Rodriguez Wants More Streets to Go Car-Free This Earth Day

Car-Free Day 2016
Broadway south of Madison Square during last year's Car Free Day. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez is looking to go bigger with the city’s second annual Car-Free Day. And one of the ideas for the event, which coincides with Earth Day (April 22), is to make 14th Street car-free, previewing the types of changes needed to handle the looming L train shutdown.

Last year, for NYC’s first “Car Free Day,” DOT pedestrianized streets abutting Washington Square Park, Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd and 177th Streets, and eight blocks of Broadway from Union Square to Madison Square. Partner organizations and companies also discouraged car commuting, and Citi Bike provided free day-passes.

While the initiative didn’t come close to the scale of car-free days in Bogota or Paris, it did affect travel patterns, with 30,000 more subway riders and 15 more Citi Bike trips per station than the average weekday, according to data compiled by Cubic Transportation Systems [PDF].

“Understanding that not all New Yorkers have great access to transit, this initiative is also about better assessing our public spending decisions and how important investments in transit truly are,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about continuing to create the conditions for families living in Queens or South Brooklyn to feel like giving up the family car can mean freedom instead of isolation.”

This year Earth Day falls on a Saturday, putting less pressure on the city to operate streets as usual. The car-free zones have yet to be determined, but according to Rodriguez chief of staff Russell Murphy, the council member wants to expand them to Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, further along Broadway, and maybe on 14th Street.

A car-free 14th Street could pack the policy-shifting punch that last year’s event lacked. With the MTA set to suspend L train service west of Bedford Avenue for 18 months starting in 2019, advocates and experts have pressed for a bus- and pedestrian-only “PeopleWay” to keep people moving.

DOT and the MTA have not come forward with a solution to the L train shutdown yet. A one-day trial run for a car-free 14th Street this April could get the ball rolling on a change that New Yorkers are going to need every day.

  • I know there’s a lot of focus on major streets on Car-Free Day, which is great, but it would also be nice to introduce the concept of quietways or bike boulevards to NYC, which is something many other cities have been doing for a long time. The city could easily take Dean Street in Brooklyn, for example, and limit car traffic so that it could be more comfortable for people on bikes. All it would take are some traffic cones or other simple barriers.

  • Didn’t Ydanis recently suggest pedestrianizing Broadway between Columbus Circle and Union Square? Car Free Day seems like the perfect opportunity to pilot that, or try out a shared streets approach. And while we’re at it, let’s extend the fun down Union Square West and University Place to Washington Square Park. Cities all over the world are throwing down paint and cones to build temporary (and permanent) shared streets or pedestrian spaces – let’s follow their lead.

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