Free our Streets

Traffic accidents result in about 37,000 death per year in the US, and a staggering 2.35 million injuries. They do $230.6 billion in damage. In NYC, despite recent progress, traffic fatalities started rising again last year, with 111 pedestrian and 28 cycling deaths. Congested streets waste people’s time and spew pollution. There is a clear thread here: entitlements such as continually expanding highways, free city roads and free curbside parking have resulted in too many cars.

The good news for NYC is that large cities around the world such as ParisCopenhagen, and Oslo, are rethinking transport around people, bicycles, and micro-mobility. They are reducing cars and street parking, and unlocking the huge potential of the reclaimed space. The message is catching on here with Open Streets and debates about making Manhattan car-free. It is especially relevant given the need for restaurants, gyms, even schools, to have outside space while the virus restricts indoors.

To realize a more livable NYC and country, we must end subsidies which prioritize driving. We need to spend less on highways. We need to lower urban speed limits. We need to recognize that curbside parking costs money, should be priced accordingly, and in many cases repurposed for people. We need to make properly costed space for delivery trucks so they aren’t double-parked and blocking traffic.

Do safer streets mean a war on cars? No. Cars will continue to be an efficient means of transport for many trips, and may be the only viable option for people with disabilities, or stuck in transportation deserts. While trying to fix the transportation desert part, and removing preferences like free (ie subsidized) curbside parking, we need to allow cars to find their appropriate place in our future mobility landscape.