Q&A: Trottenberg Previews Tomorrow’s “Shared Streets” Debut

For five hours tomorrow, limited vehicular traffic will transform 60 blocks of Lower Manhattan into "shared streets" for people on foot and bikes. Image: DOT
For five hours tomorrow, limited vehicular traffic will transform 60 blocks of Lower Manhattan into “shared streets” for people on foot and bikes. Image: DOT

Summer Streets takes a big step forward this weekend with “Shared Streets: Lower Manhattan.” From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, DOT will open up a 60-block radius in the Financial District to pedestrians and cyclists, limiting motor vehicle access to residents, deliveries, and emergency vehicles [PDF].

The event evokes the concept of “shared space” — where pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists navigate streets based on the movements of other users, as opposed to curbs, signage, and traffic lights. Shared Streets will feature activities for cyclists of all ages, as well as historic walking tours and games for kids.

The full list of offerings is available on the DOT website. Tomorrow also brings the second installment of Summer Streets 2016, when Lafayette Street and Park Avenue will be car-free between the Brooklyn Bridge and 72nd Street from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Speaking to Streetsblog this morning, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the Financial District’s narrow streets already function a lot like shared space, and are primed for tomorrow’s “experiment.” Check out our Q&A with Commissioner Trottenberg, lightly edited for length, after the jump.

How does limiting the car traffic that comes in and out of the neighborhood change how we use streets?

We picked an area of Manhattan and a time of year when there aren’t many cars there. If you walk around Lower Manhattan, you can actually sort of feel what it’s like, which is essentially, it’s not signalized in a lot of the little streets around there. So what’s funny is this corner of Lower Manhattan actually kind of has that European feel — basically people and cars and cyclists are all just kind of all over the place. That’s sort of the concept of the shared street, right, that everybody is navigating the space. And particularly for cars, it’s kind of on them to really slow down and deal with, you know, a lot of people and bikes and so forth in the street.

So what’s funny is I think you can kind of get a bit of a feeling for it even on a regular day. The goal here is to even kind of tighten it up a bit more, and really encourage vehicles — unless you really need to be here because it’s a residence or some kind of important delivery — to avoid the area for the next five hours and really let people take to the streets. It’s building on a little bit of what we actually think is the natural streetscape in this part of Lower Manhattan, but taking it up a notch.

Is part of the goal for Shared Streets to demonstrate to people who live and work in that area that that is already the day-to-day experience there?

Part of why I’ve really been out there trying to get publicity for tomorrow is I want to show this concept off to more than just the folks in Lower Manhattan. I want to show it off to a lot of people in the city, and see what people think. I think they’re going to love it — I mean, they love it in Europe, right? We’re experimenting, you know, we’re trying something different. We’re building on Summer Streets, which we love, but we wanted to that, you know, what was the next big thing.

And by the way, the local residents association down there, they’re very excited about this idea. I think there’s a lot of pent-up desire to make that neighborhood, kind of, more “shared streets,” even than it is already.

Is this a model that could be expanded in future years to other parts of the city?

That would be my hope. We already do a little version of this in other parts of the city, in the form of our Weekend Walks, but that’s sort of on a modest scale. I think Lower Manhattan is a great place to start because it’s sort of already halfway there to being the “shared streets” concept. You’re not getting up a big head of steam driving around Hanover Square. And if you go to where the Stock Exchange is at Broad and Wall, because of the security there it’s a pretty restricted in terms of vehicles on top of that. So it seemed a natural place to show off the concept, and I’m hoping when people see it and like it then, yeah, they’re will be ideas for other parts of the city where we might do it.

Could the Financial District be in line for permanently shared streets in the future?

I think it’s too soon to say, I think I want to wait and see how tomorrow goes. But, again, I think we are viewing this as a chance to showcase the concept in Lower Manhattan, but hopefully for people from all parts of the city to come and enjoy and see what they think.