Envisioning an Upper West Side Streets Renaissance

If you’re thinking about coming to tonight’s Upper West Side workshop with Jan Gehl but you are having trouble picturing what a "Streets Renaissance" might look like, the video above was made for you. It consists of a series of photo simulations produced by New York City Streets Renaissance Creative Director Carly Clark.

Whipped into a StreetFilm by Clarence Eckerson and set to some bumpin’ electronic dance music, the photo sims seek to answer questions like: What if Amsterdam Avenue were a "complete street" rather than a 5-lane highway, or a stretch of Broadway were turned over to pedestrians, or a neighborhood street were designed to accommodate community life rather than traffic throughput and automobile storage? Watch out. By the end of this one minute video you might be dancing.

You can find three more short Upper West Side StreetFilms and a bit more of Carly’s photo sim work here:

  • Redesigning Amsterdam Avenue for People Rather Than Speeding Traffic (1:03)
  • The Perverse Allocation of Streets Space on the Upper West Side (1:24)
  • Is SUV Storage the Best Use of Upper West Side Street Space? (1:02)
  • E Gore Stravinsky

    These photo sims are the coolest thing since Guinness draft in a can.

    Currently, Amsterdam Ave @ the JCC entrance looks like a scene straight out of Beirut in the 70s. Jersey barriers, a wall of traffic and no esthetic ally pleasing scene in sight. Turn to the enhanced Amsterdam version as noted on the sims, and it is a completely different place.

    When will the DOT start to implement this stuff???

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    I love to dance to photosims!

  • Steve

    Love the proposed treatment for 81st Street–right outside my son’s school. That zig-zag is what I call traffic calming! I’ll be there organizing support among school parents and staff if there is a serious proposal along these lines.

  • Mark Fleischmann

    Like going to heaven. I’ve always thought the UWS could be heaven on earth if someone had the right vision. And here it is!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    What kind of chicanery is that on 81st Street, anyways?

    I’m very impressed that you actually went there and envisioned a pedestrian-only Brodway. Wouldn’t you still want buses on part of it, though?

    Also, are the full photosims available anywhere online?

  • Sam Milstein

    The mayor just said the city faced huge budget problems. Where is the money for all this coming from? People in Queens wait thirty years to get bombed out streets paved. The city can’t seem to find the money to hurry that up. Why can it find money for quality of life improvements in a neighborhood that is already so popular it is unaffordable for all but the wealthiest?

  • Eric

    This could seriously and negatively affect property values in Park Slope and Montclair if it goes through, as it would likely disrupt the natural evolutionary and migratory pattern of UWS yuppie to Park Slope parent of pre-schoolers to Montclair parent of school-aged kids.

  • glennQ

    Anyone care how the small businesses on a pedestrian-only block would get their goods in and out?

  • Wilfred

    This is great stuff. All the streets of NYC should look like this.

  • Dave

    GlennQ….Or how a taxi would drop off or pick up, or how would a homeowner would move in or out with tying up a whole block?

    While a good idea pedestrianized streets with no vehicle access will not work. At a minimum deliveries and emergency vehicle access need to be considered.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Yeah guys, I’m sure nobody thought at all about the poor small businesspeople. Please, get over yourselves.

    Every pedestrian street I’ve ever seen allows delivery trucks to come and go as needed; I’m sure that that would also be the case on this version of Broadway. Similarly for emergency vehicles and moving vans.

    Taxis? They can pick up and drop off at the corner. If it’s good enough for a subway rider, it’s good enough for a taxi rider.

  • glennQ

    Good point Dave. Are we going to go back to carrying buckets of water to a fire?

  • Wilfred

    Remember these are not even proposals, just ideas, I am sure there would be room for taxi and delivery drop offs, and probably a bus lane down Broadway, whatever…but it is good to get a dialogue started. I am ready to talk. Even if they took one lane of Amsterdam back – not the two-plus they have in the diagram, would be a step in the right direction.

  • glennQ

    My point Angus, is that it seems people are looking selfishly [and usually naively] at the direction they would like our city to go.
    This is a CITY. Business goes on here, this is a major reason NYC is as great as it is… We need to consider jobs and business, as well as parks and recreation.
    If you can’t stand cars and trucks on our streets, maybe look into a fly-over state… I see plenty of wide-open area when traveling out west.

