“We worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops.” ~ Milan deputy mayor Marco Granelli
In normal times, we have too many cars moving around New York City. Why? Because we spend billions of dollars on roads and highways that encourage people to drive. Milan, Brussels, and Paris are all using Open Street experiments during the pandemic to permanently change the driving culture in their cities. Here in New York, we can do that too.
But a House of Lords report says it doesn’t work well enough.
WE GAVE Exhibition Road a mixed review in Street Design. I visited Exhibition Road a few times and found it over-designed, a frequent problem for 21st century streets. I agreed with our friend and colleague Hank Dittmar, whom we quoted on the subject of Exhibition Road: “Only the parked cars look comfortable.”
It’s in the news this week, because it may be the most famous Shared Space in Britain, at a time when “Shared Space” is the buzzword of the moment for High Streets (Main Streets) around the country. Most local politicians in the UK seem to know about Shared Space, and now the House of Lords has come out with a report that labels them “dangerous”—and in fact many UK Shared Spaces do seem dangerous, for at least two reasons: cars driving on them routinely go faster than is safe for spaces where pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are sharing the road; and they are frequently unsafe for the blind.
Vester Voldgade, Copenhagen. Looking north, across Ny Kongensgade.
VESTER VOLDGADE, KØBENHAVN (“West Rampart Street, Copenhagen”) is interesting both for its current condition and and its original state. It’s called “Voldgade” because like the boulevards of Paris, it was built where the old city wall stood (the French word “boulevard” comes from the word “bulwark”). As in Paris, allées were planted on the old ramparts, but in Copenhagen the result was different.
Parisian boulevards became tree-lined, symmetrical streets (planted in patterns composed of squares, the landscape architect Douglas Duany has pointed out). In an old photograph of a section of Vester Voldgade then called “Filosofgangen” (Philosopher Path), we can see that there was a street next to the tree-covered ramparts, with all the trees on the rampart side of the road in what looks like a naturalistic planting.
Filosofgangen (Vester Voldgade). Looking north in 1880.
ALMOST ALL STREETS IN PARIS now have speed limits of 20 or 12.5 miles per hour (30 or 20 kph). The rue Norvins in Montmartre was already slower than that. Why? Not because of a city-set speed limit or police enforcement, but because of the natural design speed of the street.
The narrow roadway, the poor lines of sight, the rough cobblestones, the unforgiving stone bollards at the edge of the street, the lack of traffic signs (there’s only one, which limits cars to those belonging to residents between 3 pm and 2 am), and most of all, the free-range pedestrians in the middle of the street—these all produce a space that makes drivers unacomfortable driving quickly.
English authorities are introducing a number of shared space streets there. I haven’t seen most of them, so I can’t say much about the Sea of Change film that makes the proposal that new shared space streets in England are frequently unsafe for the blind and disabled. That’s obviously an important issue—if we are going to make slow streets that use slow speed and a lack of the traffic engineer’s separation of car and pedestrian to make safer streets, then we need to make them safer for everyone. Continue reading →
A NEW YORK CITY MTA Bus almost ran me over this morning as I WALKED my bike in a crosswalk with a green light. Before he almost ran me over the driver honked at me, loudly, to tell me to get out of his way. And I repeat, I was walking in a crosswalk, with the walk light.
That’s what turn lanes and turn lights do. They give drivers the idea that they have a right to turn, without people getting in their way. And green turn lights and boldly marked turn lanes encourage drivers to go quickly and “take the lane,” because they are clearly in an environment set up for cars—just like in the suburbs. The bus was going at least 35 miles per hour, and so was a long stream of traffic behind him. If the bus had hit me while going 35 miles per hour, I would have almost certainly been dead. While walking with the light in a crosswalk, on an island where 80% of the people don’t own cars.
Earlier this morning, I was at the corner of Broadway and 56th Street and watched while pedestrians going both ways (across Broadway or crossing 56th Street) all had to wait after the turn light went green, giving drivers the go-ahead to turn left onto 56th Street. That should never happen in Manhattan.
FACT: There is an inverse relationship between a traffic engineer’s or DOT’s Level of Service (LOS) and the degree of walkability. That’s why in our petition to the US DOT we proposed a Walkable Index Number (WIN) for towns and cities instead of an auto-based Level of Service. WIN versus LOS equals walkability versus drivability.
Residents of Manhattan deserve better. So do all the tourists walking around the city. The only way Mayor DeBlasio’s Vision Zero pledge to reduce traffic fatalities in New York to zero will work will be to level the playing field and stop giving so much of the “space between the buildings” to the small number of people who drive in New York. Even the planet would be improved if we got over the idea that everyone has a God-given right to ignore the best transit system in America and drive into the city.
John Massengale and I are standing in the middle of 1st Avenue at East 4th Street, in New York’s East Village, and he does not like the feng shui. He points to the thick, white lines in the roadway, directing drivers toward a left turn. “Automobile-scale striping,” he notes. “It’s telling you: ‘This is not a place for you.’”
Part instruction manual, part history, part manifesto, the book argues that it is the street, more than anything, that shapes the city. In traveling to cities around the world and interviewing residents, pedestrians and businesspeople, Dover and Massengale found a remarkable degree of agreement about which streets are nice and which are not. “If there is so much consensus on what makes a good street,” they ask, “then why are we still building so many bad and ugly ones?”