Cars vs. People; A Triumph of the Feet
March 19, 2001
"The vitality of a city comes from its pedestrians, not its cars." Tampa Bay Online has a dramatic series of photographs illustrating an article on how cars enter a city's dynamic at the expense of people.
Here in Manhattan, we seem to have understood that truism intuitively, if not consciously. Having noticed with surprise Austinites' reluctance to jaywalk when I was in Texas last week, I was very pleased and surprised to realize that New Yorkers have no reverence for The Car. We don't yield in deference just because one is coming our way, and we don't believe in them as intrinsic and necessary parts of our day-to-day lives. Of course, we have the luxury of ignoring them, because of the layout of the city and its mass transit system. But it's a luxury that I quite enjoy. Someone point that out the next time I'm bitching about the cost of rent here.
Perhaps the best illustration of our pedestrian-centric culture is our willingness to inconvenience travelers if they are in cars, but not if they are on foot. For example, we'll shut down Fifth Avenue at any given time to throw a parade for Drop of a Hat day, sometimes even extending the closed areas to side streets or multiple avenues. The St. Patrick's Day parade this past weekend ends in my neighborhood, and the entire meandering path was blockaded, surrounded by sawhorses and delimited by that signature green stripe down the middle of the road.
But the sidewalks! Heaven help the poor soul that blocks the sidewalks. They are, as I read once long ago, the true surface transportation of the city. I have never once heard of any celebration that closed down sidewalks, or even one that asked to do so. We don't even close sidewalks for construction here, when they're swinging multiple tons of bricks or materials overhead. We just put up a scaffolding, and everyone marches by right underneath it.
A triumph of the feet.