Roosevelt Island’s Main Street is drearier than it should be or was originally envisioned. It discourages strollers, and people casually meeting people. Free Red Buses usher potential friends and customers past. Car-free weekends can help by relaxing car and truck congestion and inviting customers to local businesses. It’s safer too. And that’s just the start.
by David Stone
At its roots, Roosevelt Island‘s Main Street is an invitation to community, to families and humanly-dimensioned lifestyles. The brutalist architecture making up the Main Street canyon puts the emphasis inside – where people do most of their living – not on external ornaments.
It reflects the community that was first intended – living differently than hyper-jammed Manhattan, boosting diversity through income integration – and it worked. At first, it did, but it doesn’t now.
A more compact community connected. People got to know each other in a slowed-down mini-city.
Main Street’s been stretched, and while the new avenues corrected some mistakes, the extensions abandoned core values. Roosevelt Island came to life committed to extreme limits on cars and trucks. The founders knew the disadvantages from seeing what traffic did to Manhattan and how it depressed the quality of life across the river.
Conventional demands diluted the values of an unconventional Island community. Suddenly, we had extensive parking spaces, out-of-proportion buses and people struck by, even killed in collisions.
Car-free weekends can help by reestablishing at least some of Main Street’s earliest values.
Car-Free Weekends on Main Street
Why not shut cars, trucks and all other powered vehicles out of Main Street, from the Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix south, every weekend? It’s not radical. Cities and towns do similar all over the world.
In recent years, car-free zones have become increasingly popular. The benefits of these zones are numerous, and they have had a positive impact on urban conditions in a variety of ways.
For one thing, car-free zones reduce traffic congestion and pollution. They provide pedestrians with a safe and enjoyable place to walk and explore.
And car-free zones also create a more community-oriented atmosphere, fostering a sense of connection among residents. As car-free zones continue to spread, it is likely that their positive effects will only multiply.
Indeed, they offer an innovative and effective solution to some of the most pressing problems facing cities today. Roosevelt Island may be a microcosm, but it still can have impact, especially locally.
The biggest, most glaring issues with car-free weekends are the inconvenience caused for deliveries and people who have become car-dependent. We believe those can easily be solved.
But a more significant concern is enforcement. We already know that RIOC’s Public Safety Department can’t handle bikes. So, how can we expect them to handle trucks and cars?
That’s big, but let’s handle the reasonable issues first.
Scheduling deliveries for weekdays resolves one problem swiftly. Move-outs and move-ins can also stick with Monday through Friday limits. But also limiting the care-free weekends with restricted hours is possible.
Say, some traffic is allowed before 8:00 a.m. and after 10:00 p.m. Maybe Sunday hours end even earlier as folks return from weekend trips.
Buses? Is there any sensible argument for Red Buses and city buses duplicating routes and barely half-full at best? Surely, the combined brain trusts at RIOC and the MTA can cobble together a solution for limiting routes. And what’s the harm if more healthy people walk?
The Trouble with Public Safety
People will not relax on a car-free weekend on Main Street until they’re confident about how Public Safety enforces the rules. As it stands nowadays, few – including PSOs – know what the rules are, let alone enforce them.
Any casual observer can catch scooters and e-bikes racing through the canyon and beyond, ignoring stop signs, crosswalks and speed limits, often with uniformed officers idling nearby. The Daily could do an article every week based on complaints from readers nearly hit by cars and speeding bikes.
But those things must be addressed with or without car-free weekends. If current management isn’t up to the simplest responsibilities in public safety, then Governor Hochul must bring in new blood. Period.