Catwalks for New York City?

Traveling by car in Manhattan has slowed down 27 percent in the last 5 years, from a slow running pace of 6.5 mph on average to a fast walking pace of 4.7 mph (nytimes).

“The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth” (nytimes) says the same thing as New Yorker magazine (the U.S. spends 5-6X what it costs other developed countries to build infrastructure), but supplies details on the no-show jobs, the $400/hour for union construction workers, etc.

As the U.S. population grows (due almost exclusively to immigration) and our successful cities reach Chinese-style population densities, I wonder if it is time to abandon the idea of travel by road or rail. Instead of trying to relearn how to build major infrastructure projects, why not arrange cities into walkable sub-cities in which the primary mode of transportation is via foot? To speed up travel-by-foot time, New York could build catwalks about 15′ above the streets. This is a pretty simple project that should be within an American local government’s capability and it would speed up travel times tremendously (no waiting for lights; no fighting for space on sidewalks that have become crowded).

Details: compensate building owners for the compromised view from the second floor windows by reducing the property tax rate on those floors.

Readers: Thoughts?



  1. paddy

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:09 pm


    This works extremely well in downtown areas of Manila, like the expensive Makati region.

    It also doubles the retail space for the businesses that have catwalks going past them, as you can have both ground level and 2nd floor of the building converted.

    Certain buildings have the walkway actually go through them, i.e. entry/exit points are integrated into the pre-existing walkways inside the building. Increases foot traffic a huge amount, but of course this is ideal for certain retail shops.

  2. philg

    January 3, 2018 @ 1:19 pm


    paddy: Interesting. It hadn’t occurred to me that this would actually increase the value of the real estate because now the 2nd floor is retail instead of just office!

  3. TomS

    January 3, 2018 @ 2:04 pm


    So basically Des Moines. Of course there the downtown buildings are all interconnected by catwalks to prevent hypothermia in the winter. Or Houston, where the downtown is interconnected below grade due to the heat and humidity.

  4. Jack

    January 3, 2018 @ 2:30 pm


    Hong Kong has these walkways and they make getting from one place to another pretty easy. I doubt though that given the shocking ineptitude and corruption that the NYT article showed that the NYC government has the capability to accomplish this in anyone’s lifetime. NYC doesn’t seem to have the ability to keep the existing infrastructure running much less build something new at an acceptable price and within acceptable time parameters.

  5. Neal

    January 3, 2018 @ 2:46 pm


    >the U.S. spends 5-6X what it costs other developed countries to build >infrastructure

    The only solid data either article presents is about New York; the claim about the U.S. as a whole is not well supported.

  6. philg

    January 3, 2018 @ 2:56 pm


    Neal: You reviewed the underlying articles described in New Yorker? (“But the U.S. is the world’s spendthrift. A 2015 study by David Schleicher, a professor at Yale Law School, and Tracy Gordon, a fellow at the Urban Institute, looked at a hundred and forty-four rail projects in forty-four countries. The four most expensive, and six of the top twelve, were American, the Second Avenue subway among them. In a study of transit construction costs worldwide, Alon Levy, a transit blogger, has found that they are often five to six times higher here than in other developed countries.”) Those underlying articles are actually only about NY?

    seems to have some more hyperlinks to sources.

    also has some linked sources.

  7. SK

    January 3, 2018 @ 3:18 pm


    Fun fact: Once upon a time Seattle raised downtown streets by one floor.

  8. Neal

    January 3, 2018 @ 3:49 pm


    “The four most expensive, and six of the top twelve, were American”

    Do I really need to explain to a PhD engineer who is familiar with statistics why this statement is basically worthless if one is comparing between country costs?

    Thanks for the additional links. They certainly do support the notion that the costs for US infrastructure are higher (which I didn’t dispute), but they don’t provide any data supporting the assertion in the original post that the costs for comparable projects overall are 5-6X higher in the US than in comparable countries.

