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Complete Streets: It’s About More Than Bike Lanes

Over the last four years, New York City has seen a transportation renaissance on its streets, striking a better balance by providing more space for walking, biking, and transit.

As with any departure from the status quo, it can take a while for everyone to grow accustomed to the changes. So Streetfilms decided to look at three of NYC’s most recent re-designs — Columbus Avenue, First and Second Avenues, and Prospect Park West — and show how pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers benefit from safer, calmer streets. We talked to transportation engineers with decades of experience, elected leaders, community board members, people on the street, and business owners to get their take on the new configurations.

The truth is, no matter how hard some media outlets try to spin it otherwise, these new street safety projects have broad community support. And while the story of these changes often gets simplified in the press, the fact is that the benefits of the redesigns go far beyond cycling. A street with a protected bike lane also has less speeding, shorter pedestrian crossings, less lane-shifting and more predictable movements for drivers, and the opportunity to add more trees and plantings. Injuries to pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and car passengers drop wherever the new designs go in. And on the East Side, these improvements have been paired with dedicated bus-only lanes with camera enforcement, making service more convenient and attractive for thousands of bus riders.

At 11 minutes, this is one of our longest Streetfilms. We cover a lot of ground here, and we hope it’s illuminating no matter what side of the issue you fall on.


Gary Toth:  [00.14] So here we are standing in Times Square where you see a lot of activity, you hear a band playing behind me, you can see people sitting out, having a coffee, chatting, catching up with friends, and it sort of seems natural, even on a cold blustery winter day here where it’s 40 degrees in New York City.  All of these are the kind of type of things that wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago because there wasn’t enough room on the sidewalks in this great attraction that people come from all around the world to see.  It was pretty much dedicated towards cars. 



Brad Lander:  [00:41] It’s important to remember that as much as some people drive that fewer than half of all New Yorkers own cars so we need to make the city that works for commuters, for drivers, for cyclists, for pedestrians, and for folks of every age, for young, for old, for in-between. 


“Gridlock Sam” Schwartz:  [00:54] When we look at people that are going into city planning and people that are working as city managers, they’re beginning to think differently about how cities function, and they’re not thinking that the highway is terribly important for central business districts. 


Gary Toth:  [01:10] It’s okay to keep a couple of high speed roads like the Brooklyn Queens Expressway to keep us moving around from one part of the city to the other.  But it’s not okay to tune every one of our streets for that purpose.  And so the work that New York City is doing in spots like this is helping bring back more life to the streets, and the rest of the neighbourhoods around city and around the country that are moving towards this approach are also going to benefit. 



Mel Wymore:  [01:45] The first thing to note is that this is not just a bike lane, it’s what we call complete street design.  We had a very wide avenue with five lanes in it already, and they were 12 feet wide lanes.  So rather than take out a lane, we actually just kept the same number of lanes but made them a little narrower, which has the side benefit of slowing down the traffic. 


Julie Kowitz Margolies:  [02:07] Columbus Avenue before the bike lane was in used to be the width of a highway.  It’s often even sometimes still like a grand prix out there, but the bike lane and the traffic islands make it so much easier to cross the street, they’re like a little oasis. 


Mel Wymore:  [02:23] So you can see that people will come right through.  He’s a left car coming through and he’s got to wait because if he’s going through the islands and wait for the pedestrians to pass.  So really it’s helpful for people with baby carriages and strollers, older people with walkers and wheelchairs, you can observe them on a street stopping on these islands and taking a breath before moving on.


Clara Longstreth:  [02:46] When I saw that there was going to be a whole lane of parked cars between me and my bike and the traffic I was really quite ecstatic.  Before the lanes I would have avoided Columbus Avenue because there are too many huge trucks and now it’s a completely different story, I could ride happily on Columbus. 


Joy Stevens:  [03:03] At least two-thirds of our staff commute by bike everyday into the store and so it’s only helped them get to and from work, having that bike lane there. 


Christine:  [03:12] Our business is like a lot of deliveries.  It’s good for business or good for city, protect for [unintelligible 03:18], the delivery guy, and they get used to that.  It’s wonderful.  Yeah, they love it. 


