Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Putting the Park in Park Avenue

by The New York Times
August 11, 2008

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not had an easy time trying to unclog New York City’s gridlocked streets. Most notably, he lost a high-profile political battle a few months ago over congestion pricing. Now, though, the mayor has found a clever way to free at least some of the city’s streets some of the time.

Last weekend, Mr. Bloomberg and his commissioner of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan, unveiled an innovative program called Summer Streets. Nearly seven miles of Manhattan streets, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park at East 72nd Street in Manhattan — including a large stretch of Park Avenue — were shut off to car traffic for six hours on Saturday. They will be car-free again for the next two Saturdays this month.

Without honking horns and speeding taxis, the streets became serene parks, open to throngs of cyclists, in-line skaters and strollers. Yoga and fitness classes added to the therapeutic feel. Cyclists and walkers mostly seemed to respect each other, and people found themselves doing something decidedly un-New York: meandering.

Rerouted cars, meanwhile, did not seem to be terribly inconvenienced. Hundreds of police officers were on hand to direct them around the impromptu park.

New York is not the first city to temporarily transform its traffic-clogged streets. It has been tried, with great success, in Bogotá, Colombia, where car-free Sundays and holidays are called Ciclovía, and in Paris. Mayor Bloomberg has said that if these early experiments with Summer Streets are a success, he would like to do it again, and perhaps extend it to other parts of the city. If Saturday was any indication, New Yorkers are voting with their feet — in favor of more chances to displace the cars, trucks and taxis for a day, and go for a stroll.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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