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OPINION: CityRise Will Step Up for Streets When the Mayor Won’t

What we get when we subsidize cars: More of them.

The COVID-19 crisis is changing how people use New York City’s streets. Subway ridership is down 65 percent, bus ridership is down 40 percent, and biking is booming. All the transportation experts expect horrible gridlock when offices, businesses and schools repopulate.

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Gov. Cuomo said, “the traffic back up will be horrendous.” Traffic guru Sam Schwartz said, “traffic could come to a standstill.” The Regional Plan Association says that even people who want to drive will not be able to because congestion will approach "a point where the roads would become gridlocked.” The Rudin Center says private vehicles risk overwhelming the streets. Based on current mobility patterns, roads will seize up when 30 to 40 percent of commuters return to work, which would have huge negative consequences for employers, businesses, and residents.   

Yet Mayor de Blasio, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and her staff have all been shockingly passive in the face of these crises.

New York is too great a city to let the failings of our elected officials and city agencies stop our recovery. So I am proud to announce the launch of CityRise, a campaign to rally support for much needed transportation and livable streets reforms.   

CityRise has two main aims:

    • to magnify the overwhelming public support for necessary livable street and transportation reforms in order to overcome the timidity of de Blasio, and
    • to engage local activists to develop clear, actionable plans to implement the necessary changes on the ground to make up for the bureaucratic ossification, can’t do attitude, and lack of local engagement at the DOT. 

By solving these problems, CityRise will create the political climate and tap into the energy and resourcefulness of New Yorkers to get things done — bringing about real improvements and getting the city going again quickly.   

CityRise focuses on several policies:

    • Building out a connected, low-stress bike network. CityRise is organizing neighborhood network-planning groups to bring together local activists to develop plans for neighborhood level bike networks. These groups will focus on quick-build solutions, especially bike boulevards that can be deployed in weeks, not years.    
    • Building on the existing open streets program to create more open streets for businesses, schools, and communities.
    • Creating high-occupancy vehicle lanes and bus lanes, including HOV lanes at all entry points into Manhattan.
    • Creating at least 100 miles of dedicated bus lanes.

New Yorkers have the energy and determination to solve the problems facing the city, and we will not stand for excuses and inaction from the mayor and DOT. If the officials and public servants who are supposed to be responsible for steering our city through this crisis won’t act, CityRise will build a coalition to drive the initiatives.

The CityRise movement is being coordinated by the great staff at Open Plans, led by Lisa Orman, one of the city’s best organizers. The staff has built a structure to engage advocates around the city in a campaign to win both high-level and local support for these necessary policies.   

Ours will never be the best "driving city" in the country. Cars are just too spatially inefficient to solve our transportation needs. To recover from the pandemic, the city needs to lean into its strengths and make itself an excellent place for walking, biking and experiencing the streets. Vibrant street life will let people live such great lives that they won’t want to leave. Passively allowing traffic to make the city’s streets unlivable is a recipe for further deterioration.

Our streets can be amazing. Kids can run and play and learn at school. Businesses of all kinds can use quiet streets to create markets that enliven neighborhoods and enrich bottom lines.  Streets can be safe enough that kids can bike to school and parents to work.    

These street changes are not just about business, education and transportation. They will change the way that people live. Every day can be a block party and a street fair. Neighbors can meet; communities can form. All kinds of New Yorkers can experience a rich, vibrant life that makes the best of urban living.

Businesses across the city know that we must repurpose our streets if they are to survive.   Schools know that they need our streets for our kids. Neighborhoods need a respite from punishing traffic. People want to be able to bike safely and take transit that isn’t stuck in car traffic. With a massive show of support, we can give the mayor the courage to act in the face of the minority of voices of entitled drivers who paralyze his actions.   

CityRise is recruiting supporters who can help sign institutions on to our coalition and also neighborhood activists who can use their local knowledge to build the plans for our neighborhoods. By combining high-level support with on-the-ground knowledge, CityRise will create a framework to bring about change on New York’s streets at the speed necessary to meet the needs of the moment.   

The most positive thing to come out of this pandemic has been the rebirth of broad public engagement with New York City street space. The explosion of outdoor cafes has revitalized our streets and shown the way forward. New York needs bold, ambitious action to recover from this crisis. New Yorkers have never backed away from a challenge. Please join me, the CityRise team and volunteers from around the city to seize this moment and carry New York to a bright future.

Mark Gorton
Mark Gorton
Mark Gorton

Mark Gorton, a moving force behind CityRise, is a life-long advocate for livable streets.

The founder of Open Plans, he is also the publisher of Streetsblog.

Learn more, endorse, get involved, and connect, via email, to CityRise, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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