Last month was a very bad month in the tabloids and local news for NYC bicyclists. As you've probably heard we had two awful tragedies on the loop drive of Central Park in 2014 with cyclists striking pedestrians, killing both. What followed was sadness, anger and head scratching. But also the predictable media manipulation demonizing cycling, much of it unfair or downright ignoring facts.
While there's no excuse for bicycling at excessive speeds in our public parks during heavy use periods, the fact there are still cars allowed in what should be places of solitude (Central, Prospect & Astoria Parks) is completely insane. I've been a member of Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) for nearly 20 years and know far too much the long campaign to rid our parks of cars. And that's why I really enjoyed Stephen Miller's recent Streetsblog post "Traffic Lights Don't Belong on a Park Loop", which I hope help enlightens the masses that our parks are not highways.
Back in 2004, I was hired by T.A. to produce the (above) short film "The Case for a Car-free Central Park." Though I had been doing transportation videos long before, now looking back I consider it my first Streetfilm. Running an epic 20 minutes we interviewed health care professionals, advocates, authors, electeds and a cross-section of users from all the adjacent park neighborhoods.
Gasp, was it really eight years ago PARK(ing) Day San Francisco 2006 happened? It only feels like a few years have passed. I'll never forget being in Oakland visiting a friend and learning that PARKing Day was happening the following day. I got up early, jumped on BART with my camera and went looking for all the spots inspired by Rebar, a unique & awesome art and design studio in San Francisco.
What a day. I never had so much fun as an in-the-moment filmmaker. I shot for almost 8 hours straight and by the end was exhausted and nearly dehydrated. But as I saw the energy and the diversity of the spots - and the underlying message in Rebar's mission - I knew I had to churn out a film fast. 36 hours later the above film debuted on-line. It was easily our most popular film for the next two years until Bogota's Ciclovia Streetfilm surpassed it.
Since then PARK(ing) Day has really launched a worldwide phenomenon and inspired the awesome parklet movement. It has given regular citizens a chance to see how we can re-purpose parts of streets for cafes. mini-parks, and bike parking. Streetfilms continued documenting PARK(ing) Day in NYC and 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place 2014 conference took place this week in Pittsburgh. Even though the Andy Warhol Bridge already has a nice shared bike-ped path on it, for one week the city decided to put bike lanes on its roadway. It's the simplest design you can imagine, just two rows of small traffic barriers and a little bit of signage. I compiled a few moments of footage while walking to an event one night.
In New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge is just packed with pedestrians and cyclists. For about the last ten years or so, the crowding gets so intense at peak hours that it can be perilous. There have been many solutions suggested over the years, including converting one of the roadway's car lanes to a two-way protected bike lane so cyclists and pedestrians don't have to jostle for space on the narrow promenade they currently share.
Of course the Brooklyn Bridge has more traffic of all types than the Andy Warhol Bridge. But keep this Pittsburgh experiment in mind for the future. Something has to be done on the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe a trial bike lane during the summer would be a good place to start.
It wouldn't be an unprecedented decision. There are many other examples throughout the world -- here's our video of Vancouver giving road space to bikes on the Burrard Bridge:
Ah yes, that's the now-famous "Snowy Neckdown Redux: Winter Traffic Calming" Streetfilm above. As you may recall, I shot the video in my Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights a few years ago to demonstrate how we could extend our curbs further into the streets to slow drivers and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. Then the idea completely blew up this winter with the #sneckdown hashtag causing a media sensation.
Now, as you can see in this series of photos, I can report some unexpected progress.
In the last week, curb extensions have sprung up at many of the intersections I documented in the video (and photos). It looks like neckdowns will be installed at 81st, 82nd, 83rd, and 84th streets on 35th Avenue, a stretch that has seen its share of car violence, and maybe more are coming.
Slowing traffic in this residential area is especially important. There are many schools nearby, and lots of senior citizens crossing 35th Avenue. And this type of traffic calming is perfectly aligned with the new 25 mph default speed limit set to take effect in NYC this fall.
People in many other cities did their own photo documentation of sneckdowns this winter. It'll be interesting in the coming months and years to see if sneckdown mania helped lead other local DOTs to take action. Let me know via @Streetfilms on Twitter using the #sneckdown hashtag or tell us about it here in the comments.
Yeah, this is a bit of a rant. Thanks to my job I've been fortunate to travel to many amazing cities. And unlike New York City, the greatest ones all have massive grids of car-free streets.
I'm not talking about temporary, weekly ciclovia closures. Or a few car-free blocks here or there. Or great parks or plazas where people gather or eat. I'm talking about streets where you can walk for miles and never encounter a car. And if you do, they're moving along no faster than 10 mph on shared, traffic-calmed streets where motorists drive with a high-degree of vigilance.
If you travel too, I'm sure you may have favorites. Personally I love Copenhagen, Zurich, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and now Stockholm. In all these cities there are core areas where you can walk and walk and feel happiness, solace, and quiet.
When you have large grids where no one can drive, it inspires residents to dream bigger and strive for an even healthier, more car-free city. It gives businesses and restaurants proof that you don't need to accommodate driving (or at least on-street parking) to turn nice profits. It makes other communities rise up and say, "Hey, we want that!"
I love New York City. I've lived here since 1991 and it's the best place to live in the world. I love the transportation progress I've been fortunate to document over the last ten years. But it irks me that there are at least a dozen other cities I've visited where I can get a feeling NYC cannot provide on its street grid: a sense of complete freedom as a pedestrian from the perils of the auto while walking for enjoyment, shopping, or recreation.