Photos: The Future Pedestrian-Friendly Plans For East 43rd Street

A mini golf/croquet set, book kiosk, benches and tables, plus a jazz band, greeted pedestrians on an East Midtown street near Grand Central Terminal as the Department of Transportation unveiled a sneak peek of a future pedestrian friendly zone on Friday. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said it "will be an amazing public public space in the heart of one of the densest parts of New York City."

East 43rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues will be the city's latest "Shared Street," and during the temporary street closure on Friday, the DOT and Grand Central Partnership detailed their plans, which will provide increased sidewalk space and limited vehicle access (only pickups and deliveries allowed, at a speed limit of 5 MPH). Tables, chairs, and planters situated on the block will also encourage pedestrians to linger over their lunches and enjoy the fresh air directly across from Grand Central.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen told a small crowd of press and bystanders that the shared street plan represented the administration's efforts to make good on its promises. "It's [about] improving this whole district, for the people who work here, visit here, and live close to here," she said.

The resulting redesign will be a street with "very little traffic and slow driving traffic," Glen explained. "It will just give everybody more room to breathe, and God knows we need that in this city." She added, "It's also about us being a global city. If every other big, major city on the planet can figure out how to take back their streets, and make [them] more pedestrian accessible and integrate all these uses into the city, God knows New York City can."

The project, slated for a spring 2018 start and completion by 2021, is one of several proposals cleared as part of the recently passed Greater East Midtown Rezoning, a Bloomberg initiative that had been blocked previously by former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Other planned DOT neighborhood improvements include redevelopment of Pershing Square and enhancements geared towards pedestrian safety along Park Ave. The DOT created a similar configuration—its first full-time shared street—on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets in the Flatiron District earlier this year.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who developed the proposal jointly with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, said that the rezoning is intended "to make the pedestrian experience as significant as the Class A office experience" in Midtown. He described plans for a similar pedestrian friendly zone on the opposite side of Grand Central, in front of the future One Vanderbilt Building, and he emphasized that the shared street was part of "nearly a billion dollars in public improvements both above ground and below ground to our transit system” ushered in by the rezoning. “It is something really important for this neighborhood," said Garodnick. "We’ve been stuck for too long."

Rob Speyer, CEO of developer Tishman Speyer, made reference to the historic nature of the block, "Neighborhoods aren’t static. They’re living, breathing communities. And they must evolve to stay relevant." Speyer told the crowd that he and his firm "want Midtown to be a place where people want to come to work and want to shop and want to eat."

As for making it easier for people to bike to Midtown (and other areas), city officials said that the rumored plans for protected crosstown bike lanes would be presented by the end of the year.

Bryan Sternecker, 33, who has worked in the Chrysler Building for the past three years, did not know about the project until today’s street closure, but he told Gothamist he liked the idea of having a pedestrian area to step out to. “It beats sitting in the office and eating lunch. It’s a working lunch every day.” He said would “absolutely” look forward to having his lunch outside, and he suspected his co-workers would be similarly inclined. “100%,” he said. “All of them will.”