Amanda Kale:  [03:23] I think especially the bikers and what I heard from the community board meeting that they need a safe placer to ride and we’ve been, like I said, all for it and we think it’s great.  All of our vendors have been able to get here and they never really have a huge problem with parking. 


Joy Stevens:  [03:35] It hasn’t affected our shipments.  We have a bus stop in front of our store anyway, so we’ve always had to be cautious about how our shipments are coming in and out of the store. 


Mel Wymore:  [03:43] Eventually, hopefully very soon, we’ll be planting trees and flowers in these tree pits and it’s a way for the community to become involved in the planting, it’s another amenity and unexpected outcome from the bike lane. 



Brian Kavanagh:  [04:02] What we have here on First and Second Avenue on the eastside of Manhattan is an attempt to really change the street.  We’ve got a dedicated bus lane.  We’ve got a dedicated bike lane.  We have some, these lanes are somewhat protected.  The goal here is basically to create a street that is more friendly for pedestrians, that is more friendly for bicyclists, and that is more friendly for traditional car users as well as commuters who commute by bus. 


“Gridlock Sam” Schwartz:  [04:25] I think complete streets are really an important reshaping of the streets so that they reflect the number of people that are being moved by each mode.  Buses move a great number of people, so providing and dedicating a lane for buses makes a lot of sense.


Robin Leaman:  [04:40] I take the Select bus over there, oh that is great.  It gets me uptown in much quicker time.  When they said they were going to get a limited… that it would come up and down these avenues quicker, I said, ha ha ha, yeah, yeah, yeah.  But the lanes have made a big difference, so they’re fast and you get on fast.


Brian Kavanagh:  [04:58] People on the eastside of Manhattan are three times more likely to commute by walking to and from work than anywhere else in the city.  The intersection just north of here is one of the most dangerous intersections in this entire corridor.  And some of these improvements are intended directly to make the intersection safer for pedestrians.


Robin Leaman:  [05:18] I love the island, the traffic’s coming out from here and they can’t just zoom around, they have to wait for you and it gives you more time to cross.  And there’s not a lot of time on this light here.  So it’s a help. 



Brad Lander:  [05:36] I support the Prospect Park West redesign and I think it’s a great example of a community driven project.  The community board asked for it both to reduce speeding and calm traffic on Prospect Park West and create a safer place to bike and to make Prospect Park West safer for all its users. 


Bill Blum:  [05:51] Back in the late ‘90’s/early 2000’s we had a big push for traffic calming, at the same time the Bloomberg administration was moving toward adding bike lanes.  When it came to Prospect Park West it seemed a perfect opportunity to combine the two, to both narrow what was a three lane, you know a race track essentially, while providing a very important link in the bicycle path system around the city.  So the Community Board [unintelligible 06:18] Transportation Committee you know jumped on that and felt that it was a worthwhile project. 


Brad Lander:  [06:25] A lot of people who live on Prospect Park West have reported to me that before it felt to them like living on a speedway.  I drive and I remember, you know, you could zoom in and out of those three lanes and there was something fun about it but it was dangerous.  And I think folks who drove it knew it and folks who lived there felt it. 


Gary Toth:  [06:43] A road like this, by slowing down the motorists’ speeds from about just under 35 miles an hour to just above 25 miles an hour, that begins to make a dramatic increase in pedestrian safety for lots of reasons.  Cars are more likely to yield to them.  Cars, the stopping distance is shorter once they spot a pedestrian on the roadway, and even in the unfortunate incident of there being an impact, the likelihood of severe injury is less at the lower speeds.


Brad Lander:  [07:08] Before the project went into effect more than three-quarters of the cars were speeding, and now it’s only about one in five.  


Joe Brennan:  [07:14] Since they put the new traffic system in it’s been fantastic.  I’m not a bicycle rider, but even without the bicycle path I like the traffic calming. 


Joanna Oltman Smith:  [07:27] We love the new bike path.  I’m out here a lot with my boys.  We live in the north slope.  We take it all the way down to Bartel-Pritchard Square, then we cut into the Park and we hit the soccer fields.  And the best thing about it is I can get home now, I never used to be able to get home.  And now we have a two-way bike lane, so it’s safe both directions. 


