Evaluating Summer Streets

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"If only this street were completely jam-packed, I’d be having so much fun!!!"

It’s too soon to evaluate this year’s Summer Streets events, but I’ve noticed that the recent car-free days on Montague Street and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn have been catching a bit of flack on Curbed and various other blogs for "not packing them in." On Saturday, the Brooklyn 11211 blog wrote that Williamsburg’s main drag "lacked that manic aspect that Bedford often gets on the weekends." Curbed seemed to interpret that as failure. Last week, a Brooklyn Heights blogger snapped a photo of Montague Street around 3 pm with a light rain falling (on July 4th weekend, with the half of the neighborhood out of town) and sarcastically headlined the item, "Crowds Throng Montague." Brownstoner picked up on the photo and spread news of the "underwhelming" event.

Forgetting the fact that photos taken earlier in the day on Montague showed a pretty lovely and well-attended scene, what’s with this idea that for a Summer Streets event to be considered successful, it needs to attract a "throng?" Jamming large crowds into small spaces has never been a big challenge in this town. The whole idea of Summer Streets, as I understand it, is to give New Yorkers a bit of room to breathe and space to walk, bike, play or simply sit down and relax. You want a throng? Try Midtown.

Here’s a modest proposal for evaluating the success of a Summer Streets event…

Measure the amount of time kids are able to run and play without their parents having to worry about them being hit by a car, the number of friends you bump into and new people you meet, the pounds of automobile exhaust and carbon that are not spewed into the hot summer air, the volume of horn-honking, engine-revving and boom stereos you’re not hearing, and whether local merchants are happy about the event and making more money than they usually do on a slow summer weekend.

And if there’s a "throng" or the event is "packing them in" — that’s probably a sign of over-success. It means that it’s time to expand your Summer Street by a few blocks, a few hours or another day.

Photo: Bedford Avenue last Saturday by Brooklyn 11211

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