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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

World Wide Wednesday: NYC for bikes and pedestrians

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This week we thought it might be fun to look a little into another city supposedly fighting a “war on the car.”  Many of our previous posts have dealt specifically with the startling changes going on at the typical breakneck New Yorker pace in many of NYC’s most well-known spots, including Times Square.  Shawn Micallef’s post on his visit to the Big Apple, along with our podcast interview of New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) Minister Janette Sadik-Khan has given us a taste of NYC’s enviable successes, but has left out some of the remarkably similar challenges they faced, many of which will be all to familiar to Torontonians.

Recently, the NYCDOT has come out with a Street Design Manuel, which, although it has received far less press than the Broadway public space changes, may perhaps be far more important to public space issues in NYC.  The manuel sets out the policies and guidelines used by the NYCDOT when making street and sidewalk improvements that prioritize sustainability so that independent agencies, professionals and community groups can take street improvement into their own hands.  It is hoped that the manuel will speed up the implimentation of street improvement projects, as well as giving private businesses and the broader public a larger role in city planning.

Just like Toronto, however, not everyone’s ecstatic about the changes taking place in NYC’s streets.  “Drivers furious over B-way blockade at Times Square” screams one New York Post headline from May 26.  “Dangerous bike riders run wild with impunity in NYC” is another headline from last week, as well as another from the Daily News describing drivers fuming over a car-free Broadway.  “Bloomberg’s bozo-biker boost” might as well have been copied directly from some of the opinion pieces being printed in the Toronto media, describing another mayor participating in “pedal-powered cheerleading.”

Yet, for some reason, NYC, despite all the “war-on-car-esque” talk taking place, is making giant leaps forward in its attempt to make the city more transit, bicycling and pedestrian friendly.  So what is it that makes NYC different from Toronto when it comes to public spaces?  How come NYC can close down a good portion of Times Square for non-car traffic when we can barely close down one lane on Jarvis to make some room for bike lanes?

Photo by adrimcm



  1. Ah, a Street Design Manuel. We can also have an Entertainment Guide Carlos and an Architecture Atlas Paco.

  2. From what I’ve heard (and is included in your podcast interview with Sadik-Kahn), the NYCDOT does all these things as “pilot” projects … which means they don’t need city council approval.

    Often, the public likes the safer streets and car traffic adjusts… and everyone is happy.

    Anyone know if similar “pilot” projects are possible in Toronto without Council approval?

  3. I am so jazzed about all these changes! Seriously. With improvements finally starting to happen for cycling, transit and walking, I’m excited about living in TO again. As I was cycling to work today and sucking back exhaust fumes, instead of being dragged down by it, I felt hopeful. Hybrid electric cars, more space to ride, more places to lock up. The sooner, the better. Go Toronto Go!

  4. “Yet, for some reason, NYC, despite all the “war-on-car-esque” talk taking place, is making giant leaps forward in its attempt to make the city more transit, bicycling and pedestrian friendly.”

    Transit should not be in that list. The MTA is in horrific shape, financially and physically. State governemnt bailouts have barely allowed them to continue to operate with moderate service cuts and small fare increases. Physically, the subway system is in apalling condition. Recently released figures show subway use is down about 2.5 million rides a month. Certainly the people of New York don’t find it friendlier.

    Also about Times Square. My understanding is that traffic still goes through times square, but only Broadway is closed to cars. Which is it?

  5. While the MTA is no better off than any other transit agency, the city does have some pro-transit initiatives like dedicated bus lanes and actual BRT that will be making news shortly.

    And yes, 7th Ave still goes through Broadway and 6th Ave still goes through Herald Square. However, Broadway has been closed through both, creating some very large pedestrian plazas. Nonetheless, shutting (or shunting) a major artery with only some whimpering in the tabloids is a pretty major accomplishment. The equivalent in Toronto might be shutting half of University Ave (and making the remainder a two-way narrow street) or closing a busy stretch of Queen and diverting cars to Richmond/Adelaide.

  6. re: pilot projects – they did at on Queens Quay and it was embarrassing how quickly they ripped it out again. Adam Vaughan wanted to do a pilot on King West and it was shot down faster than you could blink.

  7. Mark, if you mean the Quay to the City event, there really wasn’t much choice but to make a short term thing (as was the plan all along). The full EA process has shown just how many issues are involved in permanently de-motorizing the south side of Queens Quay. QQ may handle less volume than the streets in NYC, but with a streetcar line and south-side buildings with no other means of access, it’s more intricate. I think the more important thing is that they kept pushing forward (interestingly, working through a plan to take out a couple of lanes of traffic without attracting much “war on cars”-type press).

  8. I don’t ride a bike, but I do live in New York and I love what they’re doing. Times Square used to be unbearable, but the last few months have actually made it a nice place to be.