* Former NYC official touts pedestrian-friendly changes *
* Remove downtown barricades: planner *
TRAFFIC-snarled New York City took cars off the road at Times Square without causing carmageddon, so there’s no reason pedestrians shouldn’t be able to cross Portage and Main in Winnipeg, says New York’s former transportation commissioner.
“Moving people off of streets is really 1950s thinking,” Janette Sadik-Khan said Monday. “And to put them underground? We’re not rats. We’re wanting to get people on the streets. Cars don’t shop, people shop.”
Critics of the idea of reopening the intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street and allowing pedestrians to walk across instead of using underground tunnels have said it will create traffic gridlock on one of the busiest intersections in the Manitoba capital.
Sadik-Khan said the same fears were heard in New York when officials decided to transform about four kilometres of Broadway, including closing it completely to traffic at Times Square, to make it more pedestrian-friendly.
In its place are pedestrian plazas and spaces, as well as more bike lanes.
The changes have also resulted in improving motorist travel times on other streets while reducing motorist and pedestrian injuries and increasing pedestrian volumes, Sadik-Khan said.
“The strategy isn’t to get cars as fast as possible from A to B, it’s to get everyone around... cities have learned when you add more lanes you don’t increase traffic flow. After 50 years, we know this strategy doesn’t work. Nobody says we will solve obesity by increasing your belt size,” she said.
Sadik-Khan was commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2013 under then mayor Michael Bloomberg. These days she works at Bloomberg Associates, a philanthropic consultancy agency established by the former mayor. Her role is to travel the world helping mayors and city planners make citizen-friendly improvements to street redesigns.
Winnipeggers should embrace pedestrians crossing their city’s iconic intersection instead of fearing it, she said, while praising Mayor Brian Bowman and city council for making moves to open Portage and Main to pedestrians.
City council approved a plan last October for more studies, cost estimates and another vote on removing the barricades that were erected in the late 1970s as part of an agreement with six adjacent property owners to move people underground.
“I think it’s wonderful you’re looking at opening Portage and Main to pedestrians. It’s where everybody goes to celebrate — especially a Stanley Cup,” she said.
Sadik-Khan and other transportation experts are in Winnipeg to participate in the inaugural Mode Shift festival of human-scale cities, which aims to explore transportation, culture and health.
Anders Swanson, Mode Shift’s program director and executive director of Winnipeg Trails, said transportation issues should be about more than just cars and trucks.
“The way we move, especially how we want to move, is changing fast,” Swanson said. “This event is about how to make that transition a good one, a quick one, one where we end up with more patios, more bike lanes, more jobs, more money and, well, all-round happier people. This is about fixing our roads for good.
“Our streetscape should be our landscape, but it isn’t when we put machines there... freeways don’t make a city. No one has ever come back from France with a postcard of a freeway.”
Herbert Tiemens, a Dutch road design expert and bicycle policy adviser to the Kingdom of Netherlands, said whenever he comes to North America, he hears something he doesn’t hear in his country.
“I’m always amazed about the noise of the traffic and how hard it is to cross streets,” Tiemens said. “In the Netherlands, we abandoned jaywalking and allowed people to cross everywhere on the street. People were doing it already. We’ve made other changes for pedestrians and it has worked very well.
“People don’t want to go back to what it was before.”