Why Is Summer Streets So Rare?

The forecast for Saturday is bleak — 100 percent chance of rain, lasting just about all day. Tomorrow also happens to be the first Summer Streets event of 2014 (as well as the first during the de Blasio mayoralty). Good thing the main attraction is in a tunnel.

But since there are only two other Summer Streets on the calendar this year, this question is highly relevant:

Since Summer Streets began in 2008, the main obstacle to running it more frequently has reportedly been the pricetag. It shouldn’t cost much just to keep cars off Park Avenue and Lafayette Street, but the heavy NYPD presence adds up. If the traffic was managed by fewer cops — and sources familiar with the event have said this is entirely doable — Summer Streets could happen more often.

Until then, one consolation is that there are several smaller car-free street events around the city each summer. Sunday’s forecast is looking more promising than Saturday’s, and parts of the Grand Concourse, 204th Street in the Bronx, and Astoria’s Shore Boulevard will be open to people and free from traffic.

  • Joe R.

    How about also extending it to the outer boroughs, and making it an all-day event? 7AM to 1 PM is ridiculous. 7AM? Who the heck is up that early on a Saturday or Sunday unless they’re working? While we’re at it, why not have this in the fall and spring also. August is generally too hot for many people to enjoy being out. Something like this on a nice, crisp spring or fall day when it’s in the 50s would be perfect. Heck, it might even be nice in the winter-bike along in newly fallen snow, buy things like hot chocolate or chestnuts to keep warm. Like many other things NYC does, this is great in concept but poor in execution.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I remember looking at all those cops on the first Summer Streets, wondering how many of them were close to retirement and earning pensionable overtime (imagine a real price of $800 per hour) and saying to myself, if this is what it takes, we can’t afford it.

    My preference remains a “World of New York” festival, with all of Manhattan south of 60th Street closed to traffic from 8 pm Thursday to 8 pm Sunday during the first weekend in August.

    It would be a massive combined grass roots worlds fair, multi-ethnic parade, sports festival and cultural festival equivalent to Spoleto and Edinburgh rolled into one.

    The end of May/June has Memorial Day weekend. Early July has the 4th of July. Late August/early September has Labor Day weekend. But there is holiday weekend in early August or late July. So I propose a three day festival in honor of my birthday.

  • I am totally into this. The first Thursday thru Sunday of August = Larry Littlefield Day (Observed)

  • Summer Streets lover

    How funny that opening streets up to people, who exert zero wear and tear on the road and cause nothing the way of injuries or death, requires an expensive and excessive police presence. Yet the daily mess of automobile traffic on our streets and the billions involved in maintaining streets, cleaning up drivers’ messes, and lost time due to congestion is just the cost of life in the big city.

    When something is your priority, then no price is too expensive.

  • It so happens that, because we’ll be away on vacation the next two Saturdays, this coming Saturday is the only day that my family and I can make it to this year’s Summer Streets. We enjoyed it last year, despite the rain -https://flic.kr/p/fnSgCJ – so I think we’ll brave it again this year.

    I agree, however, that it’s stupid it ends at 1pm. We’re generally pretty slow risers and I’m confident we won’t make it all the way up from Brooklyn to Central Park and back to Brooklyn Bridge before 1pm. We’ll need to find an alternative route back.

    Nevertheless, as Doug Gordon himself said in a recent TA video on cycling in winter, we’re not made of sugar. Having grown up in rainy Glasgow, in Scotland, I’m pretty confident I can manage a bit of cycling in the wet.

    See any of the rest of you who are of the same mind tomorrow (from around 11.30am onwards).

  • Mark Walker

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had car-free streets year-round? Wouldn’t it be even better if the percentage of car-free streets mirrored the percentage of car-free households, meaning more than half of us? Then we wouldn’t have to debate whether our scraps should tiny or marginally less tiny. The question I’m dodging, of course, is how we get from here to there.

