On a brief visit to New York last week, we went to two museum exhibits: one on Camille Pissarro the Impressionist painter, and one on the late 19th century case of Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer whose false conviction on charges of treason exposed widespread antisemitism, and split, among many other parts of French society, the impressionist movement. We went to an Off-Off-Broadway play, ate very well, and, thanks to a decision to stay in Weehawken New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, we got in several ferry rides on the Hudson River.
Anyone visiting a big, impressive city such as New York risks falling victim to the allure of the new. The magnificent classical public architecture, the Beaux-Arts mosaics announcing the station names in the New York Subway, can provoke an awe that makes us forget the spare elegance of Toronto's modernist design.
But some of New York's recent improvements to its public spaces provide models that Toronto ought to consider. For example, consider the dog park at Chelsea Piers. I have no doubt that New York has its share of conflicts between dog owners and parents, just as Toronto (all too often) has had. And one small dog park will hardly suffice for the exercise need of the huge number of dogs in New York. However, the designers of this dog park have taken a small space and transformed it into an interesting, even delightful way for New Yorkers to exercise their dogs. Nor should parents feel left out; close beside the dog park, a small but beautiful and imaginative little park serves the children in that part of New York.
Or consider the bicycle path that runs beside the West Side Highway: Toronto's waterfront bicycle path runs through a prettier setting, but the path in New York has more room, better markings, and bollards less likely to injure a cyclist at night. These details make the bike path safer and easier to navigate, and thus appealing, despite its location between two concrete walls that separate it from a busy highway to the east, and the Hudson River Piers to the East.
Bicycle paths on at least some New York streets and avenues have more space and better separation from the motorized vehicle lanes. Unfortunately, cars still get in and block the lane, but the space marked off around the bike path and the poles installed discourage traffic from getting into the lane, and make cars less likely to block the lane when they do.
I don't view New York as a model for Toronto, but certainly we should consider the things the New York city government gets right. And when it comes to amenities for cyclists and pedestrians, New York clearly gets a lot of things right.