Just in time for the ball drop, the pedestrian plaza in the Crossroads of the World is finally complete, city officials announced Wednesday.
The plaza had endured some level of construction since 2009, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially de-mapped a swath of Broadway that ran through Times Square.
And after the city’s Department of Design and Construction oversaw the installation of the last of the 11 granite benches in the plaza this year, a ribbon-cutting was set for members of both the de Blasio and Bloomberg administrations.
“I have to say now, with this beautiful project done, it’s never looked better,” said Polly Trottenberg, the commissioner of the city Department of Transportation, in the plaza between West 43rd and West 42nd streets. “At any given moment, pedestrians are 90 percent of the users in Times Square, but before 2009, they only got about 10 percent of the space.”
The $55 million project has been sweet vindication for Trottenberg, but especially for Janette Sadik-Khan, the former DOT commissioner. Controversy came early, over fears that the plaza wouldn’t be popular enough, and late, over fears that it became too popular with costumed characters and others.
Sadik-Khan thanked Trottenberg for “seeing this project through, come hell or desnudas,” referring to last year’s clamor over the topless, painted women who pose for photos in the plaza. The fuss, stirred by the press, Mayor Bill de Blasio and then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, led to the installation of pedestrian “zones” in the plaza.
The current and former DOT commissioners stressed the vision worked, benefiting pedestrians, visitors and vehicular traffic as well as the businesses that surround the area. Each day, more than 300,000 visitors walk through the plaza, which accounts for about two and a half football fields of space over the span of five blocks.
“Transforming car space into people space helped the local area grow and thrive,” said Sadik-Khan. “Retail asking rents have tripled and new stores have moved in. … Investments in the street are investments in our city and the economy and Times Square has creative a powerful example for cities around the world.”
Feniosky Peña-Mora, commissioner of the DDC, outlined that some of the time needed for the project went to replacing the area’s ancient underground infrastructure, some of which dated back more than a century.
“Before any of the surface work could be done, water mains and sewers throughout the entire plaza were replaced,” he said.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee, was eager to look toward a next step.
“I want to leave you with this dream, just imagine this plaza being extended from here to 14th Street,” he said.