Designed for the Future, Pedestrian Zones, 2015

Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World

“Pedestrian Zones”
Princeton Architectural Press, 2015

Kim Yao

Reuse our streets, add new layers.

In dense urban environments like New York City we must reuse infrastructure and add new layers. Places must evolve. There has been an amazing set of projects by the New York City Department of Transportation, under former transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, focused on transforming streets into pedestrian zones.

These projects introduced change into a transportation system highly resistant to change. Projects like the pedestrian mall in Times Square started in a temporary fashion to test results, but they later became permanent.

Sadik-Khan, working with the vision of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, recaptured the streetscape for people and changed use patterns. These changes gave back public space, creating outdoor spaces that reduce traffic flow.

The transformation occurred through painting streets, adding café tables and chairs, and inserting a few bollards. The street improvements were inexpensive but had a big impact.

The new pedestrian zone in Times Square is heavily used, as is the new pedestrian area near Madison Square Park, next to the Flatiron Building. These new pedestrian spaces show that people can move through the spaces near cars safely and that there is also an appetite for a greater rethinking of streets in the city. These projects signal that it’s possible to create change even in places where people thought change was impossible.

What else are we taking for granted? We need more critical thinking about our urban infrastructure.