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Open and Shut

October 23, 2013

While the news processes the candidates’ comments on the Times Square pedestrian plaza at last night’s mayoral debate, I thought the language used by the moderator, CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois, was perhaps more telling when it comes to how livable streets are discussed not only in politics, but in the media.

Note how DuBois asked the about one of the Bloomberg adminstration’s signature achievements, as related by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York:

Last night, at the second-to-last debate before the mayoral election, CBS reporter Maurice DuBois asked de Blasio if he would “take out the tables and chairs from Times and Herald squares and reopen Broadway.”

Emphasis mine.  If you’re a pedestrian enjoying a safer walk through Times Square or sitting at a table drinking a coffee after having spent a lot of money in a nearby store, Broadway probably feels pretty “open” right now.  Any effort to “reopen” the street to cars would essentially close it to people on foot, making Times Square feel about as spacious as a cattle car.  This kind of language demonstrates the pro-car bias of local TV news and shows how anchors and reporters typically experience the city: from the backseat of a town car or riding shotgun in a news van.

So what can advocates and progressive transportation wonks do to change the language?  One great way is to stop using it themselves.  Here’s an old Cap’N Transit post on one thing that irks him about DOT’s otherwise excellent Summer Streets program.

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.”


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