Ugliness and inaccessibility go hand and hand. The Broadway steps leading to the plaza, which is usually nearly empty of live people.
A desolate block right behind Lincoln Center: the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets. There are two large retail stores on this block that are empty with for rent signs — an indicator that rents are too expensive and the neighborhood cannot support commercial establishments (hence, they are going out of business).
An “inviting” “arts center”? Entrance to Lincoln Center at 65th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.
Welcome! The steps from Amsterdam Avenue.
Warm and fuzzy. Entrance passageway, with 67th Street on left.
Ramesses II would have been proud.
A public friendly space? (“All are welcome.”)
62nd St between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. (Lincoln Center on left.) Note the vibrant street life.
Happy clusters of people congregate like flocks in front of Lincoln Center.
Addendum: The construction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which was opened in 1959, destroyed a neighborhood on New York City’s West Side. The project encompassed 53 acres and involved demolishing 2,100 households as well of hundreds of businesses. Something very similar happened with the United Nations headquarters, which created another urban dead zone with no vitality or street life. Jane Jacobs put it best when she described Lincoln Center as “a piece of built-in rigor mortis.”
I emailed the following comment to my wife last month: “Do you realize that you married a genius?”
Don’t worry, I said it in jest. Or at least half in jest. It’s okay to make such comments, jesting or not, to one’s spouse.
She responded, “Let’s not get carried away, dear.” She tends to keep me from getting a swelled head. She is never awed by me. Admires me, yes. Knows my weaknesses all too well. Takes me with a grain of salt. Isn’t given to making exaggerated claims about anyone, including herself.
I have never liked Lincoln Center. It’s a sterile “arts center” with worse seating and acoustics than Carnegie Hall. The architecture is typical 1960’s (think Shea Stadium): functional but uninspiring. Lincoln Center ruined a neighborhood; the surrounding streets have no street life. There are hardly any restaurants, watering holes, cafes, or places of interest, other than one or two rip-off restaurants on the other side of Broadway, across the street from the main entrance.
Guess what? The pioneering urban theorist and writer Jane Jacobs, who became famous for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, said essentially the same thing:
… the street, not the block, is the significant unit. … When blight or improvement spreads, it comes along the street. Entire complexes of city life take their names, not from blocks, but from streets — Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, State Street, Canal Street, Beacon Street.
… Believing their block maps instead of their eyes, developers think of downtown streets as dividers of areas, not as the unifiers they are. … The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York is a case in point. This cultural superblock is intended to be very grand and the focus of the whole music and dance world of New York. But its streets will be able to give it no support whatever. Its eastern street is a major trucking artery where the cargo trailers, on their way to the industrial districts and tunnels, roar so loudly that sidewalk construction must be shouted. To the north, the street will be shared with a huge, and grim, high school. To the south will be another superblock institution, a campus for Fordham.
And what of the new Metropolitan Opera, to be the crowning glory of the project? The old opera has long suffered from the fact that it has been out of context amid the garment district streets, with their overpowering loft buildings and huge cafeterias. There was a lesson here for the project planners. If the published plans are followed, however, the opera will again have neighbor trouble. Its back will be its effective entrance; for this is the only place where the building will be convenient to the street and here is where opera-goers will disembark from taxis and cars. Lining the other side of the street are the towers of one of New York’s bleakest public-housing projects. Out of the frying pan into the fire.
— “Downtown Is for People,” Fortune, April 1958
… New York consists of an intricate, living network of relationships–made up of an enormously rich variety of people and activities. … Consider the interdependence, the constant adjustment, and the mutual support of every kind which must work, and work well, in a city like ours.
This cross-crossing of relationships means, for instance, that a Russian tea room and last year’s minks and a place to rent English sports cars bloom well near Carnegie Hall. …
All that we have in New York of magnetism, of opportunities to earn a living, of leadership of the arts, of glamor, of convenience, of power to fulfill and assimilate our immigrants, of ability to repair our wounds and right our evils, depends on our great and wonderful criss-cross of relationships. …
This is all so obvious it should be unnecessary to mention. But it is necessary, for our slum clearers, housing officials, highway planners and semi-public developers have been treating the city as if were only a bunch of physical raw materials – land, space, roads, utilities. They are destroying New York’s variety and disorganizing its economic and social relationships just as swiftly and efficiently as rebuilding money can destroy them.
The most direct destruction is, of course, associated with clearance, and this is a painful aspect of slum elimination of which we are becoming aware. It was described well by Harrison Salisbury, in his New York Times series on delinquency. “When slum clearance enters an area,” says Salisbury, “it does not merely rip out slatternly houses. It uproots the people. It tears out the churches. It destroys the local businessman. It sends the neighborhood lawyer to new offices downtown and it mangles the tight skein of community friendships and group relationships beyond repair.”
…. Our rebuilders have no idea of what they are destroying, and they have no idea of repairing the damage – or making it possible for anyone else to do so. The entire theory of urban rebuilding rests on the premise that subsidized improvements will catalyze further spontaneous improvement. It is not working that way in New York. Living communities, portions of living commercial districts, are so ruthlessly and haphazardly amputated that the remnants, far from improving, get galloping gangrene.
Furthermore, the newly built projects themselves stifle the growth of relationships. We are now conscious that this is true of the huge public housing projects. What we may not be so aware of is that this stifling of variety and of economic and social relationships is inherent in the massive project approach itself, whether public or private housing or anything else.
