SUMMER STREETS - WEEK 2 OF 3 -------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2008 August 18
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 second of three summaries, one for each of the three Summer Streets sessions. It covers the session of 16 August 2008. The other two sessions were on the 9th 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. A discussion of this matter is in my article for the first session. NYSkies had no litterature to hand for distribution on this Summer Street session.
Cross streets ----------- The closed cross streets, being of as varied a development as the mainline, offered interesting attractions in architecture and construction. On many of them there are interesting and intriguing structures that can be appreciated free from the interference of motor traffic. These streets provided a buffer against traffic noise from beyond Summer Streets. However, beside the cross streets were mostly short blocks, there leaked into the main corridor some vehicular noise. Never the less, the corridor was remarkably quiet. The buildings flanking Summer Streets and the cross streets are densely residential. On this Saturday morning the residents were out in the streets, as they routinely do. Their shops, stands, stoops were active, their music played, their kids ran around. It was not really quiet enough to understand conversations several meters away, but a person calling from there was clearly heard. The human-powered street sounds were overlaid by noise from machinery, like air condition, in buildings along the mainline.
Summer Streets in Brooklyn ------------------------ Summer Streets started at Brooklyn Bridge and extended north from it. The Bridge has a walk/ride path on it, by which folk from Brooklyn may enter onto and then after engage in Summer Streets. The Bridge path, landfall to landfall, is about 1 kilometer. It starts in Brooklyn near Adams St and Sands St. I entered Summer Streets at the landfall of Brooklyn Bridge next to City Hall. Bikes flowed on and off of the Bridge, confirming my notion that Summer Streets really should include the Bridge walkway all the way to Brooklyn. Adding this reach to the 33 K on Manhattan, brings the total length of walk/ride route to about 34 kilometers. I don't know how this length compares with that in 'summer streets' projects elsewhere, but 34 K in about the length of a ride on the 'A' train from Euclid Av to Inwood/207th St! The Bridge path was not specially closed to motor traffic. It is a permanent segregated way requiring no extra treatment for Summer Streets. Yet it was a linear continuation of Summer Streets and could be promoted as part of it on future occasions. As a matter of fact, Summer Streets could possibly include Cadman Plaza and Fulton Mall, both suitable for walk/ride. These areas are already free of motor traffic, or can be made so with simple adjustment. Thus, a future Summer Streets could reach from Albee Syuare in Brooklyn to Central Park!
My own trek --------- The day of Saturday the 16th 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. Air temperature was a bit warm. I tied my jacket around my waist in skirt fashion. I arrived at City Hall at about 11:00 via the IRT Lexington Av train. Having taken a hefty breakfast, I passed up a take-away lunch. I then stepped into Foley Square. The short piece of Park Row and Centre Street in front of the Municipal Building was closed from motor traffic to connect the mainline to the Bridge. There were signs on lamppoles and stands all around Foley Square. The Summer Streets signs I saw there and elsewhere were faced in enough directions that they likely could be noticed from off of the mainline. Foley Square 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 Canal Street the mix shifted to a substantial portion of tourists. More about Canal Street later. 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. Many visitors were forced to don hats or shades while crossing between blocks. With the generally lower skyline in this southern reach of Summer Streets, there was a more continuous sunlight along the entire route. The shade was provided against the uptown lanes by the buildings on that side. This section has no median and, therefore, no handy sitting to rest. On the other hand there were several island along the why with park benches.
Bicycles ------ Quite as many cyclists plied Summer Streets as walkers! For the most part they were well-behaved. They rode at about thrice walking speed and did stop or swerve when a pedestrian wandered into their way. Many, but not all, intersection were 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. In the section below Houston St, the mainline blocks are the long ones. The extra length, plus the thinned out police, allowed for bursts of speed from bicycles. Once in a while, I felt imperiled by bikes overtaking me. Nothing adverse happened to me or anyone else that I noticed. I looked over a bicycle rental and repair base. Since I was walking, I didn't linger long, only to see what was going on. Virtually all bikes were single-seaters. a few were two-seaters and a couple had trailers for kids. Pretty much all cyclists wore at least a helmet.
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 Mulberry St/Bleecker St on the east side of Fourth Avenue. The sipping fountain was a weird curiosity. A cart topped with a basin and spouts was coupled to a hydrant! In this example, the hose ran across a closed piece of street, making a comical photograph. 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. In the section I walked, I stopped at two. One was a lesson on dancing; the other, a slow freeze-pose exercise demonstration. The street had more wayside business activity, partly from the normal life here. I don't know if any stores had specific Summer Street displays. . It really didn't matter. I don't think any one came to SUmmer Streets looking for organized entertainment. The real entertainment was the freedom from motor traffic and the ease of traversing from nabe to nabe on Manhattan.
