By John Massengale
May 4, 2020
“If everybody drives a car,” the mayor of Milan said last week, “there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops.”
Why do we normally have too many cars driving around New York City? Because we spend billions of dollars on roads and highways that encourage people to drive. Milan, Brussels, and Paris are all using Open Street experiments during the pandemic to permanently change the driving culture in their cities. Here are some ideas to do that here.
The ideas are both radical and common sense — “radical” because everyone reading this has grown up in the age of King Car, when what was good for General Motors was good for America. We built an American way of life dependent on driving, and we’re used to it.
But the changes are common sense because we’re all living through an event the likes of which hasn’t been seen for 100 years. Many hope that returning to “normal” after the pandemic won’t mean going back to the pre-virus status quo. There are ways to change the car culture and make city life healthier and more pleasant. To quote Winston Churchill, “Never waste a good crisis.”
Manhattan is the easiest place to begin transitioning from streets for machines to a better balance of streets for traffic and people. Manhattan has the lowest car ownership rates, the highest number of cars coming in from elsewhere, the most crowded streets, and the highest concentration of mass transit. Three-quarters of Manhattan households don’t own a motor vehicle, yet three-quarters of streets are given over to the movement and storage of machines.