This Is What New York City Would Look Like If Cars Were Banned

updated Jul 14, 2020
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Credit: Olivia Maccioni (PAU)

The coronavirus pandemic has caused citizens of the world to rethink everything about our daily lives pre-pandemic. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store come with big risks, and common greetings like handshakes, hugs, and kisses are completely off the table. But the pandemic has also given us the opportunity to come back better than before. Architect and urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti and his firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) believe that taking cars off the streets of Manhattan is a necessary step toward that better future.

Credit: Olivia Maccioni (PAU)

In conjunction with Farhad Manjoo and the New York Times’ Op Ed desk, Chakrabarti’s PAU came up with a plan to reduce car reliance upon New York City’s full reopening post-pandemic. The proposal, called “N.Y.C. (Not Your Car),” calls for the banishment of private vehicles from Manhattan in order to give city space back to the people, an idea that Chakrabarti calls “street equity.”

In doing so, New York City could replace street parking zones with expanded sidewalks and crosswalks, and two-way bike lanes, protected by concrete barriers, would be installed in existing car lanes. The plan also postulates that designated bus lanes, free of car traffic, would massively relieve subway congestion. 

Credit: Olivia Maccioni (PAU)
Credit: Olivia Maccioni (PAU)

PAU also redesigned the Manhattan Bridge, which currently has seven car lanes, so that four lanes would be bus-only and three lanes would be for taxis and rideshare cars, with the middle lane switching direction depending on demand. The Manhattan bridge would also feature paths for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Fewer cars mean less air pollution (PAU posits that Not Your Car would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent in Manhattan), fewer vehicular homicides and accidents, and upward of 30 percent more space for New Yorkers—85 percent of whom do not own cars—to safely and happily exist in. 

“The land value of Manhattan alone is estimated to top $1.7 trillion,” Manjoo writes in his OpEd piece. “Why are we giving so much of it to cars?”

Credit: Olivia Maccioni (PAU)

Furthermore, taking the majority of cars off the road in a place like New York City makes space for potential new housing developments, crucial for quelling the housing crisis, and green areas like parks and pedestrian promenades that can feature art, curbside vendors, and allocated gathering spaces.

“We believe such a change would usher forward a vastly more equitable, ecological, and enjoyable city that would recover faster from its current economic and inequity crises because as our proposal illustrates, our streets would engender fairer health outcomes, better climate resilience, responsible waste management, and faster, more pleasant commutes for essential workers who today must compete for invaluable space on our clogged regional arterials with those wealthy enough to drive into and within Manhattan,” PAU writes in its proposal.

PAU says their plan would reduce Manhattan traffic by about 60 percent, and the ban on private vehicles would have rippling effects on neighborhoods outside the city as air pollution levels would drop significantly in the Bronx and Queens. And if New York City executed this plan effectively, Not Your Car could become a norm in congested cities across America (and even the world).