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Rethinking Manhattan’s Grid

What do you get when you layer the Barcelona “superblock” and the Dutch woonerf onto Manhattan’s grid? Streets that are for people.
Traffic on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Traffic on 42nd Street in Manhattan.Mary Altaffer/AP

Mobility in New York City is at a tipping point. Average car speeds in the Midtown core have dropped precipitously over the past few years, to a pace barely faster than walking. Streets are crowded with delivery vans, and the number of ride-sharing vehicles has grown disproportionately. The cost of overly congested streets to the city’s economy is estimated to be $20 billion a year.

With the growth of car share, ride share, and bike share, and with driverless cars on the horizon, the number of personal vehicles may wane. But this does not mean that congestion on our streets is decreasing—quite the contrary. In a “tragedy of the commons,” as we find more ways to exploit the space on our streets for vehicles, the urban environment becomes degraded for everyone. Some cities have chosen to manage the use of urban roads with congestion pricing or similar models. A physical redesign would be a bolder, more lasting approach.