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Contested Streets: Breaking New York City Gridlock

Produced in 2006 as part of the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign, Contested Streets explores the history and culture of New York City streets from pre-automobile times to present.  This examination allows for an understanding of how the city --- though the most well served by mass transit in the United States --- has slowly relinquished what was a rich, multi-dimensional conception of the street as a public space to a mindset that prioritizes the rapid movement of cars and trucks over all other functions.

Central to the story is a comparison of New York to what is experienced in London, Paris and Copenhagen.  Interviews and footage shot in these cities showcase how limiting automobile use is in recent years has improved air quality, minimized noise pollution and enriched commercial, recreational and community interaction.  London's congestion pricing scheme, Paris' BRT and Copenhagen's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are all examined in depth.  New York City, though to many the most vibrant and dynamic city on Earth, still has lessons to learn from Old Europe.

 

[music] 

Speaker:  [00:58] To be fully dynamic the American city must now accommodate the automobile.  This is the vital factor of our new age. 

 

[music] 

Speaker:  [01:12] And our progress is certain to be steady as we clear away the structures that block progress. 

 

[music] 

Mike Wallace:  [01:48] New York City was then, as it is now, a vast and variegated terrain, so it really depends on where you are in terms of what kind of streetscapes you had.  But certainly the Lower East Side, and Lower Manhattan in general, which was the locus of population then before the subway arrived and things kind of spread out a bit, was spectacularly crowded.  It was in the last part of the 19th Century/the early part of the 20th it was probably the most densely populated place on the face of the earth, more than Bombay.

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [02:26] Now the Lower East Side, Orchard, Hester, Essex, Delancey, those kinds of streets, first of all there are no cars.  But the streets are crowded anyway, we have pushcarts for peddlers, you have shop owners who have moved out onto the street, you have the street being used as kind of a pedestrian walkway.  Remember that there’s no air-conditioning, there are no screens, there’s no indoor heat, there’s not much indoor plumbing, so almost everybody who could wanted to be outside on the streets.  So you look at a picture of the Lower East Side 100 years ago, you’re looking at people, a lot many people in the street, around the street, buying things.  But the street is not being used for really vehicles, horse drawn or whatever, moving quickly, because that’s really a pedestrian folk street in which horse drawn vehicles can move, but slowly. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [03:16] Little kiddies were playing in the streets and they had them divided up, so the boys would play stickball over here, the girls tended to stay on the stupes, you know, grandmas would lean out the window and watch the action, there was a lot of kind of informal surveillance going on.  The streets were an extension really of private life. 

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [03:38] And I think what’s unusual is when we describe the Lower East Side, they got the huge crowds and poverty at the turn of the century.  When you actually talk to people who think back, especially as children, they have fond memories because they had so many other children to play with.  Their parents just moved them outside during the daytime, nobody worried about the streets, come on when I shout out the window.  Everybody kind of took responsibility, so children had their own kind of world that was in some ways safe.  I mean was it hard?  Yes, but they had lots of kids to play with and they invented games.  So it was no wonder that those older people who remember poverty days in the old cities remember them as great fun.  They remember the kids when they played whatever kind of games that they played, they remembered them wistfully. 

 

[music] 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [04:28] Well I think we need to remember that the automobile was seen as the salvation of the city.  That at the turn of the century people saw the horse as the enemy because the horse took up space.  In other words, if you can think of what a truck can carry, a horse and a wagon took up more space than that.  And the horse usually dumped ten pounds worth of manure on the streets everyday per horse times a 100,000 horses, that’s a lot of manure. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [04:57] Something like 2.5 million pounds of manure were deposited on the street everyday and 66,000 gallons of urine.  And when it kind of sits there steamy fresh, flies gather around and sort of help perpetuate disease.  But when it dries out it kind of pulverises with all of the wagon wheels and such and it floats up into the air and people ingest it.

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [05:24] Plus if a horse dies, it just lies on the side of a street with its leg sticking out attracting flies and vermin.  So at a time when you had horse manure and dead horses all over the city, you could see why some said golly the cars clean and it’s efficient and it’s powerful.  They hadn’t seen pollution, they hadn’t seen the cost in human lives at that time, and you could see they saw a wonderful future. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [05:51] As late as 1900 of the maybe 8000 cars that were registered and owned in the United States, probably just about a majority of them were owned in New York City and they were owned by rich people.  They were owned by corporate executives, wealthy professionals and the like.  And it becomes the thing to do.  So John Jacob Astor says earlier in the century, it’s quite the thing now for a gentleman to have a, as he says, stable of cars.  But this is a city which is singularly ill equipped really for them.  The roads, it’s true, are kind of nice and flat, but on the other hand, they’re also full of people.  And so it’s not surprising that what you get are a series of clashes over access to these streets.  And people in fact are run down.  As the Automobile Club, which was founded in 1899, is in the midst of this kind of battle over access to the streets, and it’s just a year or so later that the first really nasty incident takes place when a Wall Street broker is being driven down to his work by his chauffeur and they run over little Louis Camille, a two year old Italian lad, right in the middle of a densely populated Italian neighbourhood.  And people go wild and they try to lynch this guy and his driver.  I mean he’s rescued.  But it’s the first really of many such encounters.  Hundreds of children begin to be sort of knocked off. 

