Car-free Saturdays in the Strip District

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Broadway in Times Square is permanently car-free.

Wouldn’t this be a dream in Pittsburgh?

What do you think?

How could this work? Why?

What: We could close Penn Ave to cars and open it to people.

When: the busiest shopping time of the week: Saturdays 8am-4pm.

Where: in the Strip District: from 23rd St to 16th St.

How: Cars could drive and park to the Strip on Smallman and Liberty.

Why: Vendors, stores, and restaurants could display on the sidewalk and people can walk in the street.

More space to walk means more people means more business for businesses!

If you’ve ever walked down this packed shopping district on Saturdays in Pittsburgh you’ve noticed how crowded every spot is. Traffic moves slowly because there are so many people and those cars could easily be diverted onto the parallel streets.

If they can move cars off the main street of America, we can do it on the main street of Pittsburgh. This is a post I wrote back in February on Broadway becoming a pedestrian zone.

Broadway Now Permanently Car-free

Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg of New York City made an historic announcement that will have wide-reaching implications for street design and public space transformation around the country.

Broadway in Times Square (42nd St. to 47th St) and Herald Square (33rd St. to 35th St) will now be permanently closed to traffic. What initially started as an experiment to improve public safety and traffic flow in May 2009 is being widely touted as an outstanding success.

The result? Traffic speeds are up on diverted routes, pedestrian and motorist injuries have plummeted (down 63%), businesses are benefiting from increased foot traffic, noise pollution is down and the area is dominated by people rather than modes of transportation.

The move to make these stretches of Broadway permanently car-free is supported by 74% of people who work in the area, according to a survey conducted by the Times Square Alliance.

Take a look at the stark difference in the Before and After pictures of Times Square:

The transformation has widespread support from the business community as well and was called “a 21st century idea”by Dan Biederman, director of the 34th Street Partnership (thanks to Streetsblog).

Last October I argued that temporary transformation is a more effective and legitimate way to gauge public opinion:

“People are used to roads and streets and public space being devoted to cars. That’s why it is essential to make the changes initially and give people the opportunity to feel and experience the delight of a public plaza and then to vote. New York and San Francisco are making temporary changes to demonstrate the value of returning space to people and have promised to return them to business as usual if that’s what people want.”

I’ll repeat: If you build cities for cars, you get cars. If you build cities for people, you get people.

New York did this and people love it. The rest of the country should begin following suit immediately.

17 thoughts on “Car-free Saturdays in the Strip District

  1. I heard about this recently and think it’s a wonderful idea! I’d be jumping for joy if this ever happened in Atlanta, but can’t even imagine it. Honestly, people here, who routinely drive 50+ miles ONE WAY for work or social events (and then complain about traffic!) might actually die if they had to figure out how to get around without a car 🙂 Life would be so much more pleasant without traffic – or at least LESS traffic!

    1. Hi Traci, I’ve only been to Atlanta once but I could imagine a lovely pedestrian area in the part of town with the Five Points pizza place and a large collection of clothing shops. If you’re interested in trying something like this you should check out a collection of short films from Streetfilms. They have been used very persuasively in meetings with public officials around the country. Videos are sometimes worth a million words. Here is their section on public space but the pedestrian section is very valuable, too.

      Good luck!

      Lolly

      1. Ican’t fully support the idea, but we should talk and think about it.

        I think most people know New York’s situation is much different. It has pretty decent transit and ril systems that can bring millions of people into the city easily. Also, 1.5 million live in Manhattan itself, with the neighborhoods of Clinton (Hells Kitchen) and Chelsea really filling up with more and more people as well as new housing coming into the midtown and 34th Herald Square areas. Already, close to 90% of the people in Times Square on weekday used some form of transit other than a car.

        Pittsburgh sadly, is not in that position yet. I’d be pretty concerned about creating an area of the city se aside for the kind of parking something like this would need at this point.

        Karen Lillis, might have come up with the best idea, which might be to offer some kind of tax break to people living in the city without a car.

        Even if the city itself, doesn’t give it, it might be a good idea for developers. Parking space usually does not earn lots of money.

        Also, absolutely all mandatory parking requirements of all kinds should be imediately abolished.

        1. You don’t need Manhattan’s density to make spaces preferable to pedestrians. The Strip district is too crowded to walk on weekends with the vendors and shoppers vying for sidewalk space. I don’t think pedestrian areas make sense in lots of spaces in Pittsburgh but as a person who regularly (several times a week) goes to this area it is absolutely the perfect candidate to become a pedestrian area. It’s so crowded it’s practically screaming for a renovation.

          I’m not talking about the entire neighborhood, or all the time. I am advocating that Penn Ave is converted for just seven blocks, for just eight hours a week.

          If this were put into practice, people can still drive TO the Strip. You can drive your car on Liberty or on Smallman. You can even drive on Penn — just not between 16th St and 23rd St — and parking abounds.

