By Barry Benepe
In a previous issue of WestView News, I reviewed Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan in which he placed emphasis on making streets more pedestrian-friendly. In a future article I will expand on this under a vision called Livable Streets. Meanwhile, I would like to comment on an interim proposal forwarded to me for Open Streets, proposed by NYCDOT and sent to me by Shirley Secunda, CB2 Transportation Chair. Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio plan to implement one hundred miles of Open Streets.
In brief, Open Streets proposes to temporarily close individual blocks to through vehicular traffic for specific hours each day, not unlike the Play Streets of the 1950’s. A community organization would have to be chosen to implement the program, utilizing its own financial and personal resources to prepare, place, remove and store temporary signs and barriers at both ends of every block in the selected street, allowing cross traffic to cross unimpeded every two or three minutes. The Open Street would have to be closed for a minimum of six hours a day. Overnight parking would continue to be permitted but owners would have to remove their cars during Open Street hours. Seats, plantings and other street furniture encouraging social leisure and gathering would be prohibited. Each time a motor vehicle need to enter to deliver oil, pick up garbage, pour cement, make deliveries such as Amazon or Fresh Direct, repairs or removal of parked cars, a staff person would have to be summoned to remove and replace the temporary barriers. Pedestrians would be required to keep moving, not linger or socialize. The daily removal of parked cars would result in more congestion as drivers searched for empty free parking spaces.
It is unclear to me what CB2 and NYCDOT are trying to achieve with this enormous effort. Another technique by NYCDOT called Shared Streets makes design changes requiring vehicles to wind slowly through a landscaped zig-zag “wurnurf” mixing with pedestrians at a safe speed of no more than 5mph. Community organizations can obtain Street Activity Permits to close a street for from one to three days to put up tents and tables to hold block parties.
Streets are largely our only easily accessible public spaces. They are framed by our architecture, which also defines our history. The 1811 Manhattan Grid became the framework for much of what we experience today, brutally wiping out the natural terrain in the process. This grid also contains our utilities that heat, cool and light our buildings and provide us with water to drink, wash and flush away our wastes. Seniors like myself need to sit and rest often when we walk. Hudson River Park which accommodates cars, bicycles, joggers, walkers and just lazy tired sitters is a lovely example of a beautiful respite with an extraordinary view. There is much to be learned here.
Further information can be obtained from Edward F. Pincar Jr, Manhattan Borough Commissioner of NYC DOT at 212-839-0210.