  9. J. Peterson

    January 3, 2018 @ 5:07 pm


    Add Minneapolis to the list of cities that’ve implemented this (like @TomS said, to keep pedestrians from freezing to death…)

  10. superMike

    January 3, 2018 @ 5:19 pm


    L.A.’s downtown had a utopian phase with a lot of concrete and pedestrian overpasses (and some tunnels), it seems like few people liked it.
    One point: This is actually all being done deliberately. Transportation planners, no doubt abetted by politicians supported in part by people absorbing the extra 5X of the cost of transportation infrastructure building, are deliberately slowing down traffic and generally making it unpleasant to drive. The most overt manifestation of this is called the “Road Diet”, but similar ideas have been kicking around for decades. Even the Onion knows about it.

  11. anon

    January 3, 2018 @ 5:57 pm


    Calgary has “+15 skyway” that connects the 2nd floor of most office buildings in the downtown core (+15ft above the ground, likely named by an engineer, of city has disproportionately many). Bonus: during the cold winter months people can drive from there heated garage to their underground office parking, work, go out for lunch, go shopping, visit the dentist, go to the gym, then return to their cozy warm house all without every going outside.

  12. Smartest Woman on the Internet

    January 3, 2018 @ 7:24 pm


    Parts on downtown Kansas City are interconnected via temperature-controlled, glass-encased skywalks. I used to walk from my apartment three blocks to my office w/o stepping outside.

  13. lion

    January 3, 2018 @ 8:46 pm


    We all know you’d rather replace all ground transportation with aircraft & every blog post following a trip to NY is just a rant about the traffic, in some form or another.

  14. Andrea Matranga

    January 3, 2018 @ 9:27 pm


    Bonus points if you make it a moving sidewalk and give medium distance foot traffic an extra 1.25mph or so. Or you could go fancier with something like this

  15. Mememe

    January 4, 2018 @ 3:13 am


    Manhattanites could use ubiquitous subway underpasses to the same effect but almost never do. The only real slow up in walking around Manhattan is from tourists who are unaccustomed to walking around to get places. They walk slowly, stop at choke-points, and generally behave like ninnies. Fortunately, the hayseeds are only concentrated in Midtown.

    On the upside, this is a wonderful idea to waste more tax dollars on expensive, useless infrastructure. Join the dark side, push the plan, and get rich(er). This is the ultimate reason corrupt practices prevail. The people milking the system have much more motivation and resources to keep the bad practices in place. Think gold-plated street lamps.

    Why do something well and cheaply when you can do it poorly and expensively? The honest contractor cannot compete with the crooks. The crooks have more money to throw around. If I am on the spending board approving contractors, I need to be pretty darned righteous to choose an honest contractor over the one who will offer my idiot son a generous no-show job.

    One might even argue that the great personal benefit from corruption makes it the right choice. Should you ask a man to prefer actions for the benefit of such a diffuse entity as society against the very real advantages corruption provides for himself, his friends, and his family?

    New Yorker voters, who are the ultimate masters of the system, have become insensible to corruption. In Forest Hills, both my Congresswoman and State Assemblyman are children of men convicted of corruption. The fathers were convicted as their children ran for election and yet they won. Democracy seems dead here. Our ballots are in six different languages. How can you produce an engaged polity in such a Babel? We are as democratic as the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

    But I am being unfair. New York has always had corruption. The problem is, as government grows, the opportunity for corruption grows.

    The people hurt worst by this are the poor. They are over-taxed (payroll and sales taxes) and over-charged (subway and toll charges). In New York City, they are mostly foreigners. They are unlikely to complain. Many of them are here illegally. Illegal or legal, they assume goverment will be inefficient and corrupt, like in their home countries. When subway services break down, they are the most affected and stations in poorer areas receive noticeably worse upkeep.

    The NY Times keeps exposing this kind of fraud, but also keeps endorsing the Democratic politicians that mismanage this system. The New York Times exposed disability fraud years ago. People clucked their tongues and the rate of disability claims continues to rise.

    Sorry for the rant. Thanks if you have gotten this far. Feel my pain.

  16. ZZAZZ

    January 4, 2018 @ 7:47 am


    I notice that all of the existing implementations are considerably more extravagant than catwalks. The problem with catwalks is that the people on the catwalks will throw stuff to the lower level. Preventing that dramatically raises the price.

  17. ZZAZZ

    January 4, 2018 @ 7:52 am


    What’s more, remembering that Kansas City Hotel walkway collapse, the engineering isn’t trivial.

  18. Mark Hurst

    January 4, 2018 @ 1:02 pm


    The High Line has done pretty well in NYC…

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