In the fall of 2009, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino kicked off the modern era of street design in his city, stating that ‘the car is no longer the king in Boston.’ No longer would the city welcome newly designed streets that place the needs of motorists above all. Instead, in an effort to promote smart growth, healthier living and an overall strengthened quality of life, motorists are now placed on equal footing with cyclists, pedestrians and users of mass transit in its Complete Streets approach to street design. Streets won’t simply be a way to get from one destination to another, but they would be destinations in and of themselves, serving as beautifully designed public spaces in addition to conduits.
Just as our neighbor-metropolis to the north has embraced the fact that the city needs to design and create streets that also serve as aesthetically pleasing public spaces that are accessible to cyclists, pedestrians and mass transit users as well as motorists, New York City should follow its lead and make greater efforts to kick off similar Complete Streets initiatives.
A write-up from Next American City takes a look at some of the Complete Streets projects that the city of Boston is currently developing, such as the design in Audubon Circle that will control auto traffic for safety and add bike lanes as well as benches and greenspaces that will also treat stormwater; and the Peabody Square plan that will add better connectivity for bike lanes and a plaza for outdoor cafes and greenspaces as well. While reading the piece, I realized that even though Boston and New York are two very different cities, there are many similarities between the two with regard to streets and public spaces and the design evolution that needs to take place in order to usher these cities into a new era.
Even as census data points to decreased bike ridership in New York City, the data only shows us the primary mode of transportation rather than every option the individual has, which is likely the reason that the NYCDOT has actually estimated an 88 percent increase in bike ridership in the city over the past three years. The increase has been attributed by transportation experts, among other things, to increased access to bike lanes throughout the city – people will only ride bicycles in a bike friendly city, but the bike friendly city needs to be fostered first.
Imagine what changes we would see in New Yorkers’ transportation choices with developments similar to the ones currently being designed in Boston. We can assume that with increased access to safe, modern and pleasing city streets by pedestrians and cyclists combined with more dependable mass transit, New Yorkers will begin to rely less on their automobiles while seizing the opportunity to enjoy our city a bit more. If you build it, they will come. Like Boston, New York can one day lay claim to also being a city where the car is no longer king. We just need to give motorists a reason to adopt alternative forms of transportation. To date, not enough has been done to do this.
Still, it would be unfair of me to write as if New York is doing nothing to redesign pedestrian-friendly streets. Just last week, for example, the NYC Department of Design and Construction presented its Astor Place/Cooper Square plan to Community Boards 2 and 3. The ambitious plan will create a brand new pedestrian plaza integrating the cube and the block south of it, an expansion of the plaza around the subway entrance and 8,000 new square feet of pedestrian space at Cooper Square between 5th and 6th streets. It will also include a stormwater management system, like the Boston plans do, as well as trees, benches and bike racks.
Initiatives like the Astor Place/Cooper Square plan will go a long way in ensuring for NYC what Mayor Menino is trying to do for Boston – increased access to streets where no one person is a higher priority than anyone else based on how they get around. Not only will these streets be safer, cleaner and vibrant social hubs that enhance the stature and profile of the city, but they will encourage New Yorkers to ditch their cars every now and then, utilizing the bevy of transportation options available to them.
(For more information about Complete Streets, visit www.completestreets.org)