The Street View: I Helped Shut Down Park Avenue

Our senior editor reports from last weekend’s Summer Streets event in Manhattan.

Metropolis’s senior editor, Kristi Cameron, is contributing semi-regular posts on issues regarding livable streets in a feature we’re calling The Street View. Click here to read previous posts in this series.

As a volunteer at Summer Streets this past Saturday, my responsibilities were little more than to hold up a stop sign while standing in front of a working traffic light. Yes, I felt a bit redundant, but it was a great vantage point from which to witness the event. Last year I strolled along Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue when it was first closed to cars, marveling at the disproportionate pleasure of a little extra elbow room, but I never made it out to Park Avenue, the spine of New York’s street-closing events. While Bedford takes on the vaguely Parisian flair of a street market, Park Avenue is more like an exercise highway with cyclists, rollerbladers, and runners far outnumbering any casual strollers. (The flaneurs seemed to stick to the sidewalks, save for a few forays into the road just to get a taste of the experience).

At times, having to tell cyclists to crowd into the two left lanes made me feel like the Grinch staring down Cindy Lou Who. (To get a feel for peak demand, visualize the pack in the last leg of the Tour de France). But I can honestly say I’ve never experienced happier–or chattier–New Yorkers. People thanked me for volunteering, told me how far they’d  ridden, asked about my accent, and occasionally apologized for being out of their lane! A few who’d stumbled onto the event just needed an explanation of what was going on. And at the end of the day, a fellow volunteer reminded me why Park Avenue is symbolically perfect for the Summer Streets program. Prior to 1922 the “park” was much more than a beautifying strip of greenery–it was a significant stretch of recreational space.

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