I spent last weekend in New York. This trip, my first to Manhattan since the pandemic began, was not a political statement. It was planned long before the governor of Florida and the mayor of New York embarked on the latest back-and-forth between two places with a long history built around common threads of transplants and tourism.
On the way home, my wife Toni asked: What was your favorite part of the weekend?
I thought about that. We crammed a lot into 48 hours with friends. We sat at the Comedy Cellar one night and at a century-old jazz bar the next. We went inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral as it was getting ready for Easter. We walked the Met. We ate everything from old fashioned slice pizza to modern middle eastern.
But my favorite part of the weekend wasn’t spent inside one of the more than a million buildings crammed into less than 23 square miles.
It was walking in New York, marveling at how many other people were walking, running, biking, rollerblading and all sorts of other outdoor activities – and, especially on this trip, thinking about how it’s not just a matter of population density and chance.
The most obvious example is Central Park and all that made it what it is today – the initial preservation of valuable land for public use, design, programming, maintenance.
But it’s more than Central Park or something like the High Line, the hugely popular public park built on what was once an elevated freight rail line. It’s also the Hudson River Greenway, once an underused part of New York’s waterfront. In addition to parks and places to relax or eat, the greenway includes an 18 km cycle route with dedicated paths.
One side of this path is just yards from all the craziness of New York traffic. But there is a physical barrier between people and vehicles, which I’m sure is part of why the path was filled with a wide range of people, including families and children.
And it’s not just this piece of Manhattan on this day. An article in The New York Times over the weekend had this statistic: The city’s bike-sharing program, City Bike, logged nearly 28 million rides last year.
A green bike path in San Marco is good, but it needs more
All of this made me think not only of the plans for public spaces on our shores – and the importance of making them happen – but also of the less glitzy things you can do to make it easier and safer to walk or by bike. ride. (An activity that often leads to more than a walk or bike ride.)
It made me think of something new in San Marco: a green bike path.
About two-thirds of a mile of the bike path on St. Augustine Road was recently painted bright green.
Council Member LeAnna Cumber lobbied for this pilot project in her district to improve a city that consistently ranks among America’s most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.
I will applaud him for that. The green bike path appears visually. It is a relatively cheap and simple improvement. We should do more of this.
That said, I’m afraid we’re no longer aiming for that, instead making much more impactful changes. Because, well, that’s what we do with so many things.
As for walking and cycling, I’ve done a lot of both, but I’m not an expert on infrastructure that works. I know someone who is, though – my good friend Chris Burns.
As head of the Jacksonville Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, lawyer, and avid cyclist, Chris has devoted a great deal of time and energy to studying issues related to the bike-pedestr. When I asked him about the green bike path, he had a similar reaction.
“In Jacksonville, we always had just a white line painted on the side of a road,” he said. “The green paint is an improvement. It draws attention more clearly to the fact that there is a cycle path. But it’s still not optimal. Optimal is a protected bike path.”
He emphasized the word “protected,” saying these bike lanes include some kind of physical separation from traffic. It can take many forms. Curbs, plantings, bollards (short posts) and more. But it’s more than paint.
I would say that’s more what New York has done. But in some ways, New York is a bad example. It’s such a unique place. We are not New York. We don’t want to be New York (although there are things to admire about that).
Beyond that, it’s not just a New York thing, driven only by this size and density. There are cities much more similar to Jacksonville that have made their public spaces, from parks to trails, much more of a priority. And in doing so, they have improved the quality of life for residents and, in doing so, attracted people and businesses.
It will be interesting to see what kind of vision our mayoral candidates have for the future of Jacksonville.
Will they, metaphorically speaking, paint some cycle paths green? Or will they pave the way for more dramatic improvements?
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