Greg Lindsay's Blog

July 14, 2017  |  permalink

“Columbus Park” and Redesigning Manhattan for Autonomous Vehicles.


Back in May, I was invited to join dozens of architects, mobility experts, public officials, startups, and others for a autonomous and connected vehicle design sprint organized by the engineering firm BuroHappold.  Our team was tasked with redesigning Manhattan’s Columbus Circle — my teammate Derrick Choi explains our plan below.

Derrick Choi (Populous), Greg Lindsay (Fast Company), Mike Seyle (BuroHappold), Nicola Thomson (100 Resilient Cities), Patrick Smith (NYC Department of Transportation)

Write-up by Derrick Choi

What is your team’s idea?

Columbus Circle is an icon that can never be truly occupied. Traffic roundabout, NYC landmark, and post card icon – right adjacent to Central
Park, but never a part of it. In the dawn of connected and autonomous vehicular networks, the time to reimagine the Circle is now. Imagine finally being able to occupy Columbus Circle AND enhance traffic flow? Our concept seeks to do just that by physically integrating Columbus Circle with Central Park to enhance the pedestrian experience, improve the flow of transit, and introduce a new proving grounds for CAVs and delivery vehicles south of Columbus Circle along Broadway.

There are some fundamental planning assumptions behind the concept:

1. Re-routing traffic flow will enhance traffic while improving open space.

2. The improvements seek to balance – to the extent practicable – the interests and operational requirements of pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, personal vehicles, CAVs as well as public-private development opportunities.

3. Public policy shall be innovation-friendly and will encourage testing extant infrastructure to adapt to new technologies and solutions.

4. Connected and autonomous vehicle networks will be an integral component of the City’s transportation system.

5. Public private partnerships are encouraged to advance innovative infrastructure and urban ideas.


We offer a multi-phase approach to stitching Columbus Circle into Central Park. The multi-stage strategy gives the City the flexibility to test concepts with little risk:

PHASE 1 – Absorb the Roundabout

• Shut off quadrant facing Central Park with retractable bollards and paint the street; creating a contiguous public space extension; stitching Columbus Circle to Central Park.

• Re-route traffic flow in a north-south configuration: Broadway (north of 58th) to Central Park South provides a south flow while Broadway (south of 58th) to Central Park West provides a north flow. NOTE: South-bound traffic flow is diverted to Central Park South.

• Broadway South of 58th Street will be cut off of traffic on a regular basis as a test corridor for CAV technologies – especially for off-hour test runs of delivery robots originating from the Columbus Circle Whole Foods – running down all the way to Union Square.

PHASE 2 – Absorb the Streets

• Shut off all of Central Park South and the entire roundabout from Broadway to the start of Central Park West from vehicular traffic; effectively repurposing about HALF of the Columbus Circle roundabout into public open space.

• Re-route traffic flow permanently in the following manner:

• South flow: Broadway to 8th Avenue

• North flow: 8th Avenue to Central Park West

• East / West flow: turn at 57th and 8th Avenue

• Dedicated South Broadway route (south of 57th Street) for CAV and pedestrian-centric activities.

While the Circle goes away – almost half of it becomes absorbed by Central Park – the operational and quality of life improvements are considerable. At the new Columbus Park, traffic improves, Broadway and Central Park South becomes dedicated for open public space and a new north-south axis for traffic is provided.

Why is this a good idea for your city?

Columbus Circle’s riddle is solved once and for all when traffic improves and the quality of public life can be improved at the site. We believe there are 4 primary benefits worth thinking about:

1. Introduction of dynamic new public spaces – Central Park South becomes a dedicated pedestrian-only public corridor and Columbus Circle becomes a truly public space with no traffic disruption.

2. Commitment to a new dedicated Broadway technology corridor from the Circle to Union Square – providing a new test bed for CAVs while
recommitting to the public realm.

3. Significant traffic and environmental enhancements – re-alignment of the North-South flows will eliminate congestion, idling, and overall air quality for the immediate area.

4. Encouragement of strong public-private collaboration – from delivery robots from Whole Foods to new private sector sponsorships of new public corridors, new opportunities to reclaim the streets will deliver incredible dividends for the City.

What would need to happen to implement your team’s idea?

No idea can be implemented in a vacuum. The successful implementation of the Columbus Circle concept will weigh heavily on the ability of the City to be able to test these ideas in such a heavily trafficked location that must last the test of both pedestrians as well as vehicles.

There will likely be a combination of aggressive, phased testing and recalibration of the test corridors as well as strong policies advocating for innovation and public-private partnerships. Implementation will require a two-fold collaboration between public agencies who must test the corridors and implement the policies and the private sector players who need to understand the needs of their stakeholders.

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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