City Looks At Opening Streets to Pedestrians

City Looks At Opening Streets to Pedestrians
Park Slope. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Brooklyn enjoyed the kind of weather Friday, March 20 that makes for a perfect picnic, or afternoon bike ride or pickup-basketball game, and many Brooklyners instantly forgot every panicked plea from public officials to self-isolate.

Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed frustration at New Yorkers’s failure to social-distance over the weekend, and called for Mayor Bill de Blasio to make a plan to reduce pedestrian density.

“It is insensitive, arrogant, self-destructive, disrespectful to other people, and it has to stop, and it has to stop now,” said Governor Cuomo in a press conference on Sunday, March 22.

He specifically suggested closing certain streets to traffic in order to open space for pedestrians and suggested people take advantage of bigger parks where there is room to spread out.

“New York City must develop an immediate plan to correct this situation,” said Governor Cuomo at the press conference. “Get creative, open streets to reduce the density.”

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Tweeted support for Governor Cuomo’s call to action, and specifically voiced support for opening streets to pedestrians.

District 35 City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who represents Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, retweeted City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Sidewalks in Brooklyn can be as narrow as five feet across, less than the CDC-recommended six feet of separation. Even wider sidewalks can be so densely packed that it’s impossible to maintain an appropriate distance from strangers.

“If we’re going to look to have a street that’s opened up for recreation, we’re going to do that very smartly and carefully because we have to attach enforcement to it,” said Mayor De Blasio at his own March 22 press conference. “It cannot be, oh, we’re just going to close off some streets and leave it be. If we do that, I guarantee what will happen is a whole lot of people start to congregate.”

Transportation Alternatives, a New York City pedestrian advocacy group, and Bike New York, a bicyclist community group, applauded Governor Cuomo’s calls for change and released their own list of areas that they think could benefit from becoming pedestrian-only spaces.

These areas include:

  • Zones around hospitals, with special access for emergency vehicles and hospital staff
  • Streets that are closed annually for Car-Free Earth Day
  • NYC Street Fair Routes
  • Streets with histories of block parties
  • Streets typically closed for the Play Streets program
  • Streets in neighborhoods not within walking distance of a park
  • Streets that lack adjacent commercial or residential land like:
    • Jackie Robinson Parkway
    • Bay Street in Red Hook
    • Lorimer Street in McCarren Park

“There is a wealth of street space in the five boroughs that could be converted into social distancing-friendly places,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris and Bike New York Director of Communications Jon Orcutt in a joint statement on Monday, March 23. “Should the City require more hands to turn these proposals into a reality, Transportation Alternatives, Bike New York, and our partners stand ready to enlist a corps of volunteers to help construct and maintain these car-free corridors.”