Op-Ed: The Mayor’s ‘Open Streets’ Program is Failing Staten Island

Front Street at Canal Street on the Staten Island waterfront. Photo: Vince DiMiceli
Front Street at Canal Street on the Staten Island waterfront. Photo: Vince DiMiceli
Kamillah Hanks
Kamillah Hanks

When Mayor de Blasio announced New York City’s open streets program, he said that “the focus here will be where the need [for social distancing space] is the greatest.” That makes sense. Open streets are critical for the social distancing needed to bring infection rates down and finally flatten the curve.

Sadly, Mayor de Blasio hasn’t kept his word for those of us in need.

Here on Staten Island, we have the second highest rate of COVID-19 infections in New York City, sidewalks that are too small for social distancing, an aging population with a high rate of senior citizens and disproportionately high rate rates of asthma, especially on our hard hit North Shore. Stapleton’s Bay Street corridor has even been cited by New Yorkers for Parks last year for having particularly low open space acreage.

Rose Uscianowski

So how many miles do we have? Out of New York City’s close to 21 miles of open streets, Staten Island has just 1.3 miles, divided among three locations: Silver Lake Park Road and Bank Street, one of which ought to be closed off to traffic permanently anyway. That’s a slap in the face.

We need more streets, especially in hard hit areas like Stapleton. Tappen Park is Staten Island’s second oldest park and it is the centerpiece of Stapleton’s town center. As we grapple with the devastating effects of COVID-19 on our vulnerable populations and communities, a fair share of open streets would allow us to participate in the benefits of safe, walkable areas in our neighborhood.

The Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership is asking that the mayor revisit his decision to only include 1.3 miles allocated for Staten Island and consider our borough’s need for more open walkways for greater social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis.

During a time when decisions can be life or death, we cannot continue to be the forgotten borough.

Kamillah Hanks is president of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership and Rose Uscianowski is the Staten Island Organizer for Transportation Alternatives.