Client: NYC Department of Transport
Location: New York City, USA
Project timeline: 1999 – 2004
Services provided: Consulting, project management, transport planning
The Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project was about getting residents and city agencies to co-operate. But nobody knew. A story of reframing.

What was intended as a small project to remove traffic from downtown Brooklyn roads, became a watershed project that is acknowledged as the foundation of the urban renaissance seen in New York over the last 15 years.

Andrew Wisdom led a team that showed NYCDOT and the downtown Brooklyn local community that streets are for more than cars, and a lot of benefits could be achieved if they worked together.

As Project Manager, Andrew achieved co-operation between NYCDOT, the Brooklyn Borough President’s office and the community, through creating a shared understanding of streets as public space rather than simply a means of carrying cars.

He also responded to the terms of the project’s brief by delivering a major study of traffic conditions in Downtown Brooklyn and developing an innovative street classification framework to better match street management needs. He also formulated an innovative approach to implementing traffic calming devices for this landmark job, which combined education, community outreach and traffic management elements.

More insights from Andrew.

“Downtown Brooklyn has for many years acted as a vast corridor for drivers commuting to Manhattan by car – streets were choked most of the day, with drivers desperately trying to find some way through the traffic. With angry residents and officials at gridlock, consulting firm Arup was appointed in 1999 to calm traffic, appease local residents and make things a whole lot better for pedestrians, bikes and buses. This was a tough assignment, and one that needed reframing.

As Project Manager, I recognised that what was conceived as an assignment to develop a tactical plan for getting cars out of Downtown Brooklyn (residents) or for getting residents out of their hair (New York City Department of Transportation) was not fundamentally about developing a street management plan but about breaking through the entrenched enmity between citizens and city agencies. I turned the assignment into an extended conversation between residents and city agencies, mediated by Arup, about different and competing uses for streets and about creating a framework for deciding how best to manage streets and resolve conflicting demands on them. By reframing the assignment in this way, we were able to create an outcome that was not just the comprehensive plan for street works in Downtown Brooklyn that was called for at the assignment’s inception (now largely implemented), but a recognition on all sides of the complexity of the challenges and a spirit of co-operation in resolving them.

That breakthrough paved the way for the urban renaissance in New York that has yielded a sea change in the way New Yorkers think about their city and the physical and operational transformation of iconic areas such as Times Square.”
See Janette Sadik-Kahn’s TED talk on New York’s Streets for an inspiring overview of the sea-change in New Yorkers’ relationship with their streets that the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project set in motion.

New York City Department of Transportation provides a commentary on the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming report.