At the northwest corner of Union Square, there's an intersection that for years was called "Dead Man's Curve." I can see why they called it that: there must have been a holy mess of traffic accidents in the days before traffic lights. And then there are pedestrians, who are heading every which way, and who have, since 2005, been given a longer light in order to cross. The intersection is where Broadway (traffic, one-way heading south) bends along the top of 16th street (one-way heading west) and Union Square West (one-way heading south), and slides around the square and then continuing south at 14th.
Not owning a car or being a regular driver in New York City, I tend to see the place from a pedestrian's eye view. For me, there's too much car traffic in and around the Square, especially since the Square is a destination for so many people rather than a transit point. At one point in the recent renovation, Union Square West was going to be wholly pedestrianized, until the Amalgamated bank on the corner of 15th and USQ West complained, and that was that. As it is, they've cobblestoned the road to give it an old-world feel. It also acts as a traffic calmer.
What to do about traffic is a condundrum for cities. Clearly, there's a need for buses and taxis. Plus, without trucks it's hard to bring goods in to a space. Also, studies have found that if you wholly pedestrianize areas they can die. But single-occupancy vehicles surely need to be limited.
There are always bicycles, of course. Time's Up activists
have used Union Square as the launching spot to start their protests
that have gotten them into a whole bunch of trouble, as the NYPD has targeted them
for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with bicyclists' rights.
In the end, of course, it's a question of balancing accessibility with commerce. In a city like New York, the balance is beginning to swing slightly back to the pedestrians and bicyclists, after decades of favoring the motor vehicle
. It still has a way to go, but it's going in the right direction.