Vision Zero in NYC: Better Urban Planning, Fewer Traffic Problems

Vision Zero in NYC: Better Urban Planning, Fewer Traffic Problems

New York City is known for being a hard-driving metropolis — literally. At nearly every intersection, you can hear a car’s honk, squealing brakes, and the occasional swear from a cut-off driver or jaywalking pedestrian. New Yorkers want to get where they want to go, and they want to get there now. The city’s passion for moving fast is practically a cliche; having an attitude to match is a characteristic part of living in New York. 

However, this move-fast-and-get-there culture comes at a cost. On average, vehicle accidents seriously injure or kill one New Yorker every two hours; according to recently-published findings, roughly 4,000 New Yorkers experience severe injury and over 200 die in traffic-related accidents each year. These numbers are shocking, especially given the sheer avoidability of most car accidents. 

But what if navigating daily life in the city wasn’t so dangerous? Is it possible to lean into that avoidability in a way that could make New York’s fast-paced attitude safer and more peaceful for all? 

The answer seems to be yes. While the number of traffic fatalities seems high at a glance — and to be clear, it is — the fatality rates and injury rates reported in the city have nevertheless been on a steep decline for several years. In the five years between 2018 and 2013, the total number of people killed in traffic collisions in New York dropped from 299 to a comparatively low 200. As matters stand, New York’s fatality statistics are currently at their lowest recorded level since the city began collecting such data in 1910. 

This is all good news — but why has this change come to pass? Most attribute the positive change to a 2014 citywide initiative called Vision Zero.

What is Vision Zero? 

While Vision Zero has been the impetus for sweeping change in New York, it did not start in the city — or, for that matter, the country. The program first took root in Sweden during the 1990s. The initiative developed around a revolutionary new philosophy towards urban planning and design; rather than place sole responsibility for traffic safety on drivers and pedestrians, the program attributes partial accountability on system designers and policymakers to lessen the potentiality of crashes and ensure that when they do occur, the damage they cause is negligible.

Or, as one writer for the program in New York describes the founding idea: “Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities.”

The program acknowledges that designing or overhauling public streets is a complex issue that encompasses a multitude of factors such as roadway design, behaviors, speeds, technology, and policies — all of which require input from different municipal departments. To that end, Vision Zero provides the framework for a cross-disciplinary and collaborative approach between local engineers, policymakers, traffic planners, and public health professionals. 

The program’s approach has shown results across its home of Sweden, Europe, and now, New York City. 

Tracking Vision Zero’s Impact in NYC

Mayor Bill De Blasio instituted NYC’s version of Vision Zero in 2014. In its original form, the plan encompassed 63 specific initiatives deployed across six city departments. Within its first year, Vision Zero committed $52 million to fund safety-related projects, overhauled 35 dangerous intersections, dropped posted speed limits to 25 mph on 27 high-fatality streets, and collaborated with the NYPD to conduct targeted enforcement efforts for speeding, distracted driving, and failure to yield. 

More recently, Vision Zero organizers further opted to both increase the number of traffic cameras in school zones by over 500% and to expand their hours of operation. By June of 2020, these cameras will be installed throughout high-crash corridors across the five boroughs; notable areas include but are not limited to Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Northern Boulevard in Queens, Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and First Avenue in Manhattan. 

All of these efforts have borne results, as the record-setting drop in New York’s traffic fatalities demonstrates. Mayor De Blasio himself recently highlighted the win in an interview for the New York Times by saying, “Vision Zero is clearly working.” 

However, there is still work to be done. While traffic deaths are at an all-time low, pedestrian fatalities have seen a worrisome rise. According to recent statistics, the number of such deaths rose from 107 in 2017 to 114 in 2018. The uptick is troubling, given that pedestrian accidents tend to inflict more severe damage than any other form of traffic collision. 

“Drivers haven’t taken their responsibility to yield very seriously,” Mayor De Blasio commented for the Times. “There has been a lot of enforcement, and there will be more.”

His point cuts to the founding principle of Vision Zero. Regardless of whether they walk, drive, or bike, New Yorkers deserve to feel safe as they move through their city — and it’s the city’s responsibility to make sure they have an environment that allows them to do so. 

