The recent decision to introduce congestion pricing in parts of Manhattan signals that planners and legislators are looking around the world to find ways to make movement more efficient and less environmentally burdensome. But congestion pricing is just one way of rethinking urban mobility, and cities both abroad and in the U.S.A. provide examples of other ways navigating New York City could be very different in the future.
Barcelona is in the midst of radically reworking its inner-city streets, restricting vehicle access within groups of blocks called superilles, or “superblocks.” They aim to give space back to residents by limiting traffic to perimeter roads, and while the city is far from its goal of establishing hundreds of superblocks, those currently developed have been found to reduce driving by 26 percent and encourage walking and cycling.
The idea works because of Barcelona’s density, walkability, grid structure and widespread public transport network – characteristics shared by New York City. As such, Manhattan and its surrounding regions would be suitable for adopting the strategy. The result would be more area for walking and socializing, incentivizing the local government to improve public spaces. Fewer roads would be clogged with traffic, reducing pollution, and pedestrians would never be more than a few minutes walk from a major road from where they can hop into a cab.
Since the 1970s, the Netherlands has been creating woonerven, or “living streets” – shared traffic zones in which pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are peers with equal ownership of the space. In these areas, there’s no distinction between road and sidewalk; everyone coexists on a continuous surface with no markings or signs, and cars move at around six miles per hour to prevent collisions.
Bringing the concept to New York City would result in less rigid urban planning. Just as it gave Amsterdam new types of thoroughfares, such as roads that double as bike routes and playgrounds, New Yorkers would see a greater variety in street design and would be able to walk and cycle more safely.
Ridesharing is often treated as a replacement for public transport, with some American cities seeing small declines in bus and rail usage since the introduction of services like Lyft. But in Denver, mass transit and ridesharing are converging, with commuters able to buy bus and train tickets from within the Uber app.
A similar solution in New York City would make it easier for travelers to decide on their mode of transport based on every available option. With a deeper integration of ridesharing and public transit, this could become a true multi-modal solution, allowing users to plan a single journey that jumps between subways, cabs and more.
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