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In a dramatic reappropriation of urban space for public use, Times Square was closed off to cars earlier this summer. Less well known is that Summer Streets are already in place all over the five-boroughs this summer, thanks to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) and that a section of 34th street will have a pedestrian-only zone when the next bus rapid transit (BRT) phase is installed. Interestingly, there have been many studies showing that traffic does not deteriorate when public space is added – even a mathematical theorem called the Braess Paradox to explain the phenomenon. This Saturday, Williamsburg Walks converts Bedford Avenue into a pedestrian-only zone, brought to you by L Magazine and the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG). The event tagline: “rethink your public space.”

Summer Streets-NYC-BrooklynWilliamsburg Walks (Source: Streetsblog)

It has been argued that bureaucracy makes it difficult to engender change in New York. But many public initiatives carry the fingerprints of particular officials and their personal interests. Iris Weinshall, former NYC DOT commissioner, pitched and implemented the concept of “Thru Streets,” which improved cross-town travel time up to 25% by prohibiting turns except on Park Avenue and a few other exceptions. Similarly, although Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC DOT commissioner, has been making waves recently for her research travel to far-flung places such as Bogota and Beijing, we can credit the successful implementation of the 200-mile New York City bike network to her avid interest in cycling.

Broadacre City-Frank Lloyd Wright-Rendering-Illustration-AutomobileBroadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright

The automobile and road culture of the United States can be attributed to cold war defense programs such as the Eisenhower Interstate System, infrastructure stimulus packages throughout the last century, urban planning theories that glorified technology and the automobile, and most simply — that Henry Ford was an American. Regardless, it is important to realize that public space is at a premium whether in dense urban areas such as New York City or in areas of great suburban sprawl. Car-free zones in urban areas, with a mix of recreational and entertainment activities, address important issues on how public space should be created, allocated and utilized.

7 Comments

  1. […] this affect planning in cities? Obviously it could increase density without the congestion. In New York, planners have created pedestrian only zones, prohibited turns into certain streets and created […]

  2. […] the event now takes place in 100 cities around the world. I see it as a personalized version of the pedestrian only streets introduced in New York City last […]

  3. […] the event now takes place in 100 cities around the world. I see it as a personalized version of the pedestrian only streets introduced in New York City last […]

  4. […] the event now takes place in 100 cities around the world. I see it as a personalized version of the pedestrian only streets introduced in New York City last […]

  5. […] few days later Gehl Architects, most well-known here for designing the pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square, visited New York on their biennial work study tour. They hosted […]

  6. […] the event now takes place in 100 cities around the world. I see it as a personalized version of the pedestrian only streets introduced in New York City last […]

  7. Heather says:

    Michelle, I would like to find out about the possibility of using your Times Square photo above on the cover of a book to be published in the spring on designing public space. But the author wants a full bleed so it would need to be 300 dpi at 12 inches in height.

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