SUMMER STREETS - WEEK 1 OF 3 -------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2008 August 10
Introduction ---------- In June 2008 New York Mayor Bloomberg announced 'Summer Streets', a project to close certain Manhattan streets from motor traffic on three Saturdays during August. The dates were set for Saturdays, August 9, 16, 23, from 07h to 13h EDST, The streets were Lafayette St from Brooklyn Bridge, Fourth Avenue, Park Avenue South, Park Avenue, 72nd Street to Central Park. The full length of this route was quite 11 kilometers. In these streets during these dates and hours, motor vehicles were barred and only human-powered transport was allowed. For the most part, bicycles were expected, with rental and repair services spotted along the route. This is the first of three summaries, one for each of the three Summer Streets sessions. It covers the session of 9 August 2008. The other sessions were on the 16th and 23rd of August.
NYSkies ----- NYSkies applied for a booth or exhibit for Summer Streets, in the belief that it was a eco/enviro street fair similar to Earth Day. After discussion with the Summer Streets officials, the request was turned down because there were no plans for exhibits, booths, displays. The streets were left as open as possible to provide uninhibited traverse along them. Perhaps stores fronting the streets will have displays or special services. However, Summer Streets encouraged NYSkies, and other applicants, to avail of the streets to hand out flyers, so long as we did not set up a fixed location with props or furniture. It noted that NYSkies could offer walking tours of Grand Central Terminal to visit its astronomy features. As it happened, NYSkies did hand out in the vicinity of Grand Central, about 100 maps with self-guided walks thru the depot, but otherwise made no extra effort for a presence in Summer Streets. It was simply too enthused with the walk/ride along the streets to bother with special promotion of astronomy!
Eleven kilometers? ---------------- Maps of Summer Street delineated only the roughly straight run from Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. This, on the scale of the maps, was quite 11,000 meters. The idea was to provide more than a token block or two for bicycles to cruise and to cut thru many diverse districts of Manhattan. The streets were set apart by horses across the intersections, but only on the arriving or incoming side of the cross streets. The departing or outgoing streets were not physicly blocked. Also on the far end, at Madison or Lexington Av, on the incoming streets, horses were thrown up to prevent cars from entering these blocks. The exception was a car stopping in the block, like a taxi or resident's vehicle. The horse was pulled aside for just that vehicle. While the outgoing blocks were not shut off, vehicles could only leave away from Summer Streets, so there was no interference with the main corridor. I don't know how cars wanting to stop within these blocks were handled. Did police allow them to back up into the blocks? These extra closed streets, From Madison Av to Lexington Av at each crossing added many kilometers of car-free route to Summer Streets. Summer Streets visitors could promenade on these blocks, too, and not just use them to pass to or from the mainline. With the corridor 11 kilometers long, 12 short blocks to the kilometer, perhaps 20 cross streets maintained for road traffic, each piece of closed cross street is 200 meters long, I guessitmate that there were 22 MORE kilometers of walk/ride route in Summer Streets! Thus, not 11, but 33, kilometers of Manhattan street took part in Summer Streets.
Cross streets ----------- The closed cross streets, being of a more varied development than the avenues, offered interesting attractions in architecture and construction. On the Madison Av side of the cross streets there are some townhouses and mansions that can be appreciated free from the interference of motor traffic. These streets also provided a deep buffer against traffic noise from beyond Summer Streets. The nearest car-filled streets, Madison Av and Lexington Av, are abut 100 meters away, at the far end of the closed blocks. This distance attenuated vehicular noise, leaving a remarkably quiet mainline. It was actually quiet enough to understand conversations several meters away! The only significant distracting noise was from machinery, like air condition, in buildings along the mainline.
My own trek --------- The day of Saturday the 9th of August was about as perfect a day for walking and other outdoor pursuits. The sky was a deep blue with a few cumuli drifting by. The air was cool and breezy. The only thing missing, but that's a long term lack, was a solar halo. I arrived at Union Square at about 11:00 via the BMT Brighton train and picked up a take-away lunch at the square's agora. I then stepped into Park Avenue South at 17th Street. Nothing immediately called attention to Summer Streets except the current of bicycles and absence of cars. All Summer Streets signs I saw there and elsewhere seemed to be visible only from within the mainline. These were at most intersections and occasionally within a block. Park Avenue South was filled wall-to-wall with people on foot, bike, skates. At first, in the southern blocks, they seemed to be local folk from the surrounding residences. As I approached 23rd Street the mix shifted to a substantial portion of tourists. Altho most of the tourists didn't know why the streets were closed, they seemed to thoroly enjoy the promenade to pass from place to place. I ambled slowly, there being no hurry on this ideal day. I repeatedly stopped to admire some detail on a building or take pictures from vantages here to fore not feasible. The sunlight was dazzling, with a harsh cutoff between sun and shade at each intersection. Many visitors were forced to don hats or shades while crossing between blocks. The parapet of the median was a handy bench for a rest for both walkers and riders. The shade of the buildings was a very welcome relief from the blazing sun. It also stirred up a refreshing breeze.