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [07:20] I mean how many times have you thought well I have the right-of-way but this person doesn’t seem to realise that, therefore you don’t take the right-of-way.  And you can see that that’s magnified earlier in the century when the rules of the road have not been so firmly established.  We now have rules, but the rules were still being negotiated a century ago. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [07:38] There’s a great deal of friction then at the beginning around the arrival of the automobile.  But this is going to change for a variety of reasons.  One of them is, is that fairly quickly, in 1908, the Model T Ford arrives, the price of cars begins to come down, they are more substantially made, they’re less required to have a chauffeur and bigger segment of the middle class begin to get automobiles, so there’s a lot more of them on the street.  But it’s also that the city begins to orient itself around the automobile in a variety of ways.  Like the 1910’s, certainly about the 1920’s out in Brooklyn or in stretches of the Bronx where the mass transit lines don’t go, you’re beginning to get little small houses now popping up with garages and with driveways.  And so the very definition of living in residential neighbourhoods is now being transformed to incorporate automobile use.  And that struggle over whether or not as the city expands farther and farther out from Manhattan, whether or not it’s going to be organised round mass transit or round the automobile is the greatest struggle now that takes place in the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s and essentially the automobile wins. 

 

[music] 

Speaker:  [08:59] This is Manhattan, business centre of New York City and heart of the city’s life.  Millions pour into the area everyday to work and shop, to buy and sell, to manufacture clothes, to run banks and brokerage firms, to handle imports and wholesale goods, to load and unload ships.  But where do all these people come from and how do they get here? 

 

Mike Wallace:  [09:35] When we think about the auto mobilisation of New York, the name Robert Moses leaps to mind, as well it should, but it’s a bit overstated I think.  The highway system, the massive arrival of concrete roadways, they’re being driven straight through various communities which is generally taken correctly to be this massive assault on the urban fabric by the forces of the automobile, I think is overly personalised when we sort of lay it all at Robert Moses’ door.  There were very powerful forces at work that were involved in this transformation and they precede Moses, certainly in the 1910’s, and then by the 1920’s with the emergence of the Regional Plan Association, this is an organisation of the city’s leading developers, insurance people, bankers and the like, and they have a vision of the future of the city. The vision that they’ve got for New York’s future is very largely organised around the distribution of population.  They have a vision of Manhattan, the future of Manhattan being freed from these old industrial uses, the factories and the working class which services them, the port [unintelligible] shore man which work on them, the dirt, the disorder, the political upheavals, the Labour Unions.  Nah, we want new, modern, clean, banking, finance, real estate, but also the media, radio city, the new bow ideal, Madison Avenue, we want Manhattan reserved for these kinds of uses.  So we would like to shovel the other ones off to the outer boroughs and shovel off most of the working class with them as well.  But then you’re going to need them because they’re also your workforce, they’re the clerks who are going to come in and work in your banks and the like.  So you need a transportation system.  And many of these folks thought that in fact the auto was the way to go.  And you know in the 1920’s plans are laid down for circumferential road that circumnavigates all of Manhattan, the series of highways and bridges that leap the rivers on both sides and then a network of highways that extend out into the outer terrain.  And in large measure what Robert Moses does, and he does it with federal money, is to in fact pour concrete on the dotted lines which have been laid down by sort of many other people. 

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [12:16] I think the problem for those who love New York is that here is the most important person really who ever lived in New York in the sense that this man’s vision and view of what the city should be has probably been more important than anyone else’s, essentially saw the city as a transportation problem.  Now it’s how do we move people around rather than in a Jane Jacob sense?  What makes a neighbourhood interesting or fun or vital?  That’s not what he was thinking about.  He was thinking about something entirely different, I guess how to get people to a beach or to a suburb or something else.

 

Speaker:  [12:55] And so we see that the main job of transportation in a city is to carry people between three points; where they live, where they work and where they play. 

 

Speaker:  [13:11] I am privileged to present the winner of the Grand National Award, Moses of New York.

 

Mike Wallace:  [13:17] Moses is not named General Motors Man of the Year in the 1950’s repeatedly for nothing.  There are very powerful forces that are, to sum them up quickly, the automobile industry, the rubber industry, the steel industry, the oil industry, which in fact are making the mass production and distribution and use of automobiles one of the linchpins of the modern American economy.  If that’s going to be the case, you must have the arterial network in fact that makes the mass use of these automobiles possible.  And that’s what Moses is really about.  And he does have a grand vision and it’s a vision of flow and circulation. 

