Today is the fifth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. For some thoughts about that, click here.
THE BROAD crossroads where Wall Street and Broad Street come together is a beautiful space, fully the equal of medieval European plazas. Today, post-911, it’s closed to almost all traffic, because the New York Stock Exchange sits at the southwest corner of the intersection. A few weeks ago, it was the symbolic center of the NYC DOT’s Shared Streets Lower Manhattan, when one Saturday afternoon 60 blocks were designated “shared spaces,” where “Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles will share the historic streets of Lower Manhattan and motorists [were] encouraged to drive 5 mph.”
When Americans talk about shared space, someone will often say, “We’re not Amsterdam.” Well, parts of Nieuw Amsterdam / New York City make a good place to start shared space experiments. Eighty per cent of Manhattan residents don’t own a car, and only twenty per cent of Manhattan workers commute to work by private car. Then add the fact that many streets in the Financial District have restricted access: some streets are only open to residents or workers employed on the street; while other streets have tank barricades and are only open to emergency and delivery vehicles.
In the real Amsterdam, 85% of the streets today have s speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 mph), and the other 15% have a top speed of 50 kph (31 mph). On the slower streets, pedestrian and cyclist have as much right to the street as cars and trucks, and may be anywhere on the street at any time. All of the detritus of traffic engineering—bold stripes and arrows painted on the pavement, large signs, colored bus lanes, and the like—is missing, and at the intersections, there are no stop lights, stop signs, yield signs, or crosswalks. Motor vehicles must be driven at a speed that successfully allows cars and trucks to stop for pedestrians and cyclists in the intersection.
That is “Shared Space.” That is the spirit behind the experiment the DOT tried out on Saturday, August 13, and what it hopes to try again in the future. I hope they will and therefore I make Broad Street my Street of the Day. Some of the my notes on that continue below. Continue reading
First they came for the pedestrian plazas, then they came for the Desnudas.* But the Times Square plazas that cover a few blocks of Broadway seem to have survived. And even though the plazas are full of tourists shopping at tourist traps, New Yorkers love them. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Sadik-Khan.
Since 80% of Manhattanites don’t own a car and at least 75% of all New Yorkers love the street design revolution brought by Mayor Mike and his DOT Commissioner, why was the survival of the plazas ever in question? Because we all grew up in the age of the automobile and our streets are still controlled by traffic engineers, who were all taught in school that their job is to make traffic flow fast and smooth, like water in a pipe. So the evolution of the revolution can be slow. Seventh Avenue still sends a torrent of cars through Times Square (see below) and sometimes makes even The Crossroads of the World seem like an auto sewer—but the revolution is happening! Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.
* If you’re not a New Yorker, you may have to Google this.
VESTER VOLDGADE, KØBENHAVN (“West Rampart Street, Copenhagen”) is interesting both for its current condition and and its original state. It’s called “Voldgade” because like the boulevards of Paris, it was built where the old city wall stood (the French word “boulevard” comes from the word “bulwark”). As in Paris, allées were planted on the old ramparts, but in Copenhagen the result was different.
Parisian boulevards became tree-lined, symmetrical streets (planted in patterns composed of squares, the landscape architect Douglas Duany has pointed out). In an old photograph of a section of Vester Voldgade then called “Filosofgangen” (Philosopher Path), we can see that there was a street next to the tree-covered ramparts, with all the trees on the rampart side of the road in what looks like a naturalistic planting.
Photo courtesy of Galina Tahchieva @ DPZ
ALMOST ALL STREETS IN PARIS now have speed limits of 20 or 12.5 miles per hour (30 or 20 kph). The rue Norvins in Montmartre was already slower than that. Why? Not because of a city-set speed limit or police enforcement, but because of the natural design speed of the street.
The narrow roadway, the poor lines of sight, the rough cobblestones, the unforgiving stone bollards at the edge of the street, the lack of traffic signs (there’s only one, which limits cars to those belonging to residents between 3 pm and 2 am), and most of all, the free-range pedestrians in the middle of the street—these all produce a space that makes drivers unacomfortable driving quickly.
English authorities are introducing a number of shared space streets there. I haven’t seen most of them, so I can’t say much about the Sea of Change film that makes the proposal that new shared space streets in England are frequently unsafe for the blind and disabled. That’s obviously an important issue—if we are going to make slow streets that use slow speed and a lack of the traffic engineer’s separation of car and pedestrian to make safer streets, then we need to make them safer for everyone.
More streets posted at photos.massengale.com.
Also see Separated At Birth: One Santa Fe & One Western Avenue