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John Petro

NYTimes Headline Says Beware: City is becoming more pleasant

I read the headline in today’s New York Times with alarm: “Closing on Broadway: Two traffic lanes.”

“There must have been some sort of terrible accident,” I thought, “or maybe a manhole cover explosion, or a King-Kong style attack!”

But after reading the article, I found that instead the headline could have read more like this: “Changes on Broadway to Increase Access for Bicycles, Create Public Spaces, Add Greenery and Amenities: Changes contribute to cutting pollution, oil-dependence, obesity, and making life in the city a little bit better.” A bit wordy for a headline, perhaps, but more fitting.

New York City’s Department of Transportation is changing the layout of seven blocks in Midtown Manhattan along Broadway, from Times Square to Herald Square (of Macy’s fame). The changes include a new separated and protected bike lane and pedestrian islands complete with landscaping and street furniture.

The article quotes Barbara Randall, the executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District: "I’m envisioning it as a public park on the street." Sounds nice.

The changes on Broadway are encompassed by a national movement called Complete Streets to take streets back from automobile dominance. Complete Streets are those that provide for safe and comfortable access and movement for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets allow those who choose to walk or bike to safely use the existing road network, thereby increasing the utility of the network.

Right now, people in most communities have little choice in how they get from Point A to Point B; they can either take their car or face inhospitable and unsafe conditions for walking or biking. This is a shame because 40 percent of all car trips in the US are fewer than two miles, an easy eight-minute bike ride. Easy, that is, only if we have streets that can accommodate bicycles. Otherwise, people will stick with their cars, increasing pollution, exacerbating the energy crisis, and missing an opportunity for exercise.

Another reason we need Complete Streets is that over one-third of Americans cannot or do not drive. Most children are now driven to school, by car or by bus. An Associated Press article showed that, “In 1969, about 90 percent of kids who lived within a mile of school walked or rode bikes to get there. In 2004, just 48 percent did that at least one day a week.” In one New Jersey town, a group of high school students that raised money for a bicycle rack at the school refused to allow the rack to be installed. The principal of the school explained in a letter, “Because of the danger on Garretson Road, it does (not) make sense, in my opinion, to promote the riding of bicycles to school.”

In 2007, Seattle addressed the city’s need for Complete Streets and passed a law requiring that every new road project incorporate Complete Streets principles and accommodate bicycles, pedestrians, and transit users. Other cities have changed their transportation plans and design manuals in order to better facilitate alternate modes of transportation (for a list of cities and states with Complete Streets policies, see

The benefits of Complete Streets are clear. What’s more, with gasoline prices ever on the rise, the need for alternatives to driving has never been higher. Hopefully more cities will begin looking at all modes of transportation in their planning and incorporate Complete Streets.

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Posted at 2:28 PM, Jul 11, 2008 in Cities | Environmental Justice | New York | Transportation | Urban Affairs
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