14 March 2008

Complete Streets Article

I thought this first paragraph was relevant to the Edison film I posted a couple of days ago. In the film, the sidewalks were extremely wide. I'm sure if you went to that street today, you would see a standard 12' sidewalk with metered parking on both sides and the rest given to auto traffic speeding from stoplight to stoplight.

The first drivers in New York City found themselves in an unfriendly landscape. Cobbled streets, narrow roadbeds and a lack of traffic controls weren’t suited to expeditious movement by automobile. For a time, drivers contented themselves with carving out small niches in the urban fabric, but with money, political muscle and an aura of inevitability, the automobile lobby eventually brought about a program of wholesale curb-to-curb reconstruction. Up came the trolley tacks, down came the elevated trains, gone were the broad sidewalks of a great city of walkers — all in the name of a grand design. It was this street-by-street repurposing, just as much as the construction of highways, that reshaped New York’s streets around the car.
For four decades, activists for greener, safer NYC streets have scrounged at the margins of this automobilized streetscape. A few feet of traffic lanes converted to bike lanes, the occasional sidewalk extended to relieve a dangerous intersection — all important changes, but all within the context of streets that serve cars, first and foremost. But what would our streets look like if they were redesigned, building-to-building, to first accommodate walkers, bicyclists, the disabled and surface transit? The days of living at the margins are over: the Complete Streets revolution has begun.
A Complete Street is foremost a reapportioning of road space. Other than restrictions requiring 20 feet of roadbed for fire trucks, the space between buildings is malleable. At present, we give over the lion’s share to cars, usually with parking along either side and one or more lanes for travel in the center.
Today’s “incomplete” streets serve essentially one purpose: the expeditious movement of cars.
Understanding car traffic as part of a streetscape, and not its sole function, is the foundation of a Complete Street.
This type of design first serves the most vulnerable populations like seniors and children, and then builds the street from their needs up. Once a design has cultivated space where walkers and other non-drivers can move, it is time to create space for them to linger and interact.

....Returning the public space currently resting under parked cars and snarled traffic to the of service pedestrians, to walk or linger, is the last piece of the puzzle to making streets whole.

.... Sidewalks must be about more than moving pedestrians; they require space to sit, to comfortably walk side by side and to accommodate the disabled.

Read the whole Brooklyn Paper Editorial

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