Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Manhattan says goodbye to the car ... just a little

The New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has hit back, after his plans for a congestion charge for the city were rebuffed, with a modest but eye-catching scheme to carve a seven-mile path through the centre of Manhattan and turn it over ever so briefly to pedestrians.

For three Saturdays in August, a route linking Brooklyn Bridge in the south and the Upper East Side and Central Park in the north will be cleared of all traffic, unleashing what is expected to be a deluge of walking, cycling and dancing life on to New York's streets.

Under the title Summer Streets, the project will revive a little of the confidence lost over the city's inability to control its spiralling traffic after Bloomberg failed in April to convince the state assembly to back his congestion charge plan. "If it works, we'll certainly consider doing it again," the mayor said. "If not, we won't. We have never been afraid to try new ideas."

Many of Manhattan's arteries are blocked solid for the best part of 12 hours a day and the hope of green New Yorkers that they will eventually get to enjoy a traffic-free city looks like an ever more distant dream.

But at least between 7am and 1pm on August 9, 16 and 23, those New Yorkers will be able to experience what the island would be like if it were not owned by the car. The most impressive part of the project will be opening up Park Avenue up to 72nd Street - a grand gesture in one of the great thoroughfares of the city. Further south the route will pass along Fourth Avenue, Lafayette Street and Centre Street to link to the cycle path crossing Brooklyn Bridge.

Along the way there will be water stops, facilities for renting and repairing bikes, as well as free lessons in dance and yoga.

The idea has been modelled on the successful Ciclovía festival in Bogotá, Colombia, where every summer Sunday from 7am to 2pm more than a million people throng a route spanning 70 miles of the city's streets, including its major thoroughfare, the Carrera Séptima. More than 20 stages are provided in the city for free aerobics.

Bogotá's example has spawned a raft of imitations, several in the US. El Paso, Texas, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Chicago are all embarking on similar schemes. This Sunday, Portland, Oregon will clear six miles of streets for six hours.

Original here

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