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Are You For/Against Closing Street Segments?

There's a lot of babbling on in this blog about how streets are public space, that they are for people, and that they should be designed equitably for everyone.
Ian Sacs | July 13, 2010, 4am PDT
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There's a lot of babbling on in this blog about how streets are public space, that they are for people, and that they should be designed equitably for everyone.  Since cars and their owners have been generously granted most of the space on our streets due to nearly a century of auto-industry propaganda defining the car as the key to a happy life (and a sad simultaneous reorganization of our nation's cities to serve the car industry's bidding), it's no wonder that we encounter such opposition to every step in our efforts in returning the distribution of street space to an equitable balance.

The driving public, after decades of being shown images on television and in print that owning a car makes you better/cooler/[add other socially positive superlatives here] than everyone else, can express outrage at the thought that planners might think of taking away "their streets".  Quite irrational I think, because if you plunk down tens of thousands of dollars for such a fancy machine, you'd think there would be a modicum of satisfaction knowing that roadway congestion equates to more quality time spent with man's most prized material possession, no?  Nonetheless, the pursuit of a rational urban roadway network is worth the struggle, and we must march forward.

The question I put forth here is, essentially, how much is too much?  In pure city-grid fashion Hoboken, we have been regularly encountering development opportunities where closures of street segments have been on the table.  The reasons for these closures vary from underpass clearance issues to the creation of small public spaces/parks/plazas, etc.  The arguments for and against roadway closures are both valid:

For: Eliminates through-traffic in neighborhoods streets/properly redirects through-traffic to arterials; provides opportunities for new public spaces in a dense environment with little available free land; adds more interesting locations throughout the city; increases opportunities for social interactions; more fairly uses limited public space for a broader range of residents.

Against: Disrupts the flexibility (takes away options) and distribution of traffic in the grid; unfairly redistributes traffic volumes onto other neighboring streets; adds to motorist confusion; fear of adding to congestion on other streets (although this is largely disproved time and again in examples worldwide); takes away on-street parking.

Not all of these are true or valid for every situation, but they are the common arguments.  In an entirely philosophical complete streets debate, one might argue that eliminating vehicular use on any street makes that street incomplete.  A counter argument to this could be that, looking at the city as a whole, just as some streets are, where appropriate, designed exclusively for cars (tunnels, highway ramps, etc.), other streets are justified, where appropriate, to be designed exclusive of cars.

For example, in Manhattan, it would make no sense to implement a complete streets policy, inclusive of broad sidewalks, bus stops, and bicycle lanes, to some of the approaches to the  Lincoln Tunnel when the tunnel itself restricts non-motorized vehicles (although I am an advocate of opening at least one tube of either this or the Holland Tunnel to pedestrians and bicyclists), but it makes a lot of sense that the spine of the island, Broadway, be reserved exclusively for non-motorized vehicles since all the other avenues are so heavily trafficked by automobiles.

Professionally, the industry makes the case both ways, and I'm not sure there is consensus on where and when one way or the other applies.  There are clearly camps on both ends of the spectrum that lean heavily towards a steadfast policy, but the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle and the answer, as is often the case, is not so immediately evident.  What say ye?

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