NYC Council urges mayor to open city beaches for swimming

Posted On Tue, May 26, 2020 By

Posted On Tue, May 26, 2020 By In Policy

Photo of Rockaway Beach via Dan DeLuca on Flickr

The New York City Council on Saturday urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to open the city beaches this summer safely amid the coronavirus pandemic, including allowing swimming. Currently, swimming is not permitted, but local residents are allowed to walk or sit on the beach. A number of council members this weekend released 10-point beach reopening guidelines, which include limited capacity, social distancing markers, mask requirements, and increasing transit options to beach communities.

“Access to city beaches isn’t just a summer fun issue. It is an equity issue and a public health issue,” Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “All New Yorkers, not just those wealthy enough to travel out of the city, deserve access to the beach this summer.”

Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that state beaches could open for Memorial Day Weekend, following in the footsteps of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware, he left the decision whether or not to open beaches to local officials.

De Blasio said the city was “just not ready” and expressed concern about people crowding the subway and bus to get to the beach. “It’s painful because we’d all love to be able to go to the beach with the hot weather, but it’s not safe,” the mayor said during a press briefing last week.

The recommendations from the City Council follow conditions put forth by Cuomo for the state beaches. The guidelines call for reduced capacity and social distancing flags that would designate areas where sunbathers could sit, as well as separate entrances and exits.

Under the recommendations, lifeguards would be provided with masks, gloves, and face masks and the city would work with the city’s Health Department to determine how frequently they should be tested. Beach-goers would be required to wear masks on the boardwalks or “whenever mobile on the beach,” with free masks available to the public daily.

To avoid crowded buses and subways headed to the beach, the Council is suggesting adding bus lanes and more frequent trips on bus-routes. The pols are also calling for pop-up protected bike lanes or bike-only streets on routes that lead to the beaches.

The Council also says beachfront restaurants should be allowed to open if the Department of Health and Mental Health guidelines are followed, and bathrooms should remain open, with foot pedal-operated soap and water.

For neighborhoods without access to the beach, the council wants to bring other ways to cool off during the summer, including misting machines in parks and open streets.

“Disallowing swimming at beaches puts New Yorkers at risk,” Council Member Peter Koo said in a statement. “If the City is going to open our beaches, and parks, we need to do so in a comprehensive manner with the necessary resources they need to operate safely. We also need to ensure that those without equitable access to parks and beaches have alternative options so that New Yorkers without access to cooling do not fall victim to heat-related illnesses.”

Last month, de Blasio announced that outdoor public pools would be closed for the 2020 season, one part of major budget cuts made by the city due to the health crisis; playgrounds also remain closed.

Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told Gothamist that the administration is examining the Council’s 10-point plan. “We are reviewing the Council’s recommendations, and are already implementing many of them including deploying social distancing ambassadors with masks, allowing food vendors to open by the beaches, and keeping bathrooms open and stocked with soap,” Meyer said.

According to the city, lifeguards are currently undergoing training and could be ready within a few weeks. Henry Garrido of the lifeguards’ union told the New York Times: “They’re being trained to get ready to open the beach early in June.”

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