NYC Council wants to open up to 75 miles of streets for pedestrians during COVID-19

Posted On Fri, April 17, 2020 By

Posted On Fri, April 17, 2020 By In Policy

The city’s “Summer Streets” program in 2019; Photo of NYC DOT on Flickr

Up to 75 miles of city streets could soon be closed to cars under new legislation set to be introduced by the City Council next week. Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera on Friday announced a proposal to open streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus pandemic to allow for proper social distancing. The plan comes after Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an open-streets pilot last month, only to end the program 10 days later.

The legislation, which has “widespread Council support,” according to Johnson and Rivera, will be introduced at the council’s stated meeting on April 22, which will be held remotely and available to stream online. The council plans to move forward with the open streets plan, with or without the de Blasio administration’s support.

“New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis,” Johnson said. “While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, the issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves.”

De Blasio’s “Safe Streets” pilot program included opening about six blocks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, for a total of 1.6 miles of open streets. The city has about 6,000 miles of roads. Ten days later, the mayor ended the pilot, citing the overuse of NYPD personnel. “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,” the mayor said in a statement announcing the end of the piot.

No specific details on the council’s plan have been released, but in an interview with NY1 on Friday, Rivera said using NYPD officers would not be necessary for the program. “I think this could be done with school crossing guards or traffic agents,” Rivera said. “We could certainly include the BIDs or our civic and block associations.”

She added: “We have many, many people locally who want to be involved in this and where we don’t have to rely on NYPD personnel to enforce it.”

The legislation could model open street plans implemented in other cities across the country, including in Oakland, California, where Mayor Libby Schaaf last week designated 74 miles of city streets for pedestrian and cyclist traffic only.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday extended New York’s stay-at-home “pause” order until May 15, which means more residents will be looking to get fresh air as the weather warms up, supporters of the open streets plan argue.

“As New York fights and emerges from this crisis, we need to ensure that New Yorkers who must be out have the safe space they require for physical distancing,” Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. “We are grateful to Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for stepping up for New Yorkers by advancing this ambitious open streets plan. We look forward to working together to bring much needed space to every neighborhood.”

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