Winter 2002, p.14-15

Reclaiming the Sidewalks

Read the latest news about this issue.

New York City pedestrians need safe, spacious sidewalks free of moving cars, parked cars, clots of newspaper boxes and garbage, seemingly permanent scaffolding, broken pavement and illegal and intrusive vendors. But, as we all know, New York's sidewalks are impossibly crowded, obstructed and narrow. T.A. has made an enormous effort to make street crossings safer for pedestrians, but conditions on the sidewalks are growing intolerable. Because of this, we are launching a four-part advocacy campaign. Reclaiming the Sidewalks is rooted in the simple premise that sidewalks are for walking, and that pedestrians deserve safe, congenial conditions that respect their dignity and humanity.

Steel bollards at Foley Square in Manhattan protect pedestrians on this busy sidewalk.1. Safe Sidewalks
Goal: Keep runaway vehicles off sidewalks, where they injure 500 pedestrians a year.
Target: Locations with high numbers of pedestrians and histories of vehicles crashing on sidewalks.
Solutions:

  • Steel and concrete bollards installed along the curb at high risk locations by a DOT on-call contractor, and as a routine part of the rebuilding of all arterial streets.
  • Increased speeding and red light enforcement by police and automated cameras.
  • New legislation imposing automatic license revocation, $5000 fine and presumption of criminal intent for driving on sidewalks.

Parking on sidewalks is illegal, dangerous and obnoxious.2. Clear Sidewalks
Goal: Clear sidewalks of obstructions
Targets:

  • Cars parked on sidewalks
  • Vending boxes narrowing passage
  • "Permanent" scaffolding
  • Illegal and obstructive vendors
  • Excessively protruding restaurant and store front porches

Solutions:

  • A City law requiring that pedestrians be provided with a basic level of service, guaranteeing minimum sidewalk widths for given volumes. A grade of "C" (using national standards) would be a good place to start.
  • A City law raising the fine for parking on sidewalks to $500 and automatic tow.
  • Enforcement of existing sidewalk parking laws by police. (Commissioner Kelly must make cops live up to their credo of Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect by getting their own cars off of the sidewalk!)
  • A City law giving the DOT the authority to regulate newspaper-vending boxes that block curb cuts and crowd corners.
  • A City law giving the DOT enforcement and regulatory authority over the duration of scaffolding. Require each scaffolding site to have two signs easily visible to pedestrians which include the name, phone, email and address for the client, erector and City DOT enforcement as well as a description of the work and the start and finish date of the permit.
  • Install inexpensive, attractive, anti-parking bollards where sidewalk parking is a perennial problem.
  • Ban permits for restaurants and other commercial establishments which encroach upon scarce sidewalk space - per legislation guaranteeing minimum sidewalk width.
  • Enforce vending permits and ban vendors from areas with inadequate sidewalk space - per legislation guaranteeing minimum sidewalk width. Provide vending space by taking one parking spot on each block in dense areas, or by creating car-free streets. Millions of pedestrians should not suffer intolerable crowding for the benefit of a relatively tiny number of vendors.

3. Wide Sidewalks
Goal: Widen the most crowded and highest volume sidewalks over the next decade.
Target: Initially, sidewalks near transit and those carrying the very highest volume of pedestrians.
Solutions:

  • Create a DOT database of Pedestrian Conditions, including crowding conditions based on complaints, environmental studies, existing city studies and ad hoc surveys. Widen the west side of 8th Ave. north of Penn Station, from 34th to 40th streets where it is so crowded that large numbers of people walk in the busy avenue during peak periods.
  • Widen the east side of Lexington Ave. between 60th Streets and 50th Streets, where eight feet of sidewalk was shaved off.
  • Widen the west side of 6th Avenue between 23rd and 42nd streets by eliminating a full lane of traffic.
  • Use attractive, sturdy bollards as an inexpensive way to quickly widen sidewalks.

Kids walking to the PS 161 in the Bronx have to detour into the road to pass broken sidewalks and glass. T.A.'s Bronx Safe Routes to School Program documented many examples of this.4. New Sidewalks
Goal: Fix poor sidewalk conditions which force pedestrians to detour because of physical danger or extremely unpleasant environment. Get new sidewalks built at all new commercial and residential developments.
Target: Sidewalks identified by elected officials, civic groups, community boards and government surveyors and at all new developments.
Solutions:

  • Collect information from stakeholder groups above and place in the DOT Pedestrian Conditions database. Form a DOT Pedestrian Conditions Task Force within the DOT's non-motorized division and pay for new staff and inspectors with Federal clean air and safety funds.
  • Aggressively target property owners who fail to repair broken sidewalks with higher fines as well as build and bill projects. (This alone will save the City tens of millions in "trip and fall" lawsuit settlements.)
  • Pass a City law mandating minimum four-foot sidewalks on both sides of the street at all new commercial and residential developments. No exceptions grantable by city agencies.
  • Change zoning and permitting regulations to make installing curb cuts for commercial driveways much more difficult to obtain. Likewise, change zoning codes to essentially ban "drive-through" establishments like McDonald's.
  • Change zoning and permitting to require commercial establishments to require parking be placed behind buildings, not in front of them. This drastically improves safety and the overall pedestrian environment.

Two Things You Can Do!

  • Call the Mayor's Quality of Life Hotline at 888-677-LIFE/5433 and tell Mayor Bloomberg you are fed up with cars parking on sidewalks, news boxes, illegal vendors, crowded narrow sidewalks, broken pavement and missing curb cuts.
  • E-mail the Mayor at pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov and tell him the same thing.