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):