Broadway: New York, New York


Broadway, a metaphor for the city it runs through, has undergone many changes since Native Americans walked its path. The street is home to iconic public spaces, world-renowned cultural institutions, and an abundance of architecturally significant buildings along its 14-mile stretch. The street hosts world-renowned events for hundreds of thousands of people, houses fabric suppliers patronized by famous designers, is home to highly competitive academic institutions, and encourages shoppers to purchase anything they desire. Broadway also welcomes residents and visitors to sit comfortably on a bench surrounded by greenery in a space carved out of its wide berth.

Designated Area

Begins in Lower Manhattan at Bowling Green and travels north for approximately 14 miles where it exits the borough at West 230th Street in Marble Hill.

Broadway at 96th Street. Photo courtesy New York City Department of Transportation.

Planning Excellence

Broadway is one of the oldest roadways in New York City. Parts of the street date back to pre-colonial times when the Weckquaesgeek Chief walked south from present-day Dobbs Ferry, New York. Near the end of the 19th century, Broadway was completed by connecting several separate road segments, including the original Native American footpath.

From Columbus Circle to Union Square, Broadway runs on an east to west diagonal cutting across New York City's dominant street grid system. Where Broadway crosses an Avenue it creates a "square." These complicated crossings have plagued traffic planners and engineers since the inception of the grid system in 1811. In fact, the 1811 commissioners did not want Broadway to exist in its "un-gridlike" form and tried to straighten out the road above 14th Street.  Fortunately, from a public space perspective, they were unsuccessful. Four of Broadway's best known squares — Union, Madison, Herald, and Times — have unique personalities, define neighborhoods, and remain centers of activity day and night.

South of Union Square the roadway continues on a straight path directly to the southern tip of the island. North of Columbus Circle the road widens and converts to a boulevard up to 170th Street where it veers west and continues on into the Bronx.

Improving motor vehicle traffic and pedestrian circulation along the corridor, particularly in Times and Herald Squares, has been a focus of traffic engineers and planners for decades. In 2008 and 2009, the New York City Department of Transportation implemented several transformative projects along the Broadway corridor: one in the Madison Square Area between 5th Avenue and E. 23rd Street, the other between W. 47th Street and W. 33rd Street.  Each of these projects redirected vehicular traffic patterns on Broadway, in some locations completely closing the roadway to vehicles.

Newly created spaces were carved out and converted into pedestrian-only plazas for walkers, cyclists, and passersby lounging in moveable seating. The project was widely successful, not only because of its public space creation but also for safety and mobility enhancements. It has since been made more permanent by expansion throughout other portions of Broadway.

Ticker tape parade for the New York Giants. Photo courtesy Downtown Alliance.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History and Development

  • Originally a Native American footpath called the Wickquasgeck Trail traversing the length of Manhattan
  • When the Dutch founded New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1626, the trail became the main road through the island of Manhattan
  • Broadway, as it is known today, was completed at the end of the 19th century by joining Broadway, Eastern Post Road, Bloomingdale Road, and Western Boulevard or "The Boulevard"
  • The term Broadway was first used to describe the entire stretch of the roadway in 1899

Significant Architecture

  • City Hall, located in City Hall Park, is the oldest functioning city hall in the United States (1812)
  • Trinity Church, designed by architect Richard Upjohn (1846), is the third church on this site; the first Trinity Church was constructed in 1698
  • Grace Church, was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. (1847); the French Gothic Revival church has been called "one of the city's greatest treasures"
  • Ansonia Hotel designed by architect Paul E.M. Duboy as a luxury residential hotel (1899)
  • Flatiron Building was designed by architect Daniel Burnham (1902); the iconic building is known for its triangular design and is one of the most photographed buildings in New York City
  • Manhattan Valley Viaduct (1904); an arched structure that allows subway trains to remain level when crossing the Manhattan Valley
  • Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House was designed by architect Cass Gilbert (1907); the Beaux-Arts style building contains works from well-known artists of the time, including Daniel Chester French
  • Woolworth Building was constructed in 1913 as the headquarters for the F.W. Woolworth company; the neo-Gothic style building held the title of world's tallest from 1913 to 1930
  • R.H. Macy & Company is the flagship department store of Macy's; at 2.2 million square feet it held the title of world's largest department store from 1924 until 2009
  • Morningside Gardens Houses (1957) is a development containing six separate apartment buildings; known as one of the first owner-occupied co-ops in the city
  • Marine Midland Building, a prominent example of  mid-20th century modernism; designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (1968)
  • SoHo–Cast Iron Historic District was designated in 1973; now contains the largest collection of buildings with cast-iron facades in the world
  • Ladies' Mile Historic District was designated in 1989; and preserves buildings that were once home to New York's most famous departments stores

Attractions and Events

  • Columbia University, founded in 1754; the Ivy League university is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States
  • Canyon of Heroes is the portion of Broadway between Bowling Green and City Hall, which serves as the traditional parade route of the city's ticker-tape parades that have celebrated sports championships, the end of World War II, and the Apollo 11 astronauts, among many others
  • Times Square at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue is often called the "Crossroads of the World"; upwards of 39 million visitors annually; hosts the New Year's Eve "ball drop" at midnight
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a complex of buildings with 30 performance facilities including the Metropolitan Opera House, David H. Koch Theater, and Avery Fisher Hall
  • Numerous parks, including Fort Tryon (home of The Cloisters), Inwood Hill, and Isham; all once housed country estates that were eventually bought up or donated to the city to create a continuous stretch of parkland along the Hudson River

Times Square. Photo courtesy New York City Department of Transportation.