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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flushing Case Study

Last month the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) released World Class Streets (PDF link), a "report that presents new policies for the function and design of New York's streets." One is prompted to ask if a study and report was needed to determine, "that the treatment of the spaces between buildings strongly determines a city's character." Much is influenced by the choice of Jan Gehl to lead the study, which also "defines a planning approach that emphasizes walking, creating streets that serve as active public spaces and integrating interesting and attractive design into projects and public structures on city streets."

Of the six sites that Gehl and DOT chose to survey -- centers of activity along key multi-modal corridors -- one of the most illuminating illustrations is for Main Street in Flushing, Queens:


The illustration and statistics clearly show how space devoted to population is not weighted correctly. Logically the existing condition just doesn't make sense, though of course the logical traffic engineer would probably point out how much quicker and more efficiently the motorists move through the city. For those not familiar with Flushing, here's the view from one of Google's vans:


While I can't agree more with Gehl's illustration -- something that shows how even the most pedestrian-oriented American city makes more concessions to cars than walkers -- I can't help wonder if the result is ordained by the selection of the survey site. I'm sure a heck of a lot of "multi-modal corridors" are similarly located on wide, busy streets and suffer the same inbalance of space for cars and pedestrians. But it's what DOT plans on doing in these areas -- surely to be influenced by this report (a version of Broadway Boulevard, perhaps?) -- that is most important.

Update 12.28: I just came across this New York Times interactive map of parking tickets in New York (close to 10 million in one year!). Here's how Main Street and a couple of adjacent streets fared (red is high, gray is low, orange is mid-range):



  1. look at the experimental redevelopment of Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen. That project, aiming to give back the street to the pedestrians and bicycles. It has been a success, and it's being pushed towards becoming permanent.

  2. I wonder why the comparison between "vehicle vs. pedestrian traffic" and "vehicle vs. pedestrian space" was not carried out similarly for the other sites (unless I missed it). Probably, as you pointed out, since all of these are heavy-traffic corridors we'd find the same automobile-centric situation in each case.

    As for Flushing, the googlevan view is far from typical. This is an incredibly congested block most of the time. I don't know how motorist passengers per day is supposed to relate to street width, but there are typically plenty of cars and buses here.

    Now I'm all for reclaiming what street space we can for pedestrians, but I feel like this analysis is unjustly suggesting the roadway is underutilized.

    What about the cars, John? And FreshDirect?

  3. Recently, the DOT installed a new median at the intersection of 41st Ave, Kissena Blvd and Main St (Q17,27). It features a buffer zone for pedestrians who can't make it to the other side. (,-73.829156&spn=0.000721,0.001207&t=h&z=20)

    Traffic is now restricted to 1.5 lanes (the bus stop on the Roosevelt Ave-bound side has been closed, the one on the Flushing Library side has been pushed further back.

  4. In all fairness, Main Street in Flushing is just about as far away from Manhattan as you can get while staying in the city limits. That part of the city is much less dense than the parts that people visit, and thus much more car dependant. Few people walk very far in that part of town.

  5. Were the number of occupants in each vehicle taken into account, surely as a fair measure of the amount of space allocated per person the number of cars is irrelevant. For example if each car had 2 people inside the number of road users doubles to 112000, a majority and so surely this merits more roadspace?
    By focusing on making reasons to pedestrianize it seems the grou have missed the point- how to get maximum people where they want with maximum ease, deflecting traffic to other streets isn't going to solve this.

  6. Traffic is horrible on downtown Main St. during rush hours and on weekends...I think by reducing capacity for car traffic/or detouring traffic away from Main St. would decrease congestion and encourage more people to take the bus or walk.


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