Designing the 21st Century Street Competition Winner
New York, NY
Our infrastructure is overloaded by its own efficiency. For the past two centuries we have designed New York’s streets to accept an escalating burden of traffic above and utilities below, seeking to maximize the capacity and speed of vehicle, power, sewage and water flows. The resulting system gives little consideration for the neighborhoods served or for where these flows end.
The 21st century city needs streets that connect people as effectively as they connect destinations. Vehicles, pedestrians and storm water inevitably intersect; attempting to separate each flow into its own conduit is both impossible and undesirable. By designing for shared use we can build streets that encourage us to make intelligent choices about how we use the infrastructure on which we depend. We propose a reconfigured street that incorporates the following elements:
Integrated Infrastructure: The street must work with the geography and hydrology of the city. In our proposal 9th Street becomes an urban stormwater swail that filters runoff on its way to the Gowanus Canal. This visible infrastructure creates awareness of stormwater management while connecting one of the great recreational spaces of the 19th century to the great recreational space of the next century: the waterfront.
Connected Neighborhoods: The ubiquitous asphalt of city streets suggests that all roads are the same. Our proposal uses paving to describe the difference between a street and an avenue. The continuous paving along 4th Avenue expresses its role as the smooth connector of multiple neighborhood streets, while 9th Street’s variegated paving defines it as a space connecting individual houses.
Bike in the Middle: We propose placing bike lanes in the middle of the street, the safest location for cyclists to interface with drivers accustomed to looking for turn arrows and oncoming vehicles before making a left turn. Current configurations are more dangerous: Bike lanes set between traffic and parked cars are encroached upon by double-parked cars and car doors; bike lanes set between parked cars and the sidewalk solve some problems but create more at intersections, where lack of visibility creates more potential for accidents.
Flex Lanes: We propose streets that adapt to the faster flow of pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles during commuting hours but can be claimed as neighborhood social space during off-hours and weekends. Maintaining the street as a multifunctional space allows us to continually evaluate how it is being used, and how it could be used better.
Transit Hub: An overpass should not be a dark interruption in the streetscape. In our proposal it is a covered plaza with sheltered bike parking and intermodal transfer points. The bridge’s digital ticker makes commuters aware of their transit options.