It should be clear that New York City's 75-year attempt to accommodate more and more cars has been a disastrous failure. Placing cars and the smooth flow of traffic before all else has resulted in more cars-not less-and an assault on the health and sensibilities of everyone living, working or walking in the City. Streets that were once places to play stick-ball and shop from vendors have long since been monopolized by the automobile. Many streets have been widened so much that they've become treacherous moats, dividing communities and threatening even the most athletic and intrepid pedestrians.
Despite history's obvious lessons, many people who hate cars in their neighborhoods are hypnotized by the appeal of "improving" the flow of automobile traffic. They accept the false premise that the more room there is for cars, the faster they'll leave their neighborhoods. In fact, most community boards in NYC subscribe to this illogic. Board 6 on Manhattan's East side toyed with allowing cars on the Queensboro Bridge's pedestrian and cycle path. Boards 4,5 and 6 opposed the 42nd Street light rail because two car lanes would be eliminated, and Board 2 opposed creating a car-free side street. Not one of the ten boards surrounding Central or Prospect Parks support car-free parks. All this bowing to cars in a city where 56% of households do not even own automobiles.
Popular misconceptions are fueled by the State and City Departments of Motoring, which have a traffic-flow-at-all cost attitude. Amazingly, they still assert that adding road capacity to keep car traffic moving actually reduces air pollution. Their hostility towards ideas that could reduce street space for cars is paralyzing pedestrian safety innovations and traffic calming. Bureaucratic glimmers of hope, like the NYC Department of Transportation's Pedestrian and Bicycle programs, are being stymied by the Traffic Division. Only when it can be proved that car traffic flow won't be affected, or when extraordinary political force is brought to bear, are such projects even considered.
Despite this, New Yorkers are beginning to understand that better traffic flow doesn't mean better living. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed by an Upper East Side Council member said they wanted a Car-Free Central Park. Merchants on Fulton Street in downtown Manhattan, and members of mid-town's Grand Central Partnership are happy with experimental car-free lunch hours. All over the City citizens are demanding safer walking conditions. Slowly, the falsity of traffic flow first is being revealed and understood. In June, Transportation Alternatives' membership passed 3,000, double that of three years ago. Join us, if you haven't already. There is no better time to put people before cars.