New York City streets go green
New York City transportation head, Janette Sadik-Kahn is taking it to the streets, literally. The visionary transportation planner, who has been on the job for two years and was tapped by the Obama Administration for a top post, is serious about sustainability. And, while her first attempt to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by proposing congestion pricing for those who came in to the city by car went over like a lead balloon, her current efforts to green the city’s streets by reinventing car lanes as public space has carried favor with just about everyone.
Her latest project, dubbed “Green Lights for Broadway”, aims to transform the city’s iconic car-clogged thoroughfare into a pedestrian oasis. As the only street in Midtown that is off the grid, Broadway poses significant traffic problems and safety issues along its length. “Green Lights for Broadway” aims to reduce traffic congestion through Midtown with targeted improvements focused at Times Square and Herald Square that will speed cross town traffic and replace car lanes with public space where pedestrians can lunch or relax in the middle of the street.
Broadway is just one of many areas of the city that is being “pedestrianised” by Sadik-Kahn. Another intiative to green the city steets is the Plaza Program which began last year aiming to put all New Yorkers within a 10-minute walk of a park. Under this program, streets throughout the city are being reinvented as public plazas, as, for example, at Madison Square Park where 45,000 sq ft of public space was recently added in the middle of Madison Avenue and in nearby Chelsea where a car lane was transformed into a plaza with planters and a bike lane.
While these efforts will no doubt make the city more liveable, the Mayor and the Transportation Commissioner would like to see a Manhattan with fewer cars. As such, the city is tweaking its public transportation system to expand and speed service. While the focus is mainly on adding designated bus lanes and improving ferry service, there may also be a tramway in New York’s future.
In the 1990s, while with the Dinkins Administration, Sadik-Kahn tried to build a light rail system on 42nd Street. And though that project died on the vine, the idea of a building a light rail line on 42nd Street is still very much alive. The Institute for Rational Mobility (RUM), an advocacy group, is currently floating a proposal, dubbed “Vision 42” that re-imagines 42nd Street as a landscaped pedestrian mall with a 2.5-mile long light rail line that runs river to river. In a recently released report, RUM indicates the roughly $500 million project would generate $704 million in annual benefit. While that project’s future is yet to be determined, Sadik-Kahn has said she is not opposed to using the dedicated bus lanes initiative as a “back door “ step toward light rail, noting that cities all over the world, like Bogotá Columbia, are working toward a light rail service by reclaiming auto space in this way.
Regardless, the city’s green transportation czar is on the case manipulating over 6,000 miles of roadway and 12,000 miles of sidewalks for the betterment of the public. While incomplete, her efforts have led to large increases in cycling as a primary mode of transit, increased ridership on subways and busses, and reduced mortalities amongst bicyclists and pedestrians.