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    Simon Phearson

    It’s even worse than that. Rory wants the police to consider “road design,” which seems to mean that, if the DOT has created a driver-pedestrian/cyclist conflict that puts the pedestrian or cyclist in unreasonable danger, then the driver is off the hook, as long as they’re behaving in the way designed.

    So, imagine: a fast veer through a left turn across a crosswalk where the pedestrians have the ROW. Or a cyclist crushed in one of those “mixing zones” that punctuate a protected bikeway.

    Or a sharrow! The cyclist was controlling the lane, and I tried to pass! How was I supposed to know that would be dangerous, when the sharrow’s on the far left/right of the lane?

    The bottom line of all this is that the people who have to take extraordinary care are pedestrians and cyclists – those who have the least control over driver behavior, and are most vulnerable to driver carelessness. I have no idea whether a driver’s going to try to squeeze through a stale green light, whether they’re prepared to stop in the rain, or whether they can see me. But if I don’t guess correctly, I’m dead, and the driver’s off the hook.


    Some Asshole

    Also, don’t even go outside in the event of drizzle, light snow, slight wind, sunlight, night, dusk, dawn, overcast, or ever. All of these things prevent smooth operation of a vehicle, thus, any actions that occur are not the fault of the driver.


    Some Asshole

    But the act of doing that would probably greatly damage the sweet grill job on the vehicle, making it also a property crime.


    Some Asshole

    Just more threats from those shadowy foot-bound terrorists. /s


    Some Asshole

    Four wheels good, two legs bad!



    Lancman knows that exempting TWU drivers, which he supports thanks to campaign donations I suppose, is never going to fly. There’s no rational explanation for why one type of driver should be excused over another. So the only other option is to tie NYPD’s hands so tightly that almost no driver can be charged anywhere. Seems pretty simple and craven.


    Simon Phearson

    I’m still having difficulty making sense of the math here. If it’s 9.75 for the toll and 20 for parking, then they’re paying $12/day more for the “privilege” of driving. The only way I can mesh that with your $2-3 per day, per person figure is to assume that it’s also $2-3 each way. So, the argument seems to be – driving is only about 60% more expensive than taking the bus. Well, when you also factor out the gas, maintenance, insurance, etc.

    Not attacking you at all – I realize you’re just speaking informally here about someone else’s experience. I’m just trying to understand.

    I commuted for about six months by car, once. I remember making a very similar kind of calculation – minimizing a clear driving premium by exaggerating the time loss and costs of transit, lowballing the time loss and costs of driving, and telling myself it was great to have the freedom of driving and to avoid the hassle of transit (my transit option, while cheaper, wasn’t horribly convenient). I eventually snapped out of it – and discovered bike commuting! And my life has been much better for it.


    Robert Wright

    I joined in a conversation with Rory Lancman today on Twitter about this. He says he hasn’t said cops are arresting people who’ve hit jaywalking pedestrians. He says he’s just floating that as a point of concern and the big problem is I’m a nasty, distorting liar for suggesting he’s making out that drivers are getting arrested for hitting jaywalking pedestrians. I asked him how long he thought it was legitimate for New York’s annual road death toll to be twice that of slightly more populous London. He didn’t have a straightforward answer on that. It was all rather extraordinary.



    I do that. I actually legitimately do that and the picture above is exactly the reason.

    Unlike Lancman and the NYPD, I actually understand physics, and when a multi-ton machine meets a human, that human is going in the direction of the machine, no matter what. So if crossing in the crosswalk and ending up just outside it after being hit by a car makes me a “scofflaw” then I guess I’m forced to cross outside it just to be considered a law-abiding citizen.



    I think it’s about an hour on the bus. If i guess the right one, it’s $4.25 per person per direction, so $17. Perhaps he exaggerates the bus cost to justify driving to himself.

    “A City Council report from 2013, however, expanded the definition of middle class upward to a family earning roughly $200,000.” (



    Everyone cross the street “upstream” from the crosswalk so if you get hit your body lands in the crosswalk.