 

Here Are the Top 6 Coworking Companies in NYC

Here Are the Top 6 Coworking Companies in NYC

The days of hammering out the business plan for a startup at your friend’s mother’s kitchen table are well and truly in the past. Today, coworking spaces offer entrepreneurial-minded professionals from all fields the chance to develop their ventures and connect with other like-minded achievers in comfortable, office-like environments. 

The value of these inclusive offices aren’t limited to would-be founders, however; they also can support freelancers, gig economy workers, or small business owners. Today, New York City hosts a number of these coworking spaces, many of which are tailored for the specific needs and interests of their members. These offices empower digital nomads in New York City to work, network, and succeed in spaces that appeal to them, rather than in whatever library corner or park bench might be available on a given day. 

Which coworking company will best suit your needs? Check out the list below to decide. 

Industrious

Industrious has locations around the continental United States and maintains two offices in New York City. For now, the company’s presence is limited to one space in Brooklyn and another in Union Square; however, Industrious has announced its intent to open more locations in the city in the next few years. 

This coworking space sets itself apart by offering private offices as well as a communal coworking space for up to 100 people. Its Manhattan and Brooklyn facilities are world-class and provide office options that are ideal for large and small companies alike.

Private offices begin at $1,341 per month, and community memberships start at $590 per month. 

The Farm

The Farm brings a quiet Midwestern charm to bear amid New York’s bustle. The company’s sole office in the city consists of a 100-year-old barn that was brought over from Missouri and put back together piece by piece. 

Pricing is affordable at The Farm. You can purchase a day pass for $29 per day, sign up for a guaranteed desk in a shared workspace for $179 a month, or select a dedicated and private desk for only $349 a month. 

Alma

Alma is a stylish coworking space located on Madison Avenue that provides tailored workspaces for therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals alike.

Industry professionals have the option to choose from one of three plans: Alma’s Community package, which starts at $145 per month, a Flex plan, which starts at $165 per month, and their Dedicated membership, which starts at $490 per month. 

The Wing

The Wing was founded in 2016 in NYC as a coworking space designed specifically for women. They now have three locations in NYC, with offices in Flatiron, Soho and Dumbo. Since its founding, they have expanded considerably; today, The Wing boasts locations across the United States and overseas. 

The community at The Wing fosters connections beyond that of a business alone. It is a place to develop friendships, gain support, find mentors, network, and more. 

Memberships begin at $185 per month with an annual commitment.

WeWork

WeWork has many locations in NYC, and more are slated to open. The company began with a mission to redefine success as personal fulfillment — not just the bottom line. 

Depending on location, prices start as low as $300 for community space or a dedicated desk, and private offices begin at $840 a month and go up to $2,150.

A/D/O

The Amalgamated Drawing Office — more colloquially known as A/D/O — is a 23,000 square foot warehouse in Greenpoint that has been converted into working space for artists. 

More than a coworking space, A/D/O is an experience. For creatives, they provide a fabrication lab with an array of tools and resources. An atrium, open to the public, provides a place to relax and enjoy food and drink. Membership includes open workspace, fabrication equipment, and complimentary WiFi. 

Community places are open to the public at no charge, and workspace starts at $375 per month for artists. 

If you are looking for a place to connect, a place to work, and a place to foster community, a coworking space may be just what you are looking for. There are many affordable spaces in NYC that provide opportunities for every small business owner, entrepreneur, and industry creative to conduct business and make the connections they need to thrive professionally. 

 

Why NYC Should Get a High Speed Rail (And the Hurdles We’ll Face)

Why NYC Should Get a High Speed Rail (And the Hurdles We’ll Face)

New York City thrives on the cutting edge of innovation. It’s a hotspot for creative engineering; a perpetual testing ground for the technologies that will advance us into a new era of achievement. It maintains an all but permanent place at the forefront of global advancement, racing alongside cities like London, Beijing, Tokyo, and Paris to a brighter, more tech-forward future. It’s a developmental sprint that New York seems well-primed to win — provided, that is, that judges don’t strike points for the city’s lamentably outdated rail network. 