Bicycles ------ Quite as many cyclists plied Summer Streets as walkers! For the most part they were well-behaved. They rode at about twice walking speed and did stop or swerve when a pedestrian wandered into their way. Each intersection was crewed by several police, who likely were strong determents against reckless riding or speeding. As far as I saw, no one was pulled over for such infractions. The only conduct approaching rowdiness was in the Helnsley Wornhole (for want of an official name). In the dark corridor cyclists hooted and shouted to hear the echos off of the stone walls. But their riding was still gentle enough to allow foot traffic to share the way. This behavior was really no worse than any one would do when walking under a bridge in Central Park. I missed the bicycle rental and repair bases. Since I was walking, I didn't look out for them. Perhaps they were part of the rest stops where bikes were kept or fixed off-site? Virtually all bikes were single-seaters. a few were two-seaters and only a handful had trailers for kids. Pretty much all cyclists wore at least a helmet, which could be obtained at a rest stop, according to convos I overheard.
What's a motor? ------------- The usual concept of a 'motor' is a device for propelling a vehicle by means of fuel combustion. Cars are propelled by a gasoline motor; trucks and buses; diesel. Essentially all 'motor vehicles' in New York are of this kind, so excluding 'motor vehicles' from Summer Streets rid the streets of all motor traffic. However, some vehicles are moved by motors that do not burn a fuel. I can think of a solar-powered skateboard or a battery-powered scooter. There are also vehicles that require no motor as such, like a cart with sail to be pushed by wind. I saw none of these odd machines on Summer Streets, but would they be allowed? I can also imagine that an inventor may want to use a future Summer Streets to prove out, say, a flywheel stored-energy vehicle or one moved by a hydrogen fuel-cell. Neither produces noxious emissions, but are they kosher in Summer Streets? Of the more normal human-powered devices, I saw a few carts on which the rider worked front-mounted pedals and one worked by hand- cranked 'pedals'. The latter seemed terribly clumsy, occupying the hands and using weaker, more tiring, muscles. Conspicuously absent were rickshaws or pedicabs. While they are human-powered, there just were none at all in Summer Streets. Were they purposely turned away?
Rest stops -------- I detoured at one rest stop. It was a simple tent and counter to sign up visitors for assorted off-site activities, give directions and advice, and point to a nearby sipping fountain. This was in the high 20s on the east side of Park Avenue South. The sipping fountain was a weird curiosity. A cart topped with a basin and six spouts was coupled to a hydrant! Apart from provided a refreshing drink, this setup would be a dropdead poster child for the purity and flavor of New York City water. Maybe the water department will use it in its advertising?
Yoga & cha-cha? ------------- Publicity for Summer Streets noted that there were workshops in yoga, cha-cha, and other mind-body exercises along the route. Also noted was musical performances. At least in the section I walked, I noticed none in the mainline of Summer Streets. They could have been on certain of the side streets but I don't know for cure. Except for the rest stops, the street was bare of extraneous attractions, the only ones I specificly noticed were stands, tables, signs for wayside stores. . It really didn't matter. I don't think any one came to SUmmer Streets looking for organized entertainment. The entertainment was the freedom from motor traffic and the ease of traversing from nabe to nabe on Manhattan.
Murray Hill tunnel ---------------- Also called Park Av Tunnel by signs on and near its portals, this cavern is a relic of the New York and Harlem Railroad of the 19th century. It continued south from Grand Central Station (it WAS really a 'station' back then) to a terminal at Madison Av and 26 St. The tunnel kept the tracks on a milder profile thru the very Murray Hill. Since the railroad was cut back in the 1870s to the present end- of-rail in Grand Central Terminal, the tunnel was used for carriages, then streetcars, then motor vehicles. The profile was altered to accommodate each use over the decades but the interior still evidences its railroad origins.. No bikes were allowed in the tunnel and, apparently, no foot traffic was permitted. The ramps were blocked by horses and minded by police. However, there was no deliberate effort to keep people out! The police waved away bicycles but did not call back walkers who descended the ramps. The way was clear to walk thru the tunnel to the other end but I saw no one actually doing that. Everyone contented himself with stopping at the portal for inspecting or photographing the interior, then climbing back to the street. Keeping bikes out was wise to prevent averse encounters with walkers in the dark tunnel. The only significant illumination was from the vents in the ceiling, seen also in the median. These are left over from the railroad to discharge smoke from the locomotives. They are maintained to let out heat and fumes of motor vehicles. Perhaps Summer Streets in the future should issue specific instructions about walking thru this tunnel? Maybe guides can explain its history and keep general order within it?