    Worth repeating: in 8 months (Sept. 2014 – March 2015) drivers killed or injured 8,000 vulnerable road users – pedestrians and bicyclists. In only one quarter of 1% of the cases, so only 0.25% of the time, is the Right of Way law being applied.
    It is only being applied right now in cases that are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad, which only investigates collisions where the pedestrian/cyclist was killed or was severely injured and is likely to die. This means the few drivers being charged have ended someone’s life or have severely injured someone to the extreme that that person will likely die from his/her injuries. Facing a misdemeanor charge is very mild compared to what they have inflicted on someone’s family and on society due to their driving.


    Mark Walker

    Oh, it’s worse than that. The pedestrian is deemed outside the crosswalk if his body is dragged or bounced outside the crosswalk. The only way a pedestrian can remain in the crosswalk, when struck by a car, would be for his body (typically weighing less than 200 pounds) to resist the oncoming force of the car (typically weighing multiple tons). The laws of physics make this impossible.



    Now that you mention it, as a cyclist I might prefer the west side because long blocks let you get up to speed more. As a ped, I might prefer the east side because the traffic (foot and car) does seem at least somewhat less clogged probably thanks to the diffusion in the grid. But that’s pretty anecdotal.

    Not that I don’t like it, but lately the traffic situation in Manhattan has been so bad I’m rather glad my trips there have become infrequent.



    a call for political reform!



    Heh, that case and another like it (in Nassau County?) are really popular in personnel psychology classes.

    But practically speaking, it’s probably an extreme example. Most police forces are more subtle, selecting for ways to find people comfortable with modestly difficult rote tasks. That automatically eliminates a lot of people who are more than a sigma away from the mean IQ. People will tend to be either too stupid to handle them, or too smart to enjoy the work. Like that article says, police will tend to be a bit smarter than the general population.

    One force I interviewed would make its potential candidates, I forget whether for initial selection or for promotion, stand outside guessing car speeds for days on end. And after a few days of doing that, many people become *amazingly* accurate, though the evidence doesn’t hold up in court unless they (say?) they used an objective measurement of some sort.



    So if a pedestrian puts a foot out of the crosswalk they’re a scofflaw and their very life is forfeit, but people are still getting away with hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk? Lancman is more dangerous than the hammer man.


    Joe R.

    Yes, and NYC probably passed an efficient ratio of cars to streets in the 1920s or 1930s. Fine grid spacing mainly presents problems when you encounter a street filled with cars every 250 feet. It makes walking or cycling very unpleasant and very slow. If the streets had so few vehicles that you didn’t need traffic lights or stop signs, then grid spacing wouldn’t matter.

    I think we can both agree NYC drastically needs to reduce the volume of motor vehicles on the streets.



    Hmm. If their bus costs a few bucks less than $25.75 for the trip (not even counting gas), they must already be coming from pretty far afield.

    Either way, for one person, that probably is more than an hour at what is considered a middle class wage.


    Eric McClure

    “Scofflaw pedestrians.” My God.

    Thanks to the voters who elect people like Rory Lancman, and then re-elect and re-elect them again. Good job. Keep New York awful.





    Probably the way to think about it is you need a lot of streets that are equally useful, and a low(er) ratio of cars to streets; then a grid is very efficient, certainly more efficient than alternatives. That’s not only true with grids, of course; it’s why big highways paradoxically end up reducing capacity over local streets period. Put another way, you can clog a grid easily, but it’s harder to clog a grid than its alternatives.


    Joe R.

    I come off as pretty anti-motor vehicle but I’m probably more anti-private automobile. Most street space is used by, and most congestion in this city is caused by, private automobiles. This increases the costs of goods/services, slows down emergency vehicles/transit, and in general reduces the quality of life for everyone. It’s a pity car-free streets aren’t a major component of city planning. Certainly we can bollard off most minor Manhattan cross streets, make them inaccessible to everyone except delivery or emergency vehicles, without inconveniencing that many people. We might even consider making every second or third Avenue for bikes and peds only as well. We can even spread this idea to the outer boroughs. Ideally, the only people who should drive on most minor side blocks are people who live there. They already do this to a large extent in places like the Netherlands.