It might not be entirely fair to say that the United States’ transportation infrastructure stacks up like a Shetland pony at the Kentucky Derby, but the comparison isn’t necessarily incorrect, either. Both France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and China’s national high-speed rail can top speeds of 350 miles per hour; in Germany, rail lines can speed travelers along at over 300 kilometers per hour. The United States’ Acela Express, in contrast, can scrape by at top speeds of just 155 miles per hour. Compared to its peers, America is several decades out of date and, I would argue, missing out on the benefits that urban transit provides. 

The United States is sorely in need of an update — and given its reputation for being a prominent hub for innovation, it makes sense that New York should be at the forefront of transportation development. 

In January 2019, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) submitted a bill that would create a commission to study the potential for high-speed rail transit. The bill is currently scheduled to be reviewed during the 2019-2020 session, so the state legislature has yet to come to any firm conclusions regarding the idea — however, Kim’s commission seems to be a step in the right direction. As Kim himself commented in a recent article for Politico, “We need to rethink our overall economic development vision for the entire state, and that starts with some version of high-speed rail.”

To follow Kim’s point, let’s consider a few reasons why New Yorkers would benefit from a high-speed rail.

Facilitate Regional Travel

High speed rail naturally makes regional travel faster, easier, and less expensive. Consider the experience of Business Insider writer Harrison Jacobs, who recently documented his time traveling across China via train for the publication. According to Jacobs, high-speed rail empowered him to travel the 746 miles between Beijing and Xi’an in about four and a half hours. In comparison, he notes, America’s tracks are painfully slow. “If I wanted to travel a comparable distance in the US by train — at 712 miles, New York to Chicago is the closest — it would take 22 hours with a transfer in Washington, DC,” he writes, “And that’s with traveling on Amtrak’s Acela Express, currently the fastest train in the US.” 

In the States, frequent business or recreational trips between the two hubs would be inconvenient to the point of impossibility. However, if travelers had the option to make the same trip in a quarter of the time, who is to say that they wouldn’t take advantage of it? The ease of transport could improve commercial trade between regional hubs, improve the creative flow of ideas between states, and give people more agency to travel for work and pleasure.

Add Short- and Long-Term Jobs

Faster public transit has the potential to bring more jobs to New York. Shortly after taking office in 2010, then-governor Andrew Cuomo asserted as much in an open letter: “High-speed rail could be transformative for New York — with the potential to revitalize Upstate New York’s economy with construction jobs now and permanent jobs created by the new high-speed rail links to New York City, Toronto, and Montreal in the future.” 

He has a point. A high-speed rail network would create a host of immediate construction and train management jobs, as well as facilitate a significant number of long-term commuter positions. With the high-speed infrastructure in place, conducting inter-state — or even international — travel and commerce would be easier than ever, allowing for greater economic growth, intellectual exchanges, and business development. 

Improve Quality of Life

It’s well-established that high-speed trains can significantly improve life in urban hubs. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently found that “bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life, reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, and provide a “safety valve” for crowded cities.” 

Take China as a case study for the public benefits of this phenomenon; within a few years of rail construction, new “exoburbs” began to emerge within 400 miles of urban hubs such as Beijing and Shanghai. These rail-adjacent communities enabled those who might not have been able to afford city living a chance to commute from more affordable — and previously impractically distant — towns. The greater urban spread limited the day-to-day drain that a too-high population might otherwise place on a city’s resources and made living within a commutable distance more financially feasible for its workforce. In New York, having a high-speed regional commuter rail could alleviate the pressure of overpopulation, cut down on traffic congestion, and even cut down on the pollution caused by vehicular commuters. 

The benefits of building a network of high-speed rail lines are both clear and pressing. As matters stand, New York’s sorely outdated transportation system holds the city back from being the global innovation leader that it should be. It’s a stumbling block that needs to be remedied — otherwise, we may find ourselves trailing behind even as our international peers race full speed ahead. 

Will Science Fiction Become Reality in a Smart-City NYC?

Will Science Fiction Become Reality in a Smart-City NYC?