Take the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts for example. It is planned entirely on the assumption that the logical neighbor of a hall is another hall. Nonsense. Who goes straight from the Metropolitan Opera to the Philharmonic concert and thence to the ballet? The logical neighbors of a hall are bars, florist shops, non-institutionalized restaurants, studios, all the kinds of thing [sic] you find on West Fifth-seventh Street or along Times Square or generated by the off-Broadway theatres down here in the Village. True, halls and theatres are desirable to each other as nearby neighbors to the extent that their joint support is needed to generate this kind of urbanity and variety. But Lincoln Center is so planned and so bounded that there is no possible place for variety, convenience and urbanity to work itself in or alongside. The city’s unique stock-in-trade is destroyed for these halls in advance, and for keeps, as long as the Center lives. It is a piece of built-in rigor mortis. [italics added] …
Lincoln Center shows a brutal disregard for still another type of urban relationship. It will have a catastrophic effect on Amsterdam Houses, a ten-year-old, 800-family public housing project. Amsterdam Houses is now bordered by factories, railroad tracks. garages and institutions except on its eastern side. On that one side, fortunately, it faces, across the street, forty-eight lively neighborhood stores, part of a non-project, ordinary community. The stores and the non-project community will be cleared out to make way for Lincoln Center. The tenants of Amsterdam Houses will therefore no longer have neighborhood stores or any contact with non-project community life, which they desperately need. Instead they will have the Metropolitan Opera. This project will be utterly shut off to itself and isolated. I should think its people would explode. What kind of irresponsibility it this that deliberately and at great expense, makes intimate neighbors of public housing and the Opera, depriving each of the neighbors it needs?
— “A Living Network of Relationships”; speech at The New School for Social Research, April 20, 1958
Jane Jacobs and I both think, see, and say the same things. I am convinced she was a genius. She stood urban planning and the way people think about cities on its head.
Ergo, I am a genius.
But, I see in her writing and views similarity to my own writing and cast of mind. For example:
We are both by nurture and nature contrarians.
We are liberal on many social and political issues, but we have a deep, ingrained strain of conservatism. Some commentators perceived Jacobs, who was arrested for anti-government and antiwar protest activities, as being reactionary.
We both rely on good old plain thinking more than education or professional credentials. We try to think everything through anew, to see it for ourselves — through our own eyes — to examine it “from the ground up.” We don’t tend to be influenced by accepted doctrines.
We both distrust big government and social engineering.
We are both essentially apolitical, but apt to be attacked for our views.
She is refreshingly jargon free. She writes simply and clearly (and, persuasively).
Does my writing compare? I will leave it to the judgment of readers of this blog. But, you know what, I think it does. So there!
“New York City is releasing a report on Friday aimed at easing congestion on the Brooklyn Bridge, which has become known as the ‘Times Square in the Sky.’ The Brooklyn Bridge has become as famous for its outsize crowds as its sweeping views of the New York skyline — earning it the distinction of the ‘Times Square in the Sky.’ “
Oh, no. Another report coming. Already, I am dubious. The Brooklyn Bridge is indeed famous, as a beautiful bridge and an engineering marvel, for its promenade and views. But, “Times Square in the Sky”? That appellation (can the word appellation be used with a structure?) doesn’t fit. It’s like calling Barack Obama “the Donald Trump of the Democratic Party.”
“The elevated promenade of the iconic bridge is clogged with selfie-posing tourists, vendors hawking water and souvenir knickknacks, and harried commuters just trying to get to work or back home.”
There is some truth to this all. Yes, the bridge is clogged — at peak hours, such as during rush hour and often during the day — but it depends on weather and other factors.
With tourists, many leaning over the sides to admire the view or taking “selfies.” This is a bad thing? Not whatsoever. That the bridge is a tourist attraction — as is Central Park — is actually wonderful, in many respects. It means that the bridge is special and is so recognized. The tourists add so much to the vitality of the pedestrian throng. (More about this below.)
The vendors do NOT present a problem. They are unobtrusive and are mostly located at the Manhattan entrance to the bridge. That they are selling water to me is a plus, since I often walk the bridge on hot summer days. There are few “vendors hawking … souvenir knickknacks,” and those that are, are not a bother to me; they are also unobtrusive. The writer of this article, Winnie Hu, who has the Times “pedestrian transportation” beat, exaggerates and distorts for the sake of a story. You would think this is the Grand Bazaar. Far from it.
“Cyclists constantly brake for pedestrians overflowing into the bike lane. Pedestrians yell at cyclists for going too fast, or coming too close.”
This is true. It’s a fact of life on the bridge, when it’s crowded (which is not always). But it’s not a serious problem — it’s a consequence of having the elevated walkway (which is mostly a boardwalk) of the bridge shared by pedestrians and cyclists. If you are going to have this, you are going to have some jostling of each group for the right of way.
I cross the bridge as a pedestrian. Sometimes, I stray a bit into the bike lane, sometimes owing to absent mindedness, at other times because the pedestrian lane is crowded. Bikers ring their bells or shout at me to get out of the way. I can bear it. The bikers seem to me to be too aggressive. They regard “errant” walkers like me as a nuisance. It’s the kind of tradeoff and interaction that regularly occurs in a big city, and it’s one I can live with. I am sure there are unobstructed jogging, bike, and equestrian paths somewhere in idyllic regions beyond the city limits.
