Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced that the city will aim to open 100 miles of “safe streets,” focusing on neighborhoods most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This summer is going to look different from any other in our city’s history,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, “and we’re ready to give New Yorkers more ways to leave home while staying safe from COVID-19.
“Our parks have played a critical role in maintaining public health during this crisis, but we cannot afford to have a high demand for open space create unhealthy situations,” he added. “That’s why we’re opening streets and offering more options for New Yorkers to get outside safely.”
The 100 miles will come from five different areas: up to 60 miles of streets within and adjacent to parks, up to 20 miles of streets identified in consultation with local precincts, and up to 10 miles managed by partners such as business improvement districts (BIDs), block associations and other civic groups.
The city will widen 2.5 miles of sidewalks and add up to 10 miles of protected bike lanes.
The open streets will only be in effect for the duration of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “PAUSE,” with the exception of bike lanes.
“As the weather gets nicer and this unprecedented crisis stretches on longer, we need to do everything in our power to keep our neighbors safe and healthy,” Johnson said in a statement. “This announcement is a great starting point for the ongoing conversation about how we share our public spaces during this pandemic and in a post-coronavirus future.”
On Friday, the city named the first group of streets to open to pedestrians and cyclists starting this week. The streets span over seven miles and reach all five boroughs.
In Queens, several streets within Forest Park, including portions of Freedom Drive, East Main Drive and West Main Drive, will be closed to car traffic. Within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a 1.5-mile section of Meadow Lake Drive will also be designated a safe street.
In Brooklyn, a small sliver of Sackman Place between Truxton Street and Fulton Street near Callahan-Kelly Playground will be open to pedestrians and cyclists.
Other streets that will be closed to cars include Court Square West in Long Island City and portions of Prospect Park West and Parkside Avenue.
Although no traffic is permitted in each open street, emergency vehicles, necessary city service cars, and pick-ups and drop-offs are allowed at five miles per hour.
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said in a statement that the additional open space will go a long way to helping New Yorkers socially distance.
“These unprecedented times require us to think outside the box,” he said, “to be creative with how we look at and utilize the public realm.”
The city’s plan earned praise from the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which called it “one of the most ambitious” open streets programs in the country.
Danny Harris, executive director of TransAlt, said in a statement that New York has 6,000 miles of streets, which are “primarily devoted” to car traffic and parking. By opening up these streets, the city will unlock opportunities for physical distancing and reimagine urban life and public transportation, he said.
“For New York to manage and emerge from this crisis, we must recapture more of our precious space from the reign of cars and return it to the people,” Harris said. “The result will be a more prosperous, healthy, community-minded and environmentally safe city.”
The day after the city’s announcement, Brooklyn Community Board 6 penned a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) offering their “local knowledge” and to coordinate community input for the plan.
The letter, signed by chairman Peter Fleming, district manager Michael Racioppo, and the chairs of the Transportation and Public Safety committees, noted that while the district includes access to Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, portions of the area are not well served by open space.
The population density for the district is above 33,000 residents per square mile, the board wrote. Very few blocks have sidewalks wide enough to maintain six feet of separation required for social distancing.
“We stand ready to provide our input to inform that portion of the open street plan that falls within our district,” they wrote.