Staten Island After Sandy

Though we’re approaching three weeks since Hurricane Sandy slammed into Staten Island, it’s worst effects are still very much with us. Have a look around Cedar Grove in New Dorp Beach. Drop by Midland Ave. Read the Advance, or briefly talk to your neighbor. We all have stories. It’s here right now. The last time the island felt like this was in the days and weeks after 9/11. Panic first, then confusion, then anger. All of it drenched in a strange kind of surreal haze.

Natural disasters don’t happen here. Not in New York city. Not on our isolated little island. On the East Shore, the effects of Hurricane Sandy are  more than mental. Sandy’s destruction is brutally tangible and real. Actual homes full of people, pets, pictures, and stories have been destroyed, gutted, or just washed out to sea. Staten Islanders died here. I don’t think it’s much of a leap to imagine this place never really being the same.

Much will  be written about the causes and effects of Sandy. Climate change, flood zone development, housing regulations. I don’t really want to write about that today. Over the next few weeks I hope to dig into the reasons for Sandy’s outsize impact on Staten Island. It’s impossible to ignore the pattern of development on this island, the spread of high volumes of low density housing to all corners, suitable or not. This is an urban planning problem. Zoning and land use, boring topics as they may be to the vast majority of the population, are the story of this island for the last half century.

For now though, I’d like to focus on a whole other aspect of planning that people tend to forget about in times of calm, only to rediscover in times of crisis. Community. How we decide to build our cities and towns says a heck of a lot about how we want to engage with our friends, families, and fellow citizens. I don’t mean this in a shallow, “cities mean community, suburbs mean isolation” type way. Isolation, I’ve anecdotally gathered, is as possible in Greenwich Village or Tottenville. Engagement is likewise just as possible. And the sort of community involvement, civic interest, and general decency I’ve seen on Staten Island over the past three weeks has been overwhelming.


People here are engaged and keyed into the needs of their neighbors in a way I’ve never really seen before. Communities of all types are snowballing, organizing, and coalescing around organizations that four weeks ago simply didn’t exist. It’s a herculean effort, but it’s actually happening. There is very real regret for what has taken place here, but that regret is being met with a sort of realistic and determined hope. People here know that we will never be able to build the way we built before, but hell if they’re going to let their neighbors suffer in isolation.


I’ll end by highlighting a few resources and organizations that are helping spread the word, maintain enthusiasm, and do real work on the ground.

If you’re a Twitter user, follow these accounts for regular (seriously, they are tweeting constantly) updates on volunteer opportunities, donation drives, direct assistance to those affected, etc:

Visit these sites for updates on relief needs and assistance information:

Occupy Sandy

SI Recovers

Staten Strong

I’ll be back next week to try and make sense of the what and why of Sandy on Staten Island.

Support Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Over the Verrazano. Support the Harbor Ring Project

You started riding on a fall morning in Brooklyn. You gazed across the water at the red brick and overgrown vegetation of Fort Wadsworth. You continued on along the shore, taking in views of Governor’s Island before hopping on to the Manhattan Bridge. You then head south, cycling through Battery Park before heading back uptown along the water. You see the World Trade Center rising from lower Manhattan as you head up along the Hudson River Greenway.

You consider heading back, but decide to catch a ferry and continue on to New Jersey. You enjoy a cup of coffee on your trip across the Hudson to Weehawken before jumping back onto your bike and soldiering back down south along the Hudson River Walkway. A few miles on and you’re passing alongside Ellis Island, stopping a moment to take a picture of Lady Liberty herself from Liberty State Park.

You remember there’s a path over the Bayonne Bridge back into New York, so you head deeper into New Jersey. You arrive at last in Staten Island, passing the docks and shipyards along the water, and meandering through the pastoral oasis of Snug Harbor. From there it’s only a short ride to the Staten Island Ferry. But you aren’t on Staten Island often, and according to that map at the terminal, you can follow Bay Street all the way down to Fort Wadsworth and the Verrazano Bridge.

