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Hey, I'm Walking (or Running or Biking) Here . . .

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Yorkers, honk if you love pedestrians.

In the city that never stops driving, cars and pedestrians have always tussled over the island's finite turf. To the casual eye, it's always seemed that automobiles had the advantage, but now pedestrians are gaining ground.

"Developing the High Line [a new park], reclaiming the waterfront and creating pedestrian space -- all of these elements are getting people out of their cars and onto their feet and bikes," said Amanda M. Burden, director of the Department of City Planning. "We are making the city a glorious experience for the pedestrian as a participant, rather than inside a metal cage."

The city is also revealing its green colors, which also benefits walkers and bikers. Two years ago on Earth Day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC, an ambitious agenda that addresses such quality-of-life issues as air pollution, land use and public transportation. The project is scheduled to run through 2030, when the city's population of more than 8.3 million is expected to have grown by a million more, but some goals have been met. In the past year and a half, for example, 49 acres have been transferred from car usage to public space.

"The idea of PlaNYC is to reduce emissions and congestion by getting people on bikes and using pedestrian spaces more," said Monty Dean, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation. "We can't build our way out of the congestion, but we can acknowledge how the streets are being used."

The plan safeguards such popular tourist activities as staring at skyscrapers, snapping photos of iconic sights and crossing Broadway in Times Square to make an 8 p.m. curtain. Here is a handful of the pro-pedestrian projects to look for -- and to look forward to.

Biking Initiatives: The city has formulated an array of plans that encourage -- and protect -- cyclists. For example, 200 new miles of bike lanes will be installed by early this summer, part of the DOT's 1,800-mile master plan scheduled for completion by 2030. Free cycling maps are available at area bike stores or online (see below). To park your bike, look for any of 35 new sheltered racks. For a more fashionable lockup, artist-musician David Byrne has created nine racks (eight in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn) that double as objets d'art. For more information on NYC biking: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemain.shtml.

East River Waterfront Project: The riverfront revitalization plan, which will roll out in phases starting this month, covers a two-mile stretch from Battery Park to East River Park in Lower Manhattan; it also closes a gap in the Manhattan Greenway (see below). When complete (around 2013), pedestrians will be able to walk an unbroken path linking the Financial District, South Street Seaport, Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

The walkway, to be beautified with plants, benches, pavilions and other amenities, remedies the loss of waterfront access caused by the construction of FDR Drive and the industries of yore. For example, steps carved at historic slips will lead to the water's edge, and a man-made archipelago will let visitors "walk" on water. Pier 15 will feature a two-story structure with a cafe, maritime center and close-up glimpses of maritime activity, including visiting tall ships. At Pier 35, an amphitheater-style space will open up to views of Governors Island and Brooklyn.

Governors Island: On weekends between May 30 and Oct. 11, visitors to the 172-acre island can bike or hike along seven miles of pavement, including a 2.2-mile trail along the periphery. The recent addition on the southern end completes the loop. Free bike rentals on Fridays; a fee of $15 per two hours is charged for the rest of the weekend. The island is about seven minutes away by free ferry, which departs from the Battery Maritime Building. Info: http://www.govisland.com.

Green Light for Midtown: Allowing pedestrians to take over stretches of Broadway might seem insane in a city with about 13,000 taxis, until you hear the facts. According to the city's DOT, more than 356,000 walkers -- or 4.5 times as many people as cars -- pass through Times Square a day. However, only 11 percent of the terrain is set aside for pedestrians, one likely reason that 140 percent more accidents occur on Broadway in Times Square than happen on parallel avenues along the same stretch.

Starting Memorial Day weekend, the city will ban cars from Broadway around Times Square (north of 42nd Street) and Herald Square (north of 32nd Street), thus creating three acres of open space for pedestrians. The pilot plan, which also adds greenery at 25 locations, runs through the end of the year, at which point officials will determine whether to continue the arrangement. Info: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/about/broadway.shtml.

The High Line: Built in 1934 and active until the 1980s, the High Line once supported freight trains transporting goods to and from city factories and warehouses. Come June, the line's elevated train trestle will transport pedestrians away from concrete sidewalks and into a green space. The 1.5-mile "garden in the sky" sits 18 to 30 feet aboveground and ribbons through three neighborhoods: Hell's Kitchen/Hudson Yards, West Chelsea and the Gansevoort Market Historic District. Because of its narrowness (20 to 60 feet across), the design will be kept simple, mainly benches and thematic plantings, such as a mixed perennial meadow and a wetland. Exit points are set at every two or three blocks. The first portion, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, is scheduled to open in June; the target date for the second section is 2010. Info: http://www.thehighline.org.

Manhattan Waterfront Greenway: "The entire West Side has been effectively turned into a recreational waterfront site," said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "You can walk the entire length of the island without ever crossing a city street." The 16-mile route along the Hudson River extends from Battery Park to Inwood Hill Park and is part of a 32-mile master trail that will eventually circle the island. The factories, piers and other vestiges of old commerce have been replaced with boardwalks, cafes, lawns, recreational centers, boathouses and other becalming attractions. For maps: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/mwg/mapshome.shtml.

Summer Streets: Officials plan to reprise the summer event in which, on three consecutive Saturdays, cars were not allowed on a 6.9-mile route from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Special attractions will be sprinkled along the way; last year's fest featured sidewalk chalk art, yoga, hopscotch and a limited supply of free loaner bikes. Info: http://www.nyc.gov/summerstreets.

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Details: Car Ban in New York Take Back: The Streets

Starting Memorial Day weekend, the city institutes a pilot plan banning cars from Broadway around Times Square and Herald Square, thus creating three acres of open space for pedestrians, bikers and skaters: www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/about/broadway.shtml.

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