I’m a New Yorker to my roots. I love to walk in what has always been a walking city, but getting around by foot is getting harder and harder.
Some bicycle riders seem to believe that the sidewalks are theirs. Others ride in the wrong direction in the bike lanes. Still others regard traffic lights or pedestrian crossings as advisory.
Then there is the difficulty in navigating the iron fences closing off pedestrian crossings, and the bollards and planters and plazas.
The result is mass confusion. The automatic dance New Yorkers used to do, weaving and avoiding each other, now has some people moving on their way (often engrossed in their iPhones), leaving it to the oncoming individual to adjust or collide.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero has been a huge success: By slowing vehicle speeds through education and engineering, 2017 was the fourth consecutive year of declining pedestrian fatalities and the safest year on record. But bike lanes, barriers, and obstacles put in place to slow traffic and save pedestrian lives have had a downside.
In the Times Square district, signs implore pedestrians to keep moving, while bollards meant to keep terrorist trucks at bay make walking freely impossible. There’s a large plaza with a few chairs. There are street hustlers, dressed as Mickey Mouse and other characters, who try to get the tourists interested. Uptown/downtown cars and busses have been banned, but that doesn’t seem to have made navigating the area any easier for walkers.
Elsewhere, there are the middle-of-the-avenue plazas that are bus stops. These setups, meant to make bus routes faster and pedestrians safer, are usually narrow, so that crosstown walkers have to puzzle their way across the avenues.
My personal nemesis is trying to avoid the iron barriers on 50th Street and Fifth Avenue. If I’m on the downtown side of 50th Street, why should I have to cross the avenue in front of Saks Fifth Avenue or change to the uptown corner to avoid the barrier?
If that’s what the new systems feel like to a native New Yorker, can you imagine how puzzling Manhattan must be for tourists?
Vision Zero is great, unless you want to walk somewhere.
Leida Snow is a former theater critic.