You discover a less trafficked way along the north shore, passing along mixed use construction at the former Home Port and catching a glimpse of skateboarders heading into 50/50 Skatepark. You’re almost there now, making a mental note of the serene grounds at Alice Austen House. You pass through the gatehouse at Fort Wadsworth and head up to the overlook. Just across the water is where you began. You watch the cars sitting motionless on the Verrazano. Just two miles over the Narrows and you could be home.

But there’s no passing here. Bikes and people aren’t allowed on New York’s most scenic span.

The Verrazano Bridge is the missing link in TA’s Harbor Ring Project.

So you turn around and head back toward the ferry. Along the way you wonder why such a crucial link in New York’s transportation network only accommodates drivers and a $12 toll.

I’ve just described Transportation Alternatives Harbor Ring Project, a 50 mile network of bike friendly streets and multi-use paths that ring New York Harbor. If you have the endurance of our hypothetical rider above, you can take in the sights and sounds of New York’s waterfront areas from south Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan to Liberty State Park in New Jersey, and all the way to the Verrazano Bridge on Staten Island.  The missing link in this plan is the ride across the Narrows. The Verrazano, though conspicuously designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles, is  inaccessible to anyone but cars and drivers.  The Harbor Ring is the first step in bringing Verrazano accessibility to the fore, and completing what should be an unbroken network of multi-use, bike and pedestrian friendly streets.

So if you support greater access for all New Yorkers, enjoy one hell of a view over what once was the longest suspension bridge in the world, or are just fed up with bus fare or extortionate bridge tolls, consider supporting the Harbor Ring Project. Donations will go toward producing a fold out map of the Harbor Ring. While you’re at it, fire off an email to Staten Island’s eminent Borough President, who considers the idea of expanding bicycle and pedestrian accessibility over the Verrazano “absolutely ridiculous.”

Staten Island deserves transportation options and greater accessibility to the other boroughs. A pedestrian and cyclist route across the Narrows should be at the top of the list.

More info about the project:



Harbor Ring

Harbor Ring Donations

Contact Staten Island’s Borough President

Let’s Talk Select Bus Service

If you’ve seen a red painted lane along Hylan Boulevard or Richmond Avenue, and thought “whaaaaaaaa?,” consider this your primer on Select Bus Service. I think it’s going to be great for the island

On September 2, SBS along the S79 route is set to go live. The goal is to improve service and travel times by up to 20% by designating lanes and cutting down on stops. Here’s an overview of the plan:

– The DOT has installed a number of pedestrian refuges along Hylan Boulevard and connecting streets. These refuges will help bus users to cross major intersections by increasing their visibility and protecting them from Staten Island’s many reckless drivers.

-New bus shelters have been installed along Hylan and connecting streets to help both S79 users and connecting riders. These shelters will hopefully increase driver awareness of bus zones and decrease illegal parking. They’ll also function as, you know, shelters. Which is always good.

-Painted red lanes along select parts of Richmond Ave and Hylan Blvd will designate bus lanes. I drive pretty often and have noticed some confusion around these lanes over the past few days. They’re new to SI, so this is expected. Drivers: You can cross the lanes at broken white lines, not at solid white lines.

-Traffic signal priority. Red lights will be delayed for approaching buses. This is one of the hallmarks of SBS, and a huge relief for bus riders boarding at a stop only to be stuck at a red light seconds later. My only concern is that this could reduce predictability for pedestrians. Crossing a street is already an affair at busy intersections.

-Streamlining the S79 route and stop locations. Rerouting with fewer stops will take place at the Eltingville Transit Center and Richmond Ave. Several side streets will be eliminated from the Richmond Ave portion, which could complicate things for riders now requiring a connection.

-Don’t forget the MTA’s Bus Time initiative. This is more an overall improvement for all buses and bus riders on the island, but it’s still critical to decreasing wait times.  A quick check on either your smartphone or dumbphone will tell you precisely where the next bus is. It’s an invaluable resource and most of the time it works really, really well.

-There will be no bus lane enforcement cameras on buses. Expect abuse from parking drivers. Send a letter to your Albany rep to demanding enforcement cameras on buses.

-There will be no off board payment. According to the MTA, ridership is spread out well enough along the route that embarking/disembarking the bus doesn’t add significant delays.

Why is this good for Staten Island?

