Lessons from New York City

Lessons from New York City

Last week, my kids had a day off school so we decided to take an impromptu long weekend in New York City.  Now, the funny thing about being so deep in the weeds on White Flint over the last few years is that this work has started to color how I see the world around me.  Although we traversed all over the city, the only time we got into a car was to give our kids the “NYC Taxi Cab experience” and the little fitness tracker I wear went off the charts with my physical activity.  Even though we were tourists and walking more than normal, I was still quadrupling my regular days where I drive to an office and sit before driving home.

Of course, New York City is as urban as urban gets.  It’s definitely not the level we’re trying to reach with White Flint, so I don’t want to cause confusion or panic — I’m not suggesting we go off the deep end and build Manhattan in Montgomery County.  But, we must admit that New York City has figured out some innovative ways to make walking, bicycling and transit attractive options so that cars are needed less.  And, we can learn from their experiences and consider some of the ideas as we work to improve conditions here.

Something I saw all over the City were bike lanes.  Below, notice how the bike lanes are protected from traffic by parked cars, and pedestrians on the sidewalk are even further buffered.  Also – notice that there’s a trash can on every corner.  We don’t yet see these around White Flint but this is the type of amenity that the Downtown Advisory Committee is working on.

Another street with the same bicycling amenity.


On this more-narrow street in the West Village, there was room created for a parking lane, a travel lane and a bike lane.  Not pictured, to the far right, is a pocket park with a well-used playground.IMG_1573

Even in our old Bronx neighborhood, we found sharrows on the pavement reminding drivers to share the lane with bicyclists.IMG_1576

And, yep, we even found this  street sign in Midtown:IMG_1553

It was found here, where bicyclists even have a dedicated crosswalk:



Taking the infrastructure seriously enough to do it right is important because by offering commuters and other travelers safe passage, we will get them out of their cars more. 

We also noticed a well-thought pedestrian refuge, created for those who couldn’t safely make it all the way across a street with the “walk” sign:

IMG_1580_1And, excellent way-finding opportunities for visitors:


We also spent time in a most impressive public space – The High Line park. Originally an elevated freight rail line that ran along the west side of Manhattan in the early 1900’s, the tracks have been sitting empty since 1980.  About fifteen years ago, a group of residents created “Friends of the High Line” to convert the eyesore into something worthy of their neighborhood.  So, starting in 2009, sections of The High Line have been opened to the public for their free pleasure.  On the Saturday morning we visited, the foliage-lined walkway was enjoyed by visitors, residents and joggers.  Every block or two, the space would expand to offer a unique and interesting space for enjoying the city above or below.

2012 04 06 3WFN Construction 58 (3)

The train tracks are still visible next to the walkway – water fountains along the path help irrigate the myriad plants within.

In one space where the path widens for visitors to pause and soak in their surroundings, loungers are mounted onto the tracks and can be moved for customized groupings.
Other little pockets allow bleacher-style viewing of the streets below.
The view, of 10th Avenue, was particularly popular among visitors and tour groups.  And, when one turns around, the Statue of Liberty is visible in the distance.
A gift shop where all of the proceeds benefit Friends of the High Line:
And, Friends of the High Line had some awesome events planned.  The day of our visit held two Social Soup Experiments where meal was created from all-local ingredients. Guests sat at long communal tables to enjoy community with their food. Both were sold out.

Stay tuned tomorrow to learn how DC is looking to implement a similar public space downtown (hint.

One last relevant bit I noticed was much harder to capture well with my camera.  Those were the pedestrian-only spaces that have been created by closing off blocks here and there to traffic.  Where a diagonally-directed street crosses through the regular grid, there are sometimes little triangles created.  These are tricky intersections for vehicles, so City officials have used them for another purpose – pedestrian plazas.  The one we observed was in Herald Square, right in front of Macy’s.  But, as the NYC DOT website shows, these public plazas span all of the boroughs and have not negatively impacted traffic.  Here’s what the website says:

Streets make up approximately 25% of the City’s land area and yet, outside of parks there are few places to sit, rest, socialize, and to enjoy public life. To improve the quality of life for New Yorkers, DOT creates more public open space by reclaiming underutilized street space and transforming it into pedestrian plazas.

In addition to the plazas listed below, there are 26 plazas that are in some phase of planning, design, or construction with three additional plazas expected each year. The most high profile pedestrian plazas are improving quality of life and safety for New Yorkers and tourists at Times Square, where the City is preparing to make permanent the public space enhancements that were installed as part of a six-month pilot during the summer of 2009.

What wonderful, holistic thinking and planning!  Thankfully, because great ideas are thriving all over the country and all over the world, we need not invent many new wheels here in White Flint.  Maybe some of the innovations implemented in New York would serve us well here, too.

Lindsay Hoffman


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