Visualizing a Car-Free Bedford Avenue

Emil Choski has given his Car-Free Bedford Avenue project a serious face lift. The 22-year-old freelance graphic designer and community organizer’s new web site includes a three dimensional “flyby” visualization accompanied by some very un-Williamsburgy classical music. With apologies to the Meatpacking District and Ninth Avenue, Emil’s project has to be my favorite grassroots livable streets initiative going right now. When is Dan Doctoroff going to wake up and give this kid a job at the Economic Development Corporation?! Choski writes:

The plan calls for the complete banning of automobiles on the stretch
of Bedford Ave starting at Metropolitan Avenue and passing through and
ending at McCarren park. The cross streets would be left open to cars
and trucks in order to allow for necessary deliveries. The current
traffic as well as the B61 bus will be rerouted to parallel avenues
including Driggs Ave and Berry St. Emergency vehicles will continue to
have access to Bedford Ave.

What will replace the cars is a thriving pedestrian community, more
outdoor seating for restaurants, islands of greenery, public sculpture,
and anything else that makes the community more alive and beautiful.

  • P

    The website looks a million times better!

    I love the idea of taking a parking lane or two away but I think I’d rather have the B61 than a lot of grass that will go to hell shortly after planting.

    As far as the rhetoric of the website, I found this angle to be a dead end:
    It is mostly about preserving the small town quality of Williamsburg
    I doubt this will win many converts: particular Williamsburg hipsters who all fled from their small towns and suburbs.

    In any case it’s great to have people dreaming about a better city.

  • If they did all flee their small towns it was because many of them became vacant downtowns that were crushed by Walmart. Small scale walkable retail districts can be created in the city with proper mixed use zoning and car-free streets.

  • crzwdjk

    I love how the picture shows a cyclist riding nonchalantly down the cobblestones. Kind of breaks the realism there. Also, did you know that under the pavement of Bedford Avenue, embedded in those cobblestones, are the rails from a long-abandoned trolley line? Its modern day successor is the B61 bus.

  • P

    I’m not making a point about the design of walkable streets- just the rhetoric of cool. Small towns for all their benefits have a bit of an image problem that Mr. Choski doesn’t need to address.

    I think it’s widely accepted that New York City has qualities more like small towns than do non-walkable communities of a much smaller scale. But I’m just talking about marketing.

  • P

    Also, did you know that under the pavement of Bedford Avenue, embedded in those cobblestones, are the rails from a long-abandoned trolley line?

    It reminds me there are also tracks popping up at Park Circle- location of Charles Siegel’s proposed Statue of Robert Moses.

    For what it’s worth.

  • I don’t live in the area, but I find the yearning nostalgia for a “small town feel” to be fairly universal. It’s the idea of being able to walk around, socialize (run in to people you recognize) and not feel like the city is closing in on you. Call it what you want, but I get the meaning.

    I work in marketing and yeah stuff needs updating every so often. Here are some alternatives I just ran past a few focus groups and pressure tested with management:

    Real Neighborhoods – Not artificial like those blocks clogged with cars and people who never take the time to stand and chat with each other. These neighborhoods have a heart, they have public spaces where people congregate and have real retail areas that are free of banal national chains.

    Foot Communities – Areas of the city where the pedestrian is king and all must yield to them at all times. Cars must creep along at 5mph where they are even allowed. No differentiation between sidewalk and road.

    Complete Streets – Ok, I totally stole this one, but it’s a great branding.
    COMPLETE STREETS are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street.

  • P


    I totally agree that people yearn for walkable communities- but they identify this goal differently depending where they are in life. For families- small towns have a strong allure conveying ideas about safe places to raise a family and strong social networks. But for young people I think a walkable community is best marketed for its dynamism. When I moved to this city as a younger person I wanted to open my front door and see ‘life’. For young people a walkable community has the advantages of hanging out with your friends and being in the center of things.

    I think I might fuse two of your concepts together to get “Real Streets”. If you look at the fights over proposed Starbuck’s Coffees it’s obvious that the area is interested in maintaining ‘authenticity’. And I think ‘Streets’ resonates better than neighborhoods for young hipsters. But the first description is great.

    I’m sorry to generalize about the thousands of people who live in Williamsburg; I’m aware that every Williamsburger isn’t a 24 year old web designer. But- I’m no more guilty than Budweiser or Coca Cola, right?

  • Cobblestone that is even and smooth is no big problem for bicycle riding.

