We need leaders willing to put the lives, needs, and future of New York City’s 8.6 million people ahead of the movement and storage of inanimate, 6,500-pound vehicles.
As a five-year-old, I learned to ride a bike in a schoolyard in New York City. Now, I am teaching my five-year-old how to ride a bike in a similar schoolyard across town. In the 37 intervening years, one constant remains in this city: the incredible freedom and independence we grant children with the gift of a bicycle is limited to the car-free parks, greenways, and miniscule protected bike lanes that dot our city. The rest of the city remains off limits — the dangerous domain of cars and trucks.
This city, like countless others, continues to prioritize the convenience of drivers, operating increasingly large vehicles, over the safety of our children. Even as an advocate for safer streets with the agency and privilege to make change, I have to remind my children daily as we walk, bike, and scoot around that our streets are places of danger, not of celebration and freedom. In New York City, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14.
Every day, people, from kids to seniors to those with disabilities, are squeezed onto the narrow margins of our city. Meanwhile, vehicles are given more than 75% of the streetscape, including 19,000 lane miles for travel and more than three million free parking spaces. This despite the fact that a minority of New York households own a car, and a supermajority of New Yorkers rely on walking, biking, and public transportation every day.
While this is our current reality in New York City, it need not be our future. Just as planners made decisions to prioritize cars over people to disastrous results for every New Yorker, so, too, can they make decisions to prioritize people over cars and lift up this city and all its residents. By putting people first, New York City can have car-free bus lanes and bike lanes, wider sidewalks and safer crosswalks, acres of new public space in every neighborhood, pathways out of poverty, clean air, longer lives, a vibrant economy, and a more just and equitable city. And these gains will be felt most acutely in the low-income and BIPOC communities who have been disproportionately harmed by our car-first transportation and planning policies.
In addition to being good policy, this is also good politics. In recent polling by Transportation Alternatives and Siena College, the vast majority of New York City voters support street improvements in their neighborhoods, even if it means fewer parking spaces and car travel lanes.
It’s time for New York City to take action. Transportation Alternatives recently launched a campaign with 100+ coalition partners calling on our city’s next leaders to repurpose 25 percent of the space that is currently devoted to cars to a higher purpose by 2025. Streets are New York City’s largest public space and reclaiming 25 percent of this area from cars would be the equivalent of creating more than 13 new Central Parks of public, people-first space.
The pandemic has laid bare our city’s fundamental inequities, and our streets — our largest public asset — must be a pathway to recovery. Now, we need leaders willing to put the lives, needs, and future of New York City’s 8.6 million people ahead of the movement and storage of inanimate, 6,500-pound vehicles.
Danny Harris is Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, a NYC-based biking, walking, and public transportation advocacy organization. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.
Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives
Danny Harris is Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, NYC’s leading walking, biking and public transit advocacy group. He is a leading voice in building cities for people, not cars. Previously, he spent four years as a program director with the Knight Foundation in San Jose, CA, where he supervised grantmaking related to placemaking, transportation, and affordable housing. Danny has taught at San Jose State University, was named a Vanguard Fellow by Next City, and received a citation from the American Institute of Architects. A graduate of Connecticut College and Princeton University, Danny is a native New Yorker and currently resides in Manhattan with his family.
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