“The Pedestrian Crush” on 34th & 7th Avenue
Although there is undoubtedly an amazing streets renaissance going on in NYC, there still remain places in dire need of improvement. Heavily-used areas like the blocks surrounding Penn Station area from 4 to 7 PM on weekdays are overwhelmed with pedestrians making their way home to via a network of subways, NJ Transit, the Long Island Railroad, Amtrak and catching myriad buses. The sidewalks are so clogged by this "crush of humanity" that people are forced to walk in the streets. If you've never seen it or fear claustrophobia, get ready.
Our Executive Director Mark Gorton recently went out to the sample the atmosphere on a typical weekday commuter night and posits that we can do much better in our choice of allocation of street space. His words sum it up nicely:
The reason it's so crowded here is not because there's not enough space, it's because we give all of our space to the least spatially-efficient form of transportation available.
Of course he is referring to the automobile, especially the single-occupant vehicle. Oddly enough, I did a PSA over three years ago which aired during our initial NYCSR campaign launch. I filmed most of it in the same location. And it still looks much the same, perhaps worse.
Mark Gorton: [0:01] The automobile is a space hog, and the rest of us pay the price. Look at it. There is a demonstrated need for much wider sidewalks. Why? Because it's 10 people wide having to walk in the street! [0:14] I'm standing here at West 34th and Seventh Ave, and it is just an unpleasant place to be. We had a hard time finding a place to stand to just even talk. And just think about it. There are people, every day, just have to go through this crush of humanity. And you say, "OK, New York's a big city. It's got a lot of people." But the reason it's so crowded here is not because there's not enough space. It's because we give all of our space to the least spatially efficient form of transportation available.
Mark Gorton: [0:54] The people that are here, most all of them got here on mass transit. This is a mass-transit crowd. It's a mass-transit place. It's a mass-transit city. We're here near Penn Station. We're here near the subway. There's great accessibility to this location.
[1:09] Right now, the explicit policy of the city, that has accumulated over 100 years of policy making decisions, is to consciously try and promote automobile usage and suppress human activity, because there is a fight for space. You've got little kids. Think about what it's like being a little kid. It's not just the cars. It's the people. You're going to get stepped on. As a parent, it's not even safe to bring your kids here, just because it's so crowded. We've made our streets hostile, toxic places for people.
Mark Gorton: [1:47] Do you think anyone likes walking in the middle of Seventh Avenue, with all this nasty traffic and the honking and the buses and the danger? People don't want to do it. They're doing it because they're forced to do it. As a society, we tolerate this. We tolerate incredibly crowded, dangerous conditions.
Mark Gorton: [2:12] What we have here can be fixed in a day with action from the DOT, like we saw over in Herald Square. These sidewalks can be wider. You could just put out some temporary cones as a start. Paint the ground, a few barrels, a few planters. Bam. It doesn't have to be like this, because we have made a decision, as a society, to try and cram as many cars onto our streets as possible. It is very easy to make policy decisions that get rid of the cars.
[2:38] However much space we will give to cars, they will take. People will selfishly take it because we give it to them. Right here in the middle of New York City, if you had 16 lanes, you'd have 16 lanes of cars. If you have two lanes, you have two lanes of cars. It is that simple.