2.06.2009

Taking Back the Streets

What do you call two people standing the middle of a busy Manhattan street? A brazen protest? A dangerous fraternity initiation rite? A suicide pact? Increasingly, the answer is: lunch.

Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to levy a congestion fee for driving into Manhattan was struck down in Albany last year. But one thing New York City has fiat power over is its streets themselves. And according to this article in a recent Governing Magazine, Bloomberg's transportation commissioner, has used this power to close off streets to cars, creating plazas as well as seating areas for outdoor cafes.

When we think about city planning, we tend to focus on lots (i.e. zoning), waterfronts, and parks. But streets are a clever way to implement policy priorities. If we want our cities to be amenable at the pedestrian and bicyclist scale, what New York City is doing is a relatively expeditious way to do it.

And when we think of transportation departments, the historical focus has been flow-through: how can we get cars circulating as quickly as possible. But New York City's example reminds us that maybe there's a place for thinking about the streets themselves, and about the ways we negotiate the rights of different users on them.
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