By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Union Square may be Manhattan’s next pedestrian-friendly crossroads to see beach chairs replace BMWs under a new plan to create a car-free plaza off the square.
The city planned to unveil a plan Monday that would eliminate most vehicular traffic near the northern end of the bustling downtown park and pavilion, replacing cars with walkable pedestrian malls similar to those in Times Square and Herald Square.
The proposal would limit through traffic on two blocks north of Union Square — E. 17th Street from Broadway to Park Avenue, and Broadway from E. 18th to E. 17th streets — and install street furniture on the retail-rich stretches, reports stated.
Vehicles heading south down Broadway would be forced to make a left turn at 18th Street, though a single lane would remain open for cars seeking to loop around from 18th Street, the New York Times reported.
A lone lane on 17th Street would also stay open for westbound traffic, and the plan includes dedicated space for bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.
The Times said the project could be completed as early as Labor Day.
"We are extremely pleased that the Department of Transportation has taken a hard look at the pedestrian and traffic congestion issues in the area, and proposed improvements that incorporate all of our areas of concern," said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, the area business improvement district.
"We look forward to hearing feedback as the agency continues with its outreach to the various stakeholders in the area."
Advocates for the use of Union Square as a public space said they would support the project as long it remains free of commercial interests.
“The more open space, the better,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, which staunchly opposed the Partnership’s plan to develop a restaurant on Union Square’s north end. “But we just have to make sure that the motives are pure.”
Croft explained that a similar attempt to restrict traffic on the same blocks more than two decades ago failed when local business owners came out against the plan because of the possible impact it would have had on retail operations.
“We want to make sure that [the plaza is] open and not being privatized by the Union Square Partnership and groups that want to bring in any commercial applications,” he added. “It’s definitely a concern."
The city made the conversions permanent in February after test runs of the project along Broadway in Times and Herald Squares proved effective in reducing vehicle travel times and improving pedestrian safety.
Another plan to create a pedestrian-friendly plaza along 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues as part of a redesign of the major east-west thoroughfare is expected in 2012.
Community Board 5's transportation committee was scheduled to discuss the proposal on Monday at 6 p.m., at the McBurney YMCA, 125 W. 14th St.