Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The war for Summer Streets is not over

This past Saturday I rode my bike in Summer Streets for the fourth year in a row, and it reminded me how much I like riding. I've never been an "avid cyclist" and I don't own a pair of bike shorts, but I have been a bike commuter at various times in my life. In the past several years I've avoided riding, mostly because I'm tired of being harassed on the road by people who are protected by two or three tons of metal. I was getting to my destination sweaty and stressed.

When there are no cars on the road, my anxiety level goes way down and I can actually have some fun. Sure there are a couple of inconsiderate people in every Summer Streets, but it would take a lot for them to do serious damage. All I really have to worry about is the cross-streets.

This year was extra special, because not only do we have the Skillman Avenue bike lane leading from my neighborhood to Queens Plaza, but we now have a nice car-free path leading across the Plaza, where there used to be a hell of bridge-bound multi-lane speeding traffic. I can get from my block to Manhattan entirely on dedicated bicycle facilities. The only really uncomfortable part left is the ride from the Queensboro Bridge to Park Avenue.

Also last week, after watching Clarence's commute on Streetfilms, I was inspired to ride across the Manhattan Bridge and try the physically separated bike paths on Sands Street, Flushing Avenue and Kent Avenue. That was another five miles where I felt the same kind of freedom and camaraderie as on Summer Streets, but you can experience it every day. On a Saturday afternoon the streets of Greenpoint and Long Island City were pretty quiet, so even the shared and unmarked sections were not stressful.

But I'm writing this post to tell you that our victory in Summer Streets is not solid. In an otherwise positive piece, Channel 2 included a poll asking "Do you approve of the Summer Streets?" and although 80% did, 64 people took the time to click "No." Some of them griped all over the comments section. There are other rumblings that suggest that the car elites have not pleased with this success, and are waiting for an excuse to demand that it be scaled back.

The best thing we can do to combat that threat is to balance it with requests for more. Here are some ways:

1. Extend the reach. Channel 11 has a bizarre story that Summer Streets "Angers Outer Boroughs." Turns out it's an extended interview with one Upper East Side crank who presumes to speak for outer borough residents. Over the years I've seen several known Brooklynites cruising Park Avenue, and I'm sure that a large percentage of the people I saw Saturday were from outside Manhattan. But Croft has a point: it should be expanded citywide.

In 2009 I suggested extending the event across the Manhattan Bridge - not on the bike path, but on one of the decks - and down Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Park. It could also be extended across the upper deck of the Queensboro Bridge and down Queens Boulevard, or north up Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, over the Macombs Dam Bridge and up the Grand Concourse. If you really want to reach Croft's "outer borough families," you could go all the way down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island, or Eastern Parkway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Union Turnpike to Lake Success, or Pelham Parkway to City Island. You could even go across the Verrazano to Staten Island. There are all kinds of possibilities.

2. Widen bottlenecks. The Park Avenue section flows well, but there was definitely some congestion on Fourth Avenue and Lafayette Street. This could be remedied by using Broadway or the Bowery south of Union Square.

3. Extend the hours. Why does it end at 1PM? That's when many New Yorkers are just waking up, and others are just finishing brunch. Some people want a little fun in the afternoon too.

4. Extend the days. Why not have it all summer, or even part of the fall? Or Sundays too?

5. Cater to people-watchers. One of my favorite parts of Summer Streets is just sitting and watching the parade of New Yorkers of all ages, but it's actually kind of hard to do. There are relatively few comfortable places to sit along Park Avenue. The handful of sidewalk cafes do a roaring business on those days, but imagine if there were more?

The DOT could give permits for restaurants along the route to set up temporary sidewalk cafes, and for food trucks to park in the curbside lane. Movable chairs and tables could be distributed along the sidewalk the length of the route, allowing people to take breaks, eat, drink and socialize. We don't need to worry about blocking the sidewalk, because people can walk in the street!

I know that these things cost money. The cost of policing, in particular, is one reason given why the hours and miles can't be extended. Setting out tables could also be expensive. But there have been repeated accusations over the years that the event is over-policed, and that more could be done with paid civilians and volunteers. The bottom line is that Bogotá does it every week, all year round, for seventy miles. Why can't we do it for ten weeks for half that length?


Greg Temps said...

In response to a few of yours:

Almost everything you mention costs money. While the city shortens parade routes and threatens to cut teachers, maintaining the event as it is is hard enough.

Policing: most of the 'police' force that you see are in fact, volunteers. It would not be possible to increase their use - some police officers are needed for the vehicle traffic on cross streets.

Food trucks and temporary sidewalk cafes cannot be allowed on Summer Streets as an integral part of the event is that NOTHING on the entire route is for sale.

Dave 'Paco' Abraham said...

I'd love to see the reach extended but when they try, like we did in Bay Ridge recently, even elected's support can't fight the stupidity of car-centic NIMBY-ists. They denied us even though a public hearing brought out TONS of supporters in CB10.

cm said...

Summer streets needs to be on Broadway. Park Ave was a total Yawn. Of course ending at one pm is Stupid. What parade or event in Manhattan ENDs at one pm?