BY COLIN MIXSON
It’s just like a pedestrian plaza — but with cars!
This Saturday, the city is encouraging locals to step off of the Financial District’s crowded sidewalks and hit the road — along with the ubiquitous Downtown traffic — in a novel event asking cars and pedestrians to co-exist for a day on city streets.
The Department of Transportation’s “Shared Streets” event from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. on Aug. 13 will be a world first for a major city, according to the DOT, and nobody can predict exactly what’s going to happen when people are encouraged to walk in the street while cars are asked to slowly drive around them.
Shared Streets will see a 60-square-block area of Downtown turned into a “suggested” 5-mph zone, with gates to discourage cars, and city workers encouraging drivers who do enter the zone to ease off the pedal. But the city’s 25-mph speed limit will technically still be in effect, so drivers who choose to cruise the pedestrian-clogged streets at normal speed won’t actually be ticketed.
But some locals are optimistic that on Saturday Fidi will resemble a Lower Manhattan of ye olden days, when the street were rife with children playing, neighbors wandering about, and just a few cars driving — slowly.
“When you look at a old pictures of Lower Manhattan, you have kids playing ball in the streets, people milling about and talking, and there were a few cars, but not a lot,” said Patrick Kennell, president of the Financial District Neighborhood Association. “It’s a way of opening up the streets the way they used to be.”
Anybody walking should have a field day, but drivers should expect significant slowdowns in the area, despite Nassau, William, and Fulton Sts. being left as open as traffic corridors, according to the former chair of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee.
“It’s going to cause some inconvenience,” said Ro Sheffe.
But most stakeholders are excited at the prospect of stepping off Fidi’s sidewalks, which are notoriously narrow and congested, and exploring the neighborhood on foot without worrying about speeding cars.
“I think it’s a great way for locals to really get to explore the neighborhood they live in when it’s free from traffic,” said real estate guru Luis Vazquez. “It’s a step forward for the neighborhood to become a truly residential area.”
The city has closed down streets in the past to make way for fairs and other events, but never has it crafted an event that allows for cars, pedestrians and bikers to co-mingle — and never on so grand a scale.
Kennell hopes that, if all goes well Saturday, the city will start instituting similar events more often throughout the Downtown area.
“We have to see how it goes, but it’s possible that if we see good results, we could that one a board with a list of other possibilities, and you do Shared Streets on certain streets on certain days,” he said.