 

Speaker:  [14:01] Every large city has a problem of unusually heavy traffic during rush hours.  As a solution, many streets are one way.  Others have restricted parking zones and parking buildings keep cars off the street.  To supplement the existing routes, big express highways have been built to carry cars at high speeds directly to and from the heart of the city.  Day after day, year after year, this constant cycle goes on, the rhythm and pulse of the city. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [14:39] The fantasy that they’d had in the 1910’s that the car is going to rescue the city from the gridlock which often took place with the horses and chaos and crowding on the streets was of course a fantasy because now the cars produce their own form of spectacular form of congestion.  And Moses gets into this process which has got no end and we’re kind of in the middle of, that every time there’s a blockage somewhere in the arterial flow of things, he’s going to build a highway and when you build the highway, well then, more people pile onto the roadway so you get congestion again.  It’s not a problem, I’m going to build another highway right over here, or if one bridge doesn’t do it, you know, well we’ll build another bridge.  You know, it was a madness of sorts.  There’s concentration on keeping things moving on a grand design.  And in his case I don’t think it was just simply personality, although certainly that was part of the story, but it was this conviction that the movement was the thing, that in fact the life blood of the city was the circulation that of commodities and people and workforces and anything that stood in the way, like people who happen to live there, was an obstacle. 

 

Speaker:  [15:56] To be fully dynamic the American city must accommodate the automobile.  This is the vital factor of our new age.  The forward looking city is conscious of the automobile and automobile traffic has key factors.  Often the substance of our urban structures is such is to resist the power of the demolition hammer.  As a people however we are steadfast as we tackle problems and our progress is certain to be steady as we clear away the structures that block progress. 

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [16:27] And so Robert Moses really thus changed the city and when you look at the map of everything he has built, or did build, in terms of roadways, it is astonishing.  In some ways it’s dismaying to think that the man who did more than anyone else to build New York in the 20th Century actually didn’t like cities.  And I think you have to say he did not like cities.  Though if you say for somebody who likes cities, a person who likes to walk on the sidewalk, who likes to see other people, who thinks of the city, the street as a place to move slowly and not fast, that’s not what Robert Moses thought. 

 

Speaker:  [17:07] With the development of new sources of power and faster transportation there will be new problems to solve but New York, like all progressive cities, is studying and planning today to provide the arteries for tomorrow through which flow the life blood of the city. 

 

[music] 

Fred Kent:  [17:36] New York has been dominated by a one-dimensional approach to its streets, it has become increasingly oriented towards the car.  It’s all about moving cars faster through a given place and that is anathetical to the communities that make up New York.  New York is a city of great communities, of great neighbourhoods.  As you put more traffic through it, it begins to diminish that. 

 

Majora Carter:  [18:01] The hierarchy here is industry commerce, which means trucks.  And then you’ve got cars, because this is a car culture.  I mean we’ve done a lot of damage I think to our people in general all over the country in terms of that.  And then I think bikers and walkers are both pointed are like at the bottom of the barrel, it doesn’t really matter because they just tend to get in the way. 

 

Tim Tompkins:  [18:22] When you say what’s the difference between great cities and mediocre cities around the world, and it has to do with the quality of the public spaces, because how else is your opinion of a city shaped except by your experience of walking down the street. 

 

Kathryn S. Wylde:  [18:37] Congestion is a real issue on the streets.  It’s a real issue in our subway cars because we haven’t really expanded our system, our subway system for 60 years and it’s obviously a problem in the streets where traffic, we often feel like we’re paying to stand still when we’re in a cab or burning gasoline in the city streets.  So we’ve got a major congestion problem. 

 

Tim Tompkins:  [19:02] Ten or 15 years ago in Times Square, it was a matter of safety and it was a matter of cleanliness.  First of all the streets were just sort of filthy, and second of all it just wasn’t safe or wasn’t perceived to be safe walking down the streets.  Now the number one issue is congestion.  When we asked people, we did an online survey of the people who work in the neighbourhood, and we said what would be the biggest reason that you would choose if you were going to leave the neighbourhood, what would be the reason?  68% of them said congestion. 

 

Paul Steely White:  [19:30] Certainly in the last several years traffic congestion is just getting worse, you know there’s more development, there’s more up-zoning, and there’s more travel demand.  And the system is quite frankly becoming overloaded and I think our quality of life here in New York and also the extent to which we attract investment and talent is going to be really severely compromised unless we can get our act together.

 

Kathryn S. Wylde:  [19:55] New York’s competitive advantage really is its high talent pool, its workforce and their productivity.  And we market New York as a city where productivity is why you should move here.  We cost more, it’s tough, it’s a regulatory environment that’s difficult for business, high taxes, but we‘ve got the most productive workforce so you make it all up.  Now an environmental impact study was done about two years ago that was looking at lost productivity because of congestion, and the estimate was a $2 billion price tag associated with the congestion problem and things have only gotten worse since then.  So it’s going to be increasingly difficult for New York to market itself as a place where you can get the most done in the least period of time with the best workforce if in fact we’re not able to solve the congestion problem. 

 

Sam “Gridlock” Schwartz: [20:50] Scientists are beginning to say well if we know the day of the week, we know the day of the year, we know the probability of crashes in the system, we can actually provide some prediction on how the day before Thanksgiving is or the day after Christmas is going to be.  What I’m afraid of is we’re going to know more and more and more about traffic while we’re sitting in more and more traffic jams.  We’ll just be smarter about it, but big deal, if you’re so intelligent about traffic but you’re not moving.

