Mayoral Hopeful Donovan: City’s Open Streets Program is ‘Failing’ Due to De Blasio Incompetence

The need for a true open streets program sped right past Shaun Donovan's presser on Thursday.
The need for a true open streets program sped right past Shaun Donovan's presser on Thursday.

Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan slammed the de Blasio administration for failing to properly execute the open streets “program,” which is now struggling amid harassment of open streets volunteers, theft and vandalism of barricades and lack of financial support from the city.

In a brief press conference at the corner of Lincoln Place and Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, Donovan pointed out that he was standing at one of the city’s existing open streets — yet there were no barricades in place. He mentioned he had the same experience earlier in The Bronx.

“Under the current administration, open streets are failing to achieve their fullest potential — not even close,” Donovan said. “Executed properly, open streets can be a powerful tool for strengthening communities, making our streets safer and our air cleaner.”

Just because Google Maps or the city says a street is an "open street" doesn't mean that it is.
Just because Google Maps or the city says a street is an “open street” doesn’t mean that it is.

He also said that as mayor, he would beef up the open streets program with an unspecified amount of city funding because open streets not only create more room for the public, but they also can “revitalize small businesses since cycling and foot traffic improve business income.”

Donovan also added the most important reason to bolster open streets — because “public space … has been handed over for decades to cars and other vehicles that negatively contribute to climate change.”

Behind him as he spoke was a live example of what he was talking about — how cars have stolen all the space.

Watch the video of Donovan’s six-minute-and-nineteen-second remarks at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Lincoln Place in Crown Heights and you’ll notice that 33 cars and trucks passed behind him. During the same period, 82 pedestrians and cyclists walked or rolled by. Yet on Lincoln Place, 18 feet of the public space between building property lines (aka the sidewalk) is set aside for pedestrians and 33.5 feet of the space is given to drivers for the movement and (mostly) storage of their vehicles (there is no dedicated space for cyclists on that stretch).

So pedestrians and cyclists get just 35 percent of the roadway space yet comprised 71 percent of the roadway users during the period of Donovan’s remarks.

Donovan called out Mayor de Blasio for the basic failure of having too many open streets fall off the program map because of incompetence, pointing out his experience in The Bronx and in Crown Heights.

“This is happening more and more across our city,” he said. “This administration has failed miserably at enforcing its own plan for open streets, particularly in neighborhoods with fewer resources that would benefit the most from having an open street. This administration can’t even keep the barriers designating open streets in place.”

Donovan was vague about what he would do to create a robust open streets program, saying only that his permanent plan would be done “in a way that reflects input from residents and recognizes the unique character of neighborhoods,” citing 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights as a prime example.

“I will use open streets as a tool to promote greater equity and opportunity,” he added. “We will invest first in the communities that have historically received the least support while thinking about which locations are most conducive to becoming successful and well-used open streets. We will achieve this by using data, by listening to community leaders [and] by establishing robust public-private partnerships.”

Donovan is certainly not the only mayoral candidate who supports open streets; Gothamist recently rounded up the various candidates’ positions on open streets. But Donovan’s campaign maintains that his experience — he was the city’s housing commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg and then did the same thing for the nation under President Obama — makes him uniquely suited to get it done.

“To really have a good open streets program, you need the will to do it the right way,” said Donovan campaign spokeswoman Yuridia Peña.

City Hall did not respond to an immediate request for comment.