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Room To Breathe: NYC

Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) gathered a gaggle of cyclists on 42nd Street in Manhattan to stage a dramatic visual that shows how much street space is gained if more people rode bicycles or took mass transit instead of driving personal cars.

"Room to Breathe" is borrowed from a poster featuring a dramatic series of photos taken by Portland's Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) in the mid-1990s. There have been numerous permutations over the years in myriad cities, but this is the first we have documented in NYC.

In this StreetFilm, you'll get a little sneak peak into how this event was staged and hear from volunteers and T.A. staff on why spatial efficiency is so important to the livable streets movement. T.A. aims to have the poster available by Summer 2007.

Room to Breathe overhead

[intro music]

Paul Steely White: [00:12] Welcome to the trial run of car-free of 42nd Street.

All: [00:17] Yay.

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:20] Today we’re out here on one of the most famous streets in the world, 42nd Street and Transportation Alternatives has assembled a large group of people to recreate one of the more iconic photographs in the alternative transportation realm. The series of photos is called Room to Breathe, and what it does is it shows cyclists and how little road space they take up as compared to a car. So there’s a lot of the staff of Transportation Alternatives out here, volunteers and participants in the photo. So we’re going to go behind the scenes and talk to a lot and see why they came out and what they think about this experience.

Kate Edmundson: [00:53] New York City’s at a time when we really need to be stressing how much room we take up in the street because the traffic is horrendous and we want to represent that. And the way other cities have done it is through this great visual comparing, you know, bicyclists in a street to this mess of traffic. I think the effect will be pretty dramatic.

Speaker: [01:11] I’ve always loved their poster that shows the difference in space, public space, that a bicycle use versus a car. That’s why I came out this morning and I’d love to see more people on bikes in the city, and maybe that’ll convince them.

Speaker: [01:25] A photo actually tells a little story. If we stage it right it’s actually… it really carries a message. It’s not an in your face sort of message, but it makes your brain’ll work.

Speaker: [01:35] When I found out about it, I definitely wanted to be here, you know, to show the cab mixing with cyclists because, you know, that’s what this is too, it’s a bicycle.

Kate Edmundson: [01:43] In just a second we’re going to get our bicycles and move up a little bit into the block. We’ll get all set up, we’ll see how it looks through the camera, probably make a few adjustments and that should be it.

Paul Steely White: [01:54] Everyone knows that bicycling is great for health and for the air and lessening our dependence on foreign oil. But a lot of people aren’t aware that bicycling is also very spatially efficient. So if more people biked, we could actually re-programme a lot more street space for parks and greenways and more bike lanes.

Speaker: [02:12] The pedicab, the little cab should be on the front with you.

Kate Edmundson: [02:15] Several other cities have done something like it and we wanted to do our version of New York. BTA in Portland has a really good version, also called Room to Breathe.

Speaker: [02:24] When I was a volunteer for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon, I saw this poster on the wall that they had done, and it was really neat. Just to look at it and think about what it meant, to see the difference spaces that different modes of transportation took up, and now to be a part of something like that is really, really neat also.

Speaker: [02:43] I think it’s very exciting. I think we’re really going to show the spatial efficiency of bicycling. I think it’d be a groundbreaking day for New York City.

Mark Gorton: [02:50] In a city like New York where space is at a real premium, bicycles are a much more appropriate technology than cars.

Speaker: [02:57] I think we’re starting to reach a sea change, unfortunately it’s coming with a sea level change, but I think people are starting to grasp onto it. DOT is starting to consider it a mode of transportation that they’re supporting.

Speaker: [03:09] It makes the city much smaller, much easier to get around. It’s a lot of fun.

Speaker: [03:14] I didn’t start riding in the city until I was over 40 and one of the things I like about bicycling is you always get a seat.

Speaker: [03:20] It’s a lot safer than people think. I think it’s getting better and better all the time, and I think Transportation Alternatives deserves a lot of credit for that.

Kate Edmundson: [03:29] Thanks for coming everybody.



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://bta4bikes.org Evan Manvel, BTA

    If anyone's looking to get a copy of the BTA poster, here's where to do that.

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  • NYC Biker Chic

    Well, I guess I wished I had volunteered for the shoot now. Great visual.

  • TC

    It's important to be able to physically illustrate your point sometimes and this does so effectively! Bravo!

  • Clarissa

    It's nice to see New York doing a visualization like this. I second TC's point that physically illustrating

  • Clarissa

    Whoops, pressed the wrong button before I could finish my sentence...

    What I meant to say was that it's nice to see New York doing a visualization like this. Seconding what TC said, physically illustrating a point is important--we are a visual culture, after all, so this might help folks understand some traffic issues in a new and different way.

  • mork

    I can't believe how much space we're giving away for free to cars!

  • Chandra

    I hope that this piece gets out into the world in a big way because the message is so big. I have sent the links of several other Streetfilms to the moms group I'm involved in and will definitely send this one on. I think a lot of people are just oblivious to the points made here.

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