Red and green may be the colors of Christmas, but they are also the colors of “stop” and “go” on traffic lights, which reminds me of urban cycling and urban greenspace, so my Christmas gift to all of you, dear readers, is a blog post about urban greenspace, or urban outdoor spaces designed for people to hang out, such as parks.
I came home to New York to spend the holidays with my family, bringing my bike along with me (thanks to the bike-friendly Lucky Star bus line). So riding up from Manhattan Chinatown to Grand Central Station to take the commuter rail(also bike-friendly) to my hometown, I had the fortune of riding through Herald Square, which, just two years ago, was a “park” that looked like this:
Yeah, I’m talking about that sliver of space wedged between all that car traffic with some trees. Even that buffered bike lane. But now, this same block looks like this:
Where there used to be a coral of motor vehicle traffic are now park benches, tables, pedestrians, and cyclists. Cars are prohibited from entering. Rolling to the other end of this square, I found some wonderful bicycle-specific signage:
Not only is there a sweet bicycle graphic on the green, there’s some excellent signage informing everyone that the area is a shared space for pedestrians and cyclists, and that cyclists should not only slow down but also yield to pedestrians.
As impressed as I was a few years ago when NYC DOT installed buffered bike lanes there, I was overjoyed to see that they’d gone a step further and turned the entire street into a space dedicated for pedestrians and bicyclists. Without a doubt, New York has undergone a dramatic transformation in the use of its roads over the past few years. (Here’s a StreetFilms video about the transformation of Madison Square)
And without a doubt, while Boston’s come a long, long way in the past few years thanks to the efforts of Boston Bikes and other advocacy organizations, it’s also pretty evident that the city has a long way to go to catch up with cities like New York, Chicago, or Portland.
Speaking of transformation of urban space, last year, when. Livable Streets Alliance gathered people together to organize Boston’s very first city-wide Park(ing) Day, I organized the Boston University spot with BU Bikes. After feeding the meter, we turned several parking spots into a public park for a day, complete with a bicycle repair station, coffee lounge, and real grass. It looked like this:
Students, friends and strangers alike came by to play apples to apples, catch up on reading, or juggle with the juggling club. While this year’s Park(ing) day in Boston had a growing handful of spots, Park(ing) Day in New York City has grown over the past few years to include over a hundred spots(they even have a dedicated website). As it turns out, you can fit a lot of people into a space where two empty cars normally sit. Talking to people who stopped by our park, the number one most frequent remark was simply, “this is great! why doesn’t this happen more often?” It became very apparent that Boston could use some more people-friendly space.
Now that I’ve experienced first-hand some of the urban greenspace transformations taking place in New York, riding through places like Boston’s Kenmore Square will never be the same; the next time I’m riding through its door-zoned bike lane, dodging buses, taxi-cabs, and jaywalkers all at once, I won’t be able to help imagine what the square would look like had it been designed (or re-designed) to include some more park benches and tables, of which there are currently zero outside the bus station.
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Kenmore Square, get ready for Park(ing) Day 2011.
P.S. “People-friendly”:a perfect segway into an upcoming post