“In response, the New York City Department of Transportation is taking a series of steps to relieve congestion on the Brooklyn Bridge, including possibly creating a separate bike-only entrance to the bridge on the Manhattan side and limiting the number of vendors and where they can sell on the promenade.”
Beware the New York City Department of Transportation. Social engineers, not many of whom, I suspect, actually walk the streets and bridges, as I do. Congestion on the bridge (pedestrian congestion, that is; there are also traffic lanes on a lower level) is a FACT on certain days and certain hours (such as rush hours, weekends, during nice weather, and so on), but it is not a PROBLEM.
Limiting the number of vendors or taking measures to control them is entirely uncalled for. The vendors bother no one. To repeat, they are not obtrusive. They are an asset because of things like bottled water which they sell, at moderate prices. They are making a living. What is really going on here is common to policy initiatives taken by social engineers: attack the problem at the “lowest level” by picking on the easiest targets, which means those lowest on the socioeconomic scale who have no one to advocate for them.
“These steps were outlined in a report released Friday that was based partly on the findings of an engineering study by a consulting firm, Aecom, which was hired by the city in 2016 to look for ways to relieve overcrowding and improve safety on the promenade.”
Beware of such studies. The firm hired gets a hefty fee for a producing a report that was and is entirely unneeded in the first place. It’s incumbent upon the firm to find “problems” that need to be corrected or rectified, and to come up with nonessential recommendations. So, they find, for example, that vendors are a problem, which they are not. Or that, more seriously, there are too many pedestrians, which there are not.
Here’s the truth. The crowds on the bridge are exhilarating. That there are so many people on a high, as it were, from walking over the bridge, makes it fun to be part of the crowd. (The reason people live in cities: because they like to directly or vicariously interact with and experience other people and to be part of what Walt Whitman called the “democratic En-Masse.”)
I sometimes walk over the Queensboro Bridge to get to Manhattan — it’s closer to my home. Even on nice days, the Queensboro Bridge has very few pedestrians. When it is cold or the weather isn’t anything to rave about, there are hardly any pedestrians. Walking over the bridge is, consequently, not uplifting. And, the views, which could be spectacular, are nothing great because of a barrier on either side of latticework that restricts one’s view. And, the promenade is a cold cement walkway.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is the opposite type of experience, and the crowd makes it fun. People always seem to be in great spirits, as is the case with Central Park. It’s fun to see all the attractive people, most of them young and vibrant, not only getting exercise but reveling in the atmosphere. Many of them are chatting, taking photos. Couples are having a wonderful time together.
Sometimes I stop to chat with the tourists. There are so many of them. They add so much to the atmosphere (of the walking throng, that is). They are often taking photos of one another. This is a problem that social engineers should be concerned about? (And what about the fact that tourists contribute mightily to the local economy?) Sometimes I will ask one of them to take a photo of me. They are invariably obliging. And, usually, it happens that this leads to me striking up a conversation with them to find out where they come from and what they think of New York. You can only have these experiences frequently in a great metropolis like New York.
The tourists are not taking “selfies.” They are taking photos of one another (this is a crime?), as is often the case with young couples, and young people in general, such as a girl posing for a friend taking a photo of her.
“The Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883, once carried far more people when railroad cars and trolleys used the bridge. But today, traffic is limited to six lanes for passenger vehicles and the wood-and-concrete promenade overhead that narrows to just 10 feet across in places, barely wide enough to fit the side-by-side pedestrian and bike lanes.”
Yes, the pedestrian promenade is narrow at spots; at other points along the walkway, it’s wide. So what? Some city sidewalks are narrow; others are much wider. PEOPLE MANAGE.
“Several vendors said that they did not want to give up their spots on the bridge. ‘I don’t want to move, I want to stay,” said M.D. Rahman, who was selling hot dogs and water on a recent afternoon.’‘I have my family to take care of — this is my bread. If I move, where do I go?’ “
Good for him! I hope the vendors prevail, but I am dubious about the prospect. The MTA did the same thing, opening subway stations without the usual newsstands selling newspapers, sodas, and candy which are missed by subway riders. Why are amenities such as vendors selling water and hot dogs and newsstands gotten rid of? Because the bloodless policy wonks could care less about what actual living, breathing people want. It’s a sort of perverse exercise in control and “crowd management” by efficiency experts run amok. As if crowds were a priori a problem in a metropolis. Crowds define it, make it what it is Crowds are the protoplasm of cities.
“… transportation officials have postponed any decision on whether to widen the promenade itself, including one option to build decks on top of the girders that run directly above the car lanes. The new report cited Aecom’s finding that a larger promenade would attract even more people and add more weight to the bridge, which could be a problem.”
The bridge was completed in 1883. Vehicles and walkers (yes, people!) have been crossing it ever since. It was and is an engineering marvel and is a beauty to behold. It doesn’t’ need fixing!
Yesterday, Sunday, November 12, I set out from my house, intending to walk the whole perimeter of Manhattan. It is a walk of around 32 miles and is said to take 12 to 15 hours. I started from 63rd Street and Second Avenue at around 7:30 a.m.
I didn’t make it. I stopped a couple of times for coffee breaks. This extended the length of my walk. By late afternoon, as darkness was coming on, I had only gotten about halfway. I was also getting tired. I would guess that I did around half the distance, a bit less. Maybe 13 or 14 miles.
