By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Local business owners are rallying the city to re-open a Midtown intersection closed to traffic to make way for a pedestrian plaza that they say is wreaking chaos on the stretch.
West 33rd Street is currently blocked to traffic at Sixth Avenue to make way for the Herald Square pedestrian plaza, which is part of the city's larger Broadway redevelopment plan. While cars used to be able to travel West from Fifth Avenue through the intersection toward Penn Station, they are now forced to make a left turn south onto Sixth Avenue.
But locals say the configuration has created a bottleneck of congestion and are urging the Department of Transportation [DOT] to revise the plaza plan.
"It's unbelievable how backed up it gets. You can't come in on Fifth Avenue because of the traffic," said Shaun Clancy, the owner of Foley's NY, an Irish bar on West 33rd between Fifth and Sixth avenues, who has been petitioning for the change.
In addition to being a headache for drivers, Clancy said the congestion hurts his business because taxis don't want to travel down the street and get stuck at the light or navigate the confusing re-routing plan.
"It's very bad," he said, standing in the intersection as throngs of pedestrians crossed against the lights.
Dan Biederman, the President of the 34th Street Partnership and other local community groups, said that property owners in the area have lined up behind a revision plan that would allow traffic to flow from the east to west sides.
"There's no reason for it to be closed," said Biederman, who has also suggested extending the plaza along Broadway between West 32nd and 33rd streets instead.
"That would be more sensible to everybody," he said.
While it has not made a decision on the proposal yet, DOT Spokesman Scott Gastel said the department is currently studying the feasibility of opening West 33rd to traffic across Sixth Avenue.
But Luis Melendez, 48, a UPS truck driver who spends every day making deliveries along the stretch, said that, while he doesn't like the plaza, he believes the real problem is actually the light pattern at the intersection, which he believes is too slow.
As a result, he said traffic often grinds to a halt.
"It's very, very bad every single day," he said. "After 3 p.m., forget it. You're stuck. You can be here 20 minutes, easy."
But Melendez said that whatever the cause, he hopes the DOT will find a fix.
In the meantime, he said, "I hope to God there's not a pregnant lady who's going to give birth because she'd probably give birth right there in the street."