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.
Yes, we've done great things. Times Square is an achivement I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. Dramatic changes to places like Madison Square, Corona Plaza, and Union Square along with a growing protected bike lane network should be celebrated. I acknowledge the unbelievably hard work that brought us these improvements.
But now we need to go further. Broadway should be completely car-free from 14th Street to 59th Street. The perilous crunch for pedestrians during rush hours on the streets surrounding Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden could be greatly eased by car-free connections. I think a good portion of streets in downtown NYC south of Chambers are great candidates for no vehicles. In addition, there's the long-held dream of changing 42nd Street to a pedestrian-transit mall.
Let me provide some inspiration via Streetfilms. Above is a montage of what Montreal's Rue St. Catherine becomes for over three months each summer. Imagine that on Broadway!
In Buenos Aires, they have added an entire network of shared 10 km/h streets where people comfortably stroll alongside cars. A hundred blocks of these!
I recently visited the Swedish city of Malmö, where I walked long loops in the downtown for two hours, rarely seeing any evidence of cars.
Flashback to my 2010 Copenhagen video. Copenhagen is always looking for ways to improve, to make it safer for walking and biking. Residents and tourists flock to its pedestrian streets. Sometimes to shop. Sometimes to eat. Sometimes just to walk.
Every city has its unique set of challenges. NYC is currently laying out a Vision Zero strategy. I'd love to see a goal to implement stretches of car-free zones. If you had your druthers, where would you pedestrianize NYC?
Our newest video showing new-fangled bike stuff from Copenhagen was such an immediate hit (30K plays in 3 days!) I decided not to wait to post a "bonus" video showing the respectful cooperation between turning drivers & cyclists. Why? Well we all know the dreaded right hook collisions that happen often in the U.S. and other places. In Copenhagen they're almost unheard of which is thanks to the education drivers must go thru and the traffic safety all residents get taught while in grade school. Plus: with a bike mode share of 42% that means that most drivers are likely cyclists sometime during the week.
The primary goal of this Streetfilms swing was to visit Stockholm, Sweden and talk to residents & experts about walking, biking, transportation and livability. Also: Vision Zero, a term which has been embraced NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio as a program to cut the number of traffic deaths on the streets of New York. I was very lucky to have Mary Beth Kelly from Families for Safe Streets accompanying me and we met with Claes Tingvall, the Director of Traffic Safety at the Swedish Transport Administration. Above is that full interview, but you'll also be seeing him in at least one other Streetfilm in the near future.
The above photo is from Stockholm and is what I envision as the future of NYC protected bike lanes. Recently, they've began a trial study in Södermalm on Götgatan Street, by upgrading an older, narrow bike lane (see it to left in photo) by removing a travel lane for cars and moving parking out, freeing up a wide space for bikes, which gets crowded at rush hour.
It looks a lot like the typical NYC style Avenue except that every few feet there are small concrete barriers, something that is cheap, easily deployable and would be a nice deterrent we could use in NYC lanes.
The same street also offers something I found, well, bike-adorable (see above). Most bike travelers are familiar with the "Copenhagen left" style turns, which is rolling up to the light and waiting across the street for another green to make a left. This is typical in Stockholm. And on the same street Götgatan, they have recently installed turning wait areas on all four corners via a nicely crafted nook in the sidewalk!
Finally, I had intended to get to Malmö, Sweden for a full day since I have always heard so much great stuff, but thanks to a bad back, jet lag and a long train delay, I only got to stroll around for a few hours. But I still wanted to show what a peaceful place it is and put together this short montage of footage of my experience. I will have to go back.
Recently I had a quick exchange with a visiting cyclist who was pleasantly amazed at the "extra" space afforded bikes in most NYC protected bike lanes. He was referring to the painted zone between parked cars and the actual "green" bike lane - amazingly it's not the first conversation I've had like that. And you know if that's true among riders, you can image the consternation of the motorist crowd when it comes to examining why that "extra" space exists.
That's one reason I put together the above Streetfilm with Gary Toth many years ago. To explain why it's there and how both drivers & riders benefit from the placement. It's a great resource if you are working in a city or country with a government that doesn't get it. So use it.
And to show just how much it gets used, Friday I took the following series of photos during a ten block stretch riding a Citibike. Within less than 3 minutes you'll see exiting drivers, a mom with stroller and taxi drivers just chatting outside their car in the zones, all very typical in NYC.
I was very fortunate to be able to take a long vacation to South America and was in the cities of Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Asuncion. Of course with me a vacation can never be truly 100% relaxing when there is transportation observations to be made and I was able to squeeze in some Streetfilms work here and there. Here are some short videos and photos with commentary.
The first video above (apologies for some sound, it was a very impromptu shoot without using all my gear) is from Montevideo, Uruguay. I was very surprised to see so much bicycling and very new bike infrastructure. And also: bike share! My wife and I had a few hours to rent bikes and were able to meet up with Matias Kalwill, creator of the app Bikestorming which aims to increase urban bicycling, who took us for a very quick city loop. I thought viewers would be happy to experience biking in another country, even if not given the usual Streetfilms treatment.
Public Space Takeover! While in Buenos Aires (an official Streetfilm on their MetroBus and other transportation accomplishments coming soon) we were fortunate to capture residents flooding the Avenida 9 de Julio (widest Avenue in the world) to celebrate Argentina advancing to the World Cup final. How exciting it was to be in the middle of it as it all occurred. Instant public space by the people!
Speaking of Avenida 9 de Julio (which is where Buenos Aires' MetroBus BRT runs) coincidentally we happened to be there on July 9th which is a national holiday. They had many car-free celebrations and festivals. They had some vintage buses to check out. I grabbed the above footage for all you bus nerds out there. (more…)
This week while in Asunción, the largest city in Paraguay, I was surprised to learn the country introduced the first railway service on the content - sometime in the 1830s. But sadly, there are no longer any kinds of rail or passenger service here.
That's such a shame. Paraguay is a very poor country. For the most part its roads are choked with traffic and the vehicles on the road spew emissions that you can taste. The pedestrian environment is as bad as I've seen anywhere with horrible sidewalks and drivers who yield your right of way, um...never! For a place that frequently scores as one of the happiest places on the planet, it's very hard to get around without a car. If you don't have one, you'll be cram on the packed buses that really need to be modernized.
While staying with new relatives outside the downtown, my wife and I went for a long walk in the median of Ave Boggani, a very rare pedestrian and bike path sandwiched by fast-moving, noisy cars. Although the greenway was pretty beat up in parts, it was one of the few places to take a safe stroll and recreate.
It was along here that I found evidence that many years ago (it was said maybe forty or fifty?) that the street had a rail line down part of it. I snapped some photos when we came upon a few segments of the leftover rail tracks. And then a little further up we saw what was likely the remnants of a boarding platform, which I believed was the final stop on the Avenue. (more…)