Grand Central Terminal -------------------- When I reached Grand Central Terminal, about 12:00, I took a table in its Dining Concourse, broke out my lunch, availed of the restrooms. Then I stood at the bottom of the wrap-around promenade at 41 St to hand out NYSkies flyers on the astronomy features of Grand Central. These were left over from Earth Day. Handing them out now exhausted the stock on hand.. By now the crowds were more tourist than locals. They posed for pictures on the ramps and wrap-around against the Chrysler tower, the UN (partly blocked by a utility house of the Grand Hyatt hotel), 42nd St, the Vanderbilt statue, MetLife tower. The flow of foreign tongues was prevalent all along the wrap-around. I mused that it would be funky if the Vanderbilt statue was fitted with mechanical arms waving traffic wands, as if directing cars on the wrap-around. The ramp was a bit too steep for some cyclists, whose pedaling stalled. They walked their mounts to the top. This section of Summer Streets was the steepest grade, followed by the slope in the Helmsley Wormhole on the north side of Grand Central Terminal. That, however, was gentle enough to ride up or down. (Bikes were not allowed in the Murray Hill Tunnel, which has much steeper grades.)
Helmsley Wornhole --------------- This is the piece of the Grand Central wrap-around that passes thru the Helmsley building on the north side of the depot. It's an overpass for rising over cross streets and an underpass for running beneath the tower. Its crooked path within the building remind me of a wormhole in wood, so that's what I call it. For cars this is a mean pass! The road makes two right-angle turns within the building under poor lighting. On times when I rode thru in a car the angles were littered with debris from cars who missed the turns. Apparently this litter was cleaned up for Summer Streets, thwarting photographers who stopped here specially to document it. Even the direction arrows on the crash walls looked new.
Rapid transit ----------- Summer Street offered transit under or parallel to it via the IRT Lexington Av line. I suppose some visitors walked for a while, then took the train to explore an other section of Summer Streets. Because i did not use the subway during my walk i don't know if it had a larger carriage then a normal weekend. The BMT, by which I got to Union Sq next to Summer Streets, was overflowing with riders. However, they could have been going to the agora up stairs. The streets around Union Sq, off of Summer Streets, were mobbed, as was the agora itself.
Right hand flow ------------- In the reach of Park Avenue South to Park Avenue, the street has a substantial median to separate traffic in each direction. There was no specific instruction from the police to stay in the right hand flow, yet just about everyone took up the rule on his own. Cyclists flowed in one direction on each side of the street, with only singular exceptions. Walkers, too, stayed in right hand flow, with a little more erraticism. Some, even I, did wrongroad once in a while, mainly to take a look at a this or that wayside feature. On the Grand Central wrap-around, probably because of the confined width, right hand flow was pretty well observed. People stopping to look over the parapet or take pictures stood on the raised walkway. I don't know what the situation was in Lafayette St and Fourth Av. These are one wide thorofares with no divider between the up and down town traffic.
Glitches ------ A few, none fatal. Summer Streets seemed to be extremely well planned and carried out. One glitch is in the Summer Street map, on the website and signs. It's very pretty but somewhat illegible. The white lettering is too small and thin and is placed on a light blue field. This makes it hard to make out, like on a small computer printout. Mark the IRT Lexington Av stations on the map, maybe others within, say, 200 meters of the mainline. This will encourage people to come to Summer Streets by transit and assure them that if they tire out, they have the train to hand for getting home. I didn't notice any Summer Streets signs on the cross streets facing toward Lexington Av and Madison Av. Signs placed there would call attention to the street closing and invite visitors into the mainline. The extra entertainment could be more carefully advertised. The impression from the general publicity was that the entertainment was in stands or booths along the mainline. It wasn't. Maybe it was off site or in certain wayside establishments? Consider dimensioning the route in metric and oldstyle units. Mind that, specially with the Olympics in the news, that sports, such as cycling, is almost all metric. Meterposts, on signs and maps, would keep track of distance. The meterposts also will be more inviting and meaningful for tourists. Every quarter kilometer is plenty enough. Advisory signs for the Murray Hill tunnel would clarify its access, or not, for visitors. Parade barriers placed across the portals will indicate that people can go down the ramps but not into the tunnel. Doubling or linking the barriers will discourage crossing around them. Encourage wayside businesses to set out signs, flyers, menus, displays for the visitors. Only a few had special promotion for Summer Streets. They seemed to rely only on the ambient walkby traffic. Consider shifting the hours a bit, like to 09:00-15:00. This would allow for early morning deliveries to wayside businesses. Late risers and those coming in from afar will have more time to enjoy the route
End of the walk ------------- It was close to 13:00, closing hour for Summer Streets. I just left the Grand Central wrap-around and was walking up Park Avenue, next to its median. I detoured to inspect the tracks snaking under the skyscrapers lining Park Avenue. These are seen thru sidewalk grates at certain street corners. Many of the grates have plates under them to block view of the tracks, but there are several still open. When I reached 48th Street, police began diverting people from Park Avenue. Summer Streets was over for today. Bikes glided to a halt, then darted off to other, car-filled, streets. Within a minute of two, cars started streaming onto Park Avenue from the side streets. Five minutes later, except for horses piled up at corners, Park Avenue regained its normal traffic-choked demeanor. I quit Park Av to get a Madison Avenue bus to Central Park for the rest of the day.