Regardless of plot or author, the futuristic cities we see in sci-fi flicks tend to have a few common traits. Sleek skyscrapers soar overhead, manned by polite robots and electric doors. Hologrammed ads blink at pedestrians from building sides while self-driving (hover)cars trundle along the packed urban streets. The term “smart city” brings to mind the utopias — or, depending on whether you prefer Orwell, dystopias — found in old-school science fiction novels. The implied urban landscape is both technologically advanced and utterly removed from the reality of today’s modern cities — at least at first glance.

As it turns out, real-world “smart cities” might be more humble, benign, and present than their sci-fi counterparts would suggest. While no city has wholly incorporated “smart” technology into its infrastructure quite yet, prominent urban hubs like New York are well on their way to the mark.

What Makes a City “Smart”?

The term does have a definition beyond sci-fi. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), a “smart” city is one that uses innovations like big data analytics, IoT innovations, cloud computing, and other emerging technologies to share data and improve efficiency across municipal platforms. These hubs don’t use technology for technology’s sake — instead, they use “smart” solutions to underpin the city’s infrastructure and ensure that basic utility systems like water, power, and waste pickup function effectively. The practical applications aren’t sci-fi sleek, but they are useful — and, in modern times, necessary.

Today, overpopulation is a significant risk for the world’s most prominent urban hubs. Statistics provided by the U.S. Census indicate that 80.7% of the country’s population lived in urban areas as of 2010, with more likely to do so in the years to come. People are migrating to city hubs; the New York-Newark metro area alone houses 18,351,295 residents. When mass shifts like these occur, they put significant pressure on a city’s infrastructure and capacity. The influx strains housing resources, sanitation systems, healthcare services, and food supplies. Over time, the strain can have real repercussions on a resident’s quality of life and cause problems that include but are not limited to a greater likelihood of organized or violent crime, a higher prevalence of pollution-caused illnesses, increased traffic wait times, and overstrained sanitation systems.

Smart cities use data-driven systems to better understand and solve these problems. For example, some solutions might include sustainable water systems, intelligent traffic systems, or technology that predicts where crimes are most likely to be committed in a given day. All are useful, if not flashy. Cities have certainly seen the appeal; in a recent report, analysts for the IDC estimated that smart city technology spending topped $80 billion globally in 2016 and is likely to reach $135 billion by 2021.

Case Study: New York

New York, aware of its strained resources and growing population, has taken steps to integrate smart technology into its infrastructure.

Over the last few years, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation has launched several initiatives to make the city a sustainable, tech-forward urban hub. So far, their efforts have predominantly focused on smart utilities and monitoring; in 2013, they launched the Accelerated Conservation and Efficiency (ACE) program, which dedicated over $350 million to retrofitting lighting systems to be more efficient and reducing emissions. Similarly, the city’s Big Belly garbage collection initiative uses data to more effectively assess when trash needs to be picked up, thereby improving collection efficiency by an estimated 50-80% and cutting back on the emissions that previous garbage trucks might have created. City planners have taken parallel strides with New York’s water and air monitoring systems; research put forth by the New York Engineers’ organization estimates that sulfur dioxide emissions have dropped by over 70% in NYC since 2008.

As these initiatives indicate, urban engineers can use data-driven systems to pinpoint and solve problems caused by overpopulation. New York demonstrates that being a “smart” city isn’t about keeping up with current trends or integrating flashy tech — it’s about making the city’s support systems run more efficiently.

Some, however, worry that the benefits of embracing “smart city” life come at too high a cost.

 

Barriers to Smart City Adoption: Privacy and Trust

Smart cities run on data collection — there’s no way around it. However, some critics worry that in collecting that data, urban hubs may open the door to those who would abuse data findings and overstep privacy expectations.

Consider the backlash Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, currently faces in Waterfront Toronto. In Spring of 2017, the tech company put forth a proposal to collaborate with the government to build a new community “from the Internet up.” Its pitch was tempting: it offered to create a wholly renewable energy system, environmentally-friendly buildings, driverless public transit, configurable streets, and a digital identity system that would give residents access to both public and private services.

