Caroline SpivackApr 20, 2020, 10:10am EDT
Whether it’s going to a grocery store, popping into a pharmacy, or commuting to an essential job, New Yorkers have little choice but to venture out during the COVID-19 pandemic. And when they do, it’s a socially distanced dance: crisscrossing streets to avoid other people, pausing on stoops or in driveways to let people pass, or just outright walking in the street while hugging the curb as much as possible.
The obvious thought while traversing this labyrinth of parked cars and the potentially sick: Why not open city streets so pedestrians can use them safely? New York City has missed its chance to be a leader on the issue, but why not at least follow in the footsteps of other U.S. cities like Oakland, Boston, Minneapolis, and open miles of road to residents?
In March, New York City briefly experimented with a small car-free pilot program on a handful of blocks in four of the five boroughs, totaling just 1.5 miles of space. (Oakland, in contrast, cleared 74 miles of streets.) But citing low usage and NYPD staff shortages, the program was cut short on April 5, only two weeks after it began.
Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the NYPD and the Department of Transportation to analyze the Oakland plan, but drew the conclusion that “we are just profoundly different than those other cities.”
“I do not believe it will work, period,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson begs to differ. Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera plan to introduce a bill this week setting a goal of closing 75 miles of streets for pedestrians and cyclists. The move would not only take advantage of the dive in traffic across the five boroughs, but would also provide a safe way for New Yorkers to socially distance as the weather warms and the itch to abandon cramped apartments intensifies.
“The Council has spent nearly a month pushing for open streets so New Yorkers can get fresh air and exercise during this pandemic while social distancing. We want to work collaboratively with the administration to make this happen, but it’s important enough that we are willing to take legislative action,” said Johnson. “Other cities around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. We can as well.”
In a March 23 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Johnson called for using areas already identified through the Summer Streets program and other initiatives to swiftly shutter thoroughfares across the city. He—along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Members Rivera, Keith Powers, and Margaret Chin—has also called for a large swath of Broadway to go car-free for the duration of the novel coronavirus crisis.
De Blasio maintains that the city must “make sure that anything we do with our streets keeps in mind the following: that we do not put any New Yorkers in danger.” But transportation advocates believe there are several models that could be adapted to suit New York. We asked four experts to outline possible solutions. Here’s what they had to say.
How NYC can create pedestrian-friendly streets during coronavirus – Curbed NY
Caroline SpivackApr 20, 2020, 10:10am EDT Whether it’s going to a grocery store, popping into a pharmacy, or commuting to an essential job, New Yorkers have little choice but to venture out during the COVID-19 pandemic. And when they do, it’s a socially distanced dance: crisscrossing streets to avoid other people, pausing on stoops or… [Read More]