 

Majora Carter:  [21:21] The system does not work well right now and so it’s clear it’s broken, you know, but again for the knee-jerk reaction is to fix it with more highways as opposed to well actually like let’s kind of be creative about this and think about what our best case scenarios and other parts, you know of the country and other parts of the world.

 

Kathryn S. Wylde:  [21:40] The city has added jobs.  In the last years we’ve added 700,000 people, which is the size of the city of Boston in the last ten years to New York City’s population.  The Mayor is projecting economic development strategy that’ll add 250,000 new private sector jobs in the next five years, 167,000 new housing units.  So we have a huge development programme laid out before us and the question is, how are we going to meet the increased demand on our already overstressed streets and sidewalks and mass transit system?  It’s going to be tough.  Something is going to have to be done. 

 

Majora Carter:  [22:19] We cannot continue to go on the same path that we’re on right now, that’s just… it’s not sustainable for the world’s greatest city, you know, to be as openly hostile, you know, as it is to pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure. 

 

Fred Kent:  [22:31] So if you start thinking about the human side of a city and you start planning for that human side, you would have a very different city than we do now.  But no-one is thinking about the pedestrian, no-one is thinking about streets as public spaces, and so we sort of slipped into this kind of traffic dominated polluted, uncomfortable, noisy, unfriendly reputation as a city. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [22:57] We’ve got to be able to get to the point, something that in fact enhances complexity, that enhances flexibility, that enhances individual mobility, that frees us from spaces.  Cos the automobile, you know, it just doesn’t work. 

 

[music] 

Jan Gehl:  [23:22] It’s really wonderful to live in a city where everyday when you wake up in the morning you realise that today the city is a little bit better than yesterday.  I’ve had this feeling now for almost 40 years. 

 

[music] 

Jan Gehl:  [23:51] The story from Copenhagen is interesting about the bicycle.  What happens if we make more invitation for bicycling, if we make a good infrastructure for bicycling?  What happens over five, ten or 15 years more and more people get the good idea that maybe it’s smart to bicycle.  We have seen this increase so that now one-third of the commuting to work in this city goes on, on your bike, one-third with public transportation and one-third in private cars.  That is why we are the city in the western world which has least traffic in any big million city of all of them because the bicycles are carrying such a great weight in the total traffic picture. 

 

Soren Elle:  [24:37] Every man in Copenhagen, every woman in Copenhagen uses bike every day.  It’s a normal way to transport yourself.  Not making noise, not making pollution, it’s fast and it’s very cheap.

 

[music] 

Stine Gronkjar:  [24:53] I use my bike on a daily basis either to go, if I have to go somewhere I take my own ordinary bike or if I have to go with my son and then I have like this special bike that has a box in front of it where I can put him and he can sit and, you know, just enjoy the scenery when we go from like one end of the city to the other, and it takes like half an hour.  And we just, you know, get some exercise and some fresh air and enjoy the ride. 

 

Hjalte Z. Olsen:  [25:26] You become part of a life that’s going on in the street.  You stop and you meet friends, you stop at a café, you can sit inside your car and just take your car, it’s more like an A to B thing.  It’s just… it’s transport, whereas a bike is also more like a travel, it’s kind of a… a travel experience against the city every day. 

 

Jan Gehl:  [25:48] We are standing now on one of the major arterial roads leading out of the centre of Copenhagen and it used to be a fall in road with buses and traffic congestion and lorries and the whole hoolaboo.  Now it has been reconfigurated.  They have taken lanes from the automobile traffic and given them to the bicyclists and given them to more smooth traffic system.  So here you have the bicycle lanes.  When you have space you can make parking but you will make little islands so that you can narrow the gap you have to walk when you have to cross the street, you have a median and then you have a line in the other direction and the furtherest away you have a bus lane which meets up to the bus stop over there.  So when the bus stops, and there’s a bus coming now, it can just go into the side and deliver its passengers and the traffic can smoothly continue on its way.  And when everything is made up about this street, it has the same capacity as before, it has slower speeds and it’s much safer. 

 

Hjalte Z. Olsen:  [26:59] It’s like the biggest or the strongest and it has the first right, it’s always first the pedestrian, then it’s the guy on the bicycle, then it’s the guy on the scooter, then the guy in the car and the guy in the big truck is the last in the hierarchy. 

 

Soren Elle: [27:12] We used to have 120 people killed in Copenhagen traffic 30 years ago.  And now we have between 12 and 15.  But still we have maybe four dead cyclists at the end of the year, that’s too bad.  We have to try to do more about it but it’s hard to get it to zero, this number. 

 

Ragnuld Espenes: [27:35] I wouldn’t think of buying a car because you don’t need it, because if you have a bicycle here in Copenhagen it is like driving a car because the road has been built so you have a special street for the bike and also like the lights and everything, so you have to follow the main traffic rules if you are biking.  So you don’t need it, you know. 

