NYC to open up to 100 miles of streets for pedestrians

April 27, 2020

Photo courtesy of NYC DOT/ Flickr

The city will open 40 miles of streets for pedestrians over the next month with the goal of opening up to 100 miles for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. During a press briefing, the mayor said an agreement had been reached with the City Council, which had introduced “open streets” legislation last week and planned to move forward with or without City Hall approval. The plan also includes adding temporary protected bike lanes and expanding some sidewalks.

The open streets plan aims to make social distancing easier and reduce crowds at city parks, especially as the weather starts to get warmer. According to the mayor, the first phase of the plan will focus first on streets “in and around” parks, as well as in communities where the need is the greatest.

And some areas in the city will be able to expand sidewalk space into streets as the city did around Rockefeller Center during last year’s holiday season. The mayor said his administration will work with the City Council, the Department of Transportation, NYC Parks, the Sanitation Department, and the Police Department to implement the plan.

The mayor launched a “Safe Streets” pilot program in March that opened six blocks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, which totaled about 1.6 miles of open streets. The program was ended less than two weeks later by de Blasio who cited the overuse of NYPD as a problem.

The City Council last week introduced legislation, sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera, to close up to 75 miles of city streets to cars for pedestrian use. The Council’s plan would not require NYPD officers for enforcement but instead would use of school crossing guards or traffic agents.

The mayor’s change of heart regarding open streets comes one day after Johnson said the Council is prepared to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo “for leadership on this issue.”

“As the weather gets nicer we need to do everything in our power to keep our neighbors safe and healthy,” Johnson said in a tweet on Monday, referring to de Blasio’s decision. “This announcement is a great starting point for the ongoing conversation about we share our public spaces during this pandemic and in a post-coronavirus future.”

The news is welcome to New Yorkers who have struggled to maintain social distancing measures in public. As 6sqft learned last week, most of the city’s sidewalks are too narrow to stay six feet from others. And with public outdoor pools closed and city beaches most likely to shutter for at least some or all of the summer, New Yorkers will need public places where safe social distancing is possible.


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