Car-free streets on Saturday

August 9, 2008 6:46:56 PM PDT
In Paris, they call it La Plage, or the beach. And in Bogota, Colombia, it's Ciclovia, or bikeway. For six hours Saturday in New York, it was called Summer Streets: Nearly seven miles of Manhattan that were stripped of traffic, creating a weekend playground for bikers, walkers and loungers.

"Bellissimo!" declared Antonio de Lucia, a tourist from Caserta, Italy, who read about the event and decided to walk about three miles from his Chinatown hotel to a friend's Times Square restaurant - with more than 90 pounds of luggage. An hour into his hike, he was smiling as he sauntered up a stretch of Park Avenue awash in cyclists, pedestrians and in-line skaters. One man on a bicycle swooped down a sloped section of the avenue yelling "whee!" at full voice.

"It's a moment of truth for this city. People are participating - New Yorkers are united with their city," said de Lucia, a 29-year-old business consultant.

Bike-loving celebrities Lance Armstrong and David Byrne are helping Mayor Michael Bloomberg launch the experiment. It emulates similar initiatives in cities around the world in aiming to create a livable, ecologically gentle urban environment.

The 6.9-mile, car-free route started at the Brooklyn Bridge and ended to the north at East 72nd Street, with links to Central Park and other open spaces. It included stretches of Park and Lexington avenues and is set to be repeated for the next two Saturdays, starting at 7 a.m.

The idea is simple, in the words of the city's official Web site: "Play. Run. Walk. Bike. Breathe."

Bloomberg says the event will become more regular if the trial draws enough people to the street fun while not irking too many vehicle-linked businesses.

Saturday's inaugural Summer Streets was a boost for some enterprises, like Eneslow Foot Comfort Center. It had a display of comfort shoes outside on Park Avenue and offered free foot analyses for fitting - doubling its business, manager Warren Person said.

But no cars meant slow traffic at Roman's barber shop, owner Roman Ibragimov said. The shop, off Park Avenue, generally draws a lot of business when taxis and other motorists are not barred from the neighborhood, he said.

Ibragimov had only one customer at midday Saturday, leaving him dismayed at the prospect of future Summer Streets events.

"But this is impossible! It's no good," he exclaimed.

Bloomberg, however, said in June that he hoped the experiment "will become as much a part of the New York experience as strolling the Coney Island boardwalk, participating in the five-borough bike tour, or listening to the Philharmonic in the park."

Fitness, dance and yoga classes were offered at a central stage along the route, with additional exercise and health activities hosted by community groups at certain cross streets. Bike rental facilities were available along the route, including learn-to-ride lessons for adults.

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ON THE NET:

Summer Streets website

The Route http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/summerstreets/html/route/route.shtml

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