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Street Lessons from a Blizzard (with sneckdown!)

Tonight I found something on my computer that we never posted. A real curio to publish 16 months later as we head into Summer 2007.

Back in Feb 2006, as the largest ever recorded NYC snowfall (26.9 inches) was winding down - although I'll bet we had some doozies during the Ice Age! - I popped outside with a camera to try to capture some traffic calming, transportation and livable streets lessons.

One caveat: with our new DOT commissioner and Mayor Bloomberg's ambitious 2030 initaitive, I would not make some of the same comments today. And I realize my "everybody can take the subway" soundbite is a stretch, but check it out - I think you'll find some merit as we present a StreetFilm from the cutting room floor!


[intro music]

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:16] Hi, it’s Clarence from the Open Planning Project. Today’s February 12th 2006 and it’s a big day in New York City history because I believe we’ve gotten close to two feet of snow in Central Park. And as the snow’s slowly starting to taper off, I thought I’d bring my camera out here and show you a lot of lessons you can learn about the streets and the environment of New York City on a snow day, things that hopefully will enlighten people on a day that it’s snowing like this. Of course one of the most valuable lessons is how quiet it is in the city without cars, or at least fewer cars. Today you can walk around, it’s absolute solitude. You can hear yourself think, you’re not tense, there’s no sense of danger. There’s a sense of playfulness, a sense of calm and wellbeing and Zen and this is something that we don’t get to experience very much in New York City, and something we should be able to more. One of the things in the aftermath of a snowstorm that you’re likely to see are naturally occurring neck-downs or sidewalk extensions. And you can see those right here, right there where that gentleman’s crossing, there’s snow that comes out and that covers part of the roadway. And once again, here too. There’s about four feet that has been extended via the snow bank that makes the sidewalk a little bit bigger. What that does is it shortens the pedestrian crossing time. So you have naturally here an extra couple of feet that has now been added to the sidewalk on both sides. And the interesting thing is that, you know, the DOT always says that these kind of things are impossible to do in a lot of neighbourhoods, even some communities don’t like… don’t favour them. But yet here you have neck-downs and sidewalk extensions that will last for at least a few weeks after a major snowstorm. As you can see the cars are able to turn here, they have to turn slower, but they’re able to make this turn. So there’s no reason why you couldn’t reclaim some of this space for neighbourhood greenery or for pedestrian space. So here we are standing on a more quiet neighbourhood street and I want to show you how clearly marked the neck-downs are even on this street and how they would work. Over here you can see there’s plenty of space available. All that space is not used by the cars and this, once again, is a place to extend the sidewalk to make the crossing safer for pedestrians. It couldn’t be more clear with the black top exposed at how little space the car really needs to get through this area, and that the rest of the space could be used for pedestrian and open space. Well here we are in the subway system in the second worst snow day of New York City and the subways are still running. I mean it leaves a lot to be said, and also it leaves a lot to be said about how much do we really need cars. We have a transportation system that can function in the most inclement weather. I mean everybody could take the subway to get to wherever they need to, and I’m going to take it right now. Imagine the potential for how much more public space we could have in New York City and the five Boroughs, and how much of a positive that would be for the city and for the people that lived here and what it would mean to their families and what it would mean to their neighbourhood and their health and wellbeing. And this is just something that we really need to look at. Would it hurt to shut down every third or fourth street in New York and make it a public space for people with trees and playgrounds and places to get to know your neighbours and have community meetings? I mean, you know, it’s the kind of thing that people imagine but it could definitely could happen. So it’s getting a bit dark so I’ve come to the end of my snow tour here. I hope I’ve enlightened you with some of these intriguing ideas that I believe that snow can show us. And these are the kind of alternative means of which we have to show our city that we need more green space, we need more safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists. And most importantly, we need a very sane transportation policy.

http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/

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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