DOT Launches Gehl Street Survey Project

The New York City Department of Transportation has retained Danish urbanist Jan Gehl’s firm to evaluate city streets and other public spaces.

Streetsblog first reported this development as a possibility back in June, when we interviewed Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Not long after, we got word that Gehl had been hired by the city as a PlaNYC consultant.

DOT is now looking for volunteers to help with Gehl’s survey. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail circulated to city planning student lists, courtesy a Streetsblog tipster:

They will need about 20 volunteers to do shifts on Sept. 26th, 27th and 29th for their public life survey, which is essentially a collection of data on people and activities taking place in a given public space. Pedestrian counts, age & gender of users, stationary activities and other kinds of public activity will be evaluated. We may also be looking at the quality of pedestrian conditions, seating opportunities, pavement, lighting, signage and quality of ground floor facades, which are all variables that directly affect how the public space is being used and inhabited.

Sites will be major pedestrian and commercial corridors in Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Gehl has also been recruited to study pedestrian conditions in Sydney, Australia, which has not duplicated the success of neighboring Melbourne in reclaiming public space from the automobile. Gehl talked to the Sydney Morning Herald about how infrastructure "harassments" lead pedestrians to break the law.

The worst is Market Street, where pedestrians who obey traffic signals spend half their time waiting for the signals to turn green, his research team found.

"You have a number of built-in harassments," Professor Gehl said.

One is his pet hate, the traffic button that walkers must push to "apply" to cross the road. Another is the cluttering of the streetscape by large phone booths and bus stops that accommodate large advertising signs.

"The worse you treat people, the more they start to take the law into their own hands," Professor Gehl said.

Photo: Aaron Naparstek, Sept. 28, 2006. Jan Gehl leading a boat tour of the Copenhagen waterfront.

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