If I had kept going, I would not have gotten back to my starting point, 63rd Street and Second Avenue, until probably around midnight.
Below are some photos from my jaunt.
— Roger W. Smith
November 13, 2017
Addendum: I have commented in several posts about what I perceive to be the beneficial health effects of walking. Yesterday was a very nice day, cold but clear and sunny. I had been feeling under the weather. For me, the best medicine for a cold is exercise and, especially, fresh air.
As one progresses along First Avenue, one eventually runs into a roadblock of sorts. Not an actual roadblock, but at around 125th Street, the Harlem River impedes one’s northerly progress. One has to start veering west following the curvature of Manhattan Island. One proceeds northerly through Harlem, continually veering west.
The area of First Avenue (and avenues slightly to the west) from around 90th Street to 125th Street is very bleak. There are hardly any restaurants, business establishments, or places of interest. The occasional gas station (a rarity in most of Manhattan).
One might expect such an area to become gradually gentrified, as the rest of the City has. What seems to prevent this are the bleak housing projects, built during the 1950’s in the “slum clearance” era when the poor and minorities were as a matter of policy moved to Soviet style housing projects favored by misguided (to put it kindly) city planners. These housing blocks have no personality and are grim architecturally. There are no commercial establishments nearby.
Harlem proper, which is to say the blocks in the part of Harlem further west, is a very nice area; it is becoming (and already has become, for the most part) gentrified.
Around 155th Street as I kept veering west, I took what I thought was a through street and ended up in a cul-de-sac. I realized I was in the midst of housing project. It turned out to be the Polo Grounds Towers, site of the home of the former New York Giants baseball team. The Polo Grounds stadium, home of the Giants, was demolished in 1964.
As I emerged from the housing project, I walked up a long, very steep stairway on which were painted the following words: “The John T. Brush Stairway Presented by the New York Giants.” John T. Brush (1845-1912) was one of the first owners of the New York Giants baseball team.
At the top of the stairway was Edgecombe Avenue. There was no traffic and not a pedestrian in sight. Across the street was a promontory which, though I had never been in this area before, I realized had to be Coogan’s Bluff. As noted in a Wikipedia entry, “A deep escarpment descends 175 feet from Edgecombe Avenue to the river, creating a sheltered area between the bluff and river known as Coogan’s Hollow. For 83 years, the hollow was home to the legendary Polo Grounds sports stadium.” Sportswriter Red Smith called Bobby Thomson’s homerun to clinch the 1951 pennant for the New York Giants “the miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.”
Fifth Avenue, NYC; 1:40 p.m.; Wednesday, September 20, 2017
I took the above photo yesterday (September 20, 2017) on Fifth Avenue at 1:40 p.m. The photo was taken on a Wednesday afternoon on the avenue near 45th Street. In other words, in the heart of the Manhattan on a business day.
It can be plainly seen that there is little traffic. Certainly, no traffic jam.
And yet, social engineers — revered by Manhattan based yuppies who hate cars — want to implement a so called “congestion pricing” plan (already in effect in London), under which automobiles entering central sections of Manhattan on weekdays would be charged a fee.
Wouldn’t you know it, the New York Times editorial board is all for the plan. (See “A Solution to New York City’s Gridlock,” editorial, September 19, 2017.)
One thing the Times editorial writers lack is common sense, or any kind of feeling for life as it is actually experienced by the average person. If they would just look around them (see my photo), they would see that the “problem” they are wringing their hands about is NOT a problem. Public transit is remarkably efficient, despite problems which regularly occur. Traffic of the vehicular sort moves well, for the most part, especially when taking into account the concentration of economic, entertainment, and recreational activities and the population density in Manhattan. Pedestrian traffic flows beautifully — another thing the Times bemoans (the state of pedestrian traffic, that is), stating, incredibly, that the case is just the opposite, when everyone who walks knows that this is not true.
I myself like (love) to walk in the City. But, I have nothing against automobiles. There is plenty of room for cars, buses, and pedestrians, thank you!
As one Times reader noted (letter to the editor, May 31, 2016), congestion pricing “is a good way to hasten the transformation of southern Manhattan into an island for only the gilded rich, a process already occurring.”
This op ed should be retitled: “A PLAN to DESTROY Fifth Avenue.”
It is a horrible piece, founded on plain bad thinking. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer, city planner, or urban studies professor to see this.
If Jane Jacobs could read this piece, she would be rolling over in her grave.
Below are the points made by Ms. Sadik-Khan (in boldface), followed seriatim by my commentary.
— Roger W. Smith
January 2017; updated April 2017
To quote from Ms. Sadik-Khan’s New York Times op ed piece. (Her words are in boldface, followed by my comments.)
“President-elect Donald J. Trump, lives in New York City, on Fifth Avenue.”
So what? Fifth Avenue has been a Manhattan thoroughfare over 150 years; Donald Trump’s presidency will last at most for eight years. Fifth Avenue is approximately 135 city blocks — or just under seven miles — long from south to north. Donald Trump’s residence, Trump Tower, is situated on a single block between 56th and 57th Streets.
Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is “home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity and traffic bedlam.”