  • BBnet3000

    In Paris theyve closed a highway every Sunday for awhile (IIRC theyre closing it for good soon?).

    How can they afford it? They dont have 10,000 cops working OT dealing with all the cars, because its a limited access road. They use a few barriers and signs at the ends of the closed section and at the entrances/exits.

    Do we need the FDR that badly on Sundays?

  • Larry Littlefield

    In truth I haven’t really celebrated my birthday since my “half way to death” party 15 years ago, when my life expectancy equaled my age.

    But if New York needs an excuse for an indigenous party that doesn’t involve the mega cost of the Olympics, I’m fine with it.

  • Nicole Gelinas

    Yes, it should be ’till eight. It would be nice to go over the bridge (slowly) and come back and poke around at the Union Square Market and hang out at the park for a few minutes, but it’s hard to do all that and go back and forth more than twice between 10 and 12:30. (I am proud of myself for getting up at 9:05!)

  • The weather today proves the point in a different way. It was miserable for the first few hours and then very nice for the last few. That created a very short window for people to get out and enjoy Summer Streets. If the event ran until 8 PM the risk of the whole thing or a significant portion being rained out would be minimized.

  • There’s nothing wrong with the start time; I’m on the road well before 7:00 on every one of my bike days.

    And there’s certainly nothing wrong with the season. Riding when it’s in the 50s is not the least bit fun; it’s a chore. Doing a “pleasure” ride in that sort of temperature is out of the question. Outside the life-giving summer, going back and forth to work is enough bike-riding for me; I take the weekends off from riding.

    (As I mentioned in another thread, I did more than 1000 miles this past month, which is two to three times what I’d do in a typical non-summer month — and better than six times what I did during the horrible and traumatic February.)

    It’s the ending time of Summer Streets that ought to be changed. One o’clock is crazy; this event should go through the mid-day hours, when it’s nice and hot, and the riding is most enjoyable. Speaking as someone who takes a vacation day whenever the temperature gets close to 90 so that I can ride all day, I can say that Manhattan is never more beautiful than it is on such an afternoon.

    It’s a crime that our out-of-control police thugs can effectively dictate policy on this and prevent afternoon riding on an opened street. (Not that the weather gods have coöperated, either this year.)

  • Joe R.

    You could have something like this during all four seasons for those who might enjoy nonsummer weather like me. In fact, it would be nice if NYC could shut down a number of streets every single weekend year round. Some other cities do this.

    On the 7 AM start, it’s fine if you’re a morning person. I’m an extreme version of a night person. Most days 6 or 7 AM is when I’m heading to bed. In any case, this event should be extended at least until mid-afternoon as you say, preferably through sunset. You could create an all-day street fair kind of atmosphere if you did that.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Cool idea! But how are they gonna’ pick up the trash?!?! 😉

  • Andy B from Jersey

    And/or you could hop on the train to New Brunswick and ride our next Cyclovia in October. http://newbrunswickciclovia.com/

    Afterwards if you’re feeling spritely you could ride the D&R Canal Towpath (East Coast Greenway) to Princeton and take the train home from there!

  • Kevin Love

    So far, the only way that has been effective is mass protests. Protests that usually feature lots of children and their mothers who really, really don’t want to be killed by car drivers.

    Protests that pick up steam before elections to support candidates that support the “stop killing children” platform.

    The recent organization of family members of victims that have been killed by car drivers is quite excellent and badly needed.

    Here is one example of how “stop killing children” was used to move forward:


  • ChooseHumaneEastEnd

    Time to open the books on Summer Streets — with full fiscal accounting, sponsor oversight, and transparency with regard to its effect on emergency services as well as QoL for residents (especially elderly) in the designated neighborhoods, and overall costs to all stakeholders. After seven years, this DoT “project” is looking permanent. It’s another lingering legacy of the Bloomberg era, with no systematic participation of the impacted communities. Maybe move it to Brooklyn for seven years …

  • andrelot

    Don’t be ridiculous. The regional traffic route of the Siene expressway in Paris region is much different than the whole of FDR in New York regional traffic.

