town — in their lethal, metal machines.

Making six blocks of the roughly 55 in all of Soho car-free four days a month for one-quarter of the year is not much to ask. In fact, depending on whether this idea is approved and then how it functions, it probably is something that should be extended to more streets.

Opponents argue traffic will spill over onto neighboring streets, increasing, not decreasing, congestion. But Sunday is a perfect day for this experiment, as car traffic is lower and pedestrian traffic is high. A lot of Soho’s Sunday car traffic is clearly composed of drivers who think it’s cool to tool through the fashionable district showing off their shiny Hummers and Maseratis. If they learn Prince St. will be closed, they might think twice about taking their gas-guzzlers for a spin through our streets.

Sadly, we suspect some residents’ opposition is motivated by a desire to maintain free parking spaces for their own cars. That’s disappointing and puzzling, since so many Soho residents back the mayor’s congestion-pricing plan.

Opponents also don’t want to further enable the tourist invasion of Soho. But the reality is Soho is a major, international tourist magnet. Yes, tourists will benefit from the pedestrian mall — but so will we. It’s highly likely that many of the tourists jamming up Spring St., for example, would migrate to a Prince St. pedestrian mall, thus easing the Spring St. sidewalk squeeze.

Although we know the debate is just getting in gear, so to speak, to us, the Prince St. pedestrian mall sounds like an experiment well worth trying.