  • Jonathan

    Dave & GlennQ: As an ambulance driver, I take your question about how emergency vehicles would get access to pedestrianized streets very seriously. I would like to remind you, however, that people regularly hurt themselves (or are hurt) in parks. In that case, we just pull up to the nearest entrance, grab the trauma bag and oxygen bag, and walk to the patient. If the person needs spinal immobilization, we’ll roll a backboard and stretcher over to the person. I don’t see how treating a patient who choked on an olive-oil-soaked crust of bread in Fairway would be any different.

    As far as taxi dropoffs, or moving vans, the question I would like to ask is why we must accept two lanes of parked cars and two automobile lanes on every street in order to preserve our rights to hail a taxi in front of our doors and move house at the drop of a hat.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    My point, GlennQ, is that there’s a difference between brainstorming and a formal planning process.

    In a formal planning process, it’s important to hit hard at any bad ideas to nip them in the bud and make sure that nobody with power signs off on them.

    In a brainstorming process, the idea is to go easy on your criticism. Something that’s clearly a bad direction, such as an elevated highway down Broadway, you might want to gently redirect, but with anything else the idea is to be constructive, not dismissive. Let everyone put their ideas on the table, and often times a stronger one will outshine a weaker one anyway.

    As for your comment about the “fly-over states,” try landing in one some time. I lived in Albuquerque for two years. It’s a much more car-centric city than this is.

  • Davis

    GlennQ,

    I have no doubt that small retail businesses would be the biggest beneficiaries of pedestrianized streets like the ones pictured above. When these streets are designed and managed well, they are a huge boon for business.

    In fact, the biggest problem we might see is that pedestrianized streets become so desirable for business that the little guys are priced out of the neighborhood even faster than is already happening.

    Just check out the Willoughby Street pedestrian plaza in Downtown Brooklyn. Talk to the hot dog vendor or the pizza parlor owner. Ask them if the new outdoor space has been good for business or if they’d like to see the street returned to illegal cop parking and useless thru-traffic.

  • Dave

    If you look at the renderings for Broadway there does not appear to be a provision for a delivery/emergency service lane, what with all the street furniture. Any pedestrianized space would obviously have this, but it is less efficient what with the need to retract the bollards and limit delivery times to early mornings (I assume) before the street is populated.

    I think so drastic a transformation (taking away all parking) is politicaly unviable. Every person who now parks on the street will strenuously object to this. Introduce RPP first, then create delivery zones out of parking spaces mid-block, gradually elimate the amount of on-street parking and maybe it’s possible. But good luck doing so all at once.

  • Christine Berthet

    Jonathan, the ambulance driver , my kind of man ..
    by the way the 9th Avenue bike lane has become a time saver to the emergency vehicles. I have seen many of them bypass traffic int eh lane ..
    the same would be true of the bus lane …

  • v

    GlennQ, Wilfred…your wondering makes it sound as if the idea of a pedestrian-only street is outlandish. The world has thousands of examples of pedestrian-only streets. *Many* of them are shopping streets. See: every town and city in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. See also: many US college campuses.

    How does it work? Trucks drop some things off. Other things are dropped off by hand-truck. In some places this involves setting specific drop-off hours, some it doesn’t. Pedestrians can do their shopping without getting run over. Result? More shopping. For small businesses, the benefits are huge.

    Right now, trucks double-park right in front of NYC stores, or they park down the block and items are hand-carted into the store. The difference to trucks and shops could be minimal.

    As for emergency vehicles, good street design includes removable bollards and other ways of providing access when it is *needed.*

    This isn’t crazy-talk, it’s just something that New York hasn’t done. The fact that Times Square is a place that people still drive through (since you can’t realistically stop and park there) shows just how backward we’ve been.

  • Steve

    Of all the criticisms above, Sam’s is the most well-taken–basic improvements in outlying neighborhoods should not be neglected. On the other hand, these sorts of measures are suited to the most pedestrian-dense areas of the city. But Chinatown and other neighborhoods are certainly dense enough and could benefit from these kinds of projects.

    I think there is a “showcase” rationale at work in proposing the UWS first: if it is successful it would probably be replicated elsewhere. But I can’t deny that it looks like the usual pattern of unequal allocation of resources towards parks and other public spaces in the wealthiest neighborhoods.

  • Have you ever noticed that every development proposal made these days has lots of people in the renderings and not many cars. It speaks to the implicitly acknowledged value of people-scaled space. (Here’s an example from my city, a Boston suburb.

    It ought to be the point of every livable streets advocate to point out the predicted people to car to building ratio as rendered and make the developer justify the assumption.

