Pedestrians on car-free Park AvenueA skateboarder during the pilot week of car-free streets at the end of March on Park Avenue. Photo by Ryan Lahiff.

After much hemming and hawing, and political machinations, New York City will get 40 miles of open streets in the next month, and up to 100 miles of open streets during the length of the pandemic crisis. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson announced the plan this morning to open up the streets, with 40 miles of street closures, sidewalk widening, and additional bike lanes opening over the next month. A hearing this past Friday with City Council’s Transportation Committee had testimony from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Councilmembers Corey Johnson, Margaret Chin, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera, and others testifying in support of opening up more streets.

According to the press release this morning from Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, there will be five categories of open streets: “up to 60 miles of streets within and adjacent to parks; up to 20 miles of streets identified in consultation with local precincts, in consultation with Community Boards and other partners; up to 10 miles of streets managed by local partners such as BIDs, block associations, or other civic groups; up to 2.5 miles of widened sidewalks; and up to 10 miles of protected bike lanes.”  The open streets will only be up when New York is on PAUSE, so decisions on opening up New York State to be made by Governor Andrew Cuomo will determine the length and breadth of the open streets plan here.

Cops and Pedestrians on car-free Park AvenuePhoto by Ryan Lahiff.

Mayor de Blasio was initially against a plan to open streets citing need for major NYPD enforcement and both the NYPD and the NYC DOT testified in the Friday hearing that similar initiatives in other cities would not work here in New York. This weekend Johnson tweeted “If the mayor won’t open streets to New Yorkers, who so desperately need safe public spaces right now, the Council will look to Gov. Cuomo for leadership on this issue. We are prepared to work with the state to make this happen.” Even yesterday, de Blasio was saying the open streets plan was not a priority but has reversed course as of his press conference this morning.

“This summer is going to look different from any other in our city’s history – and we’re ready to give New Yorkers more ways to leave home while staying safe from COVID-19,” said Mayor de Blasio. “I’m proud to work with Speaker Johnson, the Department of Transportation, and the NYPD to find creative solutions that support our broader goals of ending this pandemic and rebuilding a fairer city.”

“The Council is thrilled our calls for open streets have been answered and looks forward to working with the administration to give New Yorkers the space they need to socially distance properly. 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. 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,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.

“I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, DOT, and the NYPD for working with Speaker Johnson and I after our Friday hearing on an open streets plan that we can hit the ground running with this week. This initial span of 40 miles of open streets and the 100 eventual miles that will be created will provide the space for essential workers to pursue safer commuting options, provide outdoor opportunities for vulnerable New Yorkers, and give families the chance to play beyond the four walls of their home. This is just a first step, and once successfully implemented I look forward to working further with the Mayor’s Office on open streets and other social distancing measures we can undertake to protect all communities and help keep COVID-19 rates low,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

Having advocated recently for more connected, safe bike lanes in Brooklyn to support essential workers, here at Untapped New York, we hope that this open streets plan will lead to more, long-term permanent initiatives to improve the public realm for pedestrians, bikers, and more even after the coronavirus crisis.

Next, check out photos from the Park Avenue car free streets pilot