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Posts from the Livable Streets Category


32nd Street Finally Has Enough Space for Walking. Will It Last?

This pedestrian space could be replaced with loading zones. Photo: Stephen Miller

This pedestrian space, installed for a summer trial period, may give way to parked trucks because building owners on the south side of 32nd Street want more loading zones. Photo: Stephen Miller

New pedestrian zones near Penn Station have given people more breathing room on some of the most crowded streets in the city. Will they stay or will they go after a trial period wraps up in October?

At a Community Board 5 committee meeting last night, nearby property owners weighed in on the projects. It was smooth sailing for the new plaza on 33rd Street at Seventh Avenue, but a much-needed sidewalk expansion on the north side of 32nd Street faced pushback from property owners who aren’t pleased with how it’s changed the use of the curb in front of their buildings.

The projects were conceived and funded by real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust, which owns a number of properties near Penn Station, including Penn Plaza, the Manhattan Mall, and the Hotel Pennsylvania. The new pedestrian areas relieve crowding on sidewalks near the rail station, where people on foot overflow into the street.

The temporary public spaces, approved by NYC DOT and supported by CB 5 in June, were installed about a month ago and are set to be removed October 11. Based on the results of this evaluation period, the additional pedestrian space could be brought back and made permanent.

Property owners along 32nd Street want to see some adjustments. Fetner Properties owns The Epic, a rental residential tower with its back door on the south side of 32nd Street, across from the Manhattan Mall and the sidewalk extension. “We love the idea,” President and CEO Hal Fetner told a joint meeting of the CB 5 parks and transportation committees last night. “[But] we’re all fighting for the same sidewalk space.”

To replace the parking lane on the north side of the street with pedestrian space, the project shuffled curbside uses, shifting an MTA bus layover and reducing the length of the street’s loading zones from 680 feet to 180 feet. Now, Fetner says, his building’s trash is collected on the same curb where people wait to board the M4 and Q32 buses. When new tenants move in, he has to send staff to sit on the curb until the moving truck arrives, keeping others from taking the space. Fetner said that wasn’t an issue when the street had more loading zones.

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The Real Reason Uber Traffic Matters in NYC


Where traffic is worse, the politics of turning a wide, car-centric street into a safe, efficient street are tougher. Rendering by the Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark via Transportation Alternatives

For a moment yesterday, it seemed like the big clash between the taxi medallion industry and app-based car services, framed in terms of Uber’s effect on snarled Manhattan traffic, might veer into unexpectedly brilliant territory. There was Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in the Daily News, telling the MTA that City Hall would consider the Move NY traffic reduction plan to fund transit investment. Finally, a sign that some of the big players are getting serious about a comprehensive fix for the city’s congestion problem.

But the moment didn’t last long, with Governor Cuomo extinguishing the road pricing talk right away. Soon after, Mayor de Blasio beat a sudden retreat from his proposed cap on for-hire vehicle licenses, getting a few concessions from Uber, and now the whole episode will fade from the news cycle, at least for the time being.

The Uber fight was a rare case where transportation issues became front-page news, but the arguments about streets and traffic tended to descend into stupid talking points really fast. Uber NYC General Manager Josh Mohrer was hardly the only person who tried to blame bike lanes and other safety measures for the recent downturn in average Manhattan traffic speeds. Council Member Dan Garodnick, someone who generally gets how streets work and chooses his words carefully, was the first public figure on record to toss around that theory.

When you’re talking about the downsides of congestion, it’s tough to avoid framing the problem like an old-school traffic engineer, placing paramount importance on the movement of cars. Even on Streetsblog, we’ve run plenty of posts talking about the effect of Uber in terms of average traffic speeds. The trouble is that when you focus on how easily people can drive around the city, you create an opening for people to point their finger at anything that might slow down cars — like bike lanes, or a lower speed limit.

You can try to reason with these people and explain the difference between peak speed and average speed, or show the data about bike lane redesigns that had no discernible effect on traffic. And that might win some arguments. But if you want streets where bus riders have swift trips, where people of all ages feel safe walking and biking, you’re going to have to make some changes that — at least for a while, before a new equilibrium sets in — slow down cars.

We need to come at the problem from a different angle. So how about this: Traffic congestion in New York is terrible because it’s an obstacle to designing streets that work best for our city.

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33rd Street at Penn Station Will Go Car-Free This Summer

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue and east of the Madison Square Garden loading docks will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

Real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust last night unveiled plans to open up space for people on a couple of busy blocks near Penn Station. The proposed car-free zones include a new pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue. Phase one will consist of a three-month trial this summer and fall, and the changes could be made permanent afterward.

Vornado is proposing to make part of 33rd Street off-limits to through traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza from Seventh Avenue to the Madison Square Garden loading docks about halfway down the block toward Eighth Avenue. Vornado executives told CB 5 the space could be used for seating or events, reports Bloomberg.

The company is also proposing more limited extensions of pedestrian space on 32nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue. The street will get a sidewalk extension along the entire north side of the block, as well as plantings on the south side of the block near Seventh Avenue, with traffic trimmed to one lane. The pedestrian areas will connect with plazas at Herald Square.

The proposal received a unanimous endorsement at a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 parks and transportation committees last night, reports Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Tom DeVito. It now advances to the full board on June 11.

