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"For much of the 20th century, when the engineers running urban transit authorities thought about traffic, they thought less about the pedestrian experience and more about saving money, by saving time, by speeding movement, by enabling cars. They analyzed traffic flow, the backup of cars, stoplight times and right- and left-hand turns, all in an effort to keep vehicles moving freely and quickly through the city. They ran the data through a program that would spit out a rating (A to F) for the 'level of service'. An 'A' meant that a street was congestion-free, which gave cars the potential to speed; an 'F' meant that it was too congested to be functional. The grade considered ideal for most streets in New York was a 'C'.
The value of speed, for car commuters, was an easy equation for engineers. Zhan Guo, a professor of urban planning and transportation at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service says:
"The assumption is that all travel time is a waste of time. But that rationale doesn’t apply to pedestrians."The worth of the pedestrian experience, so pokey, so subjective, was scarcely considered, partly because it was hard to quantify.
"Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization, recalls that as recently as the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, he and his colleagues regularly heard top Transportation Department officials make references to 'pedestrian interference':
"They saw pedestrians as a nuisance - something that had to be dealt with."No policy better reflected the administration’s regard for pedestrians than the barriers that Giuliani’s police force erected throughout Midtown in 1998 to rein in jaywalkers. The blockades were cumbersome, ugly and pre-emptively punitive. As irritating as they were, or perhaps because they were irritating, pedestrians frequently made a point of finding their way around them."