At first listen, the proposal seemed to have few downsides — but soon, critics began questioning the project. The smart tech Sidewalk Labs proposed to monitor traffic patterns and determine identity, they argued, would use round-the-clock sensors in public spaces and even potentially draw data from citizens’ devices. They would have no privacy agreement, and no way to allow a citizen to “opt out.” Moreover, many citizens may not have the technical savvy to understand what they would be opting out of. The project is a privacy disaster waiting to happen, and Sidewalk Labs is still trudging through the PR mire. The impact of the pushback on the project is as yet unknown.

One point is certain; despite the knot that privacy concerns pose to their development, smart city infrastructure is and will continue to provide necessary support to growing urban populations. However, we can’t just rush in thoughtlessly. If the case study in Toronto demonstrates anything, it would be that people don’t want to end up in a — well-intentioned or not — Orwell-esque surveillance state. Urban engineers of the future will need to find ways to address the privacy question and integrate thoughtful, privacy-aware solutions that will not take advantage of the very urban citizens they aim to support. After all, NYC needs smart measures; if it doesn’t, it will surely buckle under the weight of its own inefficiencies.

 

Why Are So Many Public Pedestrian Plazas Popping Up in NYC?

Why Are So Many Public Pedestrian Plazas Popping Up in NYC?

New York City’s walking paths are primarily utilitarian; they direct us to work, to community hubs, to our weekend plans — and if they don’t stretch as far as we need, they lead us to the public transit stops that can carry us the rest of the way. In recent years, however, walking spaces in New York have begun to shift away from pure function. Public pedestrian plazas are popping up all over the city, encouraging fast-paced New Yorkers to do the unthinkable: slow down, relax, and put off their next trek to enjoy the neighborhood awhile.

Pedestrian plazas transform under-utilized streets into vibrant public spaces. The number of these transformations have skyrocketed over the past decade; according to analysts for the Global Designing Cities Initiative, there were a whopping 71 plazas in various stages of design, construction, or completion as of 2015. Of those, 49 were available for public use. More have appeared since then — however, the space that stands as the foremost example of these pedestrian-centered havens was one of the first to be built.

Now home to an expansive European-style piazza, Times Square at Broadway was once dominated by honking cars and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Before the city closed Broadway to vehicular travel, pedestrians had access to only 10% of the street space despite outnumbering cars by nearly nine to one. In 2009, the city launched the Green Light for Midtown project: an initiative which would block off vehicular traffic and optimize the space to better suit the needs of its overwhelmingly pedestrian user base. It’s fair to say that it worked; today, Times Square stands as an internationally-acclaimed haven for those experiencing the city on foot.

The flurry of plaza expansions is due in large part to the NYC Department of Transportations’ Plaza Program. Launched in early 2008, the initiative works to ensure that all New Yorkers need only walk ten minutes to find an open and welcoming public space. The efforts aren’t purely for aesthetics; as one nonprofit recently reported, “Plazas have been proven to enhance local economic vitality, pedestrian mobility, access to public transit, and safety.”

The program prioritizes projects in areas that currently lack such space — especially those in low-income or high-pedestrian neighborhoods. In creating these plazas, the city’s urban planners hope to create more pedestrian-friendly spaces, optimize neighborhood walkability, boost access to public transit, improve public health, better pedestrian and vehicular safety, and support local community development.

The Plaza Program accomplishes the above goals via partnerships with private entities, nonprofits, and neighborhood groups who apply for involvement. Generally, they employ a philosophy that the green infrastructure nonprofit Deeproot dubs, “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper,” or LQC. These groups use low-cost, low-risk methods to reimagine public spaces; often, the temporary changes they make serve as trial measures for more permanent changes down the line. One spokesman for Deeproot describes the process, writing:

“These street-to-plaza conversions use simple elements like moveable tables, umbrellas and chairs; colorful, patterned surface treatments and plantings; and lively and entertaining programming to create more publicly accessible open space […] Changes can include new amenities, such as planters and public art, new configurations of the street using paint and bollards, and space for events and activities.”

After the transformation takes place, the writer goes on to say, newly-minted pedestrian plazas often host a variety of community-friendly happenings, such as neighborhood movie nights, weekend farmers’ markets, and free concerts.

