Envisioning NYC’s Next Streets Revolution

"Streetopia" makes the case for city streets where people, not cars, truly come first.

On a Manhattan avenue where transit and high-occupancy vehicles take precedence and the curb is reserved for deliveries, large amounts of street space can be claimed for walking and biking. Image: Street Plans Collaborative
On a Manhattan avenue where transit and high-occupancy vehicles take precedence and the curb is reserved for deliveries, large amounts of street space can be claimed for walking and biking. Image: Street Plans Collaborative

About 12 years ago, a coalition of advocates under the banner of the New York City Streets Renaissance set out to transform city transportation policy away from the car-oriented status quo and toward people-first streets. Streetsblog and Streetfilms have their origins in that campaign, propelling a growing public awareness that NYC doesn’t need to settle for dangerous, traffic-choked streets.

The ideas promoted back then — protected bike lanes, dedicated street space for transit, carving away traffic lanes for car-free public spaces — seemed a little outlandish at the time, but many elements of that agenda have become official city policy in the years since. And yet — the vast majority of NYC streets remain dominated by private cars.

While small interventions like signal changes, pedestrian islands, and safer markings have touched many neighborhoods, only a sliver of a fraction of city street space has been reallocated from cars to other modes. You’re less likely to lose your life in traffic now than 12 years ago, but New York still doesn’t have streets where, say, parents feel comfortable letting a child in elementary school walk a few blocks on their own to a friend’s house.

New York can be a city where everyone from young kids to elderly seniors can get around without fear, where neighborhood streets can be places of congregation and activity instead of motorways. To become that city, we’ll have to shift a lot more street space from cars to transit, biking, and walking.

Last night at the Museum of the City of New York, Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton and Transportation Alternatives launched Streetopia, a campaign that aims to show what our streets are capable of when we no longer accept the primacy of the private motor vehicle. Here’s the message in a 90-second Streetfilm:

Last night’s event was a showcase for a maximal vision of street transformation — where car-free street space is the norm, not the exception.

Parts of the city where transit access is high and car ownership is low are primed for car-free streets, says Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative, who displayed concepts for low-car, people first streets in Lower Manhattan, East Williamsburg, Downtown Flushing, and the Upper West Side.

In congestion-choked Flushing, Lydon proposes dedicating Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street entirely to buses and deliveries, while limiting other streets in the neighborhood to high-occupancy vehicles.

On the side streets of the Upper West Side, removing street parking would open up the street as a public space for walking, socializing, and play. Motor vehicles would be allowed, enabling essential deliveries or pick-ups/drop-offs for people who need direct access to paratransit, but traffic volumes would be very low and speeds extremely slow. Access to buses, shared vehicles, and protected bike lanes on avenues and major crosstown streets would be just a short walk away.

UWS_AFTER_FINAL
Imagine local streets where cars have access, but don’t take priority. Image: Street Plans Collaborative/Carly Clark

On major streets like Manhattan avenues or Grand Street in Williamsburg, Lydon’s team proposes eliminating on-street private parking, adding protected bike lanes, and narrowing the roadbed for a two-way motorway where buses and high-occupancy vehicles would take precedence. Pull-outs in curbsides would be reserved for transit stops and deliveries.

streetplans_grand street
A bus-, bike- and delivery-only Grand Street in Williamsburg. Image: Street Plans Collaborative/Carly Clark

In this transportation system, very few trips would be made by private vehicle. In Lower Manhattan, where cars are already pinched, the shift would not necessarily be that dramatic, but in other neighborhoods a concerted effort to reduce car use would be necessary.

“This plan implies serious congestion pricing, complete parking reform privileging not only ride-hail, taxis, pick-up and drop-offs, but also deliveries,” said Lydon. “The vast majority of the space would not only be designed, but programmed and managed for the use of people.”

The avenue of the future. Image: Street Plans Collaborative
An annotated version of the graphic at the top of this post, showing a New York City avenue in Streetopia. Image: Street Plans Collaborative

It won’t be easy to get to Streetopia. But if we don’t put bold ideas out there, big changes will never happen.

  • Vooch

    Yes – it’s time to develop consensus on the next level !

  • AMH

    Wish I had known about this event!

  • [It won’t be easy to get to Streetopia. But if we don’t put bold ideas out there, big changes will never happen.]

    Money quote.

    That’s why I’ll continue agitating for #deckthehighways and meaningful transit improvements (including toll reform)!

  • “Streetopia” is a very different framework than “Vision Zero.” But also, this is absolutely what a city that achieves Vision Zero will look like.

  • Vooch

    streetopia is a great model showing what’s possible.

    The timing is perfect because support is building for the next level.

    ( only wish JSK would return, imagine the implementation pace )

  • Amanda

    What a vision! Ramp it up, NYC!

  • rubagreta

    Lots of people live in Manhattan and drive to work not because they want to, but because they have to. You can’t get from Manhattan to an office park in New Jersey and other places by public transportation. And most of these people cannot afford $500/month for a garage.

    Your attitude? Tough luck on those car-driving losers.

  • Vooch

    you want to store your private property on a public street for free ?

  • rubagreta

    But you don’t want a permit system. You want no overnight parking because you are an anti-car fanatic. Overnight street parking has been allowed on the street since the 1940’s.

    Screw the person who lives in Manhattan, works in NJ, LI or Westchester in areas where there is no public transportation, and can’t afford to park in a Manhattan garage (rates will double once then ban overnight parking).

    MOVE TO THE SUBURBS IF YOU CAN’T GET TO WORK BY BIKE, TRAIN OR BUS!

