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A Walk around the Upper West Side

StreetFilms presents the full version of TOPP Executive Director Mark Gorton and neighbor Lisa Sladkus walk around the Upper West Side as they pointing out certain traffic calming features and road geometry changes that could be done to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Previously we have posted very short primers here, but today we offer the full tour, complete with many diagrams and photos, which we hope will inspire denizens of Gotham and beyond to use these ideas in their neighborhoods. So go take a walk around your block and start the transformation!

Mark Gorton: [00:01] Hi, I’m Mark Gorton and I’m here today with Lisa Sladkus. We’re both residents of the Upper West Side and we are walking around talking about the potential for the streets of the Upper West Side if they were transformed to be places for people rather than just conduits for traffic.


Mark Gorton: [00:21] You know, why are you taking time out of your day to talk about this stuff?

Lisa Sladkus: [00:26] I’m interested in transportation. I studied transportation at Columbia, but as I’ve told Mark before, I just feel really strongly that this is a great neighbourhood and I want to make it better and I want to live here with my family for a long, long time.


Lisa Sladkus: [00:44] Here we are in the corner of 71st and Broadway. It is one of the most chaotic and confusing intersections on the Upper West Side. You have people coming up Broadway. You have Amsterdam connecting to Broadway and you have 71st Street, so you have a cross street as well. As you’ll see, this is an extra long area for people to cross. It’s a really long crosswalk to get to the subway and the light timing is such that as soon as the light turns green for walkers, you immediately have to start jogging. I literally with my kids have to grab their hand and say, “we’re running now”.

Mark Gorton: [01:18] The fact is that this intersection has been built to maximise traffic flow, and the people are kind of left to take the scraps of what remain, and it’s a pretty nasty public space. If you imagine this, this is actually a wide open expanse, this could be an amazing public plaza. The transit access is unbelievable. You have an express subway stop right there. You have, you know, good bus service right here. Why does this have to be all about cars all the time?


Lisa Sladkus: [01:56] So we’re standing on the corner of Amsterdam and 87th Street. Here’s an example of two parked cars that if they were taken away would be so much safer for the pedestrians walking and trying to get into the crosswalk here.

Mark Gorton: [02:09] When you push a stroller, the kids go out before your line of sight does. It’s very hard to get around the corner without using your kids as guinea pigs.

Lisa Sladkus: [02:17] And even if you have the right-of-way, you have to be so careful crossing the street with kids. If we can get rid of these two parked cars, we’re a lot safer.

Mark Gorton: [02:25] The technique of removing parking near the corner so that there is better line of sights for both pedestrians and for drivers is called daylighting, and it’s a common technique used to improve safety in many cities around the world.


Mark Gorton: [02:47] This is a very typical residential side street on the Upper West Side. This is where people live. But the street has been designed to encourage cars to go as fast as possible. It uses the exact same design principles as a drag strip. We can take steps to change the physical makeup of the streets to force cars to drive slower and more respectfully for people.


Mark Gorton: [03:17] Here behind me you have a double-parked van, and it’s something that happens so often that no-one even bothers to think about it. And you can see this guy here, he delivers plate glass. So this is a pretty high priority trip there, yet he’s forced to park illegally because the curb space is so incredibly underpriced. So why are we giving a discount on public space to a guy driving in a giant SUV from Connecticut?

Lisa Sladkus: [03:49] The other thing that this double-parked car is doing is, as we just saw bikes going by, it forces the bikes into another lane of traffic which creates another very dangerous situation.


Mark Gorton: [04:06] Here we are in Amsterdam Avenue which is just a massive traffic highway right in the middle of the Upper West Side. I mean the Upper West Side is a residential neighbourhood and this street has been designed without any consideration for the people that live around here and it’s all about moving traffic. And it is just an unpleasant street to be near. I have to walk my kids to nursery school down this street, we walk a half mile down Amsterdam, you can’t even talk to them because it’s so loud. If we change our policies, we can reduce the level of traffic on Amsterdam enormously.


Lisa Sladkus: [04:53] Here we are on Broadway, a bus lane area of the Upper West Side, and as you can see, a very heavily trafficked pedestrian area. We have gourmet grocery store, we have booksellers, we have people walking their strollers and their bikes, and this is an example of if we could widen the sidewalk even more, think about how many more people we could accommodate and how much more community we could generate.

Mark Gorton: [05:18] You have a space right here that if I stand here by myself, it’s hard for anyone else to get through, like look at this, you know, it’s basically one arm’s width across. Yet we have this giant expansive roadway which has room for one set of parked cars, a truck to double-park, a bus to get through and another set of cars here. I mean there is no-one in these cars, no-one is benefiting right now from these cars being here, yet all the people are being squeezed on that sidewalk. We have a perverse allocation of public space on the Upper West Side and it needs to be changed.


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  • Lee

    Great film, one question, I thought the narrowing of the street at intersections to shorten the crosswalk was called a neckdown, I'm not familiar with the term daylighting.

  • cclark

    Lee-You are right-narrowing the street at intersections is a neckdown (and can also be called a curb extension). Daylighting simply refers to opening up visibility at corners by removing one parking space. This can be accomplished in a number of ways including striping, coloring the curb or adding signage to indicate that parking is not allowed. It can also be accomplished by extending the curb (which of course wipes out one parking spot). These terms are similar, but aren't exactly the same. Hope that clears it up!

  • anonymous

    the idea of involving local communities via video in re-imagining street-scapes is a great one.

    but it would be great to see some new faces and neighborhoods featured on StreetFilms. livable streets is a citywide issue and should be treated as such if this message is going to resonate.