    What’s the relationship to Carly and Clarence’s rocking work? I’m betting Carly’s ratios are defensible. Definitely danceable.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    To chime in Sean:

    I love photosims. I love dance music. I imagine that photosims – no matter how well you manipulate them, how expertly crafted, could get tiring after a while or people might not stay to the end. But give them a little momentum….

    I know some colleagues would prefer I use something a little more placid, but in the past I have gotten overwhelmingly great comments from the combo. Did you see Curbed today? I couldn’t have written it better myself.

  • Dave

    THe Amsterdam Ave proposal seems like a no-brainer that should be instituted right away. The Broadway one seems to be too severe, and is probably politically not feasible. Remember that for every good pedestrian mall in this country, there are 5 bad ones that just didn’t work and evetually got reversed (think lexington Street in Balitmore or Chestnut Street in Philly). In general I am in favor of pedestrian malls when they work, but I don’t really see Broadway as a “broken” street right now that needs to be fixed. And the 81st street one just seems silly. The street space that is reclaimed is not really very usable, and as someone who lives 2 blocks away, I have to say that that block of 81st street really doesn’t need street calming. There is not really a huge flow of cars on that street.

    But I’m loving the vision of Amsterdam Ave…

  • Steve

    Dave, you’re pretty much right about 81st Street not being so bad now as to need severe calming. I can think of a number of interesting uses for the pedesrian space created by the zig-zag, however, starting with benches. Where the calming is really needed is on West End Ave., where the lights are timed to move cars at 40+ MPH, and which cause pedestrians unnecessary waits, esp. at 79th St.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Of all the criticisms above, Sam’s is the most well-taken–basic improvements in outlying neighborhoods should not be neglected. On the other hand, these sorts of measures are suited to the most pedestrian-dense areas of the city.

    Sam’s argument is good, but I honestly am not aware of bombed-out streets that haven’t been resurfaced in thirty years. That’s not the case here in Sunnyside or Woodside.

    Sunnyside, Woodside, and plenty of other neighborhoods in western Queens are pretty pedestrian-dense. I’d love to see Jan Gehl come to Sunnyside – they said he’d do an area in each borough – but downtown Flushing, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst are just as deserving.

  • Jonathan

    Steve, your point about the pedestrians’ unnecessary waits, on 79th Street and by extension elsewhere, was amplified by Gehl in his presentation: NYers, I learned, spend about 25% of their walks waiting for the light to change, while in Copenhagen they only spend 2-4% of their time waiting. Could be worse: in Sydney, Australia, some strolls are 50% spent waiting at crosswalks.

    To build on your other response to Sam, after seeing the presentation it seems obvious to me that it will be a lot easier to build support for livable-streets policies on the Upper West Side than in other neighborhoods, but that “wins” on the UWS can help persuade more recalcitrant neighborhood leaders that it’s the way forward.

  • Sam Lowry

    “Sam’s argument is good, but I honestly am not aware of bombed-out streets that haven’t been resurfaced in thirty years. That’s not the case here in Sunnyside or Woodside.”

    At the current level of funding, the mean time between street resurfacings in NYC is a bit over 20 years. The mean time between reconstructions (i.e., replacing curbs, sidewalks, water, sewer, doing new traffic designs, the whole shebang, not just the black top) is approximately 300 years. (These are actual real facts, derived from published data, e.g., the Mayor’s Management Report and the City’s annual asset condition reports, not something I pulled out of my butt; the reconstruction figure does not have an extra decimal place). Obviously, there are some areas that (for good or bad reasons) get more frequent service, but the reality is NYC’s infrastructure has been starved for funding for decades. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening in the way of rethinking designs and concepts for streets right now, but there is absolutely no question that this “quality” is coming at the expense of all ready less than adequate “quantity”.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    At the current level of funding, the mean time between street resurfacings in NYC is a bit over 20 years. The mean time between reconstructions (i.e., replacing curbs, sidewalks, water, sewer, doing new traffic designs, the whole shebang, not just the black top) is approximately 300 years.

    Those figures don’t mean much unless you say what an appropriate time between resurfacings is. Of course, it depends on how much the streets get worn, which in turn depends on how many cars, trucks and buses travel over them, and how heavy they are.

    Clearly, the streets get more worn and need to be replaced more often if they have more cars and heavier ones on them. This is one reason I support congestion pricing: all these people who drive solo to work are driving up my tax bills. I want them to pay a fairer share of it.

    Along the lines of Larry Littlefield’s proposal, I propose that we allocate street money for the benefit of pedestrians first, then buses, then cyclists. If the outer-borough drivers that Weprin represents want their streets repaved, let them find the money.

