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The Strike’s Upside: Advantages of the HOV-4 Rule

The transit strike offers a unique opportunity to use the city as a lab for urban transportation experiments. Ideas that might otherwise be dismissed as unworkable, such as mandating that cars have four occupants before they enter Manhattan, and closing off avenues for emergency vehicle access, become necessities. What’s interesting to observe is that these ideas are working so well there is no reason not to keep them in place after the strike is over.

In fact, refining these ideas and implementing others that re-balance the use of the public space we call streets away from private automobile could very well be the legacy opportunity that the Bloomberg administration is searching for.

While we’ve all heard the stories of the hardship this strike is causing, it’s a little surprising to hear about the people who are enjoying their commute and are wondering what it would take so that they could continue to commute like this every day.

Paul Keegan, 47, who lives in Astoria and works in the Flatiron district, is one of these people. His usual commute is a 40-minute subway ride into Manhattan. Yesterday, Mr. Keegan glided to work on his rollerblades in the same amount of time it takes him to get to Manhattan by train, and he experienced “the best commute I’ve ever had.”

According to Mr. Keegan, “This is not a mode of transportation I can normally take because usually I feel that I’m taking my life in my hands and arrive at my office a nervous wreck. If they would keep Fifth Avenue blocked off on a regular basis, I’d commute this way nearly every day, even in winter.”

Adam Brown, 27, who lives in Brooklyn and works as a bicycle messenger for Mothers Messengers, felt that his job was easier and safer with some of the avenues closed to cars and no vehicles double-parked in the bike lanes as they normally do.

Sounding more like a visionary than a guy who delivers packages by bike for a living, Mr. Brown said, “This city could be so amazing if there was an infrastructure where you could ride safely. People can’t be expecting to drive SUVs into the city anymore. Just imagine Fifth Avenue today, every day. It’s a necessity for the future.”

Mr. Brown is right. It’s not practical for single occupancy drivers to drive into Manhattan. And because this strike is teaching us that we are dependent on mass transit, not cars, to travel in and around Gotham, we now have the freedom to rethink our outmoded policies of giving every inch of public space for the exclusive use of private automobiles.

We have learned in three short days that we can re-allocate space to encourage what is now considered alternative means of transportation on an ongoing basis. Mandating four people per car is a good first step at reducing pollution and traffic and is reason enough to keep this policy in place.

Where it gets interesting is when we marry the high-occupancy vehicle requirement to the Internet and cell phones, creating an ongoing, citywide, dynamic ride-sharing program where people can easily find other people going to the same location, thus mitigating millions of urban automobile trips. With the rise of on-line social networks, this is a natural fit for new technology and one that a mayor who has made billions on understanding technology could implement.

And while it may not be practical to close all of Fifth Avenue to cars every day, it is certainly practical to reserve a lane on every avenue for emergency vehicles. When not being used by emergency vehicles – which is most of the time, this space could be safely used by people cycling, rollerblading, or riding Segways. With the allocation of just one lane on every avenue, we could reduce emergency vehicle response times and also offer the needed space to move around this city safely and efficiently using human or electric power.

Mr. Keegan summed it better then I ever could when he said, “After going through this experience, the city’s powers-that-be might realize that there are millions of other non-activists like me who would take advantage of some kind of re-alignment of the traffic patterns that allowed us to get to work by bike, roller blade, etc., on a regular basis. What a progressive city New York would be then – a real model for others.”

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  • Driver can not see kids standing in front of car.
    Driver can not see kids standing in front of car.
  • No accommodation for pedestrian during sidewalk construction
    No accommodation for pedestrian during sidewalk construction
  • Improperly placed and maintained signs sends the wrong message to drivers.
    Improperly placed and maintained signs sends the wrong message to drivers.