After just 10 days, de Blasio ends open street program

April 6, 2020

Photo of 2019 Summer Streets, courtesy of NYC DOT/Flickr

Pointing to an overuse of NYPD personnel as the main reason, Mayor de Blasio said in his press conference on Sunday that he would not be extending the Safe Streets pilot that he launched 10 days ago. The program closed one six-block stretch of road to vehicles in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx in order to provide more open space for pedestrians. But despite continued overcrowding in parks, the Mayor has decided the resources used to keep the streets open are better allocated elsewhere.

De Blasio was not an advocate for the program, but after facing pressure from Governor Cuomo and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, he finally piloted the program from Friday, March 27, to Monday, March 30 and subsequently expanded it through Sunday, April 5. During his press conference yesterday, the Mayor was asked by Streetsblog, another proponent of the idea:

You’ve said you’re limited because of the need for police enforcement, but Streetsblog’s own review plus conversations with residents in those neighborhoods show that this experiment is actually working and could be done with far fewer cops. So will you expand this popular street safety strategy as you’ve been urged by people such as Dan Rather, and New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg?

The Mayor began his response by blaming bad weather during the pilot’s first weekend: “…we ran into an unusual situation that just as we started it, we had day after day of bad weather and folks just didn’t show up.” He then pointed to the number of NYPD members it took to police the four Safe Streets: “…we did end up using up a lot of NYPD personnel that we don’t have to spare right now.” To that end, almost 20 percent of the NYPD was out sick as of yesterday.

Since the pilot launched, Streetsblog has asserted that it’s been overpoliced. The Mayor and Police Commissioner had said they would station three to four cops at each intersection. But Streetsblog says they, “spotted 25 on the eight-block stretch of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, 19 cops in a seven-block stretch of Bushwick Avenue, and 22 cops in a five-block stretch of Park Avenue in Manhattan.”

In an official statement today, the Mayor said:

Over the past two weeks, overcrowding was not an issue, but we did not observe enough people utilizing the open space to justify the presence of the over 80 members of the NYPD across the four sites. We are still open to reviewing other innovative ways to open public space to New Yorkers and may adjust course as this situation evolves.

Despite the numbers, the Mayor’s claim that parks need enforcement is quite true. Streetsblog shared photos of a crowded Prospect Park on Saturday. We personally witnessed major overcrowding in Central Park over the weekend, with cramped running and biking loops, groups continuing to congregate, and people even climbing over police barricades to work out on a set of monkey bars in a closed-off playground. But by ending Safe Streets, is the city just sending more people into parks, especially as warmer weather is upon us?

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