Month: June 2009


Carfree weekends are yours for the taking

Cap’n Transit has a post about encouraging New Yorkers to do their weekend getaways without cars. To build on that, I wanted to write a bit about what that might look like.

Imagine getting on a train on a Friday afternoon in Manhattan. Maybe the rush hour at Penn Station is a little stressful, but once you’re settled in you chat with your friends and maybe break open your beach reading. A few hours later you step off the train into the main square of a small town by the beach. After a short walk you check into your hotel. The hotel is a few blocks from the beach, and in the other direction there’s a commercial strip with bars and restaurants. In between is a quaint street with antique stores and a place where you can buy that towel you forgot to bring. There’s also a friendly eatery that serves waffles in the morning and ice cream in the evening. On Sunday afternoon, tanned and relaxed, you wait for the train back to the city.

If beaches aren’t your thing, imagine that instead you and your family boarded a bus for the Catskills. After a nap on the bus, you wake up just before it pulls in to the village green of a picturesque town. You retrieve your bags from under the bus, and roll them a few blocks to your country home, stopping at the village market to pick up a bag of groceries for the weekend. The next day you and the family ride your bikes to eat pancakes in the next village, and you watch the kids play on the school playground while your spouse browses the used books at the library fair. Sunday morning you have a little time to rent a kayak and take it out on the lake, and then you catch a bus home.

These kinds of weekends are not just possible, but they happen – every weekend, hundreds of people are getting out of the city car-free. I’ve done it myself, dozens of times. Nevertheless, it seems to be an article of faith among some New Yorkers that it’s impossible to leave the city without a car. Several times on Streetsblog, I’ve come across people who act like they’re pulling out a trump card: “Okay, maybe you can take the train to work, but let’s see you take it to the beach!”

In response, I’ve posted links to two books of weekend getaways: Heavenly Weekends and Frommer’s Great Escapes From NYC Without Wheels. (The title of the second may be misleading: I’m pretty sure that all the trips involve wheels, but you do not have to actually own or rent any of those wheels.) If you like to hike, Day Walker is a guide to day hikes in the area that tries to provide good transit directions to the trailheads.

It’s true that you can go a lot more places if you have a car; there are some places that just don’t have any bus or train access. I think we should work on making more of those places convenient to get to – and around – by transit, but my main point is that large numbers of weekend trips that are currently done by car could be done just as easily by transit. As the Cap’n says, if we could even get ten percent of the cars – 170,000 – registered in New York off the streets, we’d see a dramatic improvement in the street life.


Report from the BRT Workshop

The BRT Workshop went well. Our table seemed generally supportive of the various improvements proposed, and we specifically focused on Queens Boulevard for BRT treatment.

Some of the other participants were interested in my Kew Gardens transfer proposal. I was able to chat with Queens Transportation Commissioner McCarthy, and she told me that the bus stop was closed because three people had died there (presumably being hit by cars).

I acknowledged that safety should be our primary concern, but suggested that if the will is there to reserve the curbside lane for buses with physical barricades, that would eliminate a lot of the potential safety hazards. She seemed interested, but with the DOT you can never tell.