 

[music] 

Lars Engberg:  [28:11] Pedestrian streets, that’s good business for the shops and the department stores and so on.  That’s what they think that’s what we think.  So you won’t find resistance towards pedestrian streets from the trade, from the shops and so on.  You wouldn’t find that. 

 

Jan Gehl:  [28:32] If you take a closer look at Copenhagen, the first pedestrian street was made already in 1962 and that was one of the first major pedestrianalisation schemes in Europe that was sort of at the very beginning of the whole moment of taking an interest in public space, right here in Copenhagen.  And there was a furious public debate, it would never work in Denmark, we are Danes, we are not Italians, we will not come out, we will not walk, we have no tradition for urban life and whatever, and all the businesses would go broke. 

 

Lars Engberg:  [29:06] There was enormous resistance from the shops.  But experience shows that they didn’t lose sale and that was actually a good thing for them also. 

 

Jan Gehl:  [29:17] And some of the business men who yelped the highest for 40 years ago now would pretend that they got the idea in the first place.  This is just one of the many streets which has changed dramatically here in Copenhagen.  Until 1980 this was a parking lot for 96 cars.  They were standing next to each other with the front to the water.  Then these parked cars were taken out and the traffic was taken out, it was turned into a people street and has become a tremendous success.  On any day, especially in the summer, you will see a fantastic life here.  Sometimes even almost too much, too popular.  That’s, if you don’t have enough nice spaces, you can see these overcrowded these spaces but then you should just make more spaces.  This street is, it’s quite interesting because this street is not a pedestrian street, it’s not a traffic street, it is what we call a pedestrian priority street.  That means it’s paved from wall to wall with nice pavement, but it is open to pedestrians and to bicycles and to cars.  The bicycles can go through from one end to the other.  The pedestrians can go through from one end to the other, but the cars, they have a one way street which are turned so that you can only go over one sector at a time but there’s no through traffic of cars.  Only those who really have something to do here, come here.  And you have this wonderful rather nice mix of people walking and bicycling and a car sneaking through from time to time, but always in eye contact, he’s pretty scared of running into somebody so he’ll go very slowly.  And at this point we are more flexible about not being so fundamentally stick about pedestrian or traffic, but now we sort of experiment with in-between with a higher degree of integration of the various modes of traffic.  I think if I should give some advice to a city, it could be any city in the world, that is to try to take the people in the city seriously, more seriously.  Just as seriously as we have been used to taking traffic of cars.  All the cities have these traffic department get all these data all the time about traffic, they know everything, but when it comes to people in the city, we know, most cities know nothing. 

 

Lars Engberg:  [31:53] So have a goal like, well like introducing bicycling in New York, and carry it through and then I think, I’m sure it’s going to be a success and I’m sure that the reward will be the politically speaking at the next election. 

 

Soren Elle:  [32:11] It’s worth using money in investing in bicycle systems.  It’s small money compared to car, to road investment.  We did that in mid 80’s, it was a good part of our traffic 20 years ago, we have doubled it.  So you can invest in this sector of traffic and make it grow. 

 

Jan Gehl:  [32:37] They never put out a big master plan, let’s make a lot of pedestrian space, let’s make a lot of bicycle lanes, let’s take a lot of parking out of the city, let’s narrow all the traffic streets.  Never, because if you did that in one plan, you lose the election right now, because nobody would believe it would work.  What they’ve done in this city is that they’ve taken little steps every year for 40 years and there’s a fantastic difference between what it was then, what it is now. 

 

[music] 

Antoine De Bievre:  [33:25] The Paris Institution is very special.  You have a lot of people, density very high, one of the most elevated in world.  And you have second [unintelligible] very bottom, you have a very powerful car industry.  So in Paris it’s very difficult to be very harsh on car.  So what Bertrand Delanoe is doing is taking the place out of the cars and giving it to buses and to pedestrians and to bicycles. 

 

Cecile Gruber:  [33:59] I think that we have here an intention to develop our space in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, to develop a common space for all of us, in particular for those we have excluded in the past.  Also it is an intention to recover with this new common space the simple pleasures of experiencing the city and also a sense of togetherness. 

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [34:25] What you are seeing here is something that is being reclaimed in a visible manner everyday.  Delanoe is Mayor of this limited space which is something like half a dozen miles across, think of it as a circle, in diameter within which two million people live and he says we’ve got to be able to get a lot of the cars out of there.  Once we take the cars out, people are going to need to get around in other ways so it is developing new transportation options for them or making the ones we have better, faster, clearing road space for them so they can move more quickly through traffic. 

 

Corinne Lepage:  [35:00] Paris belongs to a global network with large cities, like New York I suppose, and there are exchanges of good practice between the cities.  We try in Paris today, like in many other European cities, little by little to eliminate car transportation altogether. 

 

Antoine De Bievre:  [35:19] The intention to making car use decrease is to give more place to other means of transportation, especially buses.  The challenge is to make them go faster and even to make them going faster than the car.  So Paris has invented this concept of protected lanes for buses and the plan is to realise 30 or more very rapid lanes.