Tammi Williams:  [07:45] It’s just very calm and it’s very civilised.  I didn’t have to ride on the sidewalk like I used to.  I actually felt safe.  I didn’t feel like anything was going to hit me.  And other bicyclists were obeying the traffic signals and stopping when they were supposed to stop.


Josh:  [08:03] I’ll tell you that I was a cyclist and as just someone who was walking his dog all the time, I like the new design, it slows down the neighbourhood and a beautiful park, it’s a beautifully designed street, it’s fantastic. 



Brian Kavanagh:  [08:31] It’s extraordinarily important that we find ways to make our communities more accessible to all the people who want to use them, and allow for kinds of transportation in a more sustainable in the long run.


Joy Steven:  [08:43] It’s increased our foot traffic.  I mean that was something we anticipated with having the bike lane in would draw more people into the stores just because it’s more accessible.


Dan Burden:  [08:51] As New York is changing its streets where people drive in a more civil fashion, it just brings out even more people who walk, more people who bike, more people who don’t get in a car.


Tammi Williams:  [09:03] Cars are not bad.  I mean they’re very useful but I think the changes are better for the city.  I think it promotes people to be healthier.  We need people to be healthier.


Mel Wymore:  [09:12] The protected bike lanes are part of a broad vision of a city that is friendly to more than just automobile.  And it will take time for people to become accustomed to sharing the streets in this new way. 


Gary Toth:  [09:25] We’re also beginning to restore the streets as places that we once saw in our great neighbourhoods from 50/60/70/100 years ago.  And this is important because it helps make the local economies more vibrant, it makes the neighbourhoods more enriched, but also it returns people to the ability walk and bike around. 


Joe Brennan:  [09:42]  People have countered, they’ve said there’s problems for people who live in the area who have cars.  There maybe inconvenience but I think you have to sometimes trade off inconvenience for safety, and safety is paramount. 


“Gridlock Sam” Schwartz:  [09:56] For the most part what [unintelligible 09:57] looks for is a story and a story that things are going well just doesn’t make it to the headlines.  But if people are complaining, and people complain about almost anything, it will get itself into the newspapers.  But I can tell you from my point of view, and I’m the Dear Abby of traffic, if a driver has a complaint, they will write to Gridlock Sam.  I haven’t been getting complaints.  No complaints about First and Second Avenues, no complaints about the 9th Avenue or 8th Avenue bike lanes.  So the drivers seem to be adjusting to it.  I think we’re moving almost as many people in cars as we moved before. 


Robin Leaman:  [10:39] You can see the bikes coming.  Watch them.  Watch them.  Oh it is much more visible.  You can see the bikes, you can see the cars.  The only thing you have to do is not to just step out because you see an aisle here and when the light’s against you, that’s very important, people have to learn that.   


Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • CrankMyChain!

    Complete streets. Complete video. Well done!

  • Dan Burden

    Brilliantly executed film about an equally well executed transformation of one of the world's greatest cities. As an outsider to New York, having made my first trip there in 1966, returning every several years, I now see an aliveness, a vitality, a happy spirit emerging with this myriad of wheels, people sitting, reclaiming parks and streets; re-creating place and experience. This film, and these collective treatments release children, allow living in place, and allow the human spirit to soar. Jane Jacobs (Life and Death of Great American Cities) would want to be at the head of the pack to celebrate with you. Bravo and viva New York!!! Dan Burden

  • Edpino

    It is not about the Bike! It is about the people and traffic calming. Great job Clarence. Please send to Ch 2 WCBS

  • Harlem

    Best video so far. Excellent job Clarence!

  • Gil Penalosa

    At a time when NYC is
    inspiring cities all over the world to create “cities for people” all of the
    sudden some people focused on their private interests come out in defence of
    the car. They are supported by “civic cadavers” who had done little of the city
    but suddenly revive to oppose any action when someone else does it.
    Actually we need a
    Janette Sadik-Khan in every city around the world, a “doer” who finds solutions
    to the problems and not problems to the solutions.

    Congratulations Streetfilms
    on a timely video. Beautifully done, interesting and useful.

