Improving The Future

To continue the thought from a post last week, a lot of people noticed that city centers were improved – in horrible circumstances – by the reduction in car traffic during the Covid-19 lockdowns this spring. It’s inevitable that people will look for a silver lining in this enormous cloud, but beyond that we need to improve our cities and we need to reduce oil use, so there’s nothing wrong with people planning while stuck at home.

Farhad Manjoo, in “I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing” gives a nice recap of how much we’ve allowed cars to take over, even in Manhattan, and how many improvements to daily life could have space to become reality if that space were not used by cars. It’s a great read, if somewhat depressing because I doubt that the future he describes is right around the corner.

Michael Kimmelman, in “New York as a Biking City? It Could Happen. And It Should.” describes a recent report by the Regional Plan Association on how to turn New York’s bicycling infrastructure from a small-to-medium number of not-always protected bike lanes into a real network of car-free travel. One way to improve that plan would be to add the car-free bridges proposed by Sam Schwartz, a former New York City Traffic Commissioner, and described by Stephen Nessen in “Three ‘Ribbon’ Bike & Pedestrian Bridges For NYC Are More Than A Coronavirus-Concocted Fantasy“.

Finally, and possibly the proposal that could realistically happen the soonest, is changing the ratio of space for cars compared to space for pedestrians and bikes on the Brooklyn Bridge. Devin Gannon, in “See the design proposals that would make the Brooklyn Bridge a pedestrian oasis” gives a pretty good sense of it, including how cars, since the 1950s, have grabbed a much larger share of the bridge than they previously had.

We have made many changes in favor of cars over the years, from connecting the Brooklyn Bridge to nearby highways and removing its rail, to reducing sidewalk widths across the city to make roadways wider. If these things can be changed in one direction, they can be changed in another, and perhaps this year’s concentration of crises will give an impetus to change.


The photo above appears to have been taken during the brief period in 1883 after the official opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and before the roadways and transit tracks were ready for use. People are walking on the pedestrian walkway at the center of the deck, but also on the completed eastbound roadway (right) and the still-under-construction westbound roadway (far left). The westbound road and tracks are still being built.

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