Lafayette Avenue -------------- The southern part of Chinatown is at Foley Square and nearby Columbus Park. But the street here, Lafayette Avenue, is lined with civic halls of the more bland style. Some had construction scarfs and chain-link fences. One extremely charming structure, which I spent some time to admire, was a 19th century firehouse! It likely was among the first built for the newly established municipal fire service, replacing the private subscription services. This is just south of Canal Street on the east side of lafayette Avenue. The terms, 'hook and ladder' and 'engine' derive from the 19th century firefighting methods. When a fire can not be quenched, the burning building was demolished with the help of iron hooks to pull walls and roofs down. The ladders were for rescuing occupants and were carried on the same wagon as the demolition tools. The engine was the steam driven pump for firehoses. They in the late 19th century replaced hand pumps, which were totally pathetic against any substantial conflagration.
Chinatown ------- Chinatown's main street is Canal Street, also a thruway for heavy motor traffic between Manhattan Bridge and Holland Tunnel. It is thick with vehicles at all hours of the day and can be hazardous to cross on foot without sharp attention. Police were denser here to control the road traffic and give time for Summer Street visitors to cross. Chinatown runs like an Asian town with people litterally all over the street. They were the only group to seem oblivious to Summer Streets. Why? They do 'summer streets' all the time, even with motor traffic to mix in with them! I saw no obvious increased activity on Lafayette Street for Summer Streets in downtown Chinatown. I made a figure-8 loop thru the side streets. It was tough going thru the dense crowds milling around shops, stands, booths, windows, trucks. There were leaflets handed out promoting a this or that restaurant for watching the Olympics. Here and there were performances. One was a plastic phonebooth-size cabinet in which a customer stood. With the door closed, air jets pelted the person with what looked like ping-pong balls! The operator explained it's a new form of skin stimulus.
Fourth Avenue ----------- Moving northward I entered SoHo along its east frontier. The street was actually pretty calm, nothing like the busyness along Broadway or West broadway to the west. At or near Houston Street Lafayette Street becomes Fourth Avenue. Houston St is also a major thruway for motor traffic connecting with Williamsburgh Bridge. Police were thicker here to guide Summer Street visitors across this street. Houston Street is a narrow road on old maps, like the piece now west of 6th Av. It was widened to build the Houston Street line of the IND subway. The extra width is along the south side, where evidence of the demolished buildings is plentiful on every block. I'm now in the valley between Greenwich Village to the west and East Village to the east. There was a definite subdued calmness in the street. The street pattern aligns with the Manhattan grid with the mainline having the short blocks. The cross streets take on numbers from Bleecker St, which is equivalent to 2nd Street. Cooper Square is a wide space, where Bowery and Fourth Avenue converge. They separate north of the Square, where Bowery changes name to 3rd Avenue. I inspected a new glass-sided skyscraper on the south side of the square next to Cooper Union. I also took a closer look at the replica kiosk of the Astor Place station. This renovation in the 1980s was the proving ground for the 1990s method of redoing subway stations all over the transit system. The theme is now to keep the original motif, even if it has to be reconstructed, while adding mod-cons and contemporary ornament. The Astor Pl outlet is the world's largest K-Mart in floorage. The Penn Station one is the world's busiest in sales. These two units are the world's only K-Marts with entry direct from transit stations. Astor Place, being a local station with no crossover, has the entry only on the downtown side.
Union Square ---------- Fourth Avenue is the eastern flank of Union Square. The irregular streets around the park required some parallel roads, including a piece of Broadway, to be closed for Summer Streets. At 16th St the median begins that continues north into Park Avenue South. I walked north to 18th St to blend into my first walk. Then I turned back south to the Park. By then it was quite 13:00. Police started waving people and bikes off of the street. Then the horses were pulled away to open the street to cars. Simmer Streets was over.
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 IRT, by which I got to Brooklyn Bridge next to Summer Streets, was overflowing with riders. However, they could have been going to Lower Manhattan for other reasons. The streets around City Hall, off of Summer Streets, were mobbed as were those in and around Union Square.
Right hand flow ------------- In the reach of Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue, the street has no median to separate traffic in each direction. To suggest right hand running, traffic cones were deposited about every 6 meters in the centerline of the route. 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.
Glitches ------ About the same as I noted in my first walk. Nothing major, more like punchlist items to look after. I did notice that advertising for this week's session pointed out the entertainment a little more carefully and their booths were more evident on the mainline. Perhaps signs at the intersections noting the right-hand running would remove any uncertainty about traffic flow.
End of the walk ------------- It was 13:00, closing hour for Summer Streets. I just retraced my steps back from 18th St to 16th St. When I reached 16th Street, police began shooing everyone off of the streets. Summer Streets was over for today. Bikes glided to a halt, then darted off to other, car-filled, streets. Within a minute or two, cars started streaming onto Fourth Avenue from the side streets. Five minutes later, except for horses piled up at corners, the streets regained their normal traffic-choked demeanor. I quit Union Sqaure to get a train downtown to do brunch with a lady buddy.