Safe streets don’t only protect pedestrians from traffic violence. They focus on the daily experiences of children, older adults, Black and brown people, and people with disabilities who are often at higher risk in the public Right of Way.
As Open Restaurants blossomed in the summer of 2020, sidewalks and parking spaces transformed into new space for dining and gathering safely. But structures and seating arrangements that now claim the roadway have also created a new maze of obstacles that add to the challenges that New Yorkers with disabilities already face in public space.
For centuries, cities have been designed for able-bodied people. Historically, the lack of genuine inclusive community engagement in design has resulted in a built environment that is inaccessible and unwelcoming to many. And now, as New Yorkers navigate an increasingly complex roadway, we are seeing the ways that our streets are becoming even more inhospitable.
Our vision for Care Streets centers safety, care, and healing for New Yorkers of all ages, races, and abilities. Care Streets should cater to the needs and priorities of people with disabilities from early on in the design process, broadening our definitions of accessibility beyond provisions for people with physical impairments to include mental health (like neurodiverse New Yorkers). The Right of Way should be designed by and for the New Yorkers that use it. Care Streets are flexible and provide a variety of essential amenities, from shade, quiet areas and seating, to basic utilities like drinking water, wifi, and charging power. They are maintained and cared for with community members, supporting better mobility, cleaner streets, and safer neighborhoods.
1. Fund long-term, ongoing and inclusive engagement for street design.
Our street design processes should be inclusive of those who may not be design- or policy-fluent, or tech-savvy. By 2030, the City should leverage funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – following the example of the Kresge Foundation – to support community-led visioning and engagement processes for streetscape transformation projects and programming.
2. Transform streets adjacent to NYCHA campuses.
Drawing on principles laid out in NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA)’s Connected Communities Guidebook, DOT could partner with NYCHA, NYC DOT could partner with NYCHA to create shared and pedestrianized streets adjacent to campuses that would support increased physical activity, reduce speeding, and enhance social connectivity.
3. Strengthen focus on accessibility of the streetscape.
While some new uses of street and sidewalk space have increased accessibility, others have made the public realm less accessible to New Yorkers with disabilities. NYC DOT could work with the Mayor’s Office of Persons with Disabilities (MOPD), DOHMH, and others to incorporate new guidelines for accessibility of the streetscape in the existing Street Design Manual.
In 2023, DOT could work with DCP to broaden and adapt the use of the guidelines for POPs to account for public amenity zones in the street.
4. Widen the definition of accessibility to include mental health.
The current regulations for accessibility only include accommodations for physical accessibility. By 2030, the City could include design for mental health in an updated version of the Street Design Manual and as a new design consideration in DDC’s Project Excellence Principles.
5. Make bold moves for public infrastructure in the streets.
Many streets lack critical infrastructure for people. Partnering with utility companies and City agencies like DEP and DOT could invest in public amenities like water fountains and access to free wifi in a new toolkit of streetscape improvements.
6. Develop permanent and accessible bathrooms for all New Yorkers.
As of 2019, there were only 1,103 public bathrooms around New York City, with only two open 24/7 . By 2030, the City could develop public-private partnerships and incentives to fund and maintain staffed public bathrooms. The City could subsidize conversion of ground floor vacant retail space, creating jobs and a source of income for building owners.
7. Design multi-use street furniture.
Streets and public spaces are becoming clogged with many one-use items. As new uses from 2020 and beyond become clear, the City could invest in furniture and safety infrastructure that can serve multiple functions and time scales, and house them in a new toolkit of street amenities.
8. Prioritize safety for vulnerable populations.
2021 was the deadliest year of Vision Zero, with record levels of traffic violence killing 273 people in New York City alone. By 2030, the City should expand traffic calming strategies like chicanes, bumpouts, raised crosswalks, and expanded public space that prioritize pedestrian safety and clarify visibility for drivers. The City should prioritize these projects near schools and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, learning from interventions like “We Protect Schools” in Barcelona.
9. Invest in community-led street safety initiatives.
Many challenges such as substance abuse and mental health crises often play out on our streets, and too often fall to police by default. As an alternative, the City could realize a holistic plan to invest in community-led safety initiatives by 2030, equipping community organizations with crisis response teams that include mental healthcare professionals.
10. Fund community groups to increase local street stewardship.
By 2030, the City could increase funding for community stewardship programs, prioritizing resources to smaller outer borough BIDs, block associations, and other community groups to better manage on-the-ground maintenance in pedestrian-focused spaces.