Even the Manhattan Institute Says Curb Your Car


If an early April panel discussion (virtual) of the Manhattan Institute on “Planning the Post-Covid City” was surprisingly progressive, maybe it was because this talk of revolution in the streets was about reallocating little more than parking spaces. Yet that much upheaval is basic, these panelists agreed, to renewal of New York’s pre-pandemic glory.

The reforming urbanists assembled by the conservative policy outfit contrasted their ambitions with attempts to alter New York’s schools, housing or labor force: These changes, they said, merely involve municipal pavement.  Yet the aim is to reassign much of it to just about anything besides cars. And, to be sure, it’s no small skirmish to challenge the prerogatives of private-auto and SUV owners anywhere.

Covid gave this camp a big head start:   New York City set aside 83 miles of “open streets,” which generally meant pedestrian walkways amid outdoor dining, entertainment and commerce. (With normality returning, this total has been shaved by 11.5 miles.) Bicycle and scooter paths now occupy many other miles–1,350 by 2019, even if most are unprotected from traffic.  Clearly “alternative” means of street mobility have been in favor since March 2020, although this stems from viral fear of underground transit as much as desire for exercise.

Still, as Cornell Tech fellow Rohit Aggarwala said in the forum, it was with such adjustments that “we went on living without Midtown.” Indeed, many of New York’s residential neighborhoods have long since regained much of their vibrancy, in dramatic distinction from the office-commercial core of Manhattan. And Aggarwala wants to build on that, rather than succumb to a “knee-jerk return to normal” such as mostly followed the post-9/11 closures in lower Manhattan.

Aggarwala singled out community boards, formal advisory bodies to New York city government, as resistant to better urban streetscapes. These “older, whiter” boards, he said, are skewed toward  opposing changes in traditional residential zones,  such as bike lanes that displace street parking.

If that perspective, and those of fellow panelists Henry Grabar of Slate.com and Laura Fox of Citi Bike (Lyft), would surprise some Manhattan Institute backers, they haven’t been following the drift of its urban-transport advocacy.   Nicole Gelinas, a mainstay of the institute’s policy staff, is also a city cycling enthusiast. Yet, older habitues might need trusted reassurance that the April event’s advocacy wasn’t right out of left field.

Grabar recently enthused about a report advocating, among other things, that one quarter of NYC’s streets be reassigned from motor-vehicle use.  Cycling enthusiasts are hopeful that the Biden presidency will help fund up to 400 miles of protected paths around the city, which could also be used for other exertions.

Read the rest of this piece at timwferguson.com

Tim W. Ferguson, the former editor of Forbes’s Asia edition, writes about business, economics and society.

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Why EU ?

The car in the photo has an EU license plate, not a New York one.

Dave Barnes