NYC Needs a Network of Car-Free Streets

In this short video, Clarence Eckerson makes the case for a full pedestrian network in NYC.

The signs say Manhattan, but don't be fooled, the island of Manhattan has no streets like this.
The signs say Manhattan, but don't be fooled, the island of Manhattan has no streets like this.

New York City in 2017 has several car-free blocks and pedestrianized street segments where traffic once rules, like Plaza 33 and Myrtle-Wyckoff Plaza. But unlike several other world cities, New York still doesn’t have a connected grid of car-free streets.

That’s true even in neighborhoods where pedestrians just don’t fit on the available sidewalk space, like the Financial District, downtown Flushing, and Times Square (where the Broadway plazas form an archipelago, not a network).

Other cities have figured out that the most crowded commercial areas function better when pedestrians have the freedom to use the whole street, and motor vehicles are only allowed for essential deliveries. In this Streetopia preview, Clarence Eckerson looks at car-free streets in cities like Montreal and Buenos Aires to show how much catching up NYC has to do.

  • DisqusNYC

    Catching up NYC has to do:
    I was there yesterday: Myrtle and Wyckoff for less than ten minutes. I still saw some of the things discussed in the link above. Traffic is not rocket science but closer to common sense.
    Read everything at the link above, go to the Myrtle and Wyckoff Plaza, spend ten minutes at any corner, come back here and report what you saw.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I haven’t worked down there in a while, but in Lower Manhattan Nassau Street and John Street are car free much of the time, and Stone Street is car-free all the time.

    Add on the new Dey Street passageway from Fulton Transit Center to the World Trade Center site — outside fare control — and the underground passageway to Battery Park City and you have a huge zero or low traffic network in Lower Manhattan, one that runs practically from river to river.

    The fact that it isn’t acknowledged as such — even here — is perhaps one reason that it doesn’t do as much good as it ought to. If you want a car free place, go there. Wish I worked down there instead of Midtown.

  • DisqusNYC

    The streets in Lower Manhattan are so narrow. They were never intended for car traffic.
    What happens in Manhattan should stay in Manhattan.

  • Larry Littlefield

    When you see a car free street or area in Europe, it is typically in the “Old Town.” Lower Manhattan is New York’s equivalent.

    After 9/11, when they were soliciting ideas for Lower Manhattan, I wrote and specifically recommended emphasizing this identity as an alternative to Midtown, and expanding on the pre-9/11 car free infrastructure, including making the Dey Street passageway outside fare control.

    That happened. There is a car-free network there, and it could be expanded upon.

  • Joe R.

    I personally feel there’s little good reason minor cross streets in the entirety of Manhattan need to be open to general motor traffic. Maybe that should be the next step. After that pedestrianize one of the avenues. Then eventually another one, and so forth until Manhattan is a car-free zone.

    Start on the outer boroughs after that. Really, with a little effort 4 of the 5 boroughs could be made mostly car-free. Cycling could fill in for private cars in many of the parts which are car-dependent.

  • Vooch

    car free streets ? The war on cars is a war on commerce. video examples:

  • c2check

    Stone St is nice; John and Nassau are clearly not built to be pedestrian zones even if they often function as such.
    In any case these streets don’t really form a “network”, which is what this post discusses.

  • Boris

    Nassau St used to be car-free 11am-3pm back in the 1990s. After 9/11 security zones were added that essentially created new car free areas around Broad St, but Nassau ceased to be car-free.

  • Boris

    NYC DOT has agreed to do a study analyzing, among other things, how to fix garbage collection, scaffolding, and sidewalk crowding issues in FiDi: . Hopefully one outcome will be a set of recommendations for how to expand the car-free street network.

  • Larry Littlefield

    My wife has continued to work downtown throughout her career. It has been a mess since 9/11.
    Hopefully that will change if re-construction is FINALLY complete soon. A pedestrian network, advertised as such, for the “old city,” advertised as such, would help.

  • Weiben Wang

    Chinatown is prime for a pedestrian zone. Just yesterday, they closed Mott St. to traffic, and also intersecting Bayard and Pell. It was glorious. People were leisurely strolling about, with plenty of breathing space. There was space for activities for kids, a giant street chess board, people selling food and drink, and more. But by 4pm, it was back to it’s usual state, with perpetually back up traffic, and people shoved to the margins on teeming to overflowing sidewalks. There’s no reason for through traffic on those narrow side streets, so why can’t that space be given over to people?

  • Hoboken Skier

    I agree but somehow residents would need to be able to drive those streets for stuff. Moves, loading cars to go on vacation, bringing furniture home from Ikea or even food delivery.
    I would envisage the streets being signposted as pedestrian zones but still being wide open for delivery pickup / drop off and say 10mph roads.

  • DisqusNYC

    I saw three B52 buses going up on Palmetto St. below Wyckoff Avenue within ten minutes today. The B52 could go up Linden St. and down on Gates Ave. It could also go up on Gates Ave and down on Palmetto St. Google Maps still has the bus stops not quite right yet. Mark Twain said you die from a misprint.

  • DisqusNYC

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are now four buses going up the otherwise bucolic strip of Palmetto St. just below Wyckoff Ave.: B26, B52, Q55 and Q58.

    What is your definition of busmageddon?

    Community Board 5 voted unanimously for this and CB 4 was coerced into accepting this.

    Only the Queens-bound Q55 and Q58 should be doing this. The B26 should be coming down Palmetto St. from St. Nicholas Ave. The B52 should be going as described in the previous post.

    The necessity of the bus layover on Palmetto St. needs to be evaluated if that is why all the buses gravitate towards there.

    I wish there were more literate and sympathetic people following this issue here as there are in Manhattan and elsewhere.

  • Joe R.

    Fine, so have retractable bollards which delivery trucks can control. If residents need to use a car, then a security person can lower the bollards. The idea is the cross streets should be off limits to general motor traffic. Only people who live or deliver there need access.

  • DisqusNYC

    The editors of Streetsblog should know by now that there are many serious issues unresolved at Myrtle Ave. and Wyckoff Ave.

    The entire plaza process was exposed to have many flaws at every point from the start to the finish.

    Real consideration was never given to pedestrian or bus movement around the total area.

    If Streetsblog publishes articles that portray the plaza at Myrtle and Wyckoff in a favorable light, I will counter by pointing out its faults.


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