AAs an emergency response to the pandemic, the banning of cars from certain New York City streets left unexpected space for pedestrians, restaurant tables and children playing. A campaign supported by the city’s new mayor is now aimed at permanently disposing of vehicular dominance and preserving these new outdoor paradises.
The alternative vision for America’s largest city calls for 25% of its street surface to be converted from car use to walkable pedestrian plazas, green space, bus lanes and dedicated bike paths by 2025. The campaign, dubbed 25×25, has now also been taken up by activists in Los Angeles, indicative of how some Americans are questioning the long-standing primacy of automobiles amid a wave of bicycling since the start of the pandemic.
Cities should consider a formula of “space minus cars equals quality of life,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. The group, which leads the 25×25 campaign, cites the climate crisis, air pollution, the death toll from car accidents and community cohesion as pressing reasons for handing over space from cars to people.
“If you live in a place where buying a car and spending $10,000 a year on car-related payments is your only way to get by, your leaders have let you and your kids down,” Harris said.
“Using streets to easily move and store cars is not optimizing that space. We are just blinded by the auto industry and the belief that we should put an SUV in every garage.”
With its densely populated neighborhoods, heavy use of public transportation, and a majority of households without cars, New York City seems like an obvious source for car-free space.
And yet, according to Transportation Alternatives, three-quarters of street space is reserved for cars, with 10 feet of free parking along New York’s roads, more than one spot for every car in the city. Millions of pedestrians have to cross narrow sidewalks that are often hampered by the city’s infamous tendency to leave bags of trash along the curb.
“Right now we give most of New York to cars – but imagine sidewalks were bigger, if you could ride a bike or quickly take the bus wherever you want, if you didn’t have huge piles on every street. waste,” Harris said. “As New Yorkers, we consider ourselves tough. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in filth, or fear death or injury every time we cross the street.”
The plan, which would create the equivalent space of 13 Central Parks to be used for 500 miles of dedicated bus lanes, 500 miles of protected bike paths, new safe dumpsters and widespread community use of pedestrianized roads, was supported by Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, who stumbled through car traffic on his first day at work in January and promised to make the city greener, both figuratively and literally.
“These are our streets, and it’s about riding, skateboarding and hiking,” Adams said last month when he unveiled a new $900 million plan for the city’s 6,300-mile highway to improve intersections and improve bike paths and bus lane infrastructure. . “You know, this is a good place to shop, sit down, spend time and just enjoy the outdoors,” he said at the announcement in a Brooklyn plaza.
Campaigners hope to expand and anchor the reinterpretation of street scenes that took place in the early stanzas of the 2020 pandemic, where temporary barriers were placed on some streets to block cars and ensure social distancing for people. The program, called Open Streets, has since blossomed in 150 different locations in New York, creating a dose of common European urban space on streets previously packed with cars.
“People really embraced the idea. It’s essentially created a park space where people can gather, teach kids to ride a bike, and so much more,” said Carlina Rivera, a New York City Councilor who introduced the first Open Streets proposal. Rivera is now pushing for the introduction of a “superblock” — a cluster of city blocks where street space is shared and non-resident cars are banned, made popular by Barcelona — in her Manhattan borough.
“This current imbalance of space is not serving us as it should,” she said. “There shouldn’t be this supremacy of vehicles in a largely car-free city whose inhabitants rely heavily on public transport.”
Views of transportation among New Yorkers can often seem contradictory – the city has one of the largest subway systems in the world and the most walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods are the most desirable, and yet the car congestion is so bad that the average traffic speed in Midtown Manhattan is less. than 5 mph. Congestion pricing has been bitterly fought over, and vocal auto proponents have successfully thwarted efforts to ban vehicles from the city’s two major parks, Central Park and Prospect Park.
The Open Streets concept was initially met with resistance from a number of restaurants, fearing the removal of parking spaces would deter customers. Plans to make permanent the most celebrated of the Open Streets, a mile-long avenue in the Queens borough, have been attacked in Facebook posts and via a small protest march by residents seeking the cars back.
“My daughter sees people drinking and smoking weed,” Gloria Contreras, co-founder of the protest group Resisters United, said in October. “I moved to 34th Avenue because it was a nice, quiet residential area. I never had the problems I have now.”
This kind of desire for unobstructed access and space for cars is common in the US. This year, in Texas, a plan by San Antonio to shift some lane space from cars to bike paths was halted by the state government, while in Florida, Miami passed a regulation requiring developers to build more parking spaces.
“This is not a pedestrian and bicycle city,” said Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes. “We don’t have a public transport system, period.” Parking occupies about one-third of the land area in U.S. cities, with about eight parking spaces for each car nationwide.
The Joe Biden administration has tried to encourage public transportation and has even floated the idea of tearing down certain highways, but is still handing out $350 billion to states to improve and expand roads for car use. The president, meanwhile, is also in favor of introducing electric vehicles to reduce emissions from planetary heating rather than phasing out car use itself.
Allies say this is the most appropriate approach to climate change, given many Americans’ fixation on driving ever-larger cars, and even 25×25 campaigners admit it will take significant time and investment to see a major cultural shift where cars are common. are regarded as equivalent, or even inferior, to other modes of transport.
“The number of large SUVs and light trucks being sold now is unsustainable and deadly. Every day we work with families who are just standing on a bus stop or trying to cross the street and their whole world is being destroyed forever,” he says. Harris.