    Without FDR, there would be a lot more more traffic on other Manhattan roads, and Staten Island would be disproportionately affected. And many people would sue.

  • andrelot

    You are making two very wrong assumptions:

    1- that car-less households are all clustered around, and isolated from the rest of the city

    2- that car-less households don’t need any vehicular access to them (from delivery trucks bringing packages to police and EMS and school buses).

    It is a populist and dumb idea, that will never fly anyway.

  • BBnet3000

    This sounds like a lot of fearmongering. Why would Staten Island be disproportionately affected?

    As for suing, if the city didn’t do anything for fear of a lawsuit we could just shut down the entire city government tomorrow.

  • BBnet3000

    You realize that having a car-free street doesnt mean theres no vehicular access at all right? Either vehicles can access the buildings from another side, or they can do it during specified hours. Emergency vehicles would still have access if needed at any time.

    Theres cities with car-free streets all over the world (theres even a few in New York), generally theyre lined with stores or restaurants, all of which manage to receive goods to sell.

  • Bolwerk

    Without the FDR, there would probably be a lot less traffic on Manhattan streets. The FDR probably induces demand where there otherwise would be none.

  • Kevin Love

    My 12-year-old daughter can easily pull a bicycle trailer with over 1,000 lbs of cargo loaded onto it. Uphill to boot, thanks to this modern invention called “gears.”

    This is one of the many reasons that the extensive car-free zones in almost every Dutch city manage to include prime shopping districts.

    Perhaps the best example is the city of Venice, which is an entirely car-free city. Note well that property prices in Venice are much higher than on the immediately adjacent Italian mainland. Looks like people want to live, work and shop in places that are car-free.

  • Kevin Love

    Removing the FDR would be a great thing that would change New York for the better. Cities that have done freeway removal have never regretted it. Here are six examples:


    There are other cities, such as Vancouver, British Columbia, that never built freeways in the first place. Yet somehow they manage to be great places to live.

  • Bolwerk

    The same people who think els are bad are usually fine with big elevated highways.

  • lop

    You don’t have to go to Paris to see summer streets on a highway. Bronx river parkway around White plains closes for four hours on a few sundays in the summer.


  • Jonathan R

    Glad as always for the update about young Miss Love!

    As you are aware, using super-low gearing to haul a half-ton of anything increases the time spent to get there. So for a true 21st century human-powered logistics system, we still need the 18-block (50-acre) distribution and logistics center in midtown Manhattan I mooted here:


  • Reader

    “…with no systematic participation of the impacted communities.”

    Except for the thousands of people who love it and enjoy it and who come from the impacted communities to participate, that is…

  • we can do better

    Impacted year-round communities have not been surveyed. An independent analysis is needed. Would the imposed-on communities benefit more from alternative programs? Would moving Summer Streets to alternative locations … say every seven years … be impossible? Why not Try the grand concourse?

  • Joe R.


    My only comment on all this is regardless of gearing, eventually you hit a limit on the hills you can climb when the amount you’re hauling goes up. For example, let’s take climbing a hill like the one next to Hillside Avenue here in Queens. That’s about the worst hill I’m aware of in the areas where I ride. It’s something like a 6%-7% gradient in most spots, although there are a few places where it might exceed 10% for portions. I typically climb it at around 10 mph. That’s me and my bike, total weight about 220 pounds. If I was hauling 1000 pounds that brings the total weight maybe to 1250 pounds, accounting for the fact that I would need a heavier bike to be able to haul that kind of weight. Doing the math, this would drop my climbing speed up this hill to no more than 1.8 mph. In practice it would probably be even lower, perhaps 1.3 or 1.4 mph, owing to the fact that I have to sustain ~300 watts to climb this hill at 10 mph now on my road bike. I can’t sustain that power level for 6 times as long given that I would be moving at about 1/6 the speed carrying 1000 pounds.

