Illustration by Liam B. Harris
Traffic deaths are near an all-time low, bike ridership is higher than ever, streets with pedestrian amenities are seeing significant economic success, and millions of New Yorkers have come to expect safe and convenient biking, walking and transit. That’s a blessing for all of us, and a challenge for New York City’s new decision makers.
In the five boroughs, nothing stays the same. If it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. So what can keep the livable streets revolution on track and New Yorkers feeling good about how they get around? The answers are surprisingly simple.
Streets with design improvements like protected bike lanes, dedicated pedestrian space and 20 mph speed limits have seen injuries and fatalities drop by 30 to 50 percent citywide. That not only keeps New Yorkers safer, it also saves the City hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lawsuits and emergency response costs. What’s more, demand for Play Streets, Safe Routes to School, Safe Routes for Seniors and Neighborhood Slow Zones far outpaces the City’s capacity to install them. Expanding these popular programs is a simple way to make every New Yorker safer.
Lead, Don’t Follow
In New York City, our streets are our backyard, so it’s no surprise that small tweaks to them sometimes result in oversized responses. Change isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Things won’t stay the same. Traffic, safety, business and community rise and fall with New York City’s transportation infrastructure. A real leader will recognize that and do everything in his or her power to keep New York moving.
Every borough has a handful of big, broad, arterial streets that are key to neighborhood life and citywide mobility. These thoroughfares, like Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, Delancey Street and the Grand Concourse, ought to have safe space for everyone—drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. That means more dedicated bus lanes, protected bike routes, wider sidewalks and other modern enhancements that not only make life easier for folks without cars, but also shorten travel times for drivers. The transportation choices that complete streets offer draw shoppers to local businesses, and attract companies and talent that will shape the city’s economy.
Truth in Numbers
A recent New York Times poll found that 66 percent of New Yorkers believe that bike lanes are a good idea. A DOT study just concluded that retail sales are up along city streets with bike paths, pedestrian plazas, slow zones or Select Bus Service—in one case as much as 170 percent. These numbers aren’t doctored, and they’re certainly not insignificant. They make a clear case for the popularity and power of progressive infrastructure. In the coming years, data-driven planning will help the City parse signal from noise and make a case for smarter streets.
Traffic crashes have killed more people than illegal guns in New York City over the past decade, yet some in Albany, City Hall and One Police Plaza continue to fight the laws and practices that could help stop this devastating wave of violence. Automated enforcement cameras, tougher sentencing and stronger investigations into traffic crashes are an obvious way to tame New York City’s wild streets. Tomorrow’s decision makers will have to get serious about enforcement.