July 2017
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Shared Streets = Shared Visions:
Panel Brings Forth New Ideas on Our City’s Largest Public Space

Sidewalk Cafes - Photo by Nadia Chaudhury

Last night, MAS hosted an evening dedicated to the city’s largest public spaces as part of the second annual MAS Streets Month. Held at the Scholastic Auditorium, a robust and interested audience attended Shared Streets: Making It Work, offering guests who are passionate about New York’s public realm an opportunity to hear a presentation on new initiatives by DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Her address was followed by a lively presentation by Gil Penalosa, executive director of 8-80 Cities and former commissioner of parks, sports and recreation for Bogota Colombia, who then joined panelists Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Sam Schwartz, president and CEO of Sam Schwartz Engineering for a discussion with Andrea Bernstein of WNYC’s Transportation Nation Project, who skillfully moderated the session.

As MAS reflects on last night’s program, it is clear that the Bloomberg administration should be applauded for implementing new ideas and aggressively taking on the huge challenges New York faces. Our city competes with other global cities for valuable resources like people and economic activity. Learning what other cities are doing and adapting best practices to our own policies helps to make New York more livable and stay ahead of its peers. Commissioner Sadik-Khan has imported ideas from other cities and has sought out advice from inspirational leaders around the world to continue to improve New York City’s public realm. During her tenure many of the city’s most recognizable public spaces have been dramatically transformed. By taking risks, the DOT Commissioner has raised the profile of New York City streets and challenged city residents to pay attention to how we think about and shape our largest shared public spaces. Certainly there have been huge challenges and vocal opponents, however the DOT should be credited for its creativity and for attempting a host of truly innovative ideas.

DOT reports that they constantly monitor new initiatives to learn what is working well and what needs improving, and the city and DOT’s projects are all the better as a result. We understand that in a city like ours we are always balancing needs of diverse groups, making changes, introducing pilot programs, tweaking and fine-tuning to get things right. And as Mr. Penalosa said last night, “change is hard.” Yet bicycle networks that are growing quickly in usage are being studied and refined to make sure that they are serving street users as best as possible. Select Bus Service is dramatically reducing travel times for certain routes. And in many ways, city residents and visitors are voting with their feet, quickly settling into new pedestrian plazas as fast as DOT can paint the pavement.

MAS hopes that DOT and MTA continue to work closely to make sure that the transportation initiatives are a priority for the administration and that they work for all New Yorkers. Additionally, for MAS public process is very important and we believe that the DOT should continue its hard work in building community support and achieving buy-in. MAS applauds the motives of urban champions like Commissioner Sadik-Khan who are willing to take risks and try new initiatives to make New York a more livable city for all.