Except for the fact that a few sections such as streets in the vicinity of Trump Tower have been closed to traffic, causing traffic problems (and a block long stretch of the avenue having been closed to pedestrians on the block where Trump Tower is located),* traffic on the avenue usually flows smoothly, as I have observed for years — there is hardly ever “traffic bedlam.” Yes, there is often a dense concentration of humanity on some parts of the avenue, such as near Rockefeller Center and Grand Army Plaza, but wide sidewalks make the avenue very walkable, and there is nothing like the congestion, pedestrian wise, that one often experiences in Times Square.
Fifth Avenue is not “home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity.” Factually inaccurate. Maybe Calcutta.
* This was a problem in January 2017 when this post was written. With Trump having moved to Washington, pedestrian and vehicular traffic on Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower now flows well. Some side streets are still closed off.
“Fifth Avenue’s five lanes run past landmarks like the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”
So what? Landmarks make the avenue special. Expensive retail shops give it a feeling of luxuriousness. Yes, Fifth Avenue is a premium locale, Manhattan’s priciest and most exclusive avenue, with expensive properties. Is that a bad thing? People of modest means or less than high class status are by no means barred from it.
“Fifth Avenue at 56th Street is the site of Mr. Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower, which has rapidly turned into a fortress of Secret Service agents and heavily armed police officers surrounded by curious tourists, camera crews and protesters. They join the usual shoppers, workers and other pedestrians on what were already crowded sidewalks, and often spill into the street. This has significantly slowed traffic, and security concerns have forced the closing of side streets.”
This is too bad. But is the solution for this inconvenience to restrict access to the avenue even more? When and to what end, I ask. What will this accomplish? The solution proposed is right out of Part III of Gulliver’s Travels (“A Voyage to Laputa”; the opening chapters of same).
“While Mr. Trump has said he will move into the White House, his wife and youngest child plan to wait until at least the end of the school year. During the campaign, Mr. Trump was known for flying home late at night so that he could wake up in his own bed, and he has said that he plans to return to the city frequently. If he chooses to stay even part of the week in New York, Trump Tower will become a de facto presidential residence and seat of global power.”
More power to him (and Madame Trump). For this, the traffic czars want to restrict traffic access to Fifth Ave?
“The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”
Ditto. I don’t like the disruption of traffic and pedestrian flow caused by Trump Tower’s being the home of the newly elected president. Let’s hope they don’t “permanently paralyze the city’s streets.” Is she thinking of shutting the City down?
“As much as Mr. Trump’s election is a historic moment, it also provides an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim Fifth Avenue as a pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.”
Aha, here’s what she wants! To get rid of traffic on Fifth Avenue and recreate on one of the world’s great avenues a so called “public space”! Her zany proposal, if implemented, will ruin the avenue and destroy its character, for sure. Look what the traffic engineers have already done to Times Square and other parts of the city, such as Herald Square. (See photo below of miserable people in the horrible, ugly “public space” that now graces — meant sarcastically — the epicenter of Times Square.)
Who says (why in God’s name does she?) that Fifth Avenue has to be “reclaimed?” As if we were in the South Bronx of the 1970’s.
“[R]eclaim Fifth Avenue as a pedestrian street.” What? It’s already a great pedestrian street. (See photos below.) It’s not in need of “reclamation”!
“A natural comparison would be with car-free Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Creating public plazas out of streets physically embodies democracy in cities. It gives people room to reflect on their civic institutions instead of being herded along — as they currently are around Trump Tower.”
“Creating public plazas out of streets physically embodies democracy in cities.”
Highfalutin psychobabble. NONSENSE masquerading as wisdom.
“It gives people room to reflect on their civic institutions instead of being herded along — as they currently are around Trump Tower.”
“Herded along”? I can walk just fine on Fifth Avenue, thank you very much, without any one redesigning it for me. It’s a great street to walk on. So much fun. Wide sidewalks. No impediments, save for the barriers and police presence between 56th And 57th Streets, which I myself don’t like, and which are quite recent. Because of this, this nutty “savant “wants to shut down fifteen more blocks of the avenue (to traffic).
“Room to reflect on their civic institutions”? That’s a good one. Is this what the people in the photo below of Times Square’s truly horrible public space are doing?
Think about it. Traffic runs one way on Fifth Avenue (downtown, from north to south). This was the result of making Manhattan’s avenues one way in the 1950’s to improve traffic flow. There are ample sidewalks on either side of the avenue, which give pedestrians the opportunity to not only stroll the avenue and people watch, but also to look at and perhaps visit the shops and institutions which they pass. For example, I like to walk past the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets and admire its beauty and grandeur (people are always congregated on the library steps and in front of the building, enjoying the sun in the summer time, taking photos, enjoying a coffee), past department stores such as Lord and Taylor’s at 38th and Fifth Avenue, and so on.
Fifth Avenue is a great street to walk on, plain and simple. But what does Janette Sadik-Khan, who is anti-automobile, propose doing? Shutting down three lanes of the avenue, which would be exclusively for pedestrians. Why? Who wants to walk in the MIDDLE of the street, and who said there wasn’t already a place to walk?
“Unlike Pennsylvania Avenue [in Washington, DC], however, Fifth Avenue is a vital transit conduit for 38 bus lines carrying tens of thousands of people every day across Manhattan and to and from the other boroughs. Reserving two lanes for their use (and for the motorcades) would allow the other three to be dedicated to pedestrians.”