  • crzwdjk

    Cobblestone that is even and smooth is, I believe, called brick. And yes, it can be used for bike riding just fine, it just doesn’t look like what’s in the picture. Anyway, it’s a minor detail, but you have to be aware of all these minor details when planning these things if you want it to be successful and not just another bulldozering over of existing patterns for some theoretical benefit.

    Unrelatedly: I think the “small town quality” is the wrong phrase to use here. A city is not a small town, and people go to cities because they do have advantages over small towns. In a small town, everyone knows everyone else, but a city is filled with strangers, all going about their own business. In a small town, when everyone knows everyone else, they tend to be very mistrustful of anyone they don’t know. In a city, nobody knows anyone else and people tend to be more tolerant of each other. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t have a lively neighborhood life going on, with people knowing all their neighbors and all, just that, unlike in a small town, the neighborhood will also be visited by many more strangers every day.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Who is going to mow the grass? Will they use a two stroke gas or an electric motor? If electric where are the outlets?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Good point about the trolley tracks, Crzwdjk. The first thing I thought of when I saw the grass was the grass on the tracks for the new Tramway T3 in Paris.

    Incorporating a trolley version of the B61 would be awesome, and address P’s legitimate concern.

  • da

    Those plots of grass could be community gardens. A family could eat for 6 months of the year from just one of those plots.

  • crzwdjk

    There was, a few years ago, a project to build a trolley line along a different segment of the B61, in Red Hook, but that project died an unfortunate death having built only half a block of street trackage. I was somewhat involved in the Red Hook trolley project, a somewhat before it finally fell apart, and so I could see why it failed. I still think the basic idea is sound, though, and all it takes is better organization and more focus on actually building and operating a trolley line rather than sitting around discussing politics. And Williamsburg seems as good a place as any to start rebuilding Brooklyn’s streetcar network.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I followed that story, and in 1998 (I think) I went on a tour that Bob Diamond gave of the tunnel under Atlantic Avenue that he wanted to run the trolley through. Unfortunately, the Giuliani administration saw his group as lightweights and pulled their support.

    It was an interesting idea to have a private organization run the trolleys, but for Bedford Avenue I had in mind that they would be run by the TA, or an organization with a broad base of support that they could draw on when the inevitable conflicts arose with the DOT.

  • moocow

    Could you imagine a trolley line from Will’burg to Red Hook? Never mind people who would actually use it for transport, the Tourists who would clunk along through those neighborhoods, buying stuff from local shops, coffee, art, clothing, whatever and they would end up in Red Hook with the most fantastic view of the Statue of Liber…. sorry I was daydreaming there.

    I would vote for the Bus to be rerouted, I worry about a Fulton Mall like clusterf@#k if there were buses running on a closed Bedford.

  • crzwdjk

    The final conflict with DOT was over the fact that Bob Diamond’s crew dug up the street and then kind of just left it there for a few months, without much progress on the construction. I honestly have no idea what the reasons were behind all this, but it wasn’t a very well run organization even when I was involved, and had a tendency to drive away some of its best people. There was actually some federal funding involved too, but for all that, the streetcars almost never actually ran, partly because of Bob Diamond’s paranoid fears of the DOT sending people to get run over by the streetcars to discredit him. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter who actually operates the streetcars or builds the tracks, and there are many possible models, including San Francisco, where the streetcars are operated by the transit authority just like any other transit, but maintained by volunteers in the transit authority’s facility. There’s actually some precedent for that in NYC too: NYCT has a fleet of historic subway cars that live in Coney Island and are worked on by volunteers.

  • sjt

    This is a wonderful concept–as the design indicates now though it’d be difficult for the annual marathon to pass through. Maybe reduce two lanes of grass-pits to one. Regarding the maintenance, clearly some form of a BID would have to develop. Any discussion of a Bedford Ave BID?

  • Um, regarding the small town bit — can anyone name a small town or city center that prohibited the dominant mode of transit during it’s heyday? Can you imagine horses being banned from 19th c. streets?

    I think there are a number places where the size of the street grid could be reduced, but it doesn’t entirely solve the problem of cross street intersections, speeding due to the perception of bottlenecking created by grid interruptions.

    More aggressive policies about traffic calming would be far better net effort. Having driven a fair bit in Portland, I’d said importing their approach would be better (mini rotaries and speed humps) in the short and long term. If you got the average speed on surface streets to 10-12 mph, people would stop neighborhood shortcuts and might even drive less. Parking is its own separate battle. As the recent DOT posts have shown, average speed is where our battleground should be.