    Well, nothing wrong with that.

    I’m not even sure I’m as against motor vehicles as you,* though I do favor segregating them from people as much as possible. I don’t know why car-free streets are so intolerable to New York planners. Unless you think they should be everywhere where any other street use would be possible, you’re “anti-car.” F that.

    * And most people would agree I’m pretty against them!


    Joe R.

    The wide streets (i.e. the Avenues) are more or less sensibly spaced. It’s all the Manhattan side blocks where we waste a lot of space for parking and motor vehicles. As I wrote above by making keeping the motor vehicle crosstown streets spaced more or less as widely as the Avenues you gain about 20% more space to build on since the crosstown streets can now be much narrower.



    Wide-ish streets probably customarily encouraged vending.

    I don’t see anything inherent about cars in Manhattan’s grid. Historically, they were about streetcars, horse wagons, people-drawn wagons, and peds (on sidewalks). Any or all at once. One of the things that got Jacobs all pissed was sidewalk narrowing to accommodate parking POVs.

    Our dumb local politicians are just obsessed with parking, mostly for themselves.


    Joe R.

    Space is really the biggest argument against short blocks, at least if we’re talking short blocks for motor vehicles. Consider that you can replace what might be a 40 foot wide street (with 15 foot sidewalks on each side) with a 10 foot wide bike street with 10 foot sidewalks. That’s 30 feet out of every 250 used for moving people instead of 70+ feet. You essentially gain over 20% more space to build housing or retail.



    Jacobs’ main concern was pedestrians. I suppose you could extend the argument to cyclists too. At least in Life and Death, she didn’t talk about transit much – probably one of her bigger weaknesses. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a bad argument.

    Granted, short blocks might not always be best for surface transit, though IMHO the damage can be minimized to be close to trivial. Definitely doesn’t hurt subways.

    I suppose you could say a drawback to short blocks is more room for parking. OTOH, nothing says street space has to be used for parking. That’s a political decision.


    Joe R.

    I’m arguing more against a grid with streets for motor vehicles every 250 feet than against traditional housing stock. The former is really bad for all concerned.

    That said, there are much, much worse development patterns than towers in a park. Suburban housing tracts on cul-de-sacs with 1/2 acre and up lots comes to mind. Not enough density to support transit but more than enough to result in traffic congestion.



    All building stock eventually needs to be renewed through replacement or renovation.

    Now NYCHA housing needs that. If that’s your argument against traditional building stock, keep in mind traditional housing (including many “slums”) held out better than much of what came after. And it’s built at a scale where it’s a lot easier and cheaper to replace.

    Might be ending six-to-a-room occupancy was a good cause, but it was handled really badly.



    True that. But then day care would be $50,000 / year :)


    Joe R.

    But do we really need short blocks for cars and transit, as opposed to cyclists and pedestrians, in order to see those advantages? A 1/4 mile grid gets anyone on transit to within an 1/8 mile or closer to where they’re ultimately going. That’s really easy walking distance. With a coarser grid cars arguably can no longer provide door-to-door service, so they end up losing much of their appeal compared to transit. That can only be a good thing.

    The Manhattan long blocks probably should have been bisected midway by a pedestrian/cyclist street.



    There are non-destructive ways to provide more mixed use housing at a human scale. Infill is one. Building out is sensibly, with attention to good transit planning, is another. None of those things ruins the neighborhood for everyone else.

    Many NYCHA and peer projects (some are, in fact, private) are much more slum-like today than anything else that exists en masse. Safe to say they’re the source of a lot of intractable antisocial behavior and poverty too. New York is too conservative to admit it makes planning errors, but some cities really have found it’s cheaper to just tear those things down.