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [35:55] This is one example of this worldwide movement of bus rapid transit or metro bus, it has many different names.  And this is the way we’re doing it in Paris.  What you can see is that the street has been divided into three main zones.  On the sides are two lanes which are for car traffic and motorcycles, same thing on the other side.  And in the middle there is a dedicated lane which is above all for buses, but also for our taxis and cyclists, you’ll see cyclists continuously going by here.

 

Jean-Luc Perez:  [36:31] And so last summer they build in the middle of the street, like there’s two lanes now for buses and the bikes, so the bikes have their own space.  We can think maybe its dangerous because sure we are still riding close from the buses but they are probably like respectful, driving slowly, staying behind you when you are there.  You can see this kind of bike riding and this guy is not stressed out, he’s just riding peaceful.  So now it’s easier now.  And the cars are on the side and we are protected. 

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [37:01] Now what you’re going to see is you’re going to see an example of how this BRT system works.  As the bus moves into park very often you’ll see the taxis themselves will swing around the bus, they’ve decided not to do that, but the cyclists are swinging around.  And again that bus has at least 100 people in it, so it’s the equivalent of 90 cars. 

 

Antoine De Bievre:  [37:24] When you ask the people living in the suburbs if they will be okay to leave the cars, they say yes, if you give me good buses with metro.  And that is the challenge.  And it’s one of the policy of Bertrand Delanoe is to make better metro, the buses.

 

Cecile Gruber:  [37:46] Do these changes affect the regions directly?  I think so because I think that our behaviour changes with the mode of transportation we choose.  In a car you cannot stop to have a chat with someone whereas walking encourages human encounters and exchanges.  Of course then it will affect relationships between people.  We are trying to create new events and opportunities for people to reclaim the streets because public space is first a space to exchange, to meet and we want to give people opportunities to organise events.  All the bigger events like Paris Plage are intended to give out for public space and new function.

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [38:29] What’s interesting about Paris Plage is that it’s part of this greater whole.  This is a creature of which the Mayor has been behind and made happen.  Essentially what happens was that they decided to remove a significant transportation access from its transportation function and turned it over to a people function, for a month each summer. 

 

Corinne Lepage:  [38:55] The sand embankments are a symbolic place for Parisians, symbolic of the history of the city itself.  There was a lot of fighting 35 years ago over President Pompidou’s decision to transform the riverbanks into highways.  Of course it is an easy mode of transportation for automobiles, but the idea of creating Paris Plage came from the desire of the Parisian people to reclaim the riverbanks. 

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [39:24] And essentially what you have is car infrastructure with the people talking and lounging and making use of it as a public space, part of a reclaiming of a river, which is still too dirty to swim in, but we can be optimistic that with enough time they will also be able to swim in the Seine and so this is a sort of a bet for the future.

 

Cecile Gruber:  [39:50] Paris Plage was part of the more global policy coming from a political decision to give the Seine back to Parisians.  And in the future, when we have managed to reduce traffic without impacting the economy negatively, we will be able to, I hope, move on to recover all the riverbanks in all boroughs along the Seine.

 

Antoine De Bievre:  [40:10] The genius of Bertrand Delanoe, who is a man of communication, has been to organise something very happy and the people came.  Now the challenge is to make last Paris Plage not one month but 12 months a year and it’s the plan of the next term of Bertrand Delanoe.

 

Frances E.K. Britton:  [40:33] So he has decided that he is going to at least lay the base for a city in which people have a shot at life, spending a lot less time in their cars and a lot more time around people. 

 

Antoine De Bievre:  [40:46] If Bertrand Delanoe succeeds it will be a big change, historical change, after one century of car domination. 

 

[music] 

Robert R. Kiley:  [41:13] Well urban streets are the life blood, the arteries if you will of the urban body, so the nature of the streets, how they’re used, how they’re regulated, how those regulations are enforced, how people are encouraged who might not otherwise think of the streets being friendly, to use them more aggressively, cyclists for example, or walkers, are important questions for us.  London is not thinking about building any new roads for a long time to come so what’s here has to be exploited in a much more creative effective fashion. 

 

Patricia Brown:  [41:48] Cities across the world are presenting themselves as places for people to come and visit, to come and invest in, to set up headquarters and we’re no different.  We are aggressively marketing ourselves both as a tourist destination and an investment destination.  And I think it’s that argument which has actually turned around a lot of people in their thinking towards the importance of the public realm over the past four or five years. 

 

Councillor Simon Milton:  [42:14] Over the last five years there’s been a definite shift to understanding the importance of the public realm and street activity as part of what goes into making a city.  And the two key drivers are to make it clean and safe so that people are more attracted to spending time out on the streets.  There’s also been quite a strong shift in policy emphasis towards the needs of the pedestrian at the expense of the needs of motorists, and that’s led to things like the congestion charge. 

