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Open and Shut

August 17, 2012

Last week I biked my daughter into the city to enjoy Summer Streets, an event that has easily become one of favorite things about summer in New York City.  Let’s hope it eventually expands into something called City Streets and happens every weekend all year long.

While riding downtown toward the Brooklyn Bridge, I noticed one of these signs.  Note that it says, “Streets Open at 1 PM.”  It instantly reminded of this 2011 Cap’n Transit post:

Several times I heard and read reference to the street being “closed,” and at 1:00 I heard repeated announcements that they were going to “open it up again.”

To someone like me, who rarely takes taxis and drives even less, when cars are allowed it doesn’t feel “open” to me. It’s open to me for three mornings a year, and pretty unavailable the rest of the time. Repeating over and over again that Park Avenue will be “opened up again” emphasizes that we don’t belong.

A few times I’ve stayed on one of the streets and been directly addressed by the staff, who don’t seem to be aware that bicycles are allowed on the streets even when Summer Streets is over. Last week a bunch of us were traveling the right direction in the Centre Street bike lane and got yelled at.

A more neutral framing would be to simply say, “Cars will be allowed on the street again. Be careful of the cars; they can kill you. Pedestrians move to the sidewalk, and bicycles move to the right.”

It’s hard to not feel how “open” the streets are when you’re having your picture taken in front of the statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a spot that is typically closed as far as pedestrians and cyclists are concerned.  It’s the same way I feel about how people often refer to Times Square: the city didn’t close it to traffic but rather opened it to people.  So if one of the points of Summer Streets is to serve as positive marketing for people-centric streets and the department’s ambitious agenda, let’s hope the next time a new batch of signs needs to be printed DOT changes the wording to say, “Streets re-open to motor vehicles at 1 PM,” or even the completely neutral “Summer Streets ends at 1 PM.”

Tomorrow’s Summer Streets is the final one of 2012.  See you there!

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3 Comments
  1. Albert permalink
    August 17, 2012 10:56 am

    Thanks for this. Now I know I’m not the only one who bristles whenever I pass one of these signs only to be reminded that, on some level, Summer Streets participants are actually thought of as merely unwelcome temporary intruders on our own public space.

    In addition to the negative implications, the wording is just plain misleading, since the targeted audience of the signs is the Summer Streets participants themselves, who, by default, will feel that the *current* state of the streets is “Open” and ask, If the streets are open right now, while I’m riding/walking/jogging, then why will the streets be “Open” at 1PM?

    A couple of years ago, when a Summer Streets volunteer shouted out “Streets opening in 7 minutes!,” I turned back to inform him that, No, the streets are *closing* in 7 minutes! — and (a hopeful sign) his reaction was to visibly stop and think, then tell me, “You know, you’re right!”

    I’ve written a note to this effect to Summer Streets at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/summerstreets/html/contact/contact.shtml and I’ll include a link to your article.

  2. August 21, 2012 9:25 am

    At similar events in the UK they go around shouting that the roads will “go live” at whatever time the event ends. “Go deadly” might be a better description!

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  1. A hat tip to @capntransit in my latest post. A simple word change could make Summer Streets nearly perfect. http://t.co/f4QmU7fk #bikenyc | NYMetroWorkout.com - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski

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