March/April 1995, p.2

From The Streets
A Walker In The City


Suddenly I'm a pedestrian. After 20 years of zipping around town by bike, I'm walking, infant son in tow. Here's what I'm seeing from my new perspective. The sidewalks are too narrow! Why shouldn't we be able to walk unencumbered, without adjusting our pace to each other and constantly, snaking around trees and trashbins?

Let's push for bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks as complementary halves of a single vision. On side streets: decommission one parking lane and divide the new space between a bike lane and broader sidewalks (see graphic). On avenues take away a parking lane and a traffic lane. The space will be there - with a revitalized transit system and roadway pricing, including electronic metering of curbside parking, there will be fewer cars to accommodate. Let's be bold enough to fill out this vision and tenacious enough to see it done.

Parked cars are ugly.
From aboard a bicycle, parked cars (and their opening doors) are a traffic obstacle to avoid. From a pedestrian's vantage, relegated to a narrow sidewalk, parked cars wall walkers in cut off our line of vision and isolate us from the street.

On Christmas, a gorgeous balmy day, I took a long stroll from Tribeca through the Village to east 23rd Street Even more liberating than the light traffic was the absence of parked cars. A blight seemed lifted from the streetscape; the streets felt fabulously wide. I abandoned the sidewalk and sauntered down the middle of the street, almost giddy from the space around me.

Bikers are okay.
In months of regular walking, I've yet to feel impinged on by a wrong-way or sidewalk cyclist (My closest call was when a fellow pedestrian stepped into my path to dodge a sidewalk food-delivery rider, he declined my suggestion to stand his ground next time). True, I do most of my walking downtown, outside the heart of take-out country. So I can't say what its like to maneuver daily on the sidewalks of the Upper West Side or Second Avenue. I do know that I look for cyclists and yield when they have the right-of-way. When I wave, they wave back.

Cars will park anywhere.
My bÍte noire is illegally parked cars. Most of downtown is zoned no-parking 8 am to 6 pm, or even 7 to 7. But cars fill every inch of curbside, often doubling up in the street or even on the sidewalk. Where are the cops? Why aren't they ticketing illegal parkers, freeing up curb space or at least helping balance the budget? One answer is that they're driving around themselves - and parking en masse on the sidewalks around the precinct house. It doesn't help that on some streets the no-parking signs have been removed or painted over, making ticketing less likely.

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