    It clearly shows that it
    is not about bike lanes, but rather about creating a vibrant NYC with healthy
    neighbourhoods. Sustainable mobility includes pedestrians, cyclists, transit
    users, and cars. It is about mobility for all, young and old, 8-80 Cities.

    Gil Penalosa, Executive
    Director, 8-80 Cities, Toronto, Canada

  • Dr. M J Miczak

    I've been on the bike path downtown at Chelsea Piers and noted not only bikes but rollerblades and nearly anything else with wheels. Yes some businesses are complaining about loss of revenue due to lost parking even when they are situated nowhere near a bike lane. Yet as someone posted these are the individuals who focus on their own benefit rather than that of the community. To be fair one of the store owners in the film, Patagonia, said that many of their employees bike to work. It should be disclosed that this company sells bicycle apparel and equipment.

  • Helen

    Awesome film with compelling reasoning. Support from politicians, transit folks, residents, moms, businesses and kids. Way to go for covering all the bases!

  • Jeff

    I like the comment that pedestrianized spaces like the new Times Square "feel natural".

    Yesterday, a foreign tourist walked up to me and asked if there were any "plazas" nearby. I asked what exactly she meant, and she explained, "You know, a place where I can kind of sit down and eat and take a break for a bit". This person is obviously not familiar with the DOT plaza program and all of that good stuff--rather, she simply took it as a given that this type of urban environment would come complete with such spaces.

  • Clarke

    Would love if they would bring some of this to Delancey Street. It's like trying to bike or walk across a highway on/off ramp. It NEEDS a road diet desperately. It's scary and dangerous.

  • http://twitter.com/thejoelepstein Joel Epstein

    Great film! Makes me want to move back to NY or bring more of what you are achieving here to LA. See our efforts to reopen a shuttered park.
    You wouldn't believe the foot dragging we're getting. Thanks for inspiring!

  • http://karenlynnallen.blogspot.com/ Karen Lynn Allen

    Thank you, Streetfilms, for helping us all re-envision what healthy communities look like, one video at a time.

  • Complete Streets for All

    Now if we could just get 8 million New Yorkers to watch this, maybe the press would finally give up their idiotic tirades and realize that by opposing this kind of street design you are against safe streets for children, families, seniors and cyclists.

  • Sharonnyc

    great job, Clarence, as usual - and so timely!

  • Chris

    I'd say we need to go beyond 8 million New Yorkers to get 300 million Americans to see it! Great job crystalizing a story that sounds impossible until you see it and hear it.

  • Magdalena

    Great video!!! Any chance you have this video with spanish subtitles? Would be great to share it more widely here in Chile...

  • rlcSP

    Congratulations NY! This is an example for all big cities

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonathan.kinobe Jonathan Gordon

    Amazing job, Clarence. I always feel hopeful after watching your videos.

  • David Runco

    Excellent Clarence!


  • http://spifflines.blogspot.com/ John Bailo

    Great vid and I will show it around....it did remind me though of just how amazingly horrible traffic in Manhattan is/was...it always seems amazing that the city with the most "transit" on earth still has "racetrack" speed avenues...

  • http://profiles.google.com/martinmiller.au Martin Miller

    Yes, another great video from Streetfilms. It is interesting to compare the excellent video about physically separated bike lanes a few years ago to this video now and compare the difference.

    I guess you have seen the changes for those living in New York but to see more women cycling and with children just shows the difference that good infrastructure makes.

  • David

    Thank you! Coming to a city near you, right? How about Washington D.C. too? This short almost made me cry. As an avid cyclist in the D.C. Metro area, I dream of a day where cyclists (pedestrians, strollers, walkers, runners et.al) can travel safely without fear of being hit, injured or worse killed by vehicles and drivers unaware or unable to share the road.

    Congratulations...it was great to watch. I will pass it on.


    Bethesda, MD

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.


    How incredibly spot on you should say that.  Today I was talking with a Dutch tv station that is coming to NYC to do a documentary on how far NYC has come.  I told them to watch our physically separated bike lanes video and see what cycling conditions were then and follow that up with this film and a few others.


