How Many? New Study Counts the Stuff on Lower Manhattan Sidewalks

What we pass every day, often without notice, became the subject of a detailed Community Board 1 study of the permanent features on Lower Manhattan sidewalks. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 21, 2016

No one knows Lower Manhattan sidewalks like Cammie Flippen. As the Urban Fellow for Community Board 1, Flippen recently oversaw what is sure to be one of the most comprehensive inventories of non-human objects that populate a city’s sidewalks.

Last fall she directed a team of Pace University urban planning students who examined, block by block, four Downtown neighborhoods: Tribeca, Battery Park City, the Seaport/Civic Center and the Financial District. They counted just about any type of permanent object that could be found on a sidewalk, from pay phones and planters to trash cans and tree pits. There were nearly 7,000 in all.

Now the report, “Streetscape Study of Lower Manhattan,” is out. The study is one of several conducted in recent years by Urban Fellows who have been assigned to put hard numbers behind potential CB1 requests to the city for community improvements.

Looking for a recycling bin? Your best chance is in the Financial District, where there are 144. You would have to search a lot harder in Tribeca where there are 14.  But when it comes to plain old trash cans, Tribeca tops FiDi, 122 to 89. The Seaport/Civic Center area, however, squeaks by as the trash can winner with 126.

Need to mail a letter? There are about nine mailboxes in the Financial District for every one in Battery Park City. The Financial District is also way ahead of Battery Park City in pay phones, 98 to one. (No information was gathered on how many of them actually work.)

The data is more than academic. “Healthy sidewalks are really essential for a pedestrian-friendly and pedestrian-centered city such as New York,” Flippen said in a presentation of her report to CB1’s Planning Committee. The information is meant to provide a snapshot of the sorts of structures on sidewalks that can be either desirable or impediments to pedestrian flow.

In her analysis of the data, Flippen found that the “healthiest” sidewalk neighborhood is Battery Park City, with high numbers of benches, trees, bike racks and trash cans (but recycling bins are too clustered, according to the study).

Tribeca’s sidewalks were deemed “most orderly,” with what the report calls a “relatively even distribution of features” such as trash cans—but still in need of light posts in some areas as well as trees and recycling bins.

The Seaport/Civic Center area received high marks for its many and evenly distributed trash cans and recycling bins, but was found lacking in bike racks.

As a second part of the study, the students asked pedestrians to name the sidewalk conditions that most contribute to sidewalk congestion. The top three: Trash cans, bus stops and subway entrances. (Surprisingly, construction was ranked fifth.)

People, of course, are the main source of congestion on many of Lower Manhattan’s sidewalks. CB1 Chair Catherine McVay Hughes expressed displeasure that, despite burgeoning numbers of workers and tourists in Lower Manhattan, especially the Financial District, the city has yet to fund the pedestrian study that the board has repeatedly requested.

“There were 14 million tourists last year in our teeny little historic grid that’s over 300 years old and was designed for the horse and buggy, and when buildings were one and two stories,” she said. “We now have 60-story buildings and the sidewalk and the streets are the narrowest anywhere in the city.”

“There are all these beautiful buildings but the experience for the majority of us is on the sidewalk,” she added. “Anything we can do to improve that experience is really important.”




Need a tree guard? Email the New York Tree Trust.

To the Editor:

I just read your article about the Stuff on Lower Manhattan Sidewalks and thought your readers would like to know about our organization—the New York Tree Trust. We are a non-profit organization that has stepped in to try and provide services for which the New York City Parks and Recreation Department has little or no funding.

The New York Tree Trust has several programs, most of which are funded with private or grant donations. We care for New York City’s great trees, plant new trees, install tree guards and conduct sidewalk repair. Our tree guard program is the most popular. If you want a tree guard on a tree in front of your home you can call us, pick out a style of guard, make a donation and we will install it. Your sidewalk and street will look nicer, the tree is protected from dogs and car doors, and because the guard is on the public right of way, the guard donation is 100% tax deductible. Our sidewalk repair program is new and works very similarly.

We have experienced a growth over the last year but are still very new and many citizens do not know that our services are available.

Anyone interested in finding out more about our programs can find us at

Brien Mosley

Development Associate, New York Tree Trust