  • Vooch

    actually it was illegal to park overnight in Manhattan until 1952.

    I am still wondering why you think I should subsidize your inability to pay for storing your private property. Why do you demand leeching off others ?

  • rubagreta

    I don’t live in Manhattan so it’s not about me.

    Leeching? Parking your car on the street is leeching?

    If you want to set up a $50/month permit system for Manhattan say below 96th Street, and earmark the money for infrastructure improvements, that’s fine.

    But that’s not what you want. You want to literally destroy the lives of people who live in Manhattan, work in the suburbs, need a car to get to work, and need to park on the street because they can’t afford a garage.

    And there is something truly sick about that.

  • Will Wittenberg

    your argument is not based in reality.

  • rubagreta

    You mean there aren’t lots of people who live in Manhattan and need to drive to work because there is no public transportation option?

    You are the one who is not based in reality, not me.

  • Vooch

    free market price for overnight street parking below 96th is likely around $600 per month

  • rubagreta

    Higher than a parking garage? And most people won’t pay it because they can’t pay it. They would be forced to move. But it doesn’t impact you so why should you care.

    What an idiot.

  • Vooch

    in CBD monthly parking is $800

    people who own private cars in living in the CBD are by definition prosperous. If they can afford a private car, they can afford to pay a free market price to store it. and not leech off honest taxpayers

  • rubagreta

    Let’s talk East 92nd Street between 1st and 2nd, where real people with real jobs that don’t pay double six figures live.

    How much should they pay to park on East 92nd Street?

  • Vooch

    20% less than the local garage

  • rubagreta

    And if they can’t afford it? Then what? Upend their lives to satisfy your desires? You obviously don’t care about anyone except yourself.

  • rubagreta

    And the garage would be 110% full, the garage would raise its rates, and the street rates would go up. Great plan you have.

  • running262

    Why only $50/month? Why not $212? Or $432? Why should we give away public space so cheaply?

  • Vooch

    ??

    free street parking isn’t free; it’s rather expensive

    I believe the driver should pay a free market price for storing his car.

    you just believe someone else should pay instead of the driver.

  • rubagreta

    Well they’ve been charging $0 forever, so $50 is a nice start. Why not $432? Because that would be to PUNISH them for owning an “evil” car (in your mind). Hate to tell you, but cars a necessity for most people who own them. Why in the world would you want the hassle of owing a car in Manhattan and looking for parking spaces if you could take public transit?

  • rubagreta

    So what exactly does it cost the city of someone parks their car overnight on East 94th Street? Fill me in. Does it damage the street?

  • Vooch

    street space is incredibly scarce and valuable in Manhattan.

    This space can be used for motor traffic lanes, wider sidewalks, dedicated bus lanes, street cafes,playgrounds, commercial loading zones, taxi stand, etc.etc

    Storage of private property has got to be one of the least worthy uses of a roadway.

  • rubagreta

    So you want no parking 24/7. Thanks for showing your cards. Do you think that’s going to happen?

    Motor traffic lanes? You want more cars in the city? Wider sidewalks, bus lanes, street cafes, etc. on East 94th Street? Really?

  • Fred

    Look up “opportunity cost”. Land in Manhattan is worth hundreds of dollars per square foot. Is letting random individuals store their private property for free on this land the best use of an expensive public resource?

  • rubagreta

    Yeah, it’s worth hundreds of dollars/sf if you can build a high-rise on it. Are you suggesting we build high-rises on the sides of streets?

  • running262

    I never used the word ‘evil’ my friend. Calm down and sorry, but you can’t read my mind very well.

    It isn’t a punishment to ask for a fair price to a valuable resource. Of course, the ones who believe they can benefit the most want to always pay the least. You basically want the right to put personal property on public land for $600/year.

    Let’s say the average space is 9 ft x 20 ft. That is 180 square feet. So you think you should rent space in the city for $3.30/sf (($50 * 12 months)/ 180 sf) and have the flexibility to select any 180 sf space that is available and convenient for you.

    I say that is an exceptionally inexpensive price for such a valuable resource. I would at least say it should be $20/sf which would make the monthly cost at least $300. (($20 * 180 sf)/12 months). For $3,600 a year.

    Considering that even ten years ago people were paying $50,000 for an open air space in the Bronx and up to $225,000 to own a parking space in buildings downtown, that isn’t so bad.

    The REAL point here is finding a balance between pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles and the balance has for decades leaned too far toward vehicles. It needs rebalancing. The areas where it has have shown an incredible revitalization so it works. And we are barely pushing the envelope yet.

  • Vooch

    street parking is fine. FREE street parking is the problem.

  • rubagreta

    If there is going to be a fee for overnight parking, the money should be placed in a separate account that is dedicated to transportation improvements (subways, bike infrastructure, etc.). If it goes into the general fund it will be squandered.

  • Vooch

    Agreed 100%.

    I am in favour of a 80/20 split. 80% of parking fees goes to the neighborhood to be spent by neighborhood on street improvements. This could be a existing BID or a Community Board. The other 20% goes to City DOT.

  • Will Wittenberg

    define “lots”
    should we shape policy around the needs of a few at the cost of many? use your head….

  • David Henri

    Grow up Will, We’re trying to make the place more livable for it’s residents, not for some self-entitled motorist who wishes to store his/her private property on public space. Maybe I want to store my living room couch along the curb…..

  • Will Wittenberg

    i think you’re confused. i’m arguing AGAINST allowing free curbside parking

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