February 22, 2008

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The last time I was in New York, I was on foot and
grateful for sidewalk sheds.

I understand why New Yorkers don't like them: It's dingy under
scaffolds. With some 3,300 of them around Manhattan alone, wooden
tunnels get tedious. But it was raining, my head was wet, my shoes were
sodden, and I was wishing the sheds could cover crosswalks, too.

What I really wished for was a skywalk. These are an anathema in New
York, I know. There are apparently some at Hunter College, but otherwise
not much, not even nearby: Hartford, Conn., has been ripping out its
aborted system. Hoboken city planners made a point of banning them.
Newark planners want to. Besides, they're unfashionable. "Everyone knows
it's a mistake," one planner in Charlotte, N.C., said of that city's
system. A couple years back, Dallas's mayor said she'd as soon plug her
city's tunnels — same idea, minus 35 feet — with concrete. Urban
planners hate them, saying they pull people off the street.

This enmity from the profession that gave us housing projects and East
Berlin should be a signal that skywalks have something going for them.
In some places, they work.