By Winnie Hu
Aug. 8, 2019
New York City officials have carved out plazas for pedestrians in the middle of Broadway, a storied street where cars have ferried V.I.P.s in ticker-tape parades. They have taken away more and more traffic lanes and parking spots to make room for bikes and buses.
Now, officials are taking their biggest step yet in making cars unwelcome on streets that they have ruled since they started rolling off Henry Ford’s assembly line. Starting on Monday, cars will be all but banned from one of Manhattan’s main thoroughfares.
The busiest stretch of 14th Street — a major crosstown route for 21,000 vehicles a day that links the East and West Sides — will mostly be off limits to cars. Drivers will be allowed onto the street for just a block or two to make deliveries and pick up and drop off passengers. Then they will have to turn off.
The sweeping restrictions come as New York and other cities fundamentally rethink the role of cars in the face of unrelenting traffic that is choking their streets, poisoning the environment and crippling public transit systems by trapping buses and light rail systems in gridlock.
It is becoming a moment of reckoning — and, cars, which once had absolute hegemony over the streets, are losing.
“The idea of American cities got hijacked by the automobile,” said City Councilman Brad Lander, who supported a successful effort that got cars banned last year from Prospect Park, a lush, 526-acre oasis in central Brooklyn. “There was a kind of romance about cars, and even in places like parks we allowed them to take over.”
Cities across the world are also seeking to take back their streets. London has become the most famous case for congestion pricing — charging drivers a fee to enter clogged neighborhoods. Paris has banned cars from the city center one Sunday a month and is rapidly expanding its biking network. And Barcelona has reorganized some streets into “superblocks,” turning over the middle of the roadway to pedestrians and pushing cars to the edges.
Now New York, with 6,000 miles of streets, has effectively declared war on cars. Earlier this year, it followed London’s example and became the first American city to embrace congestion pricing, reversing years of failed pushes. And a proposal to raise tolls on tunnels and bridges leading into New York could add to the cost for suburban drivers.
Karen Ho contributed from Toronto