What are you asking for? NYC 25x25 is a challenge to New York City’s next leaders to address the inequitable distribution of public space and the ongoing harm of car traffic to New Yorkers’ health and safety, our climate, and the New York City economy. We are asking our next leaders to be bold and address this problem head-on by repurposing 25 percent of our street space to better use by 2025.
Why 25 percent specifically? Why 2025? The transformation of 25 percent of our streetscape by the year 2025 would be a wholesale and substantial change that would improve our city in countless ways. As we face the overlapping crises of Covid-19, economic downturn, racial inequity, climate change and traffic violence, now is not the time for partial solutions. We need a real commitment to equity on our streets for the large majority of New Yorkers who do not drive. Reallocating 25 percent of space is just the first step toward reaching this goal — but it’s a meaningful and achievable goal for our next leaders during the next mayoral administration.
How popular is this idea? Taking back space from cars for a variety of other uses is broadly popular with New Yorkers in every borough and across all ages, racial identities, and income levels. New York City voters support more space for children to play (84 percent), more greenery (83 percent), places to sit (75 percent), wider sidewalks (58 percent), and improved crosswalks (85 percent), even if it means less space for cars. More than 60 percent of voters support expanding the Open Streets program, 56 percent support dedicated bus lanes, and 68 percent support protected bike lanes. A separate poll by the Department of Transportation of all New Yorkers, not just voters, found even higher support for these issues.
Why should we take space from cars? Scientists, researchers, and experts in climate change, public health, economics, and the environment agree that we must make serious and immediate reductions in car space and car usage. Space for cars is inefficient in a crowded city, and too many cars harm our physical and mental health, and our environment, and cut off economic opportunities for those who need them most.
How is our public space currently being used? Of our total streetscape, 75 percent is dedicated to moving or storing vehicles, with over 54 percent for travel lanes and 21 percent dedicated for free on-street parking. Less than 21 percent is dedicated as sidewalk space and less than one percent is dedicated for bike and bus lanes combined.
How do New Yorkers currently get around? Even though over three-quarters of our streetscape is dedicated to moving or storing cars, New Yorkers overwhelmingly use public transit, walk, or bike to get where they’re going. Three out of four trips are made by one of these sustainable modes of transportation. About one in four trips are made by car, over half are made by public transportation, and about one in five are made on foot or by bike. Over 97 percent walk or bike to or from public transportation.
Would reducing space for cars unfairly punish drivers? Who actually owns a car in New York City? New York City households that own a car are more than twice as wealthy as those without a car. Lower-income New Yorkers are much more reliant on transit, buses especially, and the median income of bus riders is substantially lower than that of New Yorkers overall. Right now, the average cost of car ownership (nearly $10,000 a year nationally) is prohibitively expensive for millions of New Yorkers. Privileging private cars ahead of transit riders and pedestrians on our streets is not only unfair, but harmful to the supermajority of low-income New Yorkers who do not own a car. Building more car-free options on our streets is a way to boost economic opportunity and lower bills for millions.
What about New Yorkers who need to drive for their jobs, or because of a disability? Today, New Yorkers who need to drive are wasting huge amounts of time in traffic because there are so many elective drivers on the road — nearly half of whom are completing short trips of two miles or less. Converting driving and parking lanes into protected bus and bike lanes will invite those who have a choice whether or not to drive to opt for more efficient, cheap, and pleasant modes of travel. In turn, this will make more space on the road and at the curb for those who need to drive.
For sources and a more detailed explanation of the benefits of less car-dominant streets, please see: Evidence.
Who will benefit from taking space from cars? In short, all New Yorkers will benefit, including drivers. Those who need to drive will benefit from fewer drivers on the road. Parking will be easier to find when more of it is metered, encouraging turnover and bringing more customers to small businesses. And all street users benefit from improved safety, significant cost savings from fewer crashes, lost time, more jobs created per million on infrastructure, and the environmental, physical, and mental health benefits that come with reducing car-use.
How will taking space from cars help the economy? Researchers agree that an efficient and diverse transportation system is the single most important factor for upward economic mobility for an individual. Making our streets safer and more transit friendly will drastically reduce the $6 billion dollar burden that traffic crashes and congestion leave on New York City’s economy every year. And for every $1 million spent on infrastructure, 47 percent more jobs are created on bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects than on car infrastructure projects.
Local businesses are really struggling. Will this help? New York City has seen several recent examples of less car-oriented streets leading to a boom in business, including a new pedestrian plaza on Pearl Street in Brooklyn that brought a 172 percent increase in sales for local businesses. Nearby businesses on a redesigned Vanderbilt Avenue saw sales increase by 102 percent and improved pedestrian infrastructure and a dedicated bus lane brought an increase in sales of 71 percent on Fordham Road in the Bronx. Demand-based pricing of parking spaces increases shoppers, diners, and those seeking entertainment activities by 30 percent — three of the hardest hit industries in New York City due to Covid-19.
Will taking space from cars really make us healthier? Yes. In so many ways. To name just a few: Every $1,300 spent converting car driving and parking lanes to protected bike lanes provided benefits equivalent to one additional year of life over the lifetime of all city residents. An expanded bike share system has the potential to bring significant health economic benefits, especially for high poverty communities of color. Particulate matter from cars causes asthma (a leading cause of ER visits and school absences), low birth weight, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and many other serious health conditions. Places in the city with fewer cars, like Park Avenue during Summer Streets, show immediate decreases in air pollution.
