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The Once and Future Park Avenue Promenade

The debate about whether the pedestrian-oriented changes made to the New York City streetscape during the pandemic should be permanent has a high-profile battleground on Park Avenue.
May 5, 2021, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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John Surico writes about a planning opportunity that could restore the median of Park Avenue in Manhattan to its former prominence as a pedestrian promenade.

"It has been a long time, but once it was possible and even fashionable to take a stroll through a far different Park Avenue, one with a green swath of lush lawn and shrubbery nearly 40 feet wide. It was the city’s first linear park, where pedestrians took precedence over cars and there were plenty of benches to take a break," according to Surico.

A project to repair an underground, "cavernous" shed used by Metro-North commuter trains traveling in and out of Grand Central Station also offers an opportunity to "transform Park Avenue’s malls and restore them to their original splendor," reports Surico.

"The work requires ripping up nearly a dozen streets along Park Avenue, from East 46th to East 57th Streets, making possible a new vision for that stretch of the thoroughfare."

"Among the options the city is considering is bringing back chairs and benches, along with more ambitious ideas like expanding the median, eliminating traffic lanes and carving out room for bike lanes and walking paths."

The Park Avenue project is just one example of an ongoing, citywide debate about whether the pandemic offered a chance to permanently rethink the city's streets, providing more space for pedestrians and people on bikes instead of more and more cars. As with other examples around the city, "the removal of traffic lanes along Park Avenue is likely to elicit backlash from drivers who complain that the addition of pedestrian plazas and bike lanes across the city has made it increasingly difficult to get around," writes Surico. The city has already retreated from some of the open streets and bus priority plans crafted during the pandemic.

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Published on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in The New York Times
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