It takes approximately seven seconds of existing in New York to realize the streets don’t really work for anyone. They don’t work for drivers trying to get places, for buses trying to move, for cyclists trying not to die, for trucks trying to make deliveries, for emergency vehicles trying to save people, or even for pedestrians. And the clogged streets only exacerbate the city’s transportation problems underground (and vice versa.) So how do you fix that, and what could such a fix mean for other American cities?
One very ambitious plan was unveiled today by New York City Council Speaker (and mayoral candidate) Corey Johnson, and it’s something that if executed could redefine the role of city streets as we understand them here—and elsewhere.
Johnson unveiled that plan today at a State of the City speech—not to be confused with the actual State of the City speech, given by the Mayor in January, that everyone forgot existed within seconds of its conclusion—which was entirely about fixing transportation.
Much of the 100-page report focuses on how to reorganize and fix the dysfunctional MTA, but a good chunk of it is about fixing the streets, too. He calls for a “Master Plan” that will fundamentally re-orient NYC streets away from cars, including:
- Thirty miles of new bus lanes per year, with every bus route having dedicated lanes, enforcement cameras, and transit signal priority (buses get more green lights) by 2025
- “Dramatically expand” the City Plaza program that creates pedestrian-only space
- Quadruple the number of pedestrianized streets by 2025
- Install at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes per year and creating a total city route network by 2030
In short, it’s a plan to center city streets around more than just cars. Buses, pedestrians and bikes would have more prominence in this huge overhaul.
The plan doesn’t come with a stated price tag, but none of the initiatives are particularly costly, especially in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars it will take to fix the subway system.
For a lot of New Yorkers, the concept of city-wide protected bus and bike lanes, not to mention actually getting a ticket if you park in one, will be new and disturbing. But New York is far behind the international curve on moving people efficiently. These proposals are actually pretty conservative when compared to what many other cities around the world have done to make their streets more useful and pleasant.
Although London, Paris, Oslo, Sevilla, and Madrid just to name a few examples have taken different approaches, they’ve all focused on pedestrianizing city centers, increasing public transportation and bicycle usage, and limiting the number of cars in city centers.
Unfortunately, the only New Yorker who seems to have not realized this by now happens to be Mayor Bill de Blasio, the one person with unquestionable power to do something about it. Instead, he has done almost nothing. His most noteworthy traffic reduction policy has been to send a bunch of traffic cops to crowded intersections to wave their arms in futility.
De Blasio has been such a lame duck on every transportation issue that, back in December, City & State ran an article asking if someone else was actually the mayor. (That someone else was Johnson, by the way.)
Although Johnson’s plan doesn’t go as far as to call for entire districts to be car-free, his speech did talk about breaking the city’s “car culture” and drastically increasing the number of cycling and bus journeys within the next five years.
Again, these may sound like ambitious goals in the U.S., but similar cities around the world are already moving on those initiatives. And if it proves a success in New York, perhaps other large American cities could follow with similarly robust plans to allocate more street space for non-car uses in their densest areas.
If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear a prominent politician in the city acknowledge that getting around New York City only works for people that have motorcades.