This past Saturday, we joined in the fifth annual Summer Streets opening weekend. About 7 miles of city streets were free of cars, allowing scores of bicyclists, runners and pedestrians to occupy the entirety of the pavement. And, at designated rest stops, participants enjoyed a variety of activities, such as zip lining above Foley Square, rock climbing at Spring Street while hearing how to fix a bike flat from REI volunteers, and Salsa lessons at 51st Street. Although the streets were full of life with bikes whizzing passed and the pavement buzzing with the sound of runners’ feet, we were struck by how quiet the streets were without the sounds of cars. In some spots, it was actually quite eerie to notice which cross street was just passed; for, even the busiest of intersections, typically filled with the all too familiar beeps and screeches, can transform into an entirely different environment with the elimination of cars. It makes one realize how much of our urban environment has come to be defined and dominated by the vehicle, and makes one wonder the possibilities of what major cities could be like without cars. More about Summer Streets after the break.
The event, a project of the New York City Department of Transportation, is modeled on ideas such as Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia and the Paris Plage. A full street celebration for New York provides space for healthy recreation and encourages New Yorkers to use more sustainable forms of transportation. In addition to the major activities at rest stops, it was enjoyable to see the little details of the day such as water stops where a hose connected to an open fire hydrant quenched people’s thirst as the water was directed to half a dozen fountain heads. Plus, the event offered free bikes and roller skate rentals, and the route was speckled with different public art installations along the way.
One of our favorite parts of the trip was walking across the bridge in front of Grand Central and wrapping around the magnificent structure. It is a path no pedestrian could experience without such an event. So, if you happen to be in New York on August 11 and 18, join in the fun! From 7 am to 1 pm, the route extends from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, along Park Avenue and connecting streets, with easy side travel options on low-traffic streets to the Hudson River Greenway, Harlem, Brooklyn and Governors Island. And, as you are walking, just imagine what it would be like if the city designated one whole avenue a no-car zone permanently.