I’m walking through the Battery the other day, a part of New York I’m not very familiar with, aside from it being the down to the Bronx’s up. It’s the southern tip of Manhattan, where you catch the Staten Island ferry. You can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the Battery Park City Esplanade here. The 9/11 memorial, where the World Trade Centre buildings stood, sits just a few blocks north.
While much of this tiny part of the city is all business, Wall Street and the financial district proper, City Hall are situated nearby, Battery City Park itself is part of a planned, mixed use community, developed and built through the 1970s and 80s. This is where I’m strolling through when I stop at an intersection with the pedestrian crossing light counting down from about 7…6…5…4… I’ve got no particular place I need to be any time soon.
Evidently that’s not the case for a couple kids who dawdle and meander past me across the street with the light turning yellow and then red before they get to the sidewalk on the other side. I’m terrible guessing anyone’s age, especially the grade school types. So, I don’t know, 8, 10, the oldest one? The brother, I’m thinking, one of those scooters lugged up over a shoulder. His sister’s a couple years younger maybe? 6…7…8? They continue a few steps down the street before turning into the lobby of an apartment building.
Now, here’s the thing that strikes me as I begin walking again with the green light. These two kids are young enough to these old eyes of mine for me to be surprised they aren’t being accompanied by an adult. So maybe they’re both older than I think. Or, and here’s my preferred hope, they’re old enough not to be supervised crossing the street because crossing a street isn’t supposed to require adult supervision.
Now, anybody who’s spent any time at all in New York City knows that crossing most streets here is something of a competition. And this particular street I crossed would not be considered a typical New York City street. Still, it wasn’t Main Street Mayberry. There were cars waiting at the red light. Cabs were all over the place, never what you would consider predictable. These two kids had to have come from somewhere where the streets were typically New York, busy, loud, not entirely orderly. Neither one seemed the least bit fussed about negotiating their way through it all.
As it should be.
That city streets need to be designed for children to easily make their way through without much more than the occasional look over their shoulder is something so obvious it shouldn’t even need stating. That they aren’t says a lot about our priorities. When streets, neighbourhoods, communities, cities are focussed on moving motorized vehicles, kids are raised inside cars.
It is surprising to me during my time here in New York just how many people insist on driving, at least in the parts of Manhattan I’ve made my way around so far, let’s say 140th Street down. Driving seems like the worst mobility choice. Unlike many, many other places, there are viable options to driving. Most spots that I’ve Google mapped to figure out routes to have shown public transit as fast or faster than driving to get there.
Still, vehicular traffic dominates the flow in this city, it seems to me. The streets bursting at the seams with pedestrians prove it. There is not the proper allocation of space for them.
On the eventful ride I took down the Columbus Street bike lane to 9th Avenue, from Central Park, winding up eventually in Soho, people fairly regularly stepped into my path, pushcart vendors used the lanes to get to where they were going. Why not? It’s street space opened up to them, recently reclaimed from automobiles. Intermingling with cyclists seems like a much safer prospect than contending with cars.
Walking in New York does come with a certain amount of pedestrian boldness you find on foot in very few other big cities. In recent years, they’ve begun the conversation in earnest of divvying up the public space that the streets and roads are in a more equitable fashion. It’s a start, is all it is. Until every street is safe enough for kids like the two I saw in Battery Park to navigate without so much as a second thought, we still have a long way to go, a long road ahead.
— moseyingly submitted by Cityslikr