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The New York Times

 

No Parking, Ever

August 16, 2008

By Hope Cohen

FOR decades, New York City’s Department of Transportation tried to make this town as friendly as possible to cars, mainly by giving them enough room to move as quickly as possible. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, the department has been encouraging alternative transportation by reassigning street space long reserved for cars and trucks to bikes, buses and pedestrians.

To accommodate all this movement, the city can no longer be as accommodating as it has been toward stationary vehicles. Before traffic reaches a standstill, as it threatens to do, the city should start phasing out curbside parking.

Not all curbside parking, of course; cars can be stored along the narrow streets of most residential neighborhoods without causing gridlock. On particularly clogged roads, though, all lanes should be reserved for moving traffic. Yet even as bike lanes are carved out and streets are “greened” (sometimes with plants, often with chartreuse paint), the department has continued to preserve parking lanes for cars and trucks.

Take, for example, the bike lane on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan, which is frequently encroached upon by vehicles, both those that drive and those that double park. The city has plans to protect the bike lane by creating both a 3-foot-wide buffer (likely with paint, possibly with a series of posts) and a parking lane.

Why preserve that parking lane? Double-parked vehicles will inevitably drift into the one travel lane that is left. The only way to keep traffic moving smoothly is to allow two travel lanes — and no parking.

Unmoving vehicles aren’t the only stationary objects slowing traffic. “Broadway Boulevard,” running from Times Square at 42nd Street to Herald Square at 34th Street, is scheduled to make its debut this month. The Transportation Department is preparing to convert Broadway’s easternmost lanes into a bike lane and an elongated, European-style plaza outfitted with cafe tables, chairs and umbrellas.

It is certainly true that pedestrians, who can’t help spilling into the street, need wider sidewalks, and that bicyclists also deserve space. But why cafe tables at the crossroads of the world? Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s commissioner of transportation, has assured New Yorkers that traffic will flow, but many people understandably worry about the impact on traffic of losing two moving lanes in the center of Midtown congestion.

Then there is the matter of bus bulbs. Sidewalk pavement is extended a lane’s width into the roadway at bus stops so that the bus can pick up passengers and then start up again without deviating from its path. But thanks to these bulbs, everyone else is squeezed by the loss of a lane and often stuck behind every stopped bus.

Even with gas selling at roughly $4 a gallon, which lessens the number of cars on city streets, these intrusions into the city’s thoroughfares are slowing traffic. Imagine how much heavier traffic would be if pumps offered $2-a-gallon gas.

The city has been grappling with its curbside parking policy since at least 1950, when it introduced alternate-side-of-the-street parking to get New Yorkers to move their cars long enough to clean underneath them. Then in 1951 the city started installing meters to collect some rent on its valuable street real estate.

In the ’80s, new commercial parking garages were then banned from some of the city’s most heavily trafficked neighborhoods in an attempt to discourage people from driving into the city. But this ban only worsened our traffic woes, with increased numbers of cars cruising around looking for spaces. To alleviate demand for curbside spaces and to speed up traffic, the city is going to have to allow more public garages.

It is vital that vehicles move smoothly and quickly through New York City’s streets, delivering people and goods to their destinations. Making room for vehicles that are not moving should be a far lower priority. While the Bloomberg administration is right to reserve paths for pedestrians and cyclists, there’s no need for the Department of Transportation to become the Parking Department.

Original Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/opinion/17cohen.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Hope%20Cohen&st=cse&oref=slogin

 

 
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