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [42:41] We introduced something called congestion charging here in London which was designed to reduce traffic flows into the centre of the city, as well as to reduce congestion.  Congestion is down as a result of that by some 30%, and traffic flows are down 15%, which is a boon to those who must drive.  Now of course those who must drive are paying a £5 charge to get into the city, think of $9 in the United States for a similar arrangement.  The congestion charge itself is based on camera technology, some 800 of them, which essentially get multiple images of your license plate as you come in and that’s matched against the records of who’s paid and who’s not paid and everything kind of flows from that. 

 

Moses Orere:  [43:27] I started driving a taxi about five years ago.  Well I think it’s good, you know it’s good for traffic, no doubt.  We have less traffic, you know, in the daytime, Monday to Friday makes, I can get from A to B, you know, a lot quicker than it used to be.  So yes, it’s good, it’s good for London. 

 

Councillor Simon Milton:  [43:51] What’s happened with the congestion charge is that fewer cars are coming into the congestion charge area, so that leads to an improvement in the general feel of the place, it allows you to use road space for other users like buses and cyclists.

 

Hestor C. Brown:  [44:07] What’s happening in London is fascinating and moving around London has improved immeasurably in many areas.  Certainly within the congestion zone people are walking, people are cycling, the number of cyclists has gone up enormously.  And people are very in favour of using the bus now. 

 

Stephen Joseph:  [44:25] The package in London that the Mayor has followed had many ingredients to it.  Apart from congestion charging a principle one has been to massively improve and invest in the bus service as something that could bring short term wins.  There’s been a huge expansion in bus use, there’s also been expansion in bus lanes.  And then with the congestion charge, the buses, particularly ones running through into the central area have become much more reliable.  Bus journey times have fallen.  And the success of this has been a modal shift away from car to public transport. 

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [44:46] The number of people who actually we were going after of the million who come into the city everyday was around 30,000.  We wanted to get, we strove to get 30,000 people to change from the automobile to some other way to get in.  That’s not a very big number.  Only 100,000 people are coming in by automobile everyday to begin with, so we were looking at getting roughly 30% of them to change the way they did things. 

 

Patricia Brown:  [45:21] One of the things that we’re anxious to deal alongside our local authorities is to work with Transport for London to work out where the cars have been taken out of in the sort of lesser congested areas, how we can actually use that space for the benefit of people on foot and on bike.

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [45:37] Cycling is on the increase here, it’s more than doubled number of cyclists since I arrived here about four and a half years ago.  We’re trying to encourage walking.  London is a walkable city.  There are lots of things to see.  Most people of course walk because they have a destination in mind and they have things to do, they shop, they go to appointments, they go to work, and London is situated in a way where it is possible to walk.  Now it’s not always the friendliest city to pedestrians and that we’re worrying about and trying to concentrate on.

 

Councillor Simon Milton:  [46:11] I think in London we’ve woken up and realised that we have some fantastic public spaces that we simply weren’t exploiting in a way that will benefit everybody.  Trafalgar Square was a major scheme which we supported and that has created a huge piazza in the centre of London which has become a great venue for performance, for exhibitions, and a place just to meet. 

 

Patricia Brown:  [46:33] Trafalgar Square has been incredibly important in helping London think differently about the way we use space.  None the less it was not an easy ride to get to the point where it looks so successful today.  It was ten years ago, over ten years ago since it was first proposed and there were certain factions in the city that didn’t want to see it go forward because it was actually going to slow down the vehicle journeys a bit.  And I think that cuts to the heart of the debate really because there is a vehicle lobby which is very strong and they feel that they have the only right to expeditious movement in Central London.  But if we can’t have a world class space in the middle of Central London, then I think that is very poor for a 21st century city that needs to be promoting itself and should be planning itself as a city that is for people, not for the motorised vehicle. 

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [47:28] I find that New York and London actually have quite a lot in common.  They’re roughly the same populations, they’re both enormous economic centres to huge financial services centres.  Between the two of them it’s hard to think of a third city anywhere in the world that even compares to them.  So it’s no accident that Londoners and New  Yorkers travel back and forth a lot, not just because each city is interesting to be in, but because they learn a lot from each other. 

 

Patricia Brown:  [47:58] Whilst I know that New York has some amazing things around the Hudson River and river parks over recent years, I do think however New Yorkers could look at the example of London and the work that has been done to open up its river frontages, particularly south of the river and the area around Tate Modern through to the London Eye, and the way people are using the space and giving them a different perspective on their city and really making them value their city more.  And that’s been particularly helped by the development of the Millennium Bridge, which has really shown a latent demand for walking.

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [48:37] I think one thing I should emphasise for those faint of heart in New York who might shudder at the thought of plunging into some of these thickets, is that just in the four years plus that I’ve been here we’ve achieved a major change in that public transport use is now up 4% and automobile use is down 4%, and I think it’s the only city in the world actually that is in that position, of there having been an actual shift from automobile use to public transport use. 

 

Patricia Brown:  [49:08] In terms of congestion charging, I think what that has done has given a strong message to cities across the western world that the road is a [unintelligible] good and therefore we have to have some way of making people feel differently about the way they use it.

