Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Pedestrianisation" coming to Academy Street in Newark?

Academy Street in Newark, facing south. Pedestrians and bicycles clearly outnumber cars.
Pedestrian zones (also known as auto-free zones and car-free zones) are areas of a city or town reserved for non-motorized use, in which some or all automobile traffic may be prohibited. They are instituted by communities who feel that it is desirable to have pedestrian and bicycle-only areas. Converting a street or an area to such use is sometimes referred to as "pedestrianisation".

The section of Academy Street mentioned is in red. It's an even split between S. Chapel and S. College Ave. Students both cross and travel this corridor in droves. Many drivers try and avoid it at all cost due to bike and foot congestion.

Is Academy Street in Newark (above) one such candidate? According to unnamed sources, the University of Delaware has expressed interest in closing the Courtney Street to Lovett Ave section to automobile through traffic. Too anyone familiar with the area, especially during weekdays, foot and bicycle traffic far outnumber automobiles. Such a plan can greatly enhance safety and actually improve the flow of city traffic, as pioneered by NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan with the closure of Broadway. As per the New York Times, in this article dated Sept. 5, 2010:

The changes - perhaps the swiftest re-engineering of a major New York roadway ever - have made the street [Broadway] more palatable to pedestrians and bicyclists, making it a microcosm of a broader plan by the city to reallocate road space traditionally used by cars. Transportation officials say that accidents have decreased and nearby avenues in Midtown are less backed up.

"It’s like a green ribbon that goes from 59th Street down to 14th Street now," Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said of the new Broadway. "Traffic is better, injuries are way down. We are accommodating thousands of more pedestrians."

Much of the public attention to the changes on Broadway has focused on one element: the pedestrian plazas that banned cars entirely from parts of Times and Herald Squares, creating open-air concrete parks in the center of Manhattan, complete with brightly hued beach furniture.

While Newark is no NYC in terms of size and population, Academy Street is one of roughly 10% of roads in Delaware belonging to a city or township, not DelDOT. Newark is responsible for pave & rehab, line striping, and most other treatments. The surface has fallen into serious disrepair, and gives quite a bumpy ride for students and area bicyclists who've come to rely on it for cross-town transportation.

The bike lane striping and arrow symbols that still exist were actually hand painted by City workers themselves, and are seldom maintained. And with several construction projects going on in the immediate area, it isn't hard to understand the city's reluctance to move on any kind of rehab activity. Trucks and other heavy equipment would surely damage or prematurely wear fresh paint and blacktop. But when these projects are over, it's difficult not to imagine a beautifully re-paved Academy Street with a cycletrack down one side, and the rest teaming with pedestrians who no longer feel threatened by speeding and aggressive drivers.

Will this concept become reality someday in Newark, perhaps on Academy Street? Nobody knows right now, but do drop by for a meeting of the Newark Bicycle Committee on the third Thursday of every month. They need your help, which includes the prioritization of bicycle and pedestrian elements in the city's latest Transportation Plan. Come be a part of these very exciting times for bicycling (and walking) in the City of Newark!

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