As I have said above, traffic flows fine right now on Fifth Avenue, at most times; obviously, it flows better at some times than others. There was severe traffic congestion for a day or two right after Trump was elected when demonstrations were taking place in front of Trump Tower, and there may be congestion — near, say, Rockefeller Center — around Christmastime, but even that is occasional. There are nice wide sidewalks already for pedestrians to walk on!
I have always liked the fact that, in cities, there is a mixture of pedestrians, automobiles, buses, and subways. It means one has a choice of how to get around. (I actually take a perverse pleasure in jaywalking and dodging cars.)
I like the traffic on Fifth Avenue. While strolling on the broad sidewalks north of 59th Street (cobblestone on the west side of the avenue) — with Central Park to one’s left; or, conversely, on the other side of the street, luxurious apartment buildings — I like to mix with the pedestrian throng while at the same time viewing the cars and buses as they rumble down the avenue. There’s something pleasant about realizing that not only is it a beautiful avenue, but that it also serves a purpose as an efficient conduit for north-south traffic.
I rarely drive or ride in a car when in the City. I love being a pedestrian because of the peaceful feeling, the exercise, the opportunity one has to view, at a leisurely pace, any and all sorts of interesting places and commercial establishments. Fifth Avenue is already great to walk along. So now we have to create three dedicated pedestrian lanes. For what? So that people can walk in the avenue. Who wants to walk there? What’s wrong with the good old sidewalks? They do attract a lot of pedestrians, which make them even more fun to stroll on. But, pedestrian traffic is almost never impeded, for any reason whatsoever – except for the situation in front of Trump Tower, which is not the result of Fifth Avenue being Fifth Avenue.
“Commercial traffic has already long been banned from Fifth Avenue, and deliveries by truck could continue at enhanced delivery zones on side streets during set times of the day. As for taxis, the city can make accommodations for passenger drop-offs, but prevent cabs from cruising along empty for blocks on end.”
What, in the name of God, is an “enhanced delivery zone”?
Why harass cab drivers? It’s tough enough for them to make a living, and it’s very hard to hail an unoccupied cab in the City.
Ban cars and taxis from a stretch of Fifth Avenue. Why? Every time this sort of thing is done, it creates more congestion on the other avenues which flow from south to north or in the other direction.
“This isn’t just a feel-good experiment in civics, nor is it a public transit boondoggle.”
Says who? The clueless author of this article, that’s who.
“Streets that accommodate more people are also better for business.”
Really? My wife likes to drive to shop at a fancy store on Fifth Avenue on off hours when traffic is light and parking is available. How will deliveries be made to these retail establishments?
“In a similar project I helped introduce in 2009, in the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, seven blocks of Broadway in Times Square were closed to traffic, and two traffic lanes were removed between Columbus Circle at 59th Street and 17th Street, a distance of more than two miles.”
I have already noted that Times Square is unpleasant to hang out in because of the changes made by Mayor Bloomberg and his traffic commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Kahn. The public spaces, to put it kindly, are horrible. Don’t take my word for it. Go there sometime, if you can.
“New Yorkers in cars and cabs are quick to adapt to change, and drivers easily found alternate routes.”
Wishful thinking, Ms. Sadik-Khan is totally anti-car and is in la la land, so to speak, as regards transportation realities. It’s the polar opposite of (insofar as Ms. Sadik-Khan is anti-car), but the same high handed, autocratic “we know what’s best for the public” attitude that the urban designers who were totally anti-pedestrian, of the 1950’s had.
Drivers in NYC are always looking for alternate routes. Why foist on them the burden and aggravation of having to look for more?
Shutting down a stretch of Fifth Avenue to vehicular traffic will force a spillover of traffic to avenues further east, such as Park, Lexington, and Second Avenues, which are already clogged.
“The expansion of rapid bus networks in the city and the opening of the Second Avenue subway mean that there are more alternatives than ever to driving in Midtown Manhattan. Turning Fifth Avenue into a bus- and pedestrian-friendly corridor can be the next step: It would not only solve the problem of the Trump Tower jam but also encourage more people to walk, use the growing bike share system and enjoy the better bus service.”
In other words, let’s get rid of cars, which will supposedly force people to walk, ride bicycles, or take the subway. A utopian, impractical scheme. I myself prefer to walk or take public transportation. But, as Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “automobiles are hardly inherent destroyers of cities”; they are not bad. Many people prefer them. Others need to use them. And, cars and vans are an efficient way to make deliveries.
“… [T]his transformation of Fifth Avenue may be that sweet spot where urbanism, transportation engineering, democracy and politics can align.”
This is purple prose and pure nonsense. Pray that her loony idea never comes to fruition.
P.S. An op ed page should be a place for divergent opinions. But, really, what were the New York Times editors thinking when they published this piece? Does it echo their thinking? I have a sneaking suspicion that it does. Social engineers are always trying to retool institutions, overhaul codes of behavior, alter public spaces, and so forth, supposedly for our “betterment,” ignoring accumulated wisdom, common sense, and the experience of life as the benighted masses actually live and experience it.
Below (also depicted above) are photographs of the Times Square public space taken by Roger W. Smith. It was virtually empty on midday on a recent February 2017 afternoon. The temperature was in the mid 40’s. It’s truly ugly and I wonder if the few people there are “reflect[ing] on their civic institutions.”