    Williamsburg is a perimeter node, and a really dispersed one at that. Even given the drastic appreciation of real estate, trying a Brooklyn based pedestrian mall would be far better served on Smith Street or Montague.

    There were plenty of other forces at play, but many regional/small towns tried pedestrian malls in the 70s and 80s. Most failed.

    Even allowing for a more anti car sentiment and lifestyle here, just the rudiments of residential delivery (Fresh Direct, trash, UPS, etc) would be tricky, since this would be a startling exception, not the rule.

  • P

    Good post Miss R. I generally agree with the idea of implementing traffic calming (and taking away a lane of parking to widen the sidewalks) rather than a blanket ban on traffic- particularly buses. But if this advocacy is able to push the center so that the traffic calming gang look like the good cops I’m all for the campaign.

    I’m sure you agree that there are huge differences between Bedford Avenue and the pedestrian mall in, say, Kalamazoo Michigan but I agree with the bigger point that banishing traffic altogether often has unintended consequences. And certainly delivery trucks will be riding over these grass islands, right?

  • mfs

    A Bedford Ave BID over my dead body. The last thing we need is for property interests to start dictating what happens on Bedford Ave.

  • sjt

    MFS, who then do you propose to maintain these physical improvements? Who would implement + enforce restricted delivery hours? The City? And with all due respect, a drastic design change such as a pedestrianization plan could only happen with support from property owners.

  • crzwdjk

    What, exactly, is the dominant mode of transit in New York though? It’s hard to say that it’s cars, because the majority of New Yorkers don’t have cars, and the vast majority of trips are not made by car. In the 19th century, your only choices were horse or walking, but now in addition to cars we have subways and buses, and potentially streetcars and so on.

    “There were plenty of other forces at play, but many regional/small towns tried pedestrian malls in the 70s and 80s. Most failed.”
    There was a simple explanation for this: they tried to attract pedestrians to an area that had become auto-oriented not just from the cars on the street but from the local density as well. The “if you build it they will come” doesn’t really work with pedestrian malls. It’s more of a “if they’re already there, more will come” effect, where pedestrian activity is self-reinforcing and attracted by already existing pedestrian activity. So the place to introduce pedestrian malls is… where there already are pedestrians. That is how Copenhagen did it, slowly and incrementally, and it worked.

  • P


    Your Copenhagen analogy makes a compelling arguement for a Car Free Bedford; if done correctly this can become a demonstration for measures throughout the city. And Williamsburg is as good of a place to start as anywhere (though Chinatown is inviting). Hopefully, every neighborhood in the city would then be saying ‘I want one of those!’

    When it comes to the details I still lean towards a Car Reduced Bedford but maybe something more ambitious than just traffic calming.

  • huh

    this plan is crazy-talk!! it’s a great to dream about but not based on reality (am i the only one that thinks this kid needs some sort of understanding of urban planning?) bedford is way too highly trafficked as a main street to be turned completely carless. where the hell are the garbage trucks, streetsweepers, CAR SERVICES, going to go? bedford has trash and dogshit to contend with on a regular basis, can you image mounds of that shit piling up and stanking up your utopian dream of ‘small town feel’?

  • The grass will never work: too hard to maintain and too easy to trample or drive on.

    Instead, use trees. After they are established, they are likely to survive for a long time with little or no maintenance.

  • mfs

    a BID can’t enforce restricted delivery hours, only NYPD traffic could do that, no matter whether it’s in a BID or not.

    as for maintenance, the city has arrangements for greenstreets plantings where a local organization agrees to maintain the plantings. there are plenty of organizations in the area who could handle it, but it in no way needs to be a BID to be successful.

    of course the change could only happen with property owner’s consent, but I don’t want rent-a-cops patrolling bedford ave, nor do I want property owners to be the only ones who get a say in how the area runs (it’s sadly how most BIDs here work). it’s a sure way to make it the next times square.

  • sjt

    The point is there would have to be some organization to oversee and implement a plan. I don’t think a plan as ambitious as this could fly alone (I think you agree.) You’re correct to write that NYPD enforces traffic regulations, but why couldn’t that change? Finally, you’re painting a wrong picture of BIDs and their impacts–I’d be happy to discuss more with you!