  • Sam Milstein

    “the mean time between street resurfacings in NYC is a bit over 20 years.”

    OK this sounds right for an average. It took 33 years to get my side street in Long Island City paved. A few years later a garbage truck fell through the street. It turned out to be hollowed out by water. It was completely torn-up and rebuilt. There was a picture of the truck in the hole in the Daily News some years back. Good luck to the Upper West Side project. Still not sure that neighborhood’s pedestrians need as much help as others. Seen 21st street in Long Island City? Very terrible to walk.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (allocate street money for the benefit of pedestrians first, then buses, then cyclists.)

    Ironically, the city abandoned sidewalk maintenance during the fiscal crisis. Homeowners are required to do the job instead.

    Well, the income of residents in a luxury apartment on the Upper East Side is clearly better able to support a sidewalk replacement than an old two-family home in East New York. And the quality of the sidewalks shows this.

    Although now multiple dwellings rather than the city gets sued if the sidewalk is left in disrepair, while the city still gets sued if the homeowner allows the sidewalk to go to pot.

    Talk about a regressive “tax!”

    Moreover, property owners shovel the sidewalk, while tax dollars plow the streets. And during blizzards, in transit-oriented neighborhoods (such as Park Slope/Windsor Terrace), they get cleared last (probably a sensible policy).

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Still not sure that neighborhood’s pedestrians need as much help as others. Seen 21st street in Long Island City? Very terrible to walk.

    No argument from me there. My understanding is that the DOT decided to have a Gehl-designed pilot project in each borough, and to use that to inspire other neighborhoods. It looks like the one for Queens will be Flushing, but we can apply that to LIC. I’d love to see 21st Street redesigned.

  • Sam Lowry

    “Those figures don’t mean much unless you say what an appropriate time between resurfacings is. Of course, it depends on how much the streets get worn, which in turn depends on how many cars, trucks and buses travel over them, and how heavy they are.”

    Most streets deteriorate to the point of needing some kind of remediation in 7-10 years. Some (e.g., very heavily used truck/bus routes) fall apart in

  • Sam Lowry

    Message above got truncated somehow

    … Some (e.g., very heavily used truck/bus routes) fall apart in less than 5 years.

    Engineering literature tends to say streets should be reconstructed every 30-50 years. Sometimes more frequently because of changes in usage, utilties, changes in alignment/design/safety standards. But every 300 years is probably good enough.

  • ddartley

    Not enough bollards. Expensive? “Adopt-a-Bollard!”

  • People are using terms like “too radical” for the Broadway pedestrianization proposal. I have to disagree, not only is such a thing not radical, it’s actually been formally proposed already.

    A while ago, Garvin & Associates published “Visions for New York City: Housing and The Public Realm” for EDCNY. This was sort of a preview-of-PlaNYC proposal, in it, on p82, you will see which streets in 4 boroughs were nominated for “pedestrian reclamation” to the city. Of these, most are partial (not the entire length of the street) unless noted. They include
    in Manhattan –
    Macombs Pl
    St Nicholas (entire)
    Gansevoort

    in Brooklyn –
    Washington Ave
    Kings Hwy
    7th Ave

    in Queens –
    Rockaway Blvd
    Bayside Ave
    Willets Pt Blvd
    Newtown Rd

    in the Bronx –
    Third Ave
    Soundview Ave
    Hunts Point Ave

    I personally think pedestrianization is a great idea, it has already been attempted in Lower Manhattan, but something like Broadway in the UWS would be a mega-implementation and would probably spur pedestrianization throughout the city if done well.

    -j

  • Drooling here. I used it today in a lecture at the Chicago Cultural Center to show what NYC is up to with regard to reinventing streets.

  • kimbakat

    Uh..people..who is going to pay for this?

    PRIORITIES PEOPLE!

    I’d rather have a subway system that doesn’t look like it’s out of Planet of the Apes (aged 2000 years old) The Roman baths in England are in better shape!!!

    I’d rather have AFFORDABLE HOUSING!
    MORE Mom and Pop businesses (that we’ve lost due to unaffordable commercial rent) and LESS BANKS!!!

    PLUS when I’m paying for a cab…I WANT 5 lanes!!! to GET home faster!!

    Let people who want to raise families do it OUTSIDE of NYC. New York is for ADULTS!. It’s not a place for children. It’s for people who are here to work on their careers. AND with corporations paying what my mom earned back in 1979..right now..we need affordable housing before we even put money into the subway system, let alone a beautification of the streets to cover up and enhance the false illusion of the economy.

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