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Monday, June 12, 2006
Moving the Sidewalk at 96th Street
As pointed out by Aaron Naparstek and the good people at Curbed, folks from the Upper West Side are upset that the sidewalks are going to be shaved by nine feet for the redesign of the subway station at 96th Street and Broadway. Nine feet of space where people walk would become one lane of traffic in each direction on Broadway. A classic case of taking away space from pedestrians and giving it to cars? Not exactly. As Curbed's commenter No. 8, "Dave the City Planner," retorts:
Yes, the sidewalk on the east and west ends of Broadway are being narrowed, but there is basically a new sidewalk being created in the median. At the end of the day, the same amount of sidewalk space will exist exist [sic] - it'll just be distributed differently. … This is not about cars vs pedestrians.Dave the City Planner's point is mathematically correct — the amount of roadway devoted to traffic will be the same — but his point assumes the fungibility of walking space, i.e., that sidewalk space can be replaced one-for-one by the same amount of space in a median. That ignores the fact that a sidewalk takes you to stores and apartments and the far end of the block, while the median is the place you stand when you're waiting for the light to change.
The MTA's PDF'ed proposal, which comes to us via Community Board 7, notes that streetscape impacts will include "Reductions to sidewalk widths" and "Removal of 96th St subway entrances in sidewalk." I fail to be bowled over by Dave's appeal to mathematical precision. I am inclined to agree with the people who spoke in Clarence Eckerson's video who are upset about the sidewalk narrowing. But an even more important concern is the related removal of the subway entrance in the sidewalk.
Because elevators take up a sizeable amount of space on the sidewalk, the issue of allocating sidewalk space is going to come up again and again as the MTA continues its federally mandated mission to make renovated subway stations ADA accessible. Subways move a lot more people than roads, and we as a city should make the decision to make avenues that have subways underneath them (like the narrow-sidewalked Lexington Avenue) as pedestrian friendly as possible, even if that means taking space away from cars.
Right now, if you are taking the train to a destination on Amsterdam or Columbus, you get off at 96th Street and walk through an underpass to the eastern exits, walk up the steps, and proceed directly to your destination. But if the only entrance was to be placed in the median — enlarged though it may be — you will have to wait to cross three lanes of traffic before you can proceed. It turns out that this is about cars vs. pedestrians, because subway-riding pedestrians will be endangered so that no lanes of traffic will be sacrificed. Anyone who has ever ridden the West Side IRT knows that it can get insanely packed, and the express stations are especially busy. Think of crowds of people waiting to cross the street, some people running to catch the light, some not making it so quickly. This whole setup magnifies the risk of accidents, all to avoid taking away a lane of traffic.
The MTA and the DOT should look to their own earlier work in evaluating how to make an Upper West Side IRT express station ADA-compliant. Five or six years ago they expanded the 72nd Street station, and in the process took away all three of Broadway's uptown lanes between 72nd and 73rd Streets. The result is a greatly expanded Verdi Square, and a well used public space where there had been parked buses and traffic.
Drivers who want to continue northbound on Broadway have to make a left at 73rd and Amsterdam and then wait for a right-turn arrow. This new obstacle has caused a big reduction in traffic.
There is now so little uptown traffic on Broadway in the 70's that the next logical improvement would be to reduce these three lanes to two by widening the median and creating a series of true walking gardens, or maybe by widening the sidewalks in front of the Beacon Theater to accomodate all the concert goers.
On the Upper West Side, Broadway should be a street for people. It already has the most attractions for pedestrians — dense apartment buildings and popular stores and restaurants. For cars, Broadway is already two-way and so its light timing encourages through drivers to take the Amsterdam and Columbus one-way speedways anyway. Why not take this a step further? Elevators and stairway entrances on the Broadway median at 96th Street are fine, but the sidewalk entrances should not be removed. Doing so would inconvenience and endanger pedestrians.
BONUS! There is a public forum about this plan on Tuesday night at 7 o'clock at the American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway at 61st Street. People who have a say over what happens here are still listening.
- How to Spend the Next 5.5 Minutes of Your Life [Curbed]
- The 96th Street Sidewalk Nibblers [Naparstek]
- The Sidewalk Nibblers [Clarence Eckerson]
- 96th Street Station Rehabilitation Proposal [MTA via CB7 PDF!]
- Traffic Reversal [S&F]
- Retrofitting Bridges for Inefficiency [S&F]- Posted at 9:23 PM | Permalink | Comments: 11 | Post a Comment |
Good article. Thanks for the hedzup, for collecting the documents and for presenting the issues clearly. The redesign of the interesection, as proposed by the MTA, would make the neighborhood much less livable.
Hey, Dave the City Planner here.
Dave (and Daniel), thanks for reading. A pleasure to have you over here.
O.K. - I was trying to harness the power of irony to make my point. Not sure if it was effective. But Futurebird, who is sitting on the couch right now and too lazy to come over here and make her own post on this subject, had these to points to make.
Aaron - I still am not moved by your street crossing argument. Firstly, the plaza in front of the subway station will provide a much larger space for a large group of people who have just gotten off the train to wait than is currently possible with the existing entrances. Also, if someone is going to aggressively cross the street annd not pay attention to cars at this crossing, he's probably going to do that at a number of crossings, and the chances of him getting hit by a car at this instersection are no greater than his chances of getting hit at anyone of the many intersections he crosses during his aggressive life. I really think that having to cross an additional 4 lanes of traffic is a very small price to pay (almost infitesmal) compared to the benefits of this project. Having said that, I appreciate your attempt at irony.
Dave, we might just have to agree to disagree on this one. Just because the plan is an improvement overall doesn't mean it couldn't be better still. I'd like to see the elevators installed and entrances on the main parts of the blocks. The idea that people will have a nice large area to wait is a bit like having the most beautiful, solid gold handcuffs, no? Even though you've got this beautiful contraption, you're still cuffed! Right now, nobody has to wait in an area at all, so being forced to wait in an area, no matter how large, is a step backward.
Dave the CP and Aaron, you guys are brilliant. What a wonderful exchange of analysis and debate between two people who obviously care a great deal about improving the quality of life here in the city.
Dave the CP's arguments are mostly unpersuasive and very short-sighted, especially this one:
Thanks jlo. I attended a CB7 Transportation Committee meeting on this topic and I raised these issues. The chairman of the board (I forget his name right now) assumed that there couldn't be an entrance on the sidewalk because it would still require a 65-step descent below the tracks and then up again to the platforms. I am not clear as to why, as long as they're building a mezanine, they couldn't extend an arm of it eastward and westward to the sidwalks. The people from the MTA were just saying that they'd have to move too many utilities to put an entrance on the sidewalk at 96th Street. At least the sidewalk entrances at 94th Street will remain. ...
also, this proposal would also make anyone who lives above 95th have to walk an extra 3/4 block to or from the subway. this and the extra street crossing will add up to a lot of extra time. if the aim is to let pedestrian traffic move efficiently and safely, this will fail.
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