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!
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.