    Granted, *some* of that is political. They seem to encourage a lot of adversarial behavior between neighbors. They’re subject to a lot of arcane rules, often concerning income and service consumption.


    Jonathan R

    Consider also that the HOV-3 car pool rate is $5.75. If the coworker brought along their child to a Manhattan day care, they would qualify.



    I love this.



    I’m rather meh on Jacobs, but I thought one of her more interesting observations was an entire chapter supporting grids of short blocks. Manhattan long blocks make it a lot harder to move around. The trip around a long block to a point due south (grid north-south, not geographic north-south) of the middle of a long block is significantly shorter when the block is shorter. Compare east side and west side Manhattan.

    Smaller blocks promote diversity and choice. It’s probably a major reason authoritarian ideologues like Moses wanted to break the grid. Diversity offends them. Short blocks may not stop mega-developments (a skyscraper doesn’t need much acreage), but they certainly encourage a more humane scale.



    Many would have been stupid to say so, and literally almost literally nothing in those paragraphs is true, right down the part about Jane Jacobs being against grids and the number of streets. Grids are great for transit. Winds and turns are quite bad for transit. Even cars benefit from grids because grids allow them to disperse and minimize snarls in intersections (look at how dangerous acute and obtuse angles are for pedestrians and drivers at intersections). I don’t even buy that bit about speculators, since grids probably maximize how many individual (small) own but probably not as well as alternative that allow speculators to monopolize larger lots.

    All that said, I don’t think grids are necessary per se, and I generally like diversity, but they certainly have been shown to work. I can’t think of many huge cities that work well without them.



    A coworker who lives in NJ often drives himself and his wife over the GWB. The toll and $20 to park are only $2-3 a day (per person) over what they’d pay for the bus, and he drops her off at her office door on the far west side. (So the affordable part is they pay suburban housing costs.)


    Joe R.

    And arguably grids spaced as tightly as Manhattan’s were rendered obsolete once transportation speeds went above the speed of a horse walking (~6 mph). Given motor traffic speeds of 30 or 40 mph, a motor traffic grid with about 4 streets per mile would make more sense. It would take about as long to go one block as it took a horse to go a 250 foot block.

    Yes, you would still need to keep the present, finer grid intact for walking or biking. However, once you do this you can replace what was often a 50 or 60 foot wide street (plus another 20 to 30 feet for sidewalks) with something maybe 30 feet wide. Basically, you would have a ten foot or so bidirectional bike road with 10 foot sidewalks on either side. The bike road could still allow access for emergency vehicles if need be. The end result of this idea is 1/4 mile square areas with no motor traffic, plus more room for housing or businesses.

    You’re 100% correct that a grid as it exists today is bad for everyone. When you need to put kludges like traffic signals every 250 feet just so cars don’t hit each other (and people can cross the street), something is seriously wrong.


    Ferdinand Cesarano

    You’re right about the police department and the Manhattan DA. But ceding public functions to a private entity (which would be even less accountable) is certainly not the answer. The role of private interests in our society is far too large, and is bleeding into areas that are fundamentally the responsibility of the community as a whole. We already have private prisons that can get away with treating convicted people worse than the already abominable public prisons do; we don’t want private prosecutions!

    The remedy to problems with public agencies is to use the means provided in the law to fix them. Of course, this entails electing better people, such as DAs who would prosecute drivers, and state legislators who would dissolve the NYPD. Unfortunately, however, in practice this is next to impossible on account of the actions of private interests that undermine the functioning of what is euphemistically called “democracy”, namely, their bankrolling of candidates and their creation of propoganda that dictates voter behaviour.



    Until quite recently, many, even Jane Jacobs, would have argued that the original atrocity was the grid itself: monotonous, insensitive to the needs of the city (though delightful for property speculators), works badly for cars, transit and pedestrians alike. And talk about authoritarian! A military formation of 155 streets marching in lockstep.

