The New York of 2016 Needs the Wide, Generous Sidewalks of 1906

The Times ran a feature on the pedestrian crush in New York City today, and as good as the photos are, they don’t do the situation justice. To get a sense of just how inadequate the sidewalks are in Midtown, you need to go there — or failing that, watch this Streetfilm from 2009 with narration by Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton.

Believe it or not, these scenes of people overflowing off the sidewalk were shot during a post-recession ebb in pedestrian traffic, according to DOT counts cited by the Times. Since this video was made, the crowding has actually gotten worse.

New York didn’t always have such meager sidewalks — over the years, the city systematically shrank pedestrian space to make room for motor vehicles. Here’s a look at the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue and 89th Street today, and the much more accommodating dimensions near the turn of the 20th Century, courtesy of architect John Massengale:

Here’s the 1909 plan to shave 15 feet of sidewalk off Fifth Avenue to widen the roadbed for cars:

Image via NYT archive

Mistakes made a hundred years ago reverberate in entirely new ways today.

Because so much street space is allocated to cars and not enough to pedestrians, the bike network the city is trying to build out is compromised. Gothamist posted this video of people walking in the Eighth Avenue bike lane in Midtown just a few hours before the Times ran its crowded sidewalks feature:

Without wider sidewalks, the protected bike lane network will continue to break down in the heart of Midtown.

As terrific as efforts like the Broadway plazas, Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue, and Plaza 33 have been, they’re not enough. (It doesn’t help that the city failed to defend an excellent measure — the wider sidewalk on 32nd Street near Penn Station — because a few property owners complained.)

What New York needs now is to take entire lanes reserved for motor vehicles in Midtown and repurpose them for wider sidewalks.

Enjoy the Independence Day weekend, Streetsblog readers. We’ll be off Monday and back to publishing on Tuesday.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Pedestrians Fighting Over the Scraps

|
The Brooklynian message boards are often the scene of fierce fighting over Brownstone Brooklyn’s crowded sidewalk space. While Park Slope’s legion of double-wide stroller-pushing moms and sidewalk-riding cyclists tend to generate the most ire, yesterday a new target emerged: Guys playing cards on the sidewalk. Thankfully, these sidewalk fights seem to take place more in […]

PlaNYC Quietly Introduces “Safe Routes to Transit”

|
  As New Yorkers well know, sidewalks around subway stops and major transit hubs are often intensely crowded. Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC team is aware of this and buried on page 48 of the Technical Report supplementing PlaNYC’s transportation recommendations is a new program called "Safe Routes to Transit" (SR2T). While the attention to pedestrian issues […]

Big Sidewalk Extensions Coming to Bowling Green

|
Pedestrians at the southern-most tip of Manhattan are getting a lot more space to walk, thanks to a DOT proposal [PDF] first reported by DNAinfo last week. New sidewalk extensions along Whitehall Street, as well as a new plaza at the famous statue of the bull at Bowling Green, will make conditions safer for people […]

No Place Safe For Pedestrians Amid Rash of Sidewalk Crashes

|
First responders on the scene of this morning’s deadly crash in Chinatown. A string of curb-jumping, vehicle-on-pedestrian violence has left one person dead and 24 injured since Friday, according to published reports. Streetsblog has a request into NYPD’s public information office and Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne to determine if the recent spate of crashes will […]