New York is an old city filled with people who want new things. This leads, as one might expect, to endless problems, conflicts, debates, sometimes even altercations. We want to keep old things, but we also want new things, and new things often mean getting rid of old things, or at least changing old things. And when is change not fraught? Change is always fraught. It’s so complicated and fraught and terrifying that totally reasonable people who want totally reasonable things can end up in completely ridiculous debates. For example, the Dumbo cobblestone kerfuffle, a conflict that centers on whether the city should replace, as The New York Times put it, old cobblestones with old-looking cobblestones.
Basically, the city wants to tear out the charming, historic, but kind of hard to traverse cobblestones in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill. Not being totally insensitive to the unique charms of historic cobblestone (and the heightened real estate values that come with the ankle-twisting ground cover)—as well as being somewhat cognizant of the public relations nightmare of replacing historic Belgian cobblestones with common asphalt—the city has offered some more aesthetically replacing road cover: artificially-aged new cobblestones.
“Fifth and Sixth Avenues teem these days; the thronging pedestrians maneuver under rules skimpier than those of a bagataway.” Most every New Yorker would agree with this assessment, which could extend from Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to Lower Broadway in Soho, and nowhere moreso then that bastard child of show business and commerce, Times Square.
Yet these words were written not by a New Yorker, but The New Yorker, in 1956, when none other than John Updike endeavored to plot a safer course through Midtown. “As a service to readers who are too frail or shy for good-natured hurly-burly, we decided to plot a course from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that would involve no contact with either Fifth or Sixth Avenue,” he wrote in an unsigned Talk piece.
Among the challenges to contend with were a chain-link fence to be shimmied under and the tight quarters of Orbach’s department store to be navigated. Tad Friend charted the same course in a similar story two years ago and encountered far worse: “The last half century has stripped midtown of spacious department stores such as Ohrbach’s and Stern’s, and fortified it with guards, visitors’ logs, and electronic-card-access gates.”
Both pieces were very much on The Observer’s mind while working on last week’s stories about the city’s new plans to create 6½ Avenue, a series of crosswalks connecting a chain of public plazas between Sixth and Seventh avenues spanning the West 50s. If Updike’s experience is any indication, this pedestrian shortcut is much in need. And yet to read reports of the pathway in the city’s dailies, you would think a heinous crime were being committed.
Art and Transportation
Today, New York City’s Department of Transportation unveiled 12 nifty new signs to be placed at over 200 locations in the NYC, including some of the city’s high-crash locations. But are they more disorienting than helpful?
Have you ever driven down a street New York City and thought to yourself, “If only we could reduce the speed limit here by 10 miles per hour?”
Probably not. And despite a similar program in place in London and New Jersey, the roll-out of the city’s first “Slow Zones” today in the Bronx doesn’t foretell a fast-tracked future for the project.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith was hired last year to shake up the Bloomberg administration’s third term—creating efficiencies, reinventing government and combating calcification. About the only thing the former Indianapolis mayor and Kennedy School wonk managed to yank was the Department of Transportation’s bike chain, and now that Mr. Goldsmith is making a surprise departure from the administration, two-wheeled activists have high hopes for his replacement as deputy mayor for operations.
That would be Caswell Holloway, a Brooklyn Heights native, who has been widely lauded for the turnaround job he affected as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, where his cost-cutting measures and green infrastructure plans have won praise from both conservationists and conservatives.
Prepare to do the impossible, New York.
Back in November, Rod King told The Observer the secret to New Yorker’s happiness would be for everone to slow down a little bit. Or probably a lot. The city’s posted speed limit is 30 miles per hour on most streets, though who honestly follows that? Eastern Read More
The Bloomberg administration’s quest to tame—or is it to sissify—the streets continues, as the Department of Transportation announced over the weekend that it was moving forward this summer with a re-engineering of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, that vehicular miasma where Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue and Eastern Parkway collide.
As with Broadway or Read More