By Olivia Scheck
UNION SQUARE — Union Square became the latest neighborhood to embrace pedestrian friendliness Wednesday, as city officials hailed the completion of a new pedestrian plaza in the area.
The new $500,000 pedestrian mall, on Broadway between 17th and 18th streets, features lime-green tables and chairs with blue umbrellas.
The effects were also felt on 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South, which is now only open to westbound traffic.
The newly converted block had been a hot spot for accidents, with 22 pedestrian injury crashes between 2004 and 2009, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said in a statement.
More than 200,000 people walk through Union Square on peak summer days, including more than 4,000 iPod-wearing NYU students, according to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn and NYU administrator Lynne Brown.
Sadik-Kahn said that the reorganization, which included simplification of the intersection's traffic signals, had "taken the guess work out of crossing the street."
Parsons students Nadia Oesterreich and Paloma Canut were drinking coffee in the new pedestrian plaza on Wednesday.
"It's so nice to be able to sit here and eat your lunch," Oesteayrreich, 19, said.
"I'm Spanish and this wouldn't last a day there," said Canut, 20, who is majoring in design management.
"People would take" the furniture, she added.
Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, which maintains the plaza, said there hadn't been any thefts since the space opened earlier this month.
A likely reason, she said, is that the chairs and tables are packed up at night. "You'd need a forklift to lift the umbrellas," Falk explained.
The pedestrian plaza at Madison Square, created in 2008, will also be extended one block south along Broadway, the DOT announced.