A coalition of 100 small businesses, public health experts and environmental advocates from across New York City is urging Mayor de Blasio to expand the size and scope of the City’s Open Streets program. The coalition believes reallocating street space for walking, biking, transit, as well as retail and restaurant use, is vital to supporting New York City’s recovery.
In an open letter, Transportation Alternatives and allies from across the five boroughs called upon the mayor to “prepare our city for a near-future of recurrent outbreaks and seed the ground of New York’s long-term recovery by expanding the scope of Open Streets.”
“The Open Streets plan you initiated is commendable,” the letter reads. “We urge you to think bigger. New York City needs Open Streets that serve more purposes and more people. In addition to allowing physical distancing outside of parks, Open Streets must also be networks for alternative transportation—allowing New Yorkers to safely reach essential destinations, provide space for our restaurants and stores to reopen, and introduce cleaner air in neighborhoods plagued by pollution and disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”
A return to what was once considered normal -- traffic-choked streets, crowded sidewalks, and packed subway cars -- will impede New York City’s recovery. But restricting vehicle access to some streets and opening them to people will do the opposite by creating safe transportation corridors, providing space for shops and restaurants to reopen, and addressing health inequities that made COVID-19 especially deadly for low-income communities and communities of color.
With these goals in mind, the coalition has outlined these five Open Streets types:
Open Streets for Business, where streets allow restaurants and retail stores to safely expand their footprints
Open Streets for Equity, where streets provide relief to the communities most affected by pollution, asthma, lack of green space and COVID-19
Open Streets for Resiliency, where streets support our climate change goals
Open Streets for Transportation, where streets encourage biking and walking, and support public transit
Open Streets for Health, where streets provide space for physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus
“New Yorkers know there’s a long road ahead, and the path to recovery is on our streets,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “Open streets support our city’s immediate public health needs, and will support our long-term recovery. By dedicating space for cycling, our streets will provide alternatives for those hesitant to return to public transit. By creating more space for recreation, our streets will improve public health outcomes. And by allowing restaurant seating and retail space to expand into parking lanes, our streets will create a lifeline for small businesses.”
"New York has a long road ahead before life even approaches a return to normal, but it is clear that we must increase safe access to the most obvious public space - our streets," said Regina Myer, President of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. "Now is the time for New York to stop lagging behind other cities, and to put a comprehensive street closure plan into place. It won’t just make the city far more pleasant for the vast majority of New Yorkers – it will also help save lives."
“New Yorkers need access to space, especially during the pandemic, and we need innovative ways to create safe, public spaces for them to use,” said Tom Wright, President and CEO of Regional Plan Association. “There are more tough choices ahead, and while the City is moving toward the right direction, we need bigger plans for safely reopening.”
Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "The Open Streets program is a proven, common sense solution to allow New Yorkers to practice social distancing and enjoy the fresh air. We have suffered from a long-term lack of open space and this type of reimagining of the streetscape is clearly a win-win for public health and air quality. Opening more streets will help combat climate change while encouraging more economic activity as we recover from COVID. That's why we join the call to expand the Open Streets program."
“As evidenced by the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Ranking Report, the Bronx’s ranking as 62 out of the 62 New York State counties in health outcomes identifies the prevailing poor health and health disparities of its residents. More open streets will be one means of ensuring that our communities are able to be more physically active through access to outdoor spaces within their local neighborhoods,” said Bronx Health REACH Project Director Charmaine Ruddock.
The blueprint for a bolder, broader open streets program already exists. Right now, other global cities like Bogota, London, Milan and Paris are planning permanent changes to their streets to aid recovery from the pandemic. In order to emerge from this crisis stronger than before, Mayor de Blasio must take similar measures immediately.