The 2009 Streetsie Awards, Part 1
Here's the first slate of winners in our annual binge of award-giving, the Streetsies. You may want to review the people's choice poll results before diving in. We'll be rolling out two more installments before the new year and resuming our regular publishing schedule on Monday, January 4. Enjoy...
Biggest Livable Streets Victory: 2009 will probably go down as a year with more than one watershed moment for livable streets in New York City. On the campaign trail, the next Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, pledged to get serious about deterring reckless, deadly behavior behind the wheel. Implications for street safety could be huge. In City Hall, bike commuters won a legislative victory that had proved elusive for more than a decade. By ushering the Bicycle Access Law through City Council -- over objections from the powerful real estate lobby, don't forget -- bike advocates, bill sponsor David Yassky, and the Bloomberg administration gave a leg up to New Yorkers who want to ride to work without worrying about bike thieves.
But for sheer visceral impact, nothing topped the transformation of Times Square, Herald Square and Broadway. Midtown's new pedestrian spaces are street reclamation writ large -- acres of iconic urban space converted from vehicle lanes to public plazas. It's the kind of bold project that urban planning visionaries had counseled for ages, but which no mayor or DOT commissioner had the chutzpah to pull off until now.
Will it be permanent? We'll find out soon enough. What mattered more in 2009 was that the sweeping changes on Broadway got people talking about our streets and how we use them. While some members of the press are still freaking out and issuing nativist screeds against the enjoyment of public space by the great unwashed, most New Yorkers have decided that this new, more humane version of Midtown is their kind of place.
Best Pedestrian Project: The Times Square plazas are a shoo-in for this category, right? In our people's choice poll, apparently so: The new Times Square captured more than 70 percent of the vote -- more than any other winner. But let's take a closer look at the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project. In terms of permanent, concrete-pouring sidewalk expansion, it's got the upper hand. After years of advocacy and an agonizingly slow trip through the city's construction bureaucracy gauntlet, this project improved safety at dozens of intersections in neighborhoods overrun by car commuters taking advantage of free East River bridges. In some places, the effect on the quality of public space is quite palpable.
So it was a tough call. In the end, the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project nabs the runner-up position. Turning one axis of the crossroads of the world into a street for walking, socializing, and snowball fighting takes the top spot. Times Square is a completely different place for the 350,000-plus office workers, theater-goers, and, yes, tourists who walk there every day. And it's all the more potent because of those oft-maligned visitors from out of town. After a visit to the new Times Square, they're heading back home to the Omahas and Jacksonvilles of the nation with a different perspective on what an American city can be.
Best Bike Project: DOT built out innovative bikeway designs at an unprecedented clip in 2009, so it's fitting that this was the most competitive of all the categories we put up for a vote. You've got the city's first two-way, protected on-street path on Kent Avenue. A first-of-its-kind center median protected path on Allen and Pike. The completely transformed experience of biking through Midtown on Broadway. Any of those projects could have claimed this award in previous years.
But we agree with the people's choice: The Sands Street bike path deserves top honors. A year ago Sands Street was one of the most dangerous missing links in the city's bike network. Now, with a piece of heavy-duty infrastructure protecting cyclists from BQE-bound traffic, it's the gold standard for other bridge approaches.
Best Bus Project: 2009 was an in-between year for major bus projects in New York. The city's first Select Bus Service routes debuted last year, and we won't see an expansion of the rapid bus network until late 2010 at the earliest. So that leaves us with a familiar winner: the real-time arrival displays on 34th Street.
Feeling a twinge of deja vu? Arrival displays won this award in 2007, but the MTA eventually scrapped those units, along with the contractor, because the system failed to deliver accurate information. Hopefully the latest version of this long-overdue amenity will prove more successful and expand throughout the bus network. Together with a forward-thinking open data policy from the MTA, rolling out reliable arrival displays would make bus service more predictable, pleasant, and appealing for New Yorkers.
Best Local Livable Streets Project: With the addition of new pedestrian spaces and safer bikeways to the Allen and Pike Street malls, DOT delivered the goods on a project that's been bubbling up for years through public workshops in Chinatown. Funding for a more ambitious and permanent version could make it even better.
The Multi-species Multi-modalism Award: Brooklyn's Park Circle not only sports some excellent new connections for walking and biking to Prospect Park, it also includes a safer equestrian path for horse riders heading to and from Kensington Stables.
Most Important Change to the DNA of NYC Streets: The New York City Street Design Manual. With an impressive and meticulously organized collection of templates to help city agencies implement progressive street designs, the May release of this handbook for transportation engineers, planners, and designers was probably the year's most auspicious development.