Our island is sprawling. There’s no other way around it. We have concentrations of commercial and residential activity in older portions of the borough, but shopping centers, strip malls, and single family homes are ubiquitous here. Bus systems in suburban areas are notoriously difficult to deploy and maintain. Staten Island’s public transportation network has suffered significant disinvestment over the past few decades. The bulk of transportation planning has been focused on the comfort and access of drivers, rather than the movement of transit users.

It is refreshing to see a renewed commitment from the DOT and the MTA to improve service in select areas. While the suspension of service of a few local and express bus lines has hurt transit users, focusing on areas of highest ridership is bound to have the highest return on investment.

The S79 travels between the Staten Island Mall and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The Mall is a huge source of employment on Staten Island, and a destination for bus riders and drivers alike. For teenagers who cannot or prefer not to drive, bus access is a lifeline to jobs and shopping. Likewise for the elderly. And for Staten Islanders who do not want to drive or cannot afford a car, good transit access to such a huge commercial hub is absolutely essential.

The S79 also connects to the R  subway stop in Bay Ridge. A bus with decent service and good travel times is the closest we have to an off -borough subway connection. They won’t be lengthening the R under the Narrows, so this will have to do. Many Staten Islanders work in Brooklyn, and many Brooklynites work on Staten Island. SBS will connect people to available jobs faster and more efficiently. For Staten Islanders without easy access to the ferry or the ability to pay for an express bus, the R in Bay Ridge is a major connection to the city. More transit options between boroughs is good for everyone.

From an economic development perspective, inter-borough SBS is great news. Employment has decentralized as NYC’s other four boroughs have increased in size and economic activity. More people connect between boroughs other than Manhattan than ever before. According to a study from the Center for an Urban Future,”in Staten Island, the number of residents who travel to work in their own borough increased by 32 percent between 1990 and 2008; those going to Brooklyn or New Jersey increased by 22 percent; while the number traveling to Manhattan barely changed at all—a four percent increase in those 18 years.”

As the fastest growing of New York City’s five boroughs, and a population larger than many medium sized cities nationwide, Staten Island deserves good transit access and good transportation options. We can’t rely on cars alone. SBS is a step in the right direction.

For more information in SBS:

DOT on S79 SBS

MTA on S79 SBS

For more information on the decentralization of employment in New York City and the need for more and better Bus Rapid Transit:

Center for an Urban Future: Behind the Curb

Great Kills to Fort Wadsworth by Bike, and the Value of Incremental Infrastructure

The Staten Island Advance reports that after years of braving a pockmarked, high traffic Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island cyclists will soon enjoy a fully separate linkage between Miller Field and Great Kills Park. Construction of the path is a joint effort between the National Park Service, which manages Miller Field and Great Kills Park (of which I am an employee), and the City of New York. Both sites are extremely popular with recreational cyclists, and should prove to be a well used piece of cycling infrastructure.

Not mentioned in the SILive article is the ensuing linkage between Fort Wadsworth at the northeastern edge of Staten Island, and Great Kills Park. By August, residents living in the vicinity of Great Kills Park will be able to ride with minimal traffic interference from Great Kills to Miller Field, along the Midland and South Beach Boardwalk before finally terminating at Fort Wadsworth. This relatively small piece of linking infrastructure means fully one half of the island’s East Shore can be safely used by cyclists, runners and walkers.

While I’ve written a bit about island-wide bike facilities geared more toward recreational cycling, the completion of this crucial linkage is doubtless a welcome development for cyclists of all stripes. Yet it also serves to highlight the considerable work that remains to be done. First on the list, a fully separate link should be considered between the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and Fort Wadsworth along or parallel to Bay Street. Bay Street accommodates high numbers of non-recreational cyclists. Real estate development along Bay Street, especially in Stapleton, is sure to increase the number of people cycling along the North Shore.

Yet current cycling infrastructure along Bay St is severely lacking. Sharrows denote the image of space for bikes on the road, but are generally ignored by drivers. Cyclists are often herded to prime “dooring” position along the many rows of parked cars. High speed traffic near the ferry terminal is extremely intimidated for non-vehicular cyclists, and likely convinces many to leave the bike at home for the bus or car.

