Why is this taking so long??
We all know what has to happen to turn New York City’s streets into the kind of streets we deserve. To rehash it briefly for those who are new here, some of the things we need:
- Zero tolerance for reckless driving and sociopathic parking. Responsible enforcement of basic street use and traffic safety laws, either by the NYPD, or, if we can wrest street responsibility away from them (since they obviously don’t want to deal with it anyway), by a new agency.
- A new scheme for curb space allocation, with vastly less space allocated to parking of private vehicles, and vastly more to everything else that the actual human beings who live here need from their streets, including commercial loading space.
- Improved street designs that protect human beings from antisocial, anti-human street users like trucks and through traffic, and prioritize human-scaled and public-benefit uses like bus priority. (Here in Manhattan, let’s start with car sewers like Canal St and 3 Av, which in no way adequately serve the needs of the people who actually live here.)
We know what to do, and the DOT is even working on most of it, bit by bit, year by year. Why is it taking so long?
Leadership starts here.
Everyone knows that the era of driving around New York City and parking in front of your apartment building is over, not just in Manhattan but in large swaths of the other four boroughs as well. It has to be over—the laws of physics won’t accommodate everyone in New York City who could afford to buy a car—and, in any case, that “freedom” only ever applied to some of us anyway. (Also, hello — climate change?)
Some of our elected officials even say that it’s over, very occasionally, or nod toward changes or investments in the future that we as a society must make. But very few of them are willing to say plainly that the way we use our streets needs a massive overhaul, and that it needs to start now–and then back their words up with action.
On top of that, there’s strong retrograde pressure from many (not all!) of New York City’s 59 Community Boards, which are supposed to represent the interests of everyone who lives in, works in, uses, or visits the district, but in practice tend to obstruct progress, on behalf of a disproportionately wealthy and white homeowning class. If those people were ever the majority of New Yorkers, they certainly aren’t now, and the majority we actually have deserves better representation.
We need more leaders willing to say out loud what kind of street-level changes New Yorkers deserve, and to keep saying it, over and over, until we get it. We need mayoral departments who solicit the advice of neighborhood groups and Community Boards without being unduly hung up on getting their consent, especially in regard to investments in the public sphere that will improve safety or that will objectively benefit the vast majority of New Yorkers.
The movement we are part of is an optimistic one. We believe that New Yorkers deserve better than we have, that we are capable of bringing it about, and that we can lead our leaders in the right direction and convince our neighbors to come along. That’s what the idealized New York story has always been about: people coming together to build something bigger and better that benefits everyone. We don’t always get there, but we should always aspire. Let’s write a new chapter in the story of this city.