Car Free NYC
September 22, 2021
September 22 is World Car Free Day. It gives us a brief moment to imagine cities without automobiles clogging the streets, honking their horns, or polluting our air. Looking back to this past year, Meatpacking has proven a car-free future is attainable – and pretty awesome, too.
Across New York City, we have seen a future without cars, as neighborhoods reorient themselves around people, business, and community. Blocks have turned into open air social centers with early morning fitness programs, kids learning to ride bikes, and a diverse range of cultural events.
Since standing up the Open Streets program, the Meatpacking District has created a range of opportunities for experimentation in public open space management and programming. In early September 2020, working with architects and planners from across New York, Little West 12th Street was transformed into a lively social gathering space. In 2021, after the installation of the BID’s new planter-barricades, the streets were again transformed as the neighborhood hosted the L.E.A.F Festival of Flowers along Ninth Avenue, where nearly half a million people roamed freely from Avenue to Street to Plaza and sidewalk, and back again. A bit later in the summer, the district was the backdrop for the highly successful production of “Seven Deadly Sins,” by Tectonic Theater Company, which put on shows in vacant storefronts as audiences watched from seats on the sidewalk and in the curb lane.
Good public space is good for business, and the streets are public space. Creating a safer, cleaner, and quieter environment benefits the quality of life of New Yorkers and improves the bottom line for businesses. It also makes Meatpacking a desirable place to work and live. During the Future Streets event, businesses on Little West 12th Street saw sales increase by 15 to 30 percent, and visitors indicated they would prefer to spend money, and eat on a pedestrian-prioritized and redesigned street. Two weeks ago, the Meatpacking District saw it’s highest daily visitation for a Friday in 2021, when multiple streets were closed to vehicles and pedestrians roamed freely, enjoying a range of pop-up activations across the District as part of New York Fashion Week. Business boomed while cars were kept to the periphery.
While car ownership is up in New York City, many things are on the way that may begin to change that. We are seeing dramatic changes to the streetscape not just in Meatpacking and in NYC, but around the country, that seek to prioritize pedestrians. Congestion Pricing is coming, and with it a windfall for public transit as huge new streams of revenue will be used to (hopefully) improve the bus and subway system. And CitiBike and personal bike ridership is at an all time high, and that number is not slowing up.
While it has not been easy, and continues to be a challenging effort, education is key to making car-free or car-lite streets successful. Based on the principles and planning framework outlined in the District’s Pedestrian Oriented District plan, we continue to develop innovative new ways to utilize our neighborhood’s streets and a car free vision of the Meatpacking District.