It is essential that any cycling infrastructure along or parallel to Bay St is well connected with the community.  Current facilities along the East Shore are almost entirely separate from the surrounding neighborhoods. Given the proximity of Rosebank, Clifton, Stapleton and Tompkinsville to the shoreline, greater efforts to connect to these communities should be a part of any effort to extend the shoreline ring-road.

Likewise, given the ideal of island-encircling bike paths, future plans should envision better connected town centers throughout the borough. By connecting short range bike lanes to the larger cycling network, recreational cyclists will be better able to access the shoreline without driving, and functional cyclists (for lack of a better term) will more safely connect to points of interests. It’s one heck of a pipe dream, but given the number of people sure to use these paths, greater support of on-street bike lanes in the future isn’t entirely out of the question.

The Great Kills-Miller Field link is currently 35% complete, and will be handling all manner of cyclists by August.

SI Crosswalks in Need of Improvement

As a new planning student, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of grand comprehensive plans and massive land use overhauls. Staten Island, with its jumble of uses and development patterns, is especially easy to view as a blank canvas for innovative design. Heck, Freshkills Park is an example of this in action. Yet when looking at something like Staten Island’s transportation network it’s probably best to start small. So today, let’s have a look at a few different types of crosswalks on Staten Island and propose some modifications, improvements and alternatives to make them safer for pedestrians.

Crosswalks and intersections are the primary places for car/pedestrian interaction. Drivers, on the lookout for other cars, often glide through or stop in the crosswalk. Pedestrians often find themselves either hidden behind a row of parked cars, or rushing across the street with an impatient driver bearing down on them. It’s a stressful, dangerous, and unfair environment for the pedestrian, and one that could be remedied with better design, better maintenance, and better enforcement.

Residential Street

This type of crosswalk is ubiquitous on Staten Island’s residential streets. A couple of white painted lines, often fading (or invisible altogether) denote the “safe” space for pedestrians to cross. As a long time driver and pedestrian, these lines are often ignored unless there is a pedestrian already in the crosswalk. Drivers yield only at the very last line and glide into the intersection, peak for other cars (while still moving), and when it is safe for them, continue on. Without better enforcement and a higher proportion of pedestrians on our streets, I doubt this will change. But clearly marked crosswalks (with a ladder design or different color paint) could go a long way in distinguishing these spaces as shared, rather than as just part of the road.

Major Intersections

The above crosswalk is at New Dorp Lane and Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island’s most dangerous intersection. In the space of a month, I’ve seen several near misses between drivers and pedestrians. I saw a driver nearly run a woman and a baby carriage down in front of a traffic cop. I saw a driver, impatient behind a waiting car, swerve out of his lane and make a right turn in front of the waiting car and inches from a crossing pedestrian. I saw two cars, both making simultaneous left turns, waiting less than a foot away from a crossing bus commuter, and speeding away once she was just barely clear. This crosswalk is banged up from use, and all but ignored by many drivers. Yet the major problem here comes down to enforcement. Each afternoon rush hour, two traffic enforcement officers manage car traffic and ignore pedestrians at this intersection. It’s a recipe for disaster, and makes for a tremendously stressful and intimidating experience for both drivers and pedestrians.

Parking Adjacent Crosswalks

This crosswalk is adjacent to parked cars, which often obscure the pedestrian from approaching drivers. Many pedestrians  (from casual observation) simply wait for all cars to pass through before attempting the crossing rather than stepping out into the street in order to become visible. A curb extension or “bulb out” could be a huge help here, extending the sidewalk into the street and within site of oncoming cars. In this case, pedestrians have a chance to assume a place in the street from a safe location and have a good view of oncoming automobile traffic.

This bulb out extends past the row of parked cars and makes pedestrians far more visible to drivers.

Crosswalks Near Transit

SIR stations tend to be located in the densest and most pedestrian oriented places in suburban Staten Island. Yet over the years, street culture has diminished, and with it has gone the maintenance of pedestrian infrastructure. This crosswalk sees a high volume of foot traffic with each arriving and departing SIR train, but is in terrible shape. Yet here at least there is a traffic light. Just a block down, an ornamental stop sign is effective in only getting drivers to yield to other drivers. Pedestrians, again, find themselves behind parked cars and invisible to approaching and oblivious car traffic. Bulb outs and hanging yield lights could do a world of good here.

