Battery Park City: An Opportunity for Innovative Street Design

A "woonerf" or "shared space" street design in the Dutch town of Haren.

Yesterday a Streetsblog reader reported that the Department of Transportation is removing stop signs and installing traffic signals at some intersections in Battery Park City as a way "to provide for the safest streets possible citywide." The reader noted, "The area is home to many small children and seniors, who are
fighting the DOT change. My instinct is to agree, but I also know that
some new thinking favors fewer traffic controls."

Andy Wiley-Schwartz, vice president and director of Project for Public Spaces’ transportation program, wrote a great response in the comments section, suggesting that to create safer and more community-friendly streets, city government and community groups need to look beyond stop signs and traffic signals. Here is what he wrote:

It’s good that DOT spoke with the residents of Battery Park City and listened to their concerns. What I wonder is if either side ever considered that the streets should be designed to support a variety of types of activity, and that the pedestrian issues could in fact be far more important than the mobility issue for motorists.

In this case, we have a large park and lots of apartments, with a road in-between. So is the goal of this street to move cars through, or to facilitate community activity? If a neighborhood wants people to go slowly and respect pedestrians than there are lots of ways to change the street to get that kind of behavior, through lane widths, medians, sidewalk activity, pavement treatments, etc. Changing or eliminating controls at intersections is only a small part of that equation.

In Battery Park City, with it’s limited through-traffic and local
destinations, you have a good place to try out more innovative
Considering that we are talking about a street that is in between a large park and a bunch of houses, this would seem to be a great opportunity to traffic-calm through a variety of measures.

Design speed on a street like this should be incredibly slow, but here the city and BPCA are only considering changing the intersections to control driver behavior. If people are speeding in between intersections, than the street should be redesigned to move cars very slowly all along. Then the "confusion" at the stop-controlled intersections would not be a problem.

In fact, engineers in Europe are telling us that this confusion is exactly what heightens safety, because drivers and pedestrians have to negotiate with each other. Signals increase predictability through and makes drivers and pedestrians LESS conscious that they need to be looking out for each other at all.

Haren photo: Ben Hamilton-Baillie, Woonerf diagram: Eran Ben-Joseph 

  • Removing traffic controls to make drivers and pedestrians more conscious that they need to look for each other works in dense European cities, and it could work in dense neighborhoods like Battery Park City, but it would not work in most American cities, where there are so few pedestrians that many drivers don’t look for them at all.

    Even in Berkeley (which is relatively dense and has a relatively large number of pedestrians), I have had drivers almost run me down while I am crossed in the crosswalk at a green light. They go through the red light and crosswalk at high speed, just looking to their left to see whether any cars on the cross street would stop them from making a right turn on the red light, totally oblivious to the fact that there might be a pedestrian in the crosswalk. If you removed the red light and crosswalk in places like this, more drivers would do the same.

    It gives new meaning to Woody Allen’s statement that the one cultural advantage of living in California is being able to make a right turn on a red light.

  • Comentz

    It’s about time the term “woonerf” enters the lexicon of city government. I was involved in one project at a city government agency until very recently where I was asked to remove any mention of successful concepts that were likely to be knocked down by CDOT staff.

  • Mitch

    “Woonerf” is a pretty cool word, but it might be easier to get acceptance for the idea if we used its English equivalent — Home Zone. The Brits have enacted rules to govern the creation of home zones, and apparently some are in place. Some American cities, including West Palm Beach, of all places, have used the concept of “shared space” — kind of a less-radical version of the woonerf — to calm traffic.

    Battery Park City would probably be an excellent place for New York to experiment with these ideas.

  • <p>In Paris they call them <a href="">Quartiers Verts</a>. Greened Neighborhoods. QV’s are neighborhoods that have been traffic-calmed and necked down and basically made unappealing to through-traffic. Many of them were recently established as part of Paris’s Bus Rapid Transit "Mobilien" initiative. Eric Britton of New Mobility Agenda explained to me that neighborhoods were concerned that Le Mobilien would compel motorists to look for short cuts on neighborhood streets. So, they made the neighborhood streets really unappealing to through-traffic alongside many of the new BRT routes. <br />

  • jk


    Do you mean the opposite — that they made neighborhood streets “unappealing?”

    You wrote in #4

    “So, they made the neighborhood streets really appealing to through-traffic alongside many of the new BRT routes.”

  • Whoops. I fixed that.


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