Merry Urban Greenspaces!

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.

View Larger Map

Kenmore Square, get ready for Park(ing) Day 2011.

P.S. “People-friendly”:a perfect segway into an upcoming post

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3 Responses to Merry Urban Greenspaces!

  1. Fenway says:

    Unfortunately closing part of Kenmore Square to automotive traffic would only exacerbate problems on already clogged surround streets. Unlike in NY there aren’t any good alternatives to displace the existing traffic flow, nor are there sufficient transportation alternatives for the volume of traffic which needs to flow through the square without billion dollar price tags.

    Improving Kemore to the standard of Herald Square would be disastrous to Storrow Drive, Brookline Avenue, and Boylston Street. All routes which ideally should have LESS traffic volume placed on them. Unless there was funding to unobtrusively shift through traffic to I-90 somehow or, what would be much better, to extend the Blue Line to MGH through Back Bay to Kemore and points beyond, there’s simply no good way to reroute or substitute other forms of transit for the volume of cars in that area.

    While Herald Square’s total experience can not be easily achieved in Kenmore Square, I concur that better street furniture could be added around the bus shelter and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The space is a lovely island without much reason to be occupied. Not really that different from the Greenway Downtown it suffers from traffic median syndrome. If it could be activated for pedestrian use at least 3/4ths of the year the square could be more than a pretty terminus, but an actual destination for activity once again.

    ……..Or at least what can pass for activity there nowdays with the loss of the Rat!

  2. I agree that the increased dedication to pedestrians in Herald Square is like a breath of fresh air. It’s nice for bicyclists not have to fear their lives when trying to get to work, and promoting green travel is always great for the environment.

    It would be interesting to see if New York will ever adopt the new bus system that is being designed in China.

  3. I can tell you honestly, that living in Herald Square has really changed for the better over the last few years. Shutting down the Square to traffic is one of the smartest and most agreeable moves that this behemoth of a city has ever made. I don’t however think that doing the same thing in Kenmore would be advantageous (nor Copley Square for that matter). Beantown needs some restructuring before you could make more open space accessible to the public, free of automotive traffic.

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