The above are only a small sample of crosswalks in my area, though I would say they are quite typical by island-wide standards. That is to say, they are far below what should be considered acceptable for the primary spaces of driver and pedestrian interaction. The next time you are out and about, either in your car or on foot, have a look at the crosswalks nearby. Are they safe for the unprotected pedestrian, or do they favor the shielded driver? The answer goes a long way in determining the abysmal state of Staten Island transportation planning.

Pedestrian Dead, Sentient Vehicle Responsible: A Rant on Staten Island’s Sorry Transportation Network

On Friday, 5:30 pm a living, breathing human being was struck and killed by what may possibly have been a sentient, driver-less vehicle at the intersection of Richmond Road and Lincoln Avenue.

To reasonable and justice minded Staten Islanders, it is likely the vehicle was not self-aware. It is more likely that there may even have been a driver piloting the vehicle. Though his or her existence cannot be verified by the original source article, the conclusion that there was in fact a person driving the vehicle seems far more likely than the sudden and spontaneous appearance of vehicular artificial intelligence. But why, in the course of this brief, common, and terribly tragic article was there no mention of a driver? Why, when we get behind the wheel, do we cease being people and become remorse-less computers encased in a ton of steel and electronics? Why does that absolve us from common sense, responsibility, and basic human decency?

I have no answer. All I know is that someone who was once alive is now dead. Someone who was defenseless on the unenforced speedways of Staten Island was suddenly and brutally ripped from this world by a driver almost impervious to harm from within the safety of his or her vehicle.

Perhaps I am being too hard on the driver. Perhaps the absolute joke of Staten Island transportation planning and management is to blame. After all, this is an island overrun with vehicular traffic, legal “rights on red”, a multitude of left turn signals, crappy and nonexistent sidewalks, strip malls, parking lots, copious curb cuts, crater-sized potholes, road splitting guardrails, invisible crosswalks, and egregiously apathetic enforcement agencies. No, apathetic is too conciliatory. After years of careful observation and experience, I’m confident in saying that Staten Island traffic enforcement agencies are partners in the regular abuse, dehumanization and humiliation of non-drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

Case in point: It’s 5:30 pm, the heart of rush hour at New Dorp Lane and Hylan Boulevard. Traffic is snarled back to Midland Avenue. Staten Island traffic authorities, seeing this affront to our driving sensibilities, order traffic cops to the intersection to direct traffic and get things flowing. The solution? Ignore existing signals. Disregard the presence of pedestrians. Blind the eyes to walk signals. Get traffic moving at all costs. Away with these silly walking people and just wave the cars on through. Wave them on through the crosswalk. Wave them on through the red turn signal. Just wave them on through. Forget the mom with the stroller waiting at the corner. She doesn’t matter. Forget the commuter disembarking the express bus stranded in the center of the intersection. He can wait. Traffic must move.

I see this happen every single weekday, without fail, and it is a disaster waiting to happen. What is a driver to do? They have the approval of the authorities present and the pedestrian doesn’t. If the driver hits a person, it’s not on them. They had the right of way, even when they didn’t. The cop said it was fine, and so it was fine. No criminality suspected. Just an ok from the guys in charge and a shoulder shrugging acknowledgement of the tragedy of accidents.

If this sounds a bit like a rant, well that’s because it is. Staten Island’s transportation issues are so tied up in confused causes, effects, and correlation paradoxes, that it’s impossible to point to one specific reason for the embarrassing state of our transportation network. Narrowing things down just a bit, I believe the sorry excuse for transportation here is born out of a carefully honed mentality passed down for two generations of eminently entitled Staten Islanders knowing nothing but freely available one-use roadways. This mentality is enforced by restrictive zoning, mandatory parking minimums, a complete lack of commitment to pedestrian infrastructure, and a population of density-detesting, change-averse NIMBYs. The destruction of a local economy centered on neighborhood small business located within concentrated, parking lite town centers followed this abysmal post-Verrazanno urban plan. We became a borough of need it now car commuters and easy parking shoppers, and this island is far worse off for it.

