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TA’s “25 x 25” campaign is an inspiring push for people-centered streets

Posted by on March 3rd, 2021 at 1:55 pm

There’s been a lot of talk in Portland in recent years about the need for transportation reform advocates to take a more intersectional, coalition-oriented approach when pushing for big changes.

The NYC 25×25 campaign launched Monday by New York City-based nonprofit Transportation Alternatives looks to have set the standard by which all such efforts will be judged. It’s one of the most bold, exciting, and inclusive advocacy efforts we’ve ever seen.

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The aim is to push New York City’s next mayor and other elected officials to “give streets back to people” by transforming 25% of the space currently used by cars and their drivers into space that’s green, calm, and welcoming for people not using cars. Several things about this campaign strike me as important and worthy of close attention by Portland advocates and leaders.

The Ask

“What if we gave NYC streets back to people?”

“25 X 25” is concise and catchy. It’s also both bold and achievable in the context of what New York City has already done with street space (thanks in large part to former DOT Chief Janette Sadik-Khan). And unlike the typical 20-year horizons of many plans we rally around, this one is due in just four years. That timeframe creates urgency for the media and decision-makers while also lighting a fire under activists who are much more likely to sign up to volunteer for something that’s going to have relatively instant results.

There’s also beauty in asking for 25% of road space. In real terms it’s a ton of square mileage; but in conceptual terms it doesn’t sound like that much at all. It’s harder for haters to say this is a massive, anti-car power-grab, when TA is “only” asking for a quarter of the space.

And notice how they want road space “for the people”? This isn’t about bikers or walkers or bus users: It’s about “the people”. It reminded me of what former mayor of Bogota, Colombia Enrique Penalosa said in 2006, “The essence of the conflict today is cars versus people… We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both.”

I also like how they’ve directed the ask not to “the city” or the transportation department but specifically to the mayor and anyone running for office. TA knows the power is in the politics.

Here’s a snip from their pitch:

“Our current allocation of street space is fundamentally inequitable. Streets cover more than 91 square miles of New York City’s public space. Space for parking and moving cars — which a minority of residents own — represents more than 75 percent of New York City’s current streetscape. The remaining scraps of space are devoted to car-free bus lanes (0.02 percent), bike lanes (0.93 percent), and sidewalks (24 percent). A better future will require a new approach from city officials — one that sees streets as a system of public spaces designed to serve people and breaks from traditional thinking centered on moving and storing cars.

What could be done in a city with 25 percent less space for cars and 25 percent more space for people? Future leaders of New York City could create more than 13 Central Parks worth of new space by 2025.”

The Visuals

(Powerful before/after stills taken from video)

Visuals are everything and TA nailed this campaign with a very catchy video and supporting material. The video is less than one minute and includes powerful text and graphics that illustrate the tremendous potential of the ask.

Where the video is short and sweet, the robust report shared on the campaign website is where the rubber hits the road. TA has compiled “in methodical detail” an exhaustive representation of the problem and many clear examples of how to move forward — all backed up with data and links to sources.

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The Coalition

I saved this for last because it’s so important. TA launched this campaign with a vast coalition that spans across geographic and issue boundaries. They have groups signed onto this vision who represent not just the typical transportation and environmental groups; but folks who care about disability rights, public health, culture and the arts, labor unions, business organizations, political groups, and many others. All told their coalition includes more than 80 local organizations and businesses.

TA’s press release ended by including several pages of quotes from many of the coalition members. I scrolled and scrolled to read them all and I think the lack of brevity on TA’s part was an intentional move to demonstrate just how much support exists for this campaign.

This is such important and quality work from TA and I’m so glad they’re doing it! I hope advocates in Portland (and everywhere else) are inspired by it. I’m sure they won’t mind you stealing some of the ideas and adapting them elsewhere.

Check it out at NYC25x25.org.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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eawriste

One of main reasons why the NYC DOT has been so successful at increasing miles of separated bike lanes and modal share-other than the terrific advocacy by TA and the few council members like Menchaca and Lander-is an adherence to creating space for people despite high traffic counts and high demand for parking. The 14th busway, Jay St busway/PBL, Flushing busway and soon to be separated bikeway on the Brooklyn bridge all took space from places where cars were the only mode or dominant and reduced or completely eliminated car capacity. Could PBoT look at a street which is gridlocked and consider removing cars entirely… or even removing space to include other modes?