Pedestrian plazas seem to be all upsides — yet, even they have their critics. Some opponents worry that in closing streets for foot traffic, plaza proponents are curtailing access for emergency vehicles, limiting road connectivity, and overloading streets beyond their capacity. These concerns are valid; however, most urban planners have found that when properly designed and placed, walking plazas can re-route traffic to allow vulnerable walkers and bikers better access to their homes and neighborhood businesses without significantly blocking vehicular access to plaza-adjacent areas.

Critics may even find themselves switching sides on the debate once the plaza is in place. To quote Deeproot on the matter once more, “As more cities take the plunge into these conversions they often find that street-to-plaza conversions support local businesses, foster neighborhood interaction, enhance pedestrian safety, encourage non-motorized transportation, and reimagine the potential of city streets.”

For better or worse (but almost certainly better), pedestrian plazas are on the rise in New York. Like any living, evolving entity, cities experience growing pains. It may take time for urban planners to iron out the small snags in the plaza integration process, but the benefits these community spaces offer New Yorkers now are both real and considerable. So, the next time you join the current of walkers on the sidewalk, keep an eye out for a pedestrian plaza. Who knows; you might find yourself experiencing your old neighborhood in an entirely new way.

 

NYC’s Most Overlooked Landmarks

NYC’s Most Overlooked Landmarks

Even if you’re new to NYC, you’re probably very familiar with the city’s most iconic landmarks. Around the world, spots like Times Square, the Empire State Building, and Yankee Stadium are well known, but beyond that, New York is home to countless fascinating locales that can escape even homegrown New Yorkers’ purview. Here’s our favorite of the lesser-visited landmarks to be found around the city that never sleeps.

Fraunces Tavern

NYC is positively brimming with historical landmarks, but few are as closely tied to America’s past than this Revolutionary-era saloon in Manhattan’s Financial District. Taverns in those days were about more than just having a drink: they were central to common life, and a place where people mingled and met up with peers and friends in a relaxed setting. Here, visitors can garner a taste of those old days, with regular tours and exhibits centered around New York’s fascinating Revolutionary War history. The oldest standing structure in the city, the Tavern is also a functioning bar/restaurant, where entrants can drink like George Washington and his contemporaries. The site of Washington’s post-war farewell address, there’s no better place to drink in the historic significance of Lower Manhattan.

Brooklyn Academy of Music

New York is home to countless cultural institutions known worldwide. The Theater District, Lincoln Center and concert venues like the Beacon Theatre draw in visitors of every origin, and for good reason. But if you want to take in a show the way locals do, there are few better venues than the Brooklyn Academy of Music, affectionately referred to as BAM. Open since 1908, the 3-building BAM campus in Fort Greene is home to the borough’s premier rotation of cutting edge, multicultural performance and cinematic art. Whether in the 2,000+ capacity Howard Gilman Opera House, the BAM Rose Cinemas, Harvey Theater or the more recently opened BAM Fisher Building around the corner, taking in a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music is one way for residents and tourists alike to participate in the artistic life of NYC’s most creative borough.

Manhattan Bridge

While it lacks the vaunted silhouette of its neighbor to the southwest, this blue and white steel-trussed span is all New York. A stroll across the Manhattan Bridge’s pedestrian footpath (or bike lanes on the opposite side) amounts to a trip through city history–taking visitors from frozen-in-time Chinatown through a chain-link fenced and graffiti-covered journey recalling the gritty city of the 70s and 80s, into the bustling and perpetually growing Downtown Brooklyn that’s become the most dynamic locale of the 21st century city. Perhaps most remarkable about the span (besides the unforgettable South-facing view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Lower Manhattan skyline) is the Canal Street entryway, a triumphal arch flanked by 30 stately Roman columns. For those leaving Manhattan to journey to Brooklyn, this bridge offers no finer passage.

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

If you can believe it, the iconic author and poet moved out to this cottage for the fresh air and natural splendor of the Bronx. Of course, in 1847 the city as a whole was a very different place, but now in 2019, this quaint cottage remains mostly as it was then: a perfect out-of-the-way experience off the beaten path. The poet died just two years later, but the house has entered into eternity, having served as a museum since 1913, now run by the Bronx Historical Society. Poe completists can follow up this trip by heading to Poe’s previous residence on West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village, whose facade has been preserved by the current tenant, New York University.