 

Robert R. Kiley:  [49:26] Change is always a problem.  Now we were fortunate enough to have done a pretty good job of implementing the congestion charging and so it actually worked the way we thought it would.  And since this was really the first time that anything like this, at least in this part of the world, had been tried, we didn’t have a lot of models to follow.  So we were pretty much on our own.  It worked and now we can be a model for other cities, so if New York’s focusing on this and paying any attention at all, they’ve got a good model in London to follow.

 

[music] 

Fred Kent:  [50:02] It seems to me in the course of the 20th century what we did was to lose the street to the internal combustion engine, and to rapid movement.  So the purpose is to move through an area very quickly rather than to pause and be in the neighbourhood.  And that we’ve somehow swung so far to the other side that we’ve lost sight of the fact that the road or the street can have another function and it can be about informal social interaction as much as a park can be, or as much as a front yard or front porch. I think that there is maybe a tipping point coming.  When you start listening to how people are talking about the overwhelming cars, the size of the cars, the presence of cars, I think we’re beginning to see that opportunity to tip the other way.  So I’m very excited about the future but I’m just devastated right now about the present situation in this city. 

 

Mike Wallace:  [51:03] In an odd way I think it’s a potentially a very fertile moment because the automobile’s in big trouble.  I mean General Motors is one of our prime industrial basket cases.  Now that’s a problem for Detroit and many places, but on the other hand it’s also an opportunity to transcend that network of forces which has got a lock on the old order of things.  I mean we might be at a point where the entire oil auto complex which has had such disastrous consequences for the city can be transcended in a way that doesn’t pit ecologists and environmentalists and urban visions against an industrial order. 

 

Kathryn S. Wylde:  [51:46] Old cities, cities with worn out infrastructure have kind of been stuck in 20th century thinking.  And I think we’re now seeing a move beyond that which is very positive.  We’ve got great leadership in the private and the public sector, in the non governmental sector, and I think we’re moving together in ways that we really haven’t in the past.  In a part for New York it’s been post-9/11 which really pulled people together.  So I think that’s been a piece of it for us.  But it’s also the models of other world cities that we feel so much in common with, where they’re getting it together and they’re doing great things, and we realise we can do that too.

 

Tim Tompkins:  [52:26] It’s thrilling that since 9/11 there’s been a real interest and an openness to better design, and more daring design, in some of the great buildings in some of the great places.  But there’s not still that threshold of a paradigm shift when it comes to the streetscape saying that this is as important to peoples’ fundamental visceral perception of a city as anything else. 

 

Fred Kent:  [52:52] Traffic engineer worked hard to move traffic and they’ve gotten better and better at it.  But today we don’t want that same solution.  We’re looking for a different solution.  We need a much more humanistic place approach to our communities.  And traffic engineers are in the way.  Well they can be asked to solve a different problem if that problem is defined, but no-one in New York City is defining that new problem.  And that’s what we need to do. 

 

Sam “Gridlock” Schwartz:  [53:20] This Mayor took over the Board of Education and made it a city agency.  This Mayor cleaned up the air by prohibiting a smoking in bars and every restaurant and every public place.  He’s tackled some very tough issues.  He’s the kind of visionary who could make something like this happen. 

 

Paul Steely White:  [53:41] New York actually has a lower car ownership rate than Paris, Copenhagen or London.  So in terms of the political landscape to make this happen, I think the Mayor who chooses this course for New York will have a lot of supporters.  I think this is the real political winner for a Mayor.  It’s a legacy issue. 

 

Majora Carter:  [54:03] I would love for children that are being born now to not experience what kids, you know, that are ten years old right now have to experience, which is that parents often keep them inside for fear of being hit by a truck.  I would like for them to not even know that that was even an issue growing up, and that they feel really comfortable being able to be in their own streets.  And respect the fact that if they belong to a whole slew of folks, whether they’re truck drivers or car drivers or walkers or bikers, but having a good understanding that there is a basic [unintelligible] of respect for all folks that are moving along.

 

Kenneth T. Jackson:  [54:40] The purpose of life is not to sit on top of a mountain by ourselves.  The purpose of life, the highest purpose of life that exists is to live in a situation we can see other human beings and enjoy them.  They can teach us that, not only in London and Paris, but in Spain and Germany and Japan.  I think Americans maybe slowly coming around to that as we see the cost of energy rise, as we begin to accept our responsibility for world pollution, as we try to think how do we become competitive or stay competitive in the 21st century.  We need to come up with some good ideas.   

[music]

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/bowenpayson Bowen Payson

    This was a great piece, thank you for posting this. It is also great to see that so much change has already happened in NY since this movie came out. 

  • Andy Salkeld

    It is great to see this documentary and to understand that New York has moved forward significantly since the film was produced. Jon Orcutt was recently in Leicester (UK) speaking to the Building Cycling Cultures Conference here. Delegates from across the UK & beyond took great heart from what he had to say about recent progress, on-going challenges and ideas for re-claiming New York for people from cars - People-friendly 21st Century cities are the future ... !

  • sujitjp

    Thanks to Janette Sadik-Khan.......