          I personally would not be opposed to a tax break for people who live without cars in the city, but more than that I’d love to have space to walk in the Strip.

          1. Um, yes parkinf abounds. I guess you are right it’s worth a try.

            My biggest problem with the general concept is that it may actually if it worked create a big push to set aside large areas around the strip reserved for parking which is the problem we have now.

            I also personally don’t think it would work for political reasons. If you go by the Strip on a saturday, one sees what looks like the former residents of the city, piling large amounts of groceries in SUV’s and big cars.Obviously this is not everyone, but this type of bulk shopping is easier with a car.

            However,I think and hope that as more local residents from Polish Hill, The Strip itself, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and downtown and the north side shop in the strip some push back will be made against the cars.

            Anyway, it is a very different situation than what happened in Manhattan where there was no need to have large amounts of parking and no big change in most people’s shopping or commuting patterns.

            Also, in fairness, Manhattan only closed traffic on Broadway itself from above Times Square to I think Madison Square at 24th Street. Traffic still was open on the cross streets and at every north south avenue 5Th, 6Th, 7Th 8Th and 9TH.

            Anyway, I don’t see the harm in advocating this and showing there are more people who whould like car free shopping in The Strip.

  2. OK, after thinking about this.Just closing Penn in that area makes lots of sense.

    Again, I strongly oppose any plans to permanently set aside a parking area or build more government subsidised garages like the URA is always doing.

    The Strip is a very underdeveloped area and key to any hopes for density and transit fro the Downtown through Lawrenceville. This area is also a big part in creating a sustainable tax base not just balanced on the backs of single family homeowners.

    Any reinforcement of destructive car oriented development would be a disaster for the city. We already have that disaster on the North Side.

    1. No kidding! I live on the Northside and it is a bombed out mess. The highway destroyed East Allegheny and there is almost nothing useful left on that side of the massive asphalt installation experiment.

      I wrote about the planned transit changes for the Strip and Lawrenceville and Riverfront redevelopment in Next American City a couple of months ago.

      1. Thanks for the link. I think I read that story and the one about free parking but didn’t know you wrote them.

        If one actually wants to make lots of progress here, a lot more details and meat have to be put on these bones.

        What happened in NYC, came after a large consensus already existed among business and property owners that this might be OK for them. They know, their customers are not driving into Times Square. NY or at least Manhattan, has generally engaged in a series of policies which enhanced the benefits of density, and thus progressively maximized the use and value of it’s land. We have done very much the opposite.

        We need to get beyond the green and traditional leftist moralising and talk about why moves like this are likely to not only improve the quality of life for city residents, but increase business, lower costs, and increase property values. Denser development that extracted more value from the land would also allow for decent city services with lower tax rates.

        Did you experience last years snow? Any guess as to what it cost to plow all those remote hills? The whole situation was absurd, since it was so obvious what the problem was. Narrow streets were blocked by parked cars and couldn’t be cleared. Telling people to get them off the street for even a few hours was too politically difficult. Meanwhile, much of the best flat land in the city, is wasted on stadiums, surface parking lots, or highways.

        The previous car oriented policies have so clearly not worked. In spite of efforts to hide it, the difference between The South Side and The North Side should be obvious to all.

        What exactly is Transit Oriented Development and why is it so smart for Pittsburgh? That’s what we need to talk about.

        Still, one needs to be somewhat understanding of Pittsburgh’s history. These flat areas were the central sites of Pittsburgh’s industry and many people still equate them with jobs, jobs, jobs. Even though the number of good jobs in the few trucking depots and warehouses in the Strip today is not very significant. A lot of folks still think they should wait and a big new mill will open. (Even though modern steel mills don’t need many workers)

        Also, Pittsburghers for the same reason saw most of these places as dirty and undesirable. Notice that houses become fancier and more elegant the further one gets from the old waterfront mill sites?

        The North Side’s “Millionaire’s row is a partial exception because it began to develop after Pittsburgh was industrial, but before the truely giant mills came into being in the late 19TH Century.

        I am so sad for the North Side. I still think it’s one of my favorite parts of town.

    1. This is a wonderful idea. I dread shopping in the strip on weekend because of the limited pedestrian areas and the sardine like feeling I get when walking down the narrow sidewalks. John Morris commented on how it would inconvenience the suburban bulk shoppers and I disagree. If you kept Smallman St. open people could park their cars and carry their goods just a short distance. There is already a great deal of parking available on Smallman and other side streets. Let me know if you get a petition started. I would love to help.

      1. Thanks Carrie, I’m not working on a petition right now but if you want to develop one, I’ll post a link to it here. It would make the neighborhood a delight instead of a burden and would increase the number of people who can actually spend time in the strip.

        Imagine how many people can stand in the space of an SUV parked in on Penn Ave. It would increase the shopping and also the people watching which makes a neighborhood more desirable and more dynamic.

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