From Road Warriors to Summer Streets

By Mary Louise Pigott
Published August 13, 2008

The first of three Summer Streets days was held in New York City this past Saturday. A nearly seven mile stretch comprising Centre St., Lafayette, 4th Ave., and Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 72nd St. was closed to vehicle traffic from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

Similar events have been held in Paris, London, and Vancouver, to name a few, and Ciclovia in Bogota has been taking place in various forms for over 30 years.

When Summer Streets was announced in June, Mayor Bloomberg said:

In the end, Summer Streets is an experiment. If it works, we'll certainly consider doing it again. If not, we won't. But we have never been afraid to try new ideas, especially the ones that have the potential to improve our quality of life.

As Gil Penalosa, the former Parks Commissioner for Bogota puts it in the film:

I think we have to applaud the Mayor and the Commissioner for having had the guts. Sometimes it's so much easier to do nothing, and then when you do nothing no one complains.

New York's Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan also stated:

We're really committed to treating our 6,000 miles of streets as more than just travel corridors, but as really vital public places. For many of us, our streets are really our front yards and this new initiative will allow us to enjoy them free of vehicles.

The Streetfilms video of this event is a testament to the sheer joy and sense of liberation and community that car free streets gave to the citizens of New York. Clarence Eckerson of the Liveable Streets Network had trouble putting it into words:

We'll spare you the 200 adjectives we could list about how transformational it was, for it was beyond anything on the printed page. The general consensus was that the event succeeded beyond even the most hoped for expectations and would pass even the most pessimistic of measuring sticks.

Imagine the political will it took to shut down Park Avenue. Bloomberg deserves credit for blithely brushing off potential inconveniences:

Look, there will be minor inconveniences... There's minor inconveniences when it rains, when you have snow; inconveniences when it's hot, when it's cold; inconveniences when there are people on the streets, when they're not.

Now imagine what the same kind of attitude could do for Hamilton.

For those of you lucky enough to be able to get down to NYC, Summer Streets will be held for the next two Saturdays.

Mary Louise Pigott is an armchair urbanist and founding member of the Useful Knowledge Society, whose passion for urban neighbourhoods and public spaces occasionally moves her to write.

You can follow her on twitter at @mlhpigott.


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By Frank (registered) | Posted August 14, 2008 at 08:19:36

LOVE IT! Looks great with no cars lol.

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By Squelchee (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2008 at 12:01:26

Arrgh, I can't wait to see how our Suburban Squelchers would react. "We are not a wealthy city, we can't afford these luxuries..."

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 14, 2008 at 12:05:42

.... plus, there's WAY too much traffic congestion in Hamilton to pull this off.

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By Mary Louise (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2008 at 12:36:31

"Arrgh, I can't wait to see how our Suburban Squelchers would react. "We are not a wealthy city, we can't afford these luxuries...""

That's exactly what was going through my head as I was writing this. New Yorkers get "We have never been afraid to try new ideas", "We are committed to treating our streets as vital public places", and "Inconvenience, schminconvenience." We get "We are not a wealthy city", "Where will the cars go?", and "Harmony over fairness."

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 14, 2008 at 17:39:04

keep in mind, there are only 32 lanes of major east/west traffic in the 2 km wide swath from Aberdeen to Barton. How on earth would the city stay open for business if a few lanes were closed to traffic?? Imagine the millions of office workers coming downtown each day to only find 28 or 29 lanes of traffic instead of 32. It would be mass hysteria.

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