New Twist for Summer Streets This Year — A Low-Car Zone Way Downtown

Image: DOT/Flickr
For five hours on August 13, motorists will be discouraged from entering the shaded area. Image: DOT/Flickr

In addition to the customary three Saturdays of car-free streets on Park Avenue and Lafayette Street this summer, the city will be trying out something new for Summer Streets. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on August 13, car traffic will be limited within a 60-block area of the Financial District.

The 13th will be the second Saturday in this year’s Summer Streets schedule. For the new car-lite zone, motorists entering the area will have to pass through NYPD-staffed “vehicular traffic entry points,” where they will be encouraged to drive five miles per hour or less. With minimal car traffic entering the neighborhood, the streets will open up to “cultural programming, including walking tours and other activities,” according to City Hall’s announcement.

The city is calling the low-car zone “Shared Streets,” evoking the concept of “shared space” where pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers navigate the street based on subtle visual cues and the movements of all other users, as opposed to curbs, signage, and markings. Light vehicular traffic and slow speeds are key to a successful shared space.

DOT’s 2013 Sustainable Streets report highlighted the potential of turning Financial District streets into shared spaces. Most vehicular traffic in the area goes in and out of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel via West Drive and the FDR Drive — meaning drivers actually need to access the neighborhood’s streets. “The City could consider creating a wider pedestrian precinct on additional smaller streets, with freight delivery access during specific off–peak windows,” the report said. “Shared streets — pedestrian streets with very slow vehicle access — could complement or be central to such an initiative.”

The Shared Streets program will be the first test of that concept.

The rest of the Summer Streets schedule remains pretty much identical to past years. Seven miles of streets between the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park along Lafayette Street and Park Avenue will be car-free from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on three Saturdays in August — the 6th, 13th, and 20th.

  • JamesR

    NYC motorists sharing space with non-drivers in a civilized fashion? This is gonna be good. I await to see how many drivers are actually able to turn their sociopath knob from 11 down to 2 or 3, and to see if the NYPD doesn’t try to hamstring this somehow. Are there set criteria to be used as far as how many vehicles will be allowed through the cordon at any one time?

  • AnoNYC

    This should be a car free area 24/7. Even if you just left a few arteries open for late night deliveries.

  • com63

    They will have to ban municipal parking on these streets for this to actually work. All of the streets in this neighborhood is municipal agencies with placards and they hog the curb space and make walking in the street difficult

  • BBnet3000

    Such a great old walkable street grid in this area with much lower traffic than elsewhere in NYC already. The only problems are the very crowded and narrow sidewalks (often made narrower by scaffolding), traffic that’s just a touch too high to enable walking in the roadbed for longer than short bursts, and tons of illegal placard parking.

    I really hope this Summer Streets is a precursor to pedestrianizing this area permanently. I believe some streets within it are in theory already limited access (some of Nassau St?) but totally unenforced plus packed with the aforementioned placards.

  • com63

    Placard use/abuse is the key. They could totally pull this off permanently if they found off street parking for the municipal vehicles. They already take all of the spots down there, so it is not like residents could complain about losing parking. They would need a lot of loading zones though. Lots of commercial traffic down here.

  • Oh DAMN I am gonna miss this for The Farm Ride. 🙁

  • J

    It’s so fascinating. Nassau Street used to be a shared street (since the 1970s, I believe), and was recently reconstructed at great expense to have curbs and raised sidewalks again, despite very high ped volumes and low vehicle volumes. Now we’re thinking of going back in the other direction.

  • AMH

    This sounds amazing. And unlike Summer Streets, the hours are actually reasonable, when people want to be out on the street. Can’t wait to check it out!

  • ddartley

    I actually am optimistic about it. Very. Remember, these are FiDi streets, not part of the main grid of wider “modern” streets. I predict that as long as pedestrians are walking in the roadway, and it’s clear that they’re allowed to be, then drivers’ sociopath knob is going to be at 1 or 0. And I think it could provide a great example (hopefully a memorable and often cited example) of how small streets in a dense area can be managed in a fashion much better than the 20th century paradigm which still reigns.

    In fact I now especially regret that Clarence isn’t going to be around that day, per his comment above. Would be great to have lengthy video of multiple parts of the “low-car zone” in action, to show that it can work. Or show that I’m wrong, and that JamesR’s prediction is worry is well founded, but either way, this should really, really be documented on long video, by someone, if not DOT. I have no experience with video but I’d be happy to try to help, if anyone else reading this likes the idea of video recording the zone.

  • D’BlahZero

    This is great. Next year they can expand it to all of the Financial District and Battery Park City.

  • ohnonononono

    I believe parts of Fulton, John, and Nassau all used to be “shared streets” during the work day (trucks could slowly drive in to make deliveries, and cars were allowed at night).

  • ohnonononono

    Residents complaining of losing parking in the Financial District?!

    There is already essentially no legal free daytime street parking in FiDi proper– just a couple blocks in Battery Park City… I’d be astounded if anyone who lives there regularly just keeps their car parked on the street.


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