    I would imagine a 12-year girl would be lucky to sustain 100 watts, even someone fairly strong. This drops the speed to well under 1 mph, probably to about 0.6 mph. If we assume a pedaling cadence of 90 RPM, you’ll need a gear ratio of about 2.3 gear inches. I’m not aware of any type of bicycle gearing which can go that low. The largest rear sprockets I’m aware of are 42 teeth, the smallest chainrings I’ve seen are 15 teeth. That gives you 9.3 gear inches (with a 26″ wheel). Translated, yes, I’ve little doubt your daughter can haul 1000 pounds uphill, but with what’s readily available in terms of gearing, anything steeper than a roughly 1.5% gradient is a non-starter. Even for myself, the gearing I would need to haul 1000 pounds up a fairly steep (i.e. 7%) gradient just isn’t readily available. The lowest available gearing would be good for a gradient of about half that at my power level (and the corresponding speed would be about 2.5 mph).

    The interesting part of all this is assuming the load isn’t large enough to create a lot more air drag, one can haul 1000 pounds on level roads at a pretty good clip. At my sustained power level of 200 watts, I could move 1000 pounds on level roads at maybe 10-11 mph, depending upon the rolling resistance of the tires on the cargo bike. In practice most heavy loads also have increased wind drag, and most cargo bikes aren’t all that aerodynamic, so this might drop the speed to 7-8 mph. You obviously won’t win the Tour de France with those kinds of speeds, but they’re pretty useful speeds for hauling a half ton of cargo around somewhere like Manhattan. 7 mph gets you from downtown to midtown in about 30 minutes (assuming you don’t need to stop). In many cases with traffic delivery trucks aren’t going any faster than that.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Full fiscal accounting…QoL for residents (especially elderly).”

    Here’s the fiscal impact of today’s seniors on those are young and middle aged today and will be old in the future.


  • I care abt Children & Elders

    that blog is not on point at all; it’s pedantic, bitter and old … by someone who couldn’t get elected if he tried [sic]

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t what you mean by “on point,” but it is backed by even more posts with even more boring facts.

    The less pedantic version would be a sound bite, but that’s not what I do. But I will not that some folks seem to be unhappy if the serfs get ANYTHING.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Those who move to the most central place in the U.S. and then get ticked off when other people show up there have the wrong attitude.

    What do you want, really? Darien and Chappaqua are there for those who want them.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Cars are more dangerous then pedestrians/bikes. More cops should be needed on street full of cars then Summer Streets. If you go, you’ll see most cops just standing around as volunteers direct people to stop. The NYPD is more interested in using tax money to line their pockets then to actually protect NYers. The rates they charge for just doing their job are absurd.

  • andrelot

    Don’t be ridiculous! Venice only has very expensive housing prices because it is a worldwide tourist attraction. Its population on the island has been dwindling since 1870, when it peaked, and decreased dramatically after WW2.

    It is a phenomenon (conversion of housing units into holiday rentals) that affects many other European core locations. Not necessarily a bad thing, but needs to be kept in perspective.

  • Daniel

    I watched a documentary about an island in Japan the other day where there are two motorized vehicles permitted on public roads. One is the garbage truck, the other is the “emergency vehicle”.

  • Kevin Love

    And why is Venice a worldwide tourist attraction? I’m not remembering world-class art galleries, theaters, natural wonders, etc. Venice does have many attractions, but it is primarily because Venice is car-free that it is such a good city to visit, and to live in.

  • Kevin Love

    Somehow, cities with major car-free zones manage to survive without 50-acre distribution and logistics centers. Ditto for the 100% car-free city of Venice.

  • Kevin Love

    Thank you for an interesting analysis!

    There are very few streets in New York City that are that steep. Even in mountainous Switzerland, very few urban streets are that steep. And Basel has a 17% cycle transportation mode share.


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