Times Square Public space, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Times Square Public space, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Times Square Public space, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Times Square Public space, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Times Square Public space, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Also below is a photo by Roger W. Smith of another one of the urban “oases” (read, eyesores) created by Ms. Sadik-Khan: the Garment District seating area at 40th Street and Broadway. Hardly anyone is there, and the seats are empty. It serves mainly to create another traffic obstruction.
Garment District seating area, February 2, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Below are photographs of Fifth Avenue taken by Roger W. Smith in the early afternoon on Saturday, February 4, 2017. Take a look. Where are the “traffic bedlam” and the crowds? “[H]ome to one of the world’s densest concentrations of humanity and traffic bedlam”?
Fifth Avenue 2:44 p.m., February 4, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Fifth Avenue 2:45 p.m., February 4, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
Fifth Avenue 2:54 p.m., February 4, 2017 (photo by Roger W. Smith)
I took the attached photo of Fifth Ave near 79th St. yesterday afternoon at around rush hour:
Where is the heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic that the traffic engineers have been writing jeremiads about? They want to solve the “problem” by shutting part of the avenue down.
Fifth Avenue, January 2017 (photograph by Roger W. Smith)
–– Roger W. Smith, email to a friend, February 1, 2017
Fifth Avenue, 12:25 p.m.; August 20, 2018
I took the above photo on Fifth Avenue in the 40’s at midday on a Monday afternoon in August 2018. Where is the traffic jam? The truth is that traffic usually flows very well on Fifth Avenue, which runs in one direction, downtown, from north to south. No traffic crisis requiring the intervention of city planners.
The above referenced New York Times article is about the massive traffic headaches that have already been created – and which are looming – mainly on Fifth Avenue and on streets and other avenues in Manhattan in the vicinity of Trump Tower. Trump Tower, the main residence, for the time being, of President-elect Donald Trump, is located on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets.
A couple of points that I would like to make before discussing the contents of this particular article, which thoroughly describes the problem.
— New York City, it goes without saying, has always attracted people with star power: celebrities and magnates. Yet I have always thought and felt that it’s the sort of place which nobody can dominate. It is such a huge and such a great city that it cuts everyone down to size. I know that when I first moved to New York, as a young adult, I was awed by it. It seems to have that effect on everyone. It’s a welcoming place in many respects in that the atmosphere is so tolerant, of different races, lifestyles, ethnicities, persons high and low, and so forth. It’s welcoming, it’s also overwhelming. It seems to have that effect on everyone. It attracts; it excites; and, it intimidates. It has a way of cutting people with big egos down to size.
— New York is one of the world’s greatest cities for walking. Fifth Avenue is among the best places to walk. Stretches of Fifth Avenue include some of the most expensive residences in the world and luxury stores. Yet, the avenue is accessible to all. The sidewalks are wide, the pedestrian traffic is not limited by any means to one social class, and it’s a just plain fun avenue to stroll on. It is aesthetically pleasing, rarely gets overcrowded (to the point where passage is difficult; an exception might be right in front of Rockefeller Center, where there is a giant tree on display during Christmastime; crowds are found there at this particular time of the year at certain times on certain days). The glamor, elegance, and upbeat quality of the avenue and its denizens from around the 30’s to around 100th Street seem to rub off on everyone; the pedestrians always seem to be cheerful and unstressed. You rarely seem to see something depressing.
It looks like this is changing. It makes me very unhappy. Actually, angry.
— The “festive spirit” normally observed on Fifth Avenue during the holiday shopping season has been “dampened a bit by the long guns of stationed police officers and the regular presence of bomb-sniffing dogs.”
— Famous stores on the avenue have been blocked by police barricades.
— Anti-Trump protests have shut down traffic. (Perhaps the protests are abating now.)
— Gawkers loitering on the sidewalk outside Trump Tower have presented a problem, both for pedestrians and security.
— Pedestrian access to the east side of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, where Trump Tower is located, has been restricted.
— When Trump moves to the White House, the situation is not likely to ease. It is expected that he will still be spending considerable time at his Trump Tower residence. And, Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, and the couple’s son, Barron, are to stay in New York in the near term.
Last week, I had an appointment at the Apple Store at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street to have my iPhone battery checked. It was raining hard. I was doing a shopping errand for my wife at a department store at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street.
I love to walk in Manhattan, and having to go from one place to another gives me a reason and incentive to walk. So, I headed north on Fifth Avenue, my preferred route and the most direct one. An alternate route would not make sense, and I much prefer Fifth Avenue to Madison or Park.
But, I had to make a detour at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. There were barriers on both sides of the avenue (east and west) which served the purpose of a sort of funnel. Pedestrians were lined up on either side of the avenue, awaiting an ID check that would enable them to pass. A depressing sight. I have never seen this before in New York.
I was thinking what are they lining up for? It’s not worth it. Probably they wanted to be able to walk past Trump Tower and get a glimpse of it. Big thrill!
I was reminded of an experience I had somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago. I was walking during midday in Bryant Park, which is right behind the New York Public Library. The park runs between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets.
I was on a gravel pathway right behind the library which abuts the park. There were few people around, and my path crossed that of ex-mayor Ed Koch, who was strolling the other way on the same pathway. Neither of us was in a hurry.
We made eye contact.
I did not speak to Mr. Koch. I probably should have said, “Good day, Mr. Mayor.” But I kept going without speaking.
I had the distinct feeling that he knew that I knew who he was – in short, recognized him.