This post has been brewing in me for a while. The brief story of a dead pedestrian killed by a “vehicle” only set it off. We can’t even summon the requisite perspective to demand more than just a couple hundred words on yet another person killed while simply crossing the street. Just a few dozen comments expressing condolences on a message board and not a peep from the NYPD, Borough President’s Office, DOT, or DMV about raising driver standards or instituting mandatory jail-time for reckless driving resulting in the death of a human being. No, not a word on 20 mph zones in residential neighborhoods, or stricter standards for license suspensions. We instinctively put ourselves in the shoes of that poor driver, and routinely ignore the dead pedestrian. Because on Staten Island, the driver belongs and the pedestrian doesn’t.

After all, it’s only an accident.


SI Towns: New Dorp

There is more to Staten Island than a bridge, a ferry terminal, and an endless sea of single family homes. SI Towns is an ongoing series featuring Staten Island’s many historic towns that predated the construction of the Verrazano Bridge. It’s a look at the urban design, economic viability, housing stock, and overall state of the traditional urban enclaves that have (sometimes) resisted the trend toward shopping centers and parking lots.

New Dorp is a good subject for the first in this series if only for its relative success in the shopping center era. New Dorp is home to two high schools, a massive former airfield turned recreation area, a stop on the Staten Island Railway, many attractive mid-century single family homes, and a large assortment of locally owned businesses. It’s also a valuable example in demonstrating just how much public space Staten Island has given over to cars and drivers in recent decades.

I start my walk across from Miller Field, a massive expanse of soccer posts, football fields and baseball diamonds. This used to be an airfield, but is now a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a network of urban national parks stretching from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Gateway was born out of the mid-century call for open spaces in the urban landscape. Today, the park covers a large section of lower New Dorp Lane and is a favorite of organized sports leagues in the warmer months. With the right weather, Miller Field is a vibrant mix of kids, adults, beach chairs, blowing whistles and enough halftime orange slices to stop a bull. Yet in the winter months the space becomes mostly desolate, a problem underscored by the limited uses for the park. This is symptomatic of many public spaces on Staten Island.

Miller Field is a former airfield turned recreational open space

A short walk past New Dorp High School brings us to New Dorp Lane and Hylan Boulevard, the most dangerous intersection on Staten Island. Here, New Dorp Lane becomes a jumble of turning lanes, timed signals, faded crosswalks and inadequate medians. Cars are king here, even if this is also a major intersection for buses and pedestrians. The morning rush hour becomes especially hairy. Pedestrians with the walk signal and the right of way are often stranded in the middle of the crosswalk as a long string of turning cars proceed blindly. In the afternoon rush, traffic cops often wave drivers through reds, easing the crush of vehicles but ignoring pedestrians attempting to cross legally. The standoff ends usually with the pedestrian rushing against a blinking or solid red, risking oncoming traffic to make it to the other side. It makes for a tense, messy, and dangerous scene that should be remedied with better crosswalks, better medians, better law enforcement, and better protection for the most vulnerable road users.

Pictured here on a late Sunday morning, the intersection at New Dorp and Hylan is especially dangerous during rush hours

We’ve made it across Hylan Boulevard unscathed. We are greeted with a stretch of New Dorp Lane roughly a mile long. New Dorp is home to a wide assortment of restaurants (French, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, American, Italian), clothing stores, jewelry stores, furniture stores, hair salons, a cafe, a barber shop, gift shops, a bakery, at least two banks, a shoe repair shop, a comic book store, a church, one of Staten Island’s best libraries, and many, many bridal shops. Nearly all of these (besides the library and a smattering of fast food places) are locally owned. Parking is often a problem, which is why the area could benefit from added density. Few of these building are mixed use, turning this into more of a commercial and retail destination for people to shuttle to and from rather than a living, breathing town. Parking is mostly on-street, though there is a modestly sized municipal lot further up the lane.

Much of New Dorp Lane is single story and dominated by on street parking.

