Clear Majority of New York City Voters Support Removing Car Parking to Build Streets for People
Results are a wake-up call to 2021 candidates: Reimagining streets isn’t just good policy, it’s good politics too.
Taken together, streets are the largest public space in New York City, adding up to an acreage nearly twice the size of the Bronx. More than three-quarters of that streetscape is dedicated to moving and storing vehicles. But for all the space given over to cars, only a minority of New Yorkers own one, and less than one in three trips citywide involve a car. This inequity is stark. The status quo must end.
A new poll, commissioned by Transportation Alternatives and conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, details New York City voters’ wide support for addressing that inequity and converting street space for more safe, equitable, and vibrant neighborhood use. The survey reveals that a majority of voters from households that own cars broadly support many of these street improvements too. With the 2021 elections approach, it’s clear that candidates running with a strong vision to reimagine New York City’s streetscape will have public opinion on their side.
Of the voters polled, 84 percent support creating more space for children to play — including 82 percent of car-owners — even if this means reducing on-street parking. The need for playspace receives near-total support from the communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and seen some of the least infrastructure investment from the city: nine in ten Bronx voters sampled said they supported increasing space to play, as well as 88 percent and 89 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino voters, respectively.
Eighty-three percent of respondents support adding more trees and greenery to the streetscape, even if this removes space currently devoted to free parking. Among Hispanic/Latino voters sampled, this support reaches 87 percent. And New Yorkers want to spend time in this green space — a full three-quarters of those polled support creating more places to sit on the street, even if it results in fewer parking spaces.
Another strong majority of New York voters (85 percent) support more efforts to improve crosswalk safety, even if it would require reducing parking or vehicle space. 74 percent of Staten Island voters indicate their strong support, as well as 77 percent of Black voters. These clear majorities reflect the prevalence of traffic violence in New Yorkers’ lives and the particular danger of intersections, where most crashes fatal to pedestrians and cyclists take place. Small interventions like daylighting intersections — removing parking spots immediately around street corners to increase visibility — and reducing the distances pedestrians are exposed to vehicular traffic while crossing streets are essential to keeping pedestrians safe.
With the recent need for pedestrians to keep distance from each other, there is renewed interest among New Yorkers in creating wider and less-obstructed sidewalks. A total of 58 percent voters support adding wider sidewalks to their neighborhood — even if it results in fewer parking spaces — including more than two-thirds of voters under age 35.
The Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs have also been widely embraced by New Yorkers. More than 60 percent of New York voters, including 76 percent of voters under age 35, 75 percent of Hispanic/Latino voters, and 57 percent of car owners polled, support the expansion of Open Streets in their neighborhood. Another majority, 64 percent of New York voters, consider outdoor seating for restaurants an important use of curb space in their neighborhood. Outdoor dining is the most popular in Manhattan, with support from 78 percent of voters.
As New Yorkers have increasingly come to rely on bikes and buses for transportation, the City’s effort to keep up with demand has fallen short. Now, the verdict is in: more than two-thirds of New York City voters want to see more protected bike lanes in their neighborhoods with clear majorities in every borough. Protected bike lanes are most popular among Hispanic/Latino voters, with 82 percent indicating their support. These lanes, which are separated from car traffic, have been shown to reduce injuries and crashes for all road users, including pedestrians and car passengers.
Creating more protected bus lanes, even at the expense of car parking, also won a clear majority, with 56 percent of New York City voters in favor. This is highest among New Yorkers in the lowest income bracket, with support at 66 percent for those making less than $50,000 in annual household income.
As Citi Bike continues to expand, most New Yorkers polled believe that bike share stations are an important use of space in their neighborhoods. Support reaches 70 percent of voters from households that own a car and 69 percent of voters from households with income less than $50,000 per year, showing the utility of bike share for all New Yorkers.
New Yorkers want their public space to serve community needs, from providing faster and safer transportation options to making space for children to play and neighbors to meet. The desire for converting our streets to a higher use consistently extends to the space that is currently devoted to car movement and storage, rebutting the idea that New Yorkers want parking above all else.
This is a wake-up call to the many candidates vying for office in 2021. The era of the car is over. Public opinion is on the side of reimagining our streets. Now is the time to reapportion street space to build a more equitable, safe, and vibrant New York City.