Friday, August 7, 2009

Driving Cars Off the Streets To Make Way For Summer Fun

This Saturday, seven miles of New York City Streets will be absent their most frequent users: cars. It marks the kick-off of Summer Streets 2009, a three-Saturday event held by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in which cars will be replaced by people biking, rollerblading or walking along a route from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park.

Since the Summer Streets route is in Manhattan, biking advocacy group Transportation Alternatives (TA) will hold round-trip rides from the outer boroughs and Inwood to the event. The ride from Brooklyn will begin at Grand Army Plaza and will be a safe, escorted trip. Participants will meet under the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch.

Noah Budnick, TA senior policy advisor, says bikers can expect a lot of fun from these rides. “It’s a nice quiet route into Manhattan,” he said, noting that the ride will travel along streets with bike lanes or light traffic. “We’ll ride at a really comfortable pace.”

TA’s rides will depart at 8:30 a.m. from Grand Army Plaza all three Saturdays of Summer Streets. Riders will reconvene at noon at the rest stop at Lafayette and Spring streets in SoHo, to return to Brooklyn.

This is the second year for Summer Streets and for TA’s connecting rides. “We do it to invite New Yorkers to come out to this really special event,” said Budnick, “to show them the experience of riding through city streets with no cars and to see how much public space there is.”

Budnick went on to say that TA hopes participants in their rides will experience Summer Streets and want something like it in their own boroughs.

Though TA’s rides leave at 8:30 and end at noon, the larger event will be from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The route stretches from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park via Lafayette Street, Fourth and Park avenues, and 72nd Street.

“The idea behind Summer Streets has always been simple: create an appealing public space for people to enjoy, and New Yorkers would do the rest,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “Thanks to the incredible response from New Yorkers, Summer Streets has already become a real New York tradition. Some 50,000 people came out to the streets on each of the three Summer Streets weekends last year, and with hundreds of new activities from salsa lessons to junior tennis lessons to bike share, there are even more reasons to come out for free fun this year.”

Highlights of the Summer Streets will include: bicycle valet parking by TA, bicycle helmet fittings offered by DOT, classes and tutorials about bike riding and safety, Latin dance classes, games and activities for families, a photo contest, and classes by Crunch gym.

This year, Summer Streets has been complemented by nearly 50 other smaller-scale street events in 13 communities citywide known as Weekend Walks — temporary pedestrian areas on weekends ranging between one and seven blocks in length.

These events, which began in June and will continue through September, have been sponsored by local BIDs and community groups throughout the city and have been a real boon for local businesses, which see a major increase in foot traffic.

Upcoming Brooklyn Weekend Walks are in September. “Move About Myrtle,” on Myrtle Ave. between Clinton Street and Emerson Place, sponsored by the Myrtle Ave. Partnership, will take place on four Sundays — September 6, 13, 20 and 27 — from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. “Pitkin Saturday Plazas,” on Pitkin Avenue between Strauss and Thomas Boyland streets, will be on three Saturdays — September 12, 19 and 26 — from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., sponsored by the Pitkin Avenue BID. “Montague Summer Space,” the last Brooklyn Weekend Walk, on Montague Street between Hicks and Clinton streets, will be on Sundays September 13, 20 and 27, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and sponsored by the Montague BID.

“Weekend Walks build on efforts to leverage streets as great public spaces that communities can rally around, be active and experience New York City’s streetscapes in creative, exciting and healthy ways,” said DOT spokesperson Nicole Garcia.

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