Dozens of Community Groups Demand Real Open Streets Commitment from the Mayor

The Meatpacking Business Improvement District turned Little West 12th Street between Washington and Greenwich streets into a true open street. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Meatpacking Business Improvement District turned Little West 12th Street between Washington and Greenwich streets into a true open street. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

What do we want? Open streets! When do we want them? All day and all night!

A coalition of 63 community groups, led by Transportation Alternatives, is demanding that Mayor de Blasio “improve and expand the open streets program” so that it is not an ad-hoc collection of short roadway segments overseen and funded by a rag-tag coalition of volunteers, but turned into a real city program with proper government support.

The groups, called the Open Street Coalition, offered bullet points for the mayor, who has said little about his vision for open streets beyond his commitment in his State of the City address that the program is a permanent part of city life.

Here’s what the coalition wants:

  • Some open streets must be converted to full 24/7 closure to thru car traffic (currently, open streets only operate between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.)
  • Codify into law the open streets speed limit of 5 miles per hour;
  • Dedicate resources to volunteer groups that manage open streets — and give extra support to lower-income communities, where “volunteer-led open streets are unsustainable and inequitable”;
  • Reimagine open streets so they connect into “a useful transportation network” to bring residents to stores, transportation hubs, and parks;
  • Add signs, benches, chairs, planters, and improved barriers, to provide for a safer and more inviting experience;
  • Create even better barriers on appropriate streets;
  • Create more loading zones to allow freight and for-hire vehicles to make pick-ups and drops on side streets;
  • Provide daily programming, “including exercise classes, educational programming, arts and cultural performances, and more”;
  • Improve traffic calming measures on open streets restaurants;
A fitting image of the open streets program. Photo: Sasha Aickin
Many open streets lacked full city support. File photo: Sasha Aickin

The letter comes as more and more local groups are agitating for City Hall to reveal its vision for open streets, which the mayor declared permanent in his annual address earlier this year. At the time, the mayor only said, “Open Streets will become a permanent part of our landscape.” He added that “starting this year,” many of the streets from 2020 would be included, and the the Department of Transportation would also accept applications for new streets, “with a focus on local partner management and support.”

He did promise that “equity and inclusion will be at the heart of the open streets expansion, with underserved neighborhoods getting new opportunities to participate,” but no details were provided. In an interview with Streetsblog last week, the mayor reiterated his commitment and even said funding might be available, but did not provide an over-arching vision. The de Blasio administration ends on Dec. 31.

As a result of the lack of clarity from City Hall, many community groups in wealthier neighborhoods have been raising their own money to ensure that at least their open street continues, as Streetsblog reported. Equitable distribution of open streets has been a problem since their beginning early in the pandemic.

That point is emphasized in the coalition letter sent to City Hall today.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that these spaces continue to serve communities,” the letter says. “While New York City is home to the biggest open street program in the nation, there are still neighborhoods that do not have access. Communities such as the South Bronx and the North Shore of Staten Island still lack corridor-wide open streets. [And] some open streets that were open in 2020 have since been closed. While some have received confirmation that they will return this spring, the fate of others is uncertain.”

City Hall would definitely push back on the notion of uncertainty. In a statement, City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz did not offer more details than his boss has, but reiterated the city’s commitment:

“Open Streets have transformed our city’s urban landscape for the better, and we’re proud to make them permanent. Building a recovery for all of us means putting equity and inclusion first. We’ll do everything we can to ensure communities have the resources they need to support the open streets they deserve.”

The letter builds on growing concern that the clock will expire on the de Blasio administration before open streets are fully codified and designed. On Monday, Streetsblog published an op-ed from urban planner Donovan Finn, who offered his own list of advice for the mayor. Among the most important? Never let a crisis go to waste.

“Remember that the status quo is not divinely inspired. We made these choices, and we can make new ones,” Finn wrote. “By the DOT’s own estimate, roadways comprise 27 percent of the city’s land area. Mayors have always built new roads to achieve political or economic development goals. But no one ever said a mayor couldn’t also remove them when those rationales no longer make sense.”

The Open Streets Coalition letter was signed by:

Transportation Alternatives
34th Ave Open Street Coalition
510 West 134th Tenant Association
89th Street Tenants Unidos Association
BetaNYC, a founding member of the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition
Bike New York
Bronx Health REACH
Brooklyn Greenway Initiative
Ciclistas Latinoamericanos de New York
Court Square Civic Association
COVID Care Neighbor Network
Eastchester Gardens Resident Association
El Puente
Families for Safe Streets
Financial District Neighborhood Association
Fort Greene Open Streets Coalition
Friends of Cooper Park
Friends of Tremont Park
Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce
Guardians of Flushing Bay
Hall St. Open Street
Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association
Hunters Point Parks Conservancy
Jackson Heights Beautification Group
Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club
Loisaida Open Streets Community Coalition (LOSCC)
LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens)
Make Brooklyn Safer
Make Queens Safer
New York League of Conservation Voters
North Brooklyn Mutual Aid
North Brooklyn Neighbors
North Brooklyn Stewards Initiative
Open Plans *
Out Cycling Inc.
Out Rockaway
Queens Bike Initiative
Park To Park 103
Park Slope Neighbors
Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council
Redbeard Bikes
Respect Brooklyn
Riders Alliance
Safe Roads Alliance
St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction
Sixth Street Community Center
South Asian Fund For Education Scholarship and Training INC (SAFEST)
Staten Island Therapeutic Gardens
Sunnyside Woodside Open Streets (SWOS)
The Children’s Village
Together We Can Community Resource Center
Urban Health Plan
West 22nd Street Open Street
West 134th St Block Association

* Full disclosure: Open Plans is the parent company of Streetsblog.