Open and Shut
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!