Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Urban Freight Case Studies - New York City

THRU Streets Program

Historically, midtown Manhattan has suffered from congestion. As a result, the City has developed strategies to improve traffic conditions. Average travel speeds of about four to five miles per hour along cross-town streets with little travel time reliability led to the implementation of a traffic operations improvement program called THRU Streets. The basic philosophy of this program, which was implemented in Fall 2002, is to designate specific streets (THRU Streets) for cross-town travel and institute policies to facilitate cross-town travel along these designated THRU Streets. Other streets were classified as "non-THRU" streets and policies including the designation of curbside areas for truck loading/unloading were instituted on these streets. Reducing the friction caused by turning movements and ensuring that effective moving lanes were provided on THRU Streets were important elements of this initiative. The THRU Streets initiative has helped New York City improve traffic flow within the Program area and has reduced conflicts between turning vehicles and pedestrians.

NYCDOT designated five one-way street pairs to serve as THRU Streets. The THRU Street system consisted of 36th and 37th, 45th and 46th, 49th and 50th, 53rd and 54th, and 59th and 60th Streets bounded by Sixth Avenue to the west and Third Avenue to the east as shown on Figure 4. These roads provide links between major Midtown destinations. The program restricts vehicles from turning off these sections of road between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., which reduces congestion caused by motorists decelerating to make safe turns. It also reduces bottlenecks caused by the conflict between turning vehicles and pedestrians that often block through roads from proceeding. Vehicles may turn onto these streets from any intersection.

After initial implementation, slight modifications were made to adjust for observed conditions. These improvements included the removal of 59th Street from the program and the allowance of turns onto Park Avenue from any of the THRU Streets due to the importance of access to this two-way corridor.

Although the THRU Streets Program focused on moving all traffic through the area, several components of the plan directly affected commercial vehicle movement. Improved traffic flow on the THRU Streets caused a shift in volumes from several non-THRU Streets to the designated THRU Streets. Because of the reduced demand on non-THRU Streets, NYCDOT was able to add more commercial vehicle parking spaces. By adding Muni-Meters and parking restrictions to both sides of streets that previously had parking on one side, the City created 150 additional spaces for loading and unloading.

The THRU Streets Program was implemented in two phases: 1) a trial period that introduced the program to motorists and pedestrians and to monitor changes and make needed modifications; and 2) full project implementation, which commenced in November 2002.

Figure 4: THRU Streets Area Map

Figure 4 a map that highlights the five one-way pairs that serve as THRU Streets.  The highlighted pairs are as follows:  36th and 37th Street, 45th and 46th, 49th and 50th, 53rd and 54th, and 59th and 60th.  The pairs are bounded by Sixth Avenue to the west and Third Avenue to the east.

Source: New York City Department of Transportation, Thru Streets: An Innovative Approach to Managing Midtown Traffic (New York City, NY: 2004).

Cost/Benefit of the THRU Streets Program

NYCDOT implemented the THRU Streets program with minimal costs. The costs associated with the Program included new signs, signal upgrades, and the development and implementation of an educational program.

The THRU Streets program has greatly benefited traffic conditions in Midtown Manhattan. Specifically, the program has:

  • Improved Traffic Flow and Reduced Travel Times. NYCDOT successfully improved traffic flow and reduced travel times for designated THRU Streets. Travel times were reduced by 24.7 percent from an average of 8 minutes and 40 seconds to an average of 6 minutes and 31 seconds. The number of vehicles per hours increased from 4,187 to 4,854 vehicles on all nine of the designated streets.
  • Reduced the number of crashes during cross-town trips. The THRU Streets program also offered safety benefits in the form of reduced crash frequency. The number of crashes on designated streets declined from 279 to 193, a reduction of 31 percent.6
  • Enhanced loading and unloading on non-THRU Streets.
  • Created an additional 150 commercial vehicle parking spaces.

It should be noted that although the THRU Streets program started strong by improving traffic flow and adding commercial vehicle parking capacity to the physically constrained Midtown district, its benefits have begun to decline. Because of inconsistent enforcement, turning-restriction violations have increased and travel-time improvements have diminished.

6 New York City Department of Transportation, Thru Streets: An Innovative Approach to Managing Midtown Traffic, March 2004, pp. 5 and 34.

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