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Eyes on the Street: This Year’s First “Street Seats” Have Begun to Sprout

Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

A Street Seat on Duane Street was installed this week. Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

It’s Street Seats season — the time of year when curbside seating replaces parking to reclaim some space for people, at least for the summer.

Street Seats are installed by DOT. The seats, which fold up at night, are maintained by an adjacent sponsoring business and are open to the public. DOT received 22 applications for Street Seats this year, the most in the program’s six-year history, and approved 13 locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Some seats have already been installed, with more coming in the next few weeks, before they will be removed in November.

Photos: Charles Komanoff

Before and after on Duane Street. Photos: Charles Komanoff

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Participatory Budgeting Will Fund 21 Livable Streets Projects


A map of all 124 projects that won funding from this year’s round of participatory budgeting, via City Council.

The votes are in, and 21 livable streets projects got enough support to be funded in this year’s round of participatory budgeting. All told, 124 projects made the cut and will receive City Council funds [PDF]. In dollar terms, the streets projects will account for $5.1 million of the $32.5 million distributed by council members.

During the participatory budgeting process, New Yorkers cast 51,362 ballots across 24 council districts from April 11 to 19, the City Council reported this afternoon.

The City Council touted how the voting involves people who otherwise find it difficult to participate in civic affairs. Approximately one in five ballots, which were available in up to 10 languages, were cast in a language other than English. Nearly 30 percent of participatory budgeting voters reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below, according to a survey by the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, and more than a quarter were born outside the United States.

“Across the city, thousands of residents of all ages and backgrounds came together to make their neighborhoods a better place to call home,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “Participatory budgeting breaks down barriers that New Yorkers may face at the polls — including youth, income status, English-language proficiency and citizenship status — resulting in a civic dialogue that is truly inclusive and representative of the diversity of this community and this city.”

The winning transportation projects include everything from raised crosswalks in Hell’s Kitchen to bus arrival displays in the Bronx. Here’s the rundown.

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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014


If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014”? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts



After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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FHWA to Engineers: Go Ahead and Use City-Friendly Street Designs


NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide includes engineering guidance for transit boulevards. Image: NACTO

The heavyweights of American transportation engineering continue to warm up to design guides that prioritize walking, biking, and transit on city streets. On Friday, the Federal Highway Administration made clear that it endorses the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which features street treatments like protected bike lanes that you won’t find in the old engineering “bibles.”

FHWA “supports the use of the Urban Street Design Guide in conjunction with” standard engineering manuals such as AASHTO’s Green Book and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the agency said in statement released on Friday. FHWA had already endorsed NACTO’s bikeway design guide last August. The new statement extends its approval to the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, which also covers measures to improve pedestrian space and transit operations.

Federal approval of what were until recently considered “experimental” street designs means that more engineers and planners will feel comfortable implementing them without fear of liability.


Shared Space: The Street Design NYC’s Financial District Was Made For

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

For people in cars, the Financial District is a slow-speed maze. For everyone else, it is one of the city’s most transit-rich destinations. Despite this, most of the street space in the area is devoted to cars.

The Financial District is an ideal candidate for pedestrianization, but while it has seen redesigns on a handful of streets, it has yet to see the large-scale creation of car-free space that has been studied and talked about for ages. Could introducing shared space to the mix help transform some of New York’s oldest streets into truly people-first places?

If not for the the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Financial District would effectively be a large cul-de-sac — there is no reason for through traffic to use its local streets. The evil twins of West Street and the FDR Drive feed cars to the tunnel and ring off the neighborhood from the waterfront. But within the Financial District itself, most of the streets are narrow and have far more pedestrians than cars.

There are a few places in the Financial District where car-free streets have taken hold over the years. Too often, the goal has been not to create an open, accessible city, but to build a fortress against the threat of truck bombs.

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Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York


With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

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New Software Lets You Virtually Stroll Down Streets That You Design

Folks across the blogosphere are geeking out over this new software created by Spencer Boomhower at the Portland firm Cupola Media. “Unity3D Visualization” lets users manipulate the features of a street and then evaluate the changes in an immersive animated display.

The software uses video game technology to help people understand how different designs will “feel.” Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns and Michael Andersen at People for Bikes think it has the potential to revolutionize the public planning process.

In the past, Boomhower combined his background in video game design and interest in transportation issues to create this amazing video explaining the folly of Portland’s CRC highway boondoggle. Boomhower told Streetsblog that the video game model can let people visualize transportation decisions in meaningful new ways:

Before this I had done a number of animated videos explaining issues relating to transportation and how it impacts places, but what I always wanted to do was make it interactive. When I build a virtual place in a 3D application I want to explore it, not look at it in a pre-rendered video. And I want to see it come to life with people and vehicles in motion. These are things you can do with video game tools.

Boomhower said he hopes the technology will enable people to become more engaged and empowered in the public planning process:

Game engines are designed to make dynamic places that can be explored from any point of view. Apply that to a street redesign: Want to see how a new curb extension will feel from the perspective of a slower-moving person on foot making that crossing? It’s just as easy as showing the perspective from the person approaching that intersection in the driver’s seat of his or her city bus.

You can try it out for yourself here. Right now the program is still in beta, Boomhower says, so you might encounter some glitches.