Friday, January 17, 2014

Complete Streets - Herald Square, New York 1910 edition

Interesting image here via The Project For Public Spaces. 'Complete Streets' is one of the biggest issues facing Princeton and PBAC in 2014. Briefly, the idea behind Complete Streets is that roads are designed for all users, regardless of age or background or ability level or chosen mode of transportation. 

Princeton has adopted a Complete Streets policy and it is central to the Circulation Element of the Municipal Masterplan. But the town lacks a Complete Streets Implementation Plan. Developing a Complete Streets Implementation Plan is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing bicycle and pedestrian advocates in Princeton in 2014. What form will Complete Streets take in Princeton?

If we look at this picture of New York's Herald Square in 1910, we see something that could be argued to be a form of a 'complete street'. The street is being shared by users of all different modes. Women in hats stride across the street past horse-and buggies (horses-and-buggies?). Clearly the horse-and-buggy was still popular in New York in 1910. In fact some form of horse-and-buggy was the state of the art for in-town transportation from Ancient Rome all the way through to about 1910. But here we see two new forms of transport: the trolleybus and the automobile. The 'horseless carriage' is outnumbered in 1910, but as we know, it soon came to dominate streets and roads all across the country.

It's remarkable how the street is used in a completely different way in 1910. Two gentlemen appear to be stood having a conversation- right in the middle of the road! Clearly they feel no threat from motor vehicles, and such behavior is seen as normal. It would be unthinkable nowadays. It's also worth considering that although there are few cars, this road is carrying a huge number of people. Aside from the throngs of walkers, each trolleybus appears packed with people. One trolleybus can carry the equivalent of 60 single-passenger vehicles, freeing up road space and reducing traffic. This 1910 road is carrying as much if not more traffic than a situation where the road is given over primarily to cars.

Returning to a 1910-style use of our roads is not the objective of Complete Streets, but it's worth remembering that our roads were not always the exclusive domain of cars. Although car use increases freedom for personal transportation, it has also brings challenges to the ability of other users to make safe use of public space.

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