  • Peter

    What is happening in New York is really important, because like it or not, New York city serves as an example to cities all over the world. The mistakes that have been made over the last century have been repeated all over the world. Hopefully the fixes taking place now will be too.

    I live in Switzerland, which is already quite good when favoring alternative modes of transport. But like everywhere, there is always a certain percentage of car fanatics and until now they've been using the US and cities like New York as examples that our policy of favoring other modes of transports is wrong, harms the economy, is not modern, etc. Well, now they can't say that anymore. Thanks New York! And thank you Streetfilms for getting the word out!

  • Andy

    This is great! The City of York UK has a new administration that is committed to lower speeds and this film shows what can be done in a term of office with determination to give our streets back to the people!  

  • Dr. Gene Bourquin

     If only this worked well for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.  But the new spaces are so poorly designed for accessibility that it's been a disaster for blind folks.  As these changes happen, without our input, they become long-term nightmares.  The detectable warning surfaces installed wrong, the new signals inaccessible because of a lack of APS, and the bike lanes now channels of dangerous silent vehicles --- I wish these changes and their advocates listened to all pedestrians..

  • Dr. Gene Bourquin

     If only this worked well for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.  But the new spaces are so poorly designed for accessibility that it's been a disaster for blind folks.  As these changes happen, without our input, they become long-term nightmares.  The detectable warning surfaces installed wrong, the new signals inaccessible because of a lack of APS, and the bike lanes now channels of dangerous silent vehicles --- I wish these changes and their advocates listened to all pedestrians..

  • Lyndsey Beutin

    great job, streetfilms! do you guys realize the real, tangible impact you've had on this city? and all in four short years. new tag line: streetfilms makes shit happen.

  • Gary Powell

    Interesting comment about blind people. They too need to be considered. As a bicyclist I would be horrified if I hit one.

    What has been great about this video, is that Seattle is working on it's 10 year Master Plan and having examples of what works "should" help the city avoid the mistakes of others and do the right thing the first time.

    As for Patagonia being a business that benefits from bicycle traffic, in a "free" market economy, the others will adjust as well to the needs of the people on their street. Same as carriage makers and buggy whip makers did when the automobile showed up.

  • Tiziana Argiolas

    @Peter:yes Peter you're right when you say that N.Y.City can be a positive example for all over the world! Everybody think to N.Y. as a too crowded city but times are changing and Newyorkers have to be proud to be like pioneers! I hope things will change in my town too. 

  • http://twitter.com/IanBrettCooper Ian Brett Cooper

    "A street with a protected bike lane also has less speeding, shorter
    pedestrian crossings, less lane-shifting and more predictable movements
    for drivers"

    ... and at least twice as many cyclist deaths. It's a fricken win-win!

    Please stop uncritically applauding these dangerous facilities. Almost every study done on bicycle infrastructure has concluded that we are far safer on the road.

    Your transportation engineers have decades of experience in dealing with cars. Bikes, not so much. Bicycle infrastructure has been designed poorly at best. So the experience the transportation engineers have is in inventing different dangerous infrastructure every few years because they have no idea what is actually safe for cyclists.

  • Thishasgottabeajoke

    are you kidding me?

    what should come first, making the city that never sleeps more like a European country, or keeping up the city flow that defines us as new Yorkers?

  • Rudy

    What "twice as many cyclists deaths" is this referring to? Does the "...we are safer on the road" refer to children and grandchildren who are avid bicycle riders as well? Are they required to ride alongside 3,000 lb.+ moving autos, buses, and trucks between communities? I look at studies simply as guidelines. I've ridden for 60 years in and out of traffic, as well as bike paths.  Given a choice for my grandchildren and me, I choose the separation from vehicles, and judging by what I've seen so far, more people appear to cycle when they feel safe. My viewpoints only.

  • mahdi

    I'm preparing an article that requires a comprehensive street information
    please If I film and photograph ... To satisfy this need, and if I send it?

    Sincerely, Mehdi Qayydrhmty Iran 

  • Doug

    Its maddening to hear about complete streets and NOT hear about Green Infrastructure. These streets are not complete until the trees are planted and the stormwater is managed.