    I think Moses’s designs were driven primarily by economics and not ideology. Befitting his own brand of authoritarianism, he had very traditional tastes and probably would have been happy to insist that the housing projects look like Colonial Williamsburg had it been financially feasible.



    But they were right on top of jobs! These developments destroyed mixed use neighborhoods and replaced them with single use residential properties. Each lost storefront probably represented a few lost jobs. I know there’s a myth that job flight was just good business, but certainly eliminating commercial property helped fuel flight from the city by retarding our economy.

    Europe often thought of itself as mono-ethnic until recently anyway (BS though that is). Even the names of the countries hint at that delusion. Plus this stuff often went up when housing was tight after WWII, on account of being obliterated in war. There probably wasn’t a lot of concern about segregation at that point, one way or another, especially after a series of genocides and mass forced migrations made the question largely moot. :-


    Joe R.

    Yes, exactly. I’ll also add that the former slum housing which is desirable today is only desirable because a huge amount of money was poured into renovations. Had the poor remained there, instead of being displaced to housing projects, the living conditions would probably be far worse than anything we see in housing projects today.

    BTW, I think the entire towers-in-the-park idea has received a lot of undeserved criticism over the years. The primary problems were the ones I mentioned. Without a grid for walking/biking and some ground floor retail, you lose the benefits of people who don’t live there walking through the area. That serves both as a deterrent to crime and also fosters economic activity.



    On the bright side, I bet they could be used for surface transit storage too.

    It could be expensive to implement since the garages often seem low. The people who built those things were evil but, as I said, they didn’t lack for foresight.


    Joe R.

    Don’t forget location has a lot to do with it. Quite a few NYC housing projects were put in areas which were not close to jobs or other areas of interest. Given the prevailing attitudes of the time, this was likely done on purpose, basically to segregate the poor so nobody else had to be bothered with them. Other countries may have done similar things, but instead segregated racial or ethnic groups they weren’t fond of.



    The problem is that reinstatement probably raises at least one of the original problems of the mutilation: mass displacement of people. To put back what we should have, we have re-commit the original atrocity.

    Bet Moses and his ilk knew that too. :-



    Yes, if NYC DOT just moved the detour times from 10am to 3pm this would impact far fewer people. And, why is it so hard for DOT/Parks whomever to put up a sign explaining what is going on here? Could TA perhaps call the DOT and MBPO and ask for this work to be shifted off-peak?



    People forget that the towers-in-the-park provided a significant improvement in living conditions over the slums they replaced, and, crucially, they did so at a reasonable cost–for the first and perhaps only time in the city’s history. It was then, as now, damned difficult to build truly affordable housing in New York City, but NYCHA discovered a formula that made it work. The criticisms you raise are valid and are the same that were raised historically.

    Although the remnants of the slum neighborhoods that survived the wrecking ball are quite desirable today, that is because the housing there has been renovated to accommodate fewer and wealthier people. They were not good places to live when they warehoused the poor at six to a room.



    I don’t think any one thing wrong with them is “entirely” to blame, though the two things I mentioned are really bad. This goes way beyond bad architecture. It’s bad planning.

    The results abroad aren’t that good either. In Europe, there is the upside that the modernist superblocks didn’t really come with the American baggage of racial segregation. I suppose they did manage to stay “middle class” (as Americans understand the term). But it says a lot that pretty much all authoritarian ideologies throughout the 20th century, and probably inst the 21st, love(d) variations on modernist megablocks: American liberal reformists like Robert Moses, authoritarian socialists, and fascists. Randroids seem to like that aesthetic too. Obsessed with order and control much?


    Joe R.

    Unless the buildings were subjected to extensive vandalism, quite a few of these projects are still in their prime, with another 50 to 100 years of useful life left. We can do things like add ground floor retail, maybe reinstate some of the grid for walking or biking where it’s feasible. I see no good reason though for reinstating the grid for motor traffic. That’s actually a plus with these types of super blocks. You have a huge area free of motor vehicles and motor vehicle pollution and noise.