He peered at me. I had the feeling, intuition that he was thinking to himself, looks like an interesting face, an intelligent person (me).
We exchanged congenial glances.
I was reminded about something I read about Walt Whitman when Whitman was working and living in Washington, DC during the Civil War. Whitman often spotted President Lincoln riding by on horseback for business or pleasure. “I see the President almost every day. We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones,” Whitman wrote in 1863.
Mayor Koch, when I encountered him on my stroll, similar to the experience Whitman had when he saw President Lincoln riding by, seemed to be an ordinary citizen, no different than any other New Yorker. That’s the way it should be. Donald Trump is not larger than life. He should not be allowed to shut down Manhattan.
In the above referenced article re pedestrian traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, New York Times reporter Winnie Hu notes:
New York City has commissioned a $370,000 engineering study of the bridge’s walking and biking promenade to address crowding.
An unnecessary study and a waste of money.
The Brooklyn Bridge promenade is very crowded. As noted in the article, the pedestrian walkway is thronged with walkers, including lots of tourists, who (along with the locals), besides walking, often at leisurely pace, are often loitering to take in the view, fraternize, take photos, and so forth. Aggressive bikers on what is supposed to be a separate pathway are often ringing their bells or shouting for pedestrians to get out of the way.
Sound chaotic and unruly? Indeed, it is. But this is not a problem, nor is it a cause for alarm, in my opinion. It’s actually kind of fun. The fact that the bridge is thronged with cheerful pedestrians — besides its aesthetic appeal and “walker friendly” construction (the boardwalk, which is raised above the traffic lanes; the benches) — is what make walking over the Brooklyn Bridge such fun.
Cities are crowded places by definition. Don’t like it? There are smaller cities, exurbs, suburbs, small towns, and so forth where, I would imagine, one can find uncrowded streets and thoroughfares to walk on.
To get back to the stampede on the Brooklyn Bridge that the Times reporter describes (accurately): I like it — I should say, LOVE it. I am not alone among walking enthusiasts who love the experience of walking across the bridge.
If one wants seclusion or a place to walk without hardly anyone else around — in the City, that is — such places can be found. Central Park, believe it or not, often feels uncrowded — in some spots is virtually empty — during many times: weekdays, for example.
I frequent a park in Queens that is one of the most beautiful in the City. It is in a residential neighborhood, is quiet, and is almost always uncrowded. Not just uncrowded, but practically empty. (And, yet it is not a scary place to be in; on the contrary, it feels safe and always has a core of dog walkers and neighborhood residents.)
I frequently walk across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan and back because is it is the shortest route for me to walk to Manhattan. The Queensboro Bridge is not a scenic or fun walkway. There are no good views. There is no boardwalk. There are no benches. There are few pedestrians. Sometimes, I don’t care. I am lost in my own thoughts. But, on “aesthetic” and “experiential” grounds — as a walker who loves walking for its own sake — I prefer the Brooklyn Bridge by far. It’s no contest. And, I like the crowds. One gets such good vibes from them. Everyone seems cheerful and friendly.
A final point: pedestrian crowding on the Brooklyn Bridge is a seasonal thing. The bridge is thronged with pedestrians mainly on the nicest days and during the warmest times of the year. At other times, it is less crowded. Not that crowding during the good weather is a problem. It’s anything but, in my opinion, as I have argued above.
Depend upon it. The “traffic engineers,” pedestrian traffic engineers, besides pocketing a hefty fee, will mess things up. They will make the experience of walking the bridge worse at the minimum — whatever “solution” they come up with to address the “problem” of pedestrian overcrowding — and could ruin it.
The boardwalk has been there since the bridge was originally opened in 1883. Leave it alone!
“New York’s Sidewalks Are So Packed, Pedestrians Are Taking to the Streets,” by Winnie Hu, The New York Times, June 30, 2016
New York is indeed, as is stated in this article, a “world-class walking city.”
It’s kind of a fun article. The reporter, Winnie Hu — is there such a thing as a BAD reporter on the Times? – does a very good job.
But the supposed problem of overcrowded sidewalks in New York City is really not a problem, in my opinion — it’s a non issue.
I am always walking, practically everywhere, in the city, it seems (that’s admittedly hyperbole). I occasionally do step off the curb and walk in the street to avoid obstacles. Usually, it’s not pedestrians that are blocking the way. It could be cars or trucks illegally parked jutting out onto the sidewalk, or perhaps (often) a construction site.
Yes, certain areas are particularly crowded with pedestrians: Times Square; the Penn Station area; lower Manhattan (Broadway) in the vicinity of Houston Street and SoHo; Flushing, Queens.
But, most areas aren’t. Take Fifth Avenue, for example. It’s a major thoroughfare for locals and tourists alike with many shops and attractions and lots of pedestrians, but it’s almost always pleasant and not onerous to stroll on. This is also true of most of Broadway (with the exception of Times Square), particularly in the Upper West Side.
I walk everywhere and almost never experience pedestrian gridlock. Even on the most crowded streets.
The only such experience I’ve had in recent memory was a few months ago when the police roped off and shut down a stretch of 58th Street in Maspeth, Queens for a couple of days due to a criminal investigation. (There had a near abduction and robbery ant a local business establishment.)
The traffic engineers should turn their attention elsewhere.
Some people love to fret, complain, and worry about any and all perceived inconveniences, but, believe me, the walkers can and will continue to do just fine.