  • crzwdjk

    If you want to follow the Copenhagen analogy to its logical conclusion, I think the places to start would be Times Square, Herald Square, and some parts of Downtown and possibly Flushing where there really are lots and lots and lots of pedestrians. That’s not to say that Bedford can’t use some improvements, just that it might not be the best choice to start pedestrianizing stuff. Oh yes, and streetcars work much better on pedestrian malls than buses, assuming they are implemented correctly.

  • eli

    This looks beautiful. Even as a car owner, I would support this. Bedford Ave isn’t easy to cross because many drivers don’t understand, know, or care that they need to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. I’ve been (and seen many people) just miss a car flying down the road.

    Furthermore, as much as I would like to see this happen tomorrow, baby steps are needed in order to fully get to the car-free zone on Bedford Ave passed. The use of more stop signs and speed bumps would greatly slow down and reduce traffic, while easing drivers and pedestrians into a car-free Bedford.

    I do have one concern though. If there are no cars allowed on Bedford Ave, hundreds of parking spaces will be lost–will there be an alternative space for this? It is already difficult to park, and with all the new condos being built, it will be even worse.

  • crzwdjk

    Maybe the residents of all those new condos can learn to take the L train. The carfree proposal only includes the parts of Bedford within two blocks of the subway station anyway.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    To respond to “huh”s question about dog shit, there are plenty of ways to deal with it. The most basic is to have someone with a broom and a pooper-scooper; does the DOS still have any of those? There are also smaller sweet-streepers; Paris has a small army of guys on motorbikes with vacuum cleaners attached, vacuuming up shit all over the city.

    The quote above says “Emergency vehicles will continue to have access to Bedford Avenue”. I don’t see why garbage trucks can’t as well; they do on Nassau Street. As for car services, they can just go down one of the cross streets and stop on the corner.

    As for the question “what is the dominant mode of transportation?” there’s no disputing that motorists are allowed to dominate everything around them. In terms of percentage of population, I’m sure someone can find the census data, but North Williamsburg seems to be the kind of neighborhood where car commuters (if not car owners) are in the minority.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I wanted to add: P’s point (post #19) about “pushing the center” is very important, which is why I always liked the slogan “Auto-Free New York.” You don’t ask for what you need and settle for less, you ask for what you want and settle for what you need (and a bit more than that, if you can).

  • crzwdjk

    The problem with pushing the center is that you can push too far, and then people stop taking you seriously. Enviro-hippie whackos, they think, wanting crazy stuff and having no idea how real people in real cities live. So it’s got to be a careful balance, between pushing the limits, and staying within the realm of what is considered reasonable.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith
  • aber

    Open letter to the hippies:

    Thank god I left NYC to Florida. All these hippies moving to NY to demand more greenspace. Why the hell did you guys moved to NY in the first place? If I want a car I should be able to drive a car because I pay taxes and permits and licenses for the car. It is not like the L train a joy to ride during rush hour.

    I love it in Florida, I hope the hippies do not come down here and ruin it all.

  • someguy

    Attack of the killer hippies!! yarrrrr

  • P

    At the risk of provoking an onslaught of clever comments similar to the type that plague Curbed I’ll feed the trolls.

    Aber- speaking for myself, I moved to NYC because I was looking for a dynamic streetlife for pedestrians. As it happens, cars can be hostile to this environment- that’s why I don’t live in Florida, for instance.

  • trashiq

    Weird that Northside CAR Service decided to stick it out and keep its headquarters on the carless street.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Not as weird as it sounds. Most car service business is done by radio and cell phone. TLC regulations require car service drivers to wait in a parking lot, and it’s quite likely that the parking lot used by Northside Car Service isn’t very close by.

    The only reason drivers would have to come into the office would be to fill out paperwork and pick up their checks. To do that, they can park around the corner and walk (gasp!) a few hundred feet to the office. If they have direct deposit, they would hardly need to go to the office at all.

  • Funny, I find Curbed comments unreadably unclever. Once people who don’t live in the city decide to start trolling in up in a city weblog, it all goes to hell. They start calling people hippies (without irony) and talk about how glad they are they don’t live in the place they just can’t refrain from reading about and commenting about. At least here that kind of trash only blows through from the occasional Curbed linkage.

  • I don’t think bicyclists would be particularly enthused about all the new curbs that popped up in the form of grass pits.

    And riding and cobblestone is surely less comfortable than riding on asphalt.

    I know this image is just an idea, and not exactly a “final product,” but with a little feature rearrangement, the design can satisfy many of us.

    First, get the bicyclists and pedestrians off the same path.


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