SUMMER STREETS - WEEK 3 OF 3 -------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2008 August 25
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 third and final of three summaries, one for each of the three Summer Streets sessions. It covers the session of 23 August 2008. the other sessions were on the 9th and 16th 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 first article. NYSkies had no litterature to hand for distribution on this Summer Street sessions.
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. On this Summer Streets walk, the streets were more irregular than those in the first walk. Where they converged into the mainline, additional bits of road were closed. All sides of a triangular or quadrangular intersection, with an island within, were closed. 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? 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 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 deep buffer against traffic noise from beyond Summer Streets. However, there were several more cross streets open for motor traffic on this upper reach of Summer Streets. They were, if I recall rightly, at 46th, 49th, 50th, 53rd, 54th, 57th, 59th, and 60th St, in the segment I walked today. Thus, 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 corporate and commercial skyscrapers. On this Saturday morning the offices are closed, with dark lobbies and constrained admittance. The entire populance in Summer Street was attracted there from beyond the mainline. It was quiet enough to understand conversations several meters away. In fact, the street was filled with an oleo of banter such that a person calling from there would not be clearly heard. The human- powered street sounds were overlaid by noise from Metro North trains coursing under Park Avenue.
My own trek --------- The day of Saturday the 23rd of August was about an excellent day for walking and other outdoor pursuits. The sky was blue with a about 1/2 cloud cover of cumulus. The air was mild and breezy. I wore my jacket with open front. The only thing missing was a solar halo. However, after Summer Streets closed a condensed colorful dextrum parhelion flashed out about a half hour before sunset! It set with the Sun to be covered by low clouds in the west. I arrived at Grand Central Terminal at about 11:30 via the IRT 42nd St shuttle. Having taken a hefty breakfast, I passed up a take- away lunch. I then stepped into Park Avenue north of the Helmsley building. This point blended into my first walk. Thus, when this week's walk was over, I walked the Summer Streets from Brooklyn Bridge to 59th Street, with diversions along the way. There were signs on lamppoles and stands all along Park Avenue. The Summer Streets. Signs I saw there and elsewhere were faced in line with Park Avenue so that they likely could be missed from off of the mainline. Park Avenue was filled wall-to-wall with people on foot, bike, skates. Over the whole length of my walk they seemed to be folk from surrounding districts away from the mainline. The northern part of Park Avenue shifts to dense residences, but i didn't see a shift in the mix of people in the streets. Tourists were mixed in in about a uniform portion over this reach of Summer Streets. Most of the tourists seemed to know about Summer Streets and seemed to thoroly enjoy the promenade to pass from place to place. They may have heard about the previous two sessions and made a point of coming to this final one. I ambled slowly, there being no hurry on this ideal day. I figured to walk up to 59th Street and return to Grand Central for lunch. I repeatedly stopped to admire some detail on a building or take pictures from vantages here to fore not feasible. The sunlight was tempered by frequent coverage by clouds, with a soft cutoff between sun and shade. Most of Park Avenue was in shade due to the tall towers. Only the west, downtown, side had large zones of sunlight. This section has a wide median that visitors availed of for lounging, sitting, resting. Some of the lawns in the median were flecked with sunbathers.
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. The intersection were crewed by police, who likely were strong determents against reckless riding or speeding. As far as I saw, no one was pulled over for such infractions. Each side of Park Avenue had a central row of traffic cones, about 5 meters apart, with no apparent purpose. In the southern segment of Summer Streets, where I walked last week, there is no median. A row of cones there indicated right hand running on the single wide street. Here, with the median enforcing right hand flow, the cones seemed inobvious. Bikes and walkers flowed in all lanes on both sides of the cones. 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 one or two had trailers for kids. Pretty much all cyclists wore at least a helmet. ON this walk I saw the first rickshaw. A couple were waiting for customers at 50th St or there about at curbside. There seemed to be police motion to remove then and the drivers seemed relaxed..
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 on 48th, near St Bartholemew's Church. The sipping fountain was a weird curiosity. A cart topped with a basin and six spouts was coupled to a hydrant! In this example, the hose ran along the curb of the side street, making a comical photograph. Apart from providing 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 a cluster of activity tents around 48-49th Street. One was a stand where you can have a picture taken against a stuffed mule loaded with a large bundle of gear on its back! The street virtually no wayside business activity, partly from the sheer absence of street-related businesses here. The office towers were mostly shuttered for the weekend. . It really didn't matter. I don't think any one came to SUmmer Streets looking for organized entertainmenth. The real entertainment was the freedom from motor traffic and the ease of traversing from nabe to nabe on Manhattan. One most unusual feature of this Summer Street session was the chalked graffiti in Park Avenue. They were benign, with a few political statements, in front of St Bartholemew's. I guess some visitors were freaked out that you can chalk up the street with no cars to wallop you.
Lever House --------- Among the attractions to inspect is Lever House, at 52nd St. Built in about 1950, it is among the first structures of the 'International school' of architecture. Despite its vintage, it looks like it opened yesterday. The pristine guise comes heavily from the lavish use of stainless steel. The garden and sculptures are a favorite oasis for workers in the area. Many bikers stopped there to rest. An other good oasis is 'Island park' next to St Bartholemew's, it has snack kiosks and tables. This building genuinely looks like it's floating or hovering over the ground! It's an illusion, of course. Maybe the designer alluded to the pie-crust nature of Park Avenue with the Metro North tracks under it? Buildings on Park Avenue north of Grand Central Terminal stand on stilts threading between the tracks. They do not sit directly on solid ground. The tracks are visible thru sidewalk grates on the side streets on many blocks. Strong daylight made it hard to see the tracks. A view in twilight is a lot easier and even more impressive.
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 Grand Central, next to Summer Streets, was overflowing with riders. However, they could have been going to other attractions around Grand Central. 57th St, the only two-way cross street in my walk, was thronged with people.
Right hand flow ------------- In Park Avenue, the median separated traffic in each direction. In addition, there was a central row of traffic cones in each channel with no obvious meaning. These were placed about 5 meters apart. As I crossed 57th St on the uptown side, flowing with the traffic, two police officers reminded me to walk on the right, curb, side of the street. The left, median, side was for bicycles. I shifted to the curb lane and continued walking uptown. By the time I got to the very next corner of 58th Street, all lanes had bicycles and walkers commingled together! No other effort, for me or any one that I noticed, was made to segregate the bike and foot traffic.
Glitches ------ Nothing serious. They are the same as for the first two sessions. Better instruction is needed to explain the row of cones in the Park Avenue reach north of Grand Central.
End of the walk ------------- It was 13:00, closing hour for Summer Streets. I was on the downtown side returning to Grand Central Terminal. When I reached about 48th Street, police began waving everyone off of the streets. Summer Streets was over for today. The activity booths were knocked down, tents folded up, props packed away. Horses were pulled back from the side streets. Police scooters cruised Park Avenue to shoo people off of the roadway. Bikes glided to a halt, then darted off to other, car-filled, streets. This time there was a definite hiatus between clearing the street of human traffic and letting them open for motor traffic. For a full minute or so some blocks of Park Avenue were actually bare of all traffic! Motor traffic didn't start to build up until I reached the Helmsley wormhole. Isolated cars were popping off of it, heading uptown. I saw two bikes enter the wormhole on the downtown. Within a couple seconds a taxi shot into the same entrance! What happened inside I can't guess. My impression wa that it was a bit of a clumsy transition from human to motor traffic when Summer Streets closed today in Park Avenue. I quit Park Avenue, entered Grand Central, and took lunch in its Dining Concourse.