John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc 
 2008 August 10 
    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 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 
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 
    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. 
    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 
    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 
    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. 
    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 
    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 
    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.