What about mental health? A recent study showed that children who grew up with the least access to greenspace had a 55 percent higher risk of psychiatric disorders. The mental health benefits of open space access were so significant as to be equivalent to decreasing local unemployment rates by two percentage points. And another study found that people who live on streets with low car traffic have three times as many friends and twice as many acquaintances as people who live on high-car-traffic streets.
What are the main environmental benefits of taking more space from cars? In New York City, cars and trucks are responsible for 29 percent of all air pollution produced in the city. Carbon emissions from vehicles have only decreased by one percent since 2005, and the number of cars traveling through New York City has been growing. More public transportation leads to lower carbon emissions and cleaner air. And new and improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure significantly reduces the number of car trips, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Less space for cars also means more space for greenery, and this, too, pays dividends: one mature tree can remove the equivalent of 11,000 miles of car emissions annually.
Will our streets really be safer with less space for cars? Improved bike, bus, and pedestrian infrastructure brings safety benefits to all road users. For example, converting a car driving lane into pedestrian and bus infrastructure on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan caused all traffic injuries to drop 21 percent even though cycling rates nearly tripled on some segments, and traffic speed and volume remained constant. Between 2001 and 2013 when hundreds of miles of car parking was converted into bike lanes, the average risk of serious injury for cyclists fell 74 percent in New York City.
Won’t traffic get worse? For decades, study after study has proven that taking away travel lanes does not cause congestion. It’s a phenomenon called “induced demand.” Once people see that there is less space, they rationally adjust their driving behavior. Recently, when car traffic lanes were removed to create the 14th Street Busway, the adjacent streets saw no increase in car traffic, despite the fears of many who objected to the plan. When bike, pedestrian, and bus infrastructure was added on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, traffic levels improved or remained steady. Most importantly, a street should be scored not by the number of cars that it moves per hour but by the number of people. And travel lanes for cars are by far the least efficient ways of moving people.
Wouldn’t this punish people who need to drive for work, like delivery drivers and taxi drivers? By providing more efficient, reliable, regular, and safe means of alternative transportation, New Yorkers who don’t need to drive will switch modes, resulting in less congestion. This has been proven in research, documented by the Department of Transportation, and been a real-world experience for New Yorkers. For delivery truck drivers, the creation of dedicated loading and unloading zones would decrease all travel times in New York City by 61 percent. Demand based pricing will price parking accurately so that, on average, two parking spots are always available on every block. In San Francisco’s recent pilot, this meant 43-67 percent less time searching for parking, 30 percent less fuel wasted, and 22 percent less double parking that causes congestion.
Won’t this slow response times for emergency services? Less overall congestion will make travel times faster for those who need to drive, including first responders. Converting car driving lanes into car-free bus lanes can provide an express traffic-free lane that first responders can rely on, speeding response times to those calls. At the height of New York City’s bike lane building boom, emergency response times were actually quicker than ever. The New York Fire Department has explicitly cited the increase in car traffic on city streets as the major factor increasing response times and noted that bike lanes do not increase their response time.
What about out-of-town commuters and tourists? Pre-pandemic, three out of four commuters traveled into New York City by a sustainable transportation mode during rush hour. Because cars are the least efficient transportation mode, even a small reduction in drivers would have a significant impact on traffic levels. The vast majority of tourists arrive in New York City without a car, too. And yet, both commuters and tourists have to contend with the overwhelming majority of space dedicated to cars with no benefit to them. The Trust for Public Land has also found that a well-maintained and integrated network of citywide open spaces can increase tourism by 20 percent.
For sources and more detail on the implementation considerations of NYC25x25, please see: Implementation.
New York is in a budget crisis. How will we pay for all of this? Many of the benefits described in this plan will pay for themselves. For example, the $4 billion the New York City economy currently spends every year on crashes can be significantly reduced through street redesigns. Accurately pricing on-street parking on commercial corridors with meters could, by the most conservative estimates, bring in over $1 billion in new annual revenue. And most economists agree that government spending, especially on infrastructure, is beneficial to accelerate the recovery process, and bike and pedestrian projects create more direct in-state jobs for every $1 million spent. This plan will also require bold leadership in order to re-prioritize New York City’s budget.
Who will be in charge of making these decisions? The mayor controls New York City’s streets. Although the main responsibilities of the street fall under the Department of Transportation, there are many agencies with a stake — for example, trash and snow is handled by the Department of Sanitation, and trees are maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Part of our challenge to New York’s next leaders is to establish a centralized way to manage our streets as a system of public space, and to quickly implement and budget for these changes across agencies in a coordinated fashion.
Who will decide what goes in my neighborhood? NYC 25x25 includes a challenge to New York’s next leaders to create meaningful opportunities for community engagement both within and outside of the typical community board approval process. Local community groups and residents should get to decide how space is repurposed on their block, whether it’s a single parking space being converted to a parklet, or the closing of the entire street to cars to create an Open Street. Community engagement will need to fit each individual community, with an eye toward equity and including voices who are usually left out.
Has this worked in other places? Yes. In the last decade, Seattle spent the most per capita of large metro areas on new transit projects and accordingly saw the largest decline in the share of people driving alone to work and the largest drop in car ownership. San Francisco’s pilot of demand-based pricing was such a success that it was made permanent. And Paris’ reclamation of space from cars to people has resulted in a huge increase in cycling over the last year. Six in ten Parisian cyclists today report having never cycled before. When London added over 62 miles of protected bike lanes in less than 12 months, cycling skyrocketed over 200 percent citywide and in some areas over 300 percent.