How cars have squeezed pedestrians off the streets and made it almost impossible to walk

Lexington before and after
© John Massengale

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as adopted Vision Zero, which Mike noted "aims to make roads safe and reduce accidental deaths and injuries to zero by improving the transportation system using proven tools and core principles." But it is going to be a tough slog, when there has been a hundred years of efforts by "Organized Motordom", as John Massengale calls it, to get pesky pedestrians off the road and out of their way.

But not only did they push the pedestrians out of the road, invent jay-walking to ensure that they stay out of it, but then they stole the sidewalks. This extraordinary photo by John Massengale is shot from the same vantage point as an archival shot. The buildings have lost their light wells and their stoops, and all of their entrances would have been changed internally. He writes:

The houses (designed by Henry Hardenbergh, the architect of many important New York buildings, including the Plaza Hotel and The Dakota apartment house) undoubtedly lost value when they lost their stoops and light. Perhaps the owners of the houses got in their cars and drove out to find new homes in the suburbs. That’s what many New Yorkers did when the city converted Manhattan’s wide, numbered avenues like Third Avenue into one-way arterials. Urban designers call these “auto sewers,” because they make it easier for traffic to flow in and out of the city—until all the suburbanites driving in clog the roads with what is known as “induced” traffic. And no one wants to live on a clogged auto sewer.

Massengale wonders why New York would be like this.

It’s worth pointing out that New York is the last place that should suffer from this. Not only do most New Yorkers not own cars, we also have trains, subways, buses, and taxis for everyone else. Underneath the narrow sidewalks pictured above is a subway line that by itself carries more people every day than the combined transit systems of San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.

New York Post cover© New York Post

Massengale is angry that the police response to Vision Zero is to arrest jaywalkers and beat up old pedestrians who don't speak english. "“Streets for people” means we should ticket speeding cars, not jaywalking residents and visitors enjoying the life of the city." He's right. And they should narrow Lexington Avenue and bring back the sidewalks and stoops while they are at it.

More in Street Design.

How cars have squeezed pedestrians off the streets and made it almost impossible to walk
A before and after photo of Lexington Avenue tells the story.

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