Car-free Saturday cycling for New York City

Mayor Bloomberg announces August scheme

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has just announced plans for a temporary Saturday-only seven mile car-free route through the centre of Manhattan this summer, under the name Summer Streets.   

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 to be freed for use by cyclists and walkers.  

The scheme is initially planned to operate between 7 am and 1 pm on August 9, 16 and 23 and if it proves successful Mayor Bloomberg has promised to consider more car-free days. Perhaps most exciting is the chance for cyclists to pedal quietly and safely along Park Avenue and up to 72nd Street – a classic New York cityscape of mighty skyscrapers and (usually) bumper to bumper traffic eight lanes wide. Further south the route will pass along Fourth Avenue, Lafayette Street and Centre Street to link to the cycle path crossing Brooklyn Bridge.

Planned facilities should include water stops, bike rental and repair as well as free lessons in dance and yoga.

Naturally one of the world’s most car dense cities has opponents to such a scheme. Some have baulked at the estimated cost of the police presence along the thoroughfare – possibly as much as US$900,000 for all three Saturdays, according to a NY Department of Transport (DOT) official.

And then of course there’s New York’s ubiquitous yellow cabs: “They’ve got to be kidding,” the manager and owner of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners, Vincent Capone, said. “This is New York, this is Manhattan - we’re not in the middle of a forest somewhere.”

The city’s DOT has had mixed success in getting it’s pro-bike measures adopted. It’s currently in its final year of a  three-year bike path project, with 200 miles of on-street bike paths the goal. Whilst the bike paths have generally been welcomed by cyclists (though with some carping about their abuse by motor vehicles) Mayor Bloomberg’s plans for a London style congestion charge was rejected outright by the New York State Assembly.     

There are several other examples around the world of car-free weekend cycling in the heart of major cities. The Ciclovía festival in Bogotá, Colombia is held every summer Sunday and more than a million people throng a route spanning 70 miles of the city's streets, including its major thoroughfare. Paris has, in the past, also closed off many of its riverside roads to cars on summer weekends and even created temporary sandy beaches long the banks of the Seine. Then of course there is London’s very own Freewheel event which sees the capital’s centre given over entirely to cyclists and pedestrians.

In the US El Paso, Texas, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Chicago all have similar schemes. This Sunday, Portland, Oregon will clear six miles of streets for six hours.

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