Vacancies in New Dorp are unfortunately common. It’s tough to pin down why some stores here struggle and others seem to be so successful. I would point to the lack of a significant sidewalk culture in New Dorp, a major problem for many of Staten Island’s towns. It’s easier for people to drive to a shopping center and park in a lot than it is to hunt for parking on a busy two lane street.  Were there more people living on New Dorp Lane, perhaps we would see the development of more attractive streetscape.

There are many vacancies along New Dorp Lane and in the surrounding area

It’s a cliché by now, but there is a reason the walkable town is once again popular. I enjoy seeing others on the street. I like a well designed storefront, an inviting window, and a sidewalk eating space. I suspect others like these things too. They are designed to attract the eye of the pedestrian. With most customers arriving by car, the purpose of the attractive sidewalk is mostly lost. I don’t say this to draw a line between drivers and pedestrians. On Staten Island, they are often one and the same. The goal however should be to attract a critical mass of people that value pedestrian friendly environments.

We’ve made our way up New Dorp Lane and have arrived at the SIR stop. There are no photos here of the state of this specific stop, but it, like many others on Staten Island is in dire need of remodeling. SIR stops often receive a new coat of paint every few months or so, but this doesn’t go far enough. The stations serve their purpose well enough, but I can’t shake the feeling that standards for station upkeep should be improved. The SIR is part of the MTA and on paper is fully integrated into the city’s subway system. Yet it would be interesting to see some classic styling integrated into each station, echoing the glory days of the SIRT (Staten Island Rapid Transit), a pre-Verrazano system with three fully functioning railway lines. It’s a vain hope for the future, but an attractive station could go a long way in improving the lives of commuters and other users.

A view from the outside of New Dorp's SIR stop

Like many other towns on Staten Island, density increases in the areas immediately surrounding the train stations. People lived near stops because it made sense for transportation to be accessible. It seems quaint in a car-dependent borough, but it is still the norm throughout much of New York City. Yet here, just like the rest of New Dorp, is often a frustrating experience for the pedestrian. I stood at a crosswalk while three cars slowed at the stop sign, briefly checked for oncoming cars and then glided on through oblivious to my existence. Eventually, I made my way into the street, exposed but visible and the long string of cars yielded (but never fully stopped). Again, this is the norm here, not the exception. I am guilty of it, as are most drivers on Staten Island (and likely elsewhere as well). There are some practical improvements that can be made. At select, heavily trafficked corners with a crosswalk, the city should consider allowing the sidewalk to just out into the intersection . This will make the pedestrian far more visible to drivers and cyclists by placing him or her safely in full view and out from behind parked cars along the curb. These were installed in Newark, Delaware while I was a student there, and they immeasurably improved the pedestrian experience. Also, more clearly marked crosswalks, perhaps of an altogether different color or material could help to distinguish between the roadway and shared space.

Pedestrians are often hidden behind parked cars along the curb at crosswalks like these. Drivers rarely come to a complete stop.

At this point I began to head back, though not the way I came. Along New Dorp’s sidestreets are many attractive single family homes. They are of an older, less mass produced vintage than many other Staten Island homes, and it shows. I have nothing against single family homes. In the right places they work well. New Dorp is one of those places. Contrary to much of what I write here, I prefer the town experience to that of the big city. A street like this harkens back to a time on Staten Island before large scale subdivisions and identical rows of semi-attached, poorly made duplexes. I genuinely enjoy this part of town and the many others like it all throughout Staten Island.

New Dorp is surrounded by attractive sidestreets just off the main retail strip.
And yet at its end is Hylan Boulevard, an impassable median, and heading north and south, shopping center after shopping center. It’s dismaying to see what was once a place for people turned over so willingly to chain stores and cars. This is true of much of the island. As the rest of the city (and country) reevaluates the affect of sprawl and the dubious benefits of shopping complexes, Staten Island seems stuck in a middle ground. Stubbornly pushing on with the impersonal, embracing the status quo, while simultaneously dismissing attempts to embrace a more vibrant future for people and places. Yet if there is to be some kind of local renaissance, it is towns like New Dorp that stand to benefit most.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.