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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City plans to ban all vehicles from two notoriously congested stretches of Broadway, the wide avenue that cuts diagonally through the city's otherwise orderly grid, in a bid to ease traffic in the busy Times Square area.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the pilot project would be a boon for business since stores and restaurants would be more accessible to pedestrians, as well as speeding up vehicle traffic on other avenues and improving safety in prime tourist spots.
The pilot starting in May would create two pedestrian malls on Broadway at Times Square and Herald Square, two of the most choked points in Midtown Manhattan, which is largely laid out on a grid of north-south avenues and east-west streets.
Bloomberg said 356,000 pedestrians pass through Times Square each weekday, and many are forced to walk in the streets at peak times such as early evening before shows start at the dozens of Broadway theaters in the neighborhood.
"We expect travel times and safety on these avenues and streets to improve," Bloomberg told a news conference.
"All the computer modeling says this is going to work," Bloomberg said, brushing off suggestions that the plan would simply shift the problem to other streets.
The pedestrian malls, running from 47th to 42nd streets and from 35th to 33rd streets, will eventually be landscaped with tables and chairs for tourists and office workers to relax.
Bloomberg predicted travel times on 6th and 7th avenues would be improved by up to 37 percent and 17 percent respectively because traffic lights on them will stay on green longer.
He said traffic was "excruciatingly slow" at present and that skeptics should give the idea a chance.
"It's pretty hard to argue that we could do anything to make it worse," said Bloomberg, whose last major bid to ease traffic gridlock by charging rush-hour drivers a congestion fee to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan was defeated by opposition from state legislators.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Philip Barbara