WHAT A DAY: City Erased a Popular Fort Greene Open Street — Then Reinstalled it After Protests

The Willoughby Avenue open street is endangered again. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Willoughby Avenue open street is endangered again. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Updated | The Adams administration has made its first major move on open streets: erasing a stretch on Willoughby Avenue in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, allegedly at the behest of people close to the mayor. But by the end of the day, City Hall changed its mind, getting a Department of Transportation spokesman to issue a statement blaming an unspecified “miscommunication.”

The removal of the car-limited street on Willoughby Avenue between Washington Park and Hall Street in neighboring Clinton Hill was done suddenly and with no warning to the community, according to Mike Lydon, a neighborhood resident who has done some planning and surveys for the open streets group in that area. The DOT’s Public Spaces Unit hastily arranged a Zoom call with the Willoughby Avenue Open Street organizers on Thursday to tell them about the removal, which was already a done deal.

DOT officials initially claimed the extremely popular open street had raised unspecified “local concerns,” according to some on the call.

The removal began on Thursday afternoon, as Lydon reported via tweet:

“We need to reverse this, it’s really important,” added Lydon. “This is one of the least controversial open streets and one of the most successful.”

By evening, DOT workers were reinstalling open street signs that had been removed hours earlier.

The lack of warning may be attributable to the politically explosive charge that the open street has been torn up at the behest on the direct orders of Mayor Adams after someone close to the mayor complained about the street, which, like all open streets in the struggling, de Blasio-era program, allows car drivers full access, albeit at 5 miles per hour.

“Eric Adams just made the DOT remove the Willoughby Open Street because one of his buddies didn’t like it,” said a source at the Department of Transportation. “Not sure who but apparently somebody told the mayor they didn’t like it so he told the commissioner to remove it.”

Another neighborhood resident lobbed the charge that officers in the 88th Precinct complained about the existence of the open street. The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on the claim.

It is unclear if brass at the 88th Precinct is opposed to the open street, though the precinct has repeatedly shown contempt for residents of the neighborhood in the form of seizing a school playground for a parking lot during the height of the Covid lockdown last year, and also for the way its cops and employees illegally park in the area.

The DOT has spent considerable resources to make Willoughby Avenue a success, making the sudden removal even more baffling. Lydon pointed out that Willoughby Avenue was the first open street to get the DOT’s “Light Touch” treatment, consisting of curb extensions, signage, planters and other amenities for safety and beautification. One local Twitter user noticed that while some of the planters and blue paint were still on the ground on Willoughby, the open street barriers and signage marking the street as such had already disappeared by late Thursday afternoon.

Removing the open street also flies in the face of the fact the street treatment was working. Last summer, Lydon helped neighborhood residents count who was using Willoughby between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue in its new form. As Streetsblog reported at the time, “volunteers counted 768 cyclists, 3,352 pedestrians, 431 joggers, 318 people using assisted devices, 515 dogs being walked … and just 12 cars,” for a ratio of 99 non-car users to every one car user on the street.

The DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this breaking story.

The removal of the open street comes at a crucial time for the fledgling Adams administration, as road deaths are up significantly this year versus last year, which was itself the bloodiest year of the Vision Zero initiative. Even before taking office, incoming Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez promised to bolster protected bike lanes in his firs 100 days. And Mayor Adams said the DOT would redesign 1,000 of the city’s most dangerous intersections by the end of this calendar year. Neither promise has been acted on yet.

Also, earlier this month, the Adams administration quietly revealed that it had pushed back the timeline for creating dedicated space for pedestrians and cyclists on the Queensboro Bridge, which then-Mayor de Blasio promised in a January, 2021 speed would be finished this year.

During his mayoral campaign, Adams ran as a champion of open streets and pedestrian and safety improvements, saying he wanted to expand the street safety improvements made by his predecessor into communities of color that have long been deprived of the best road safety infrastructure and open streets.

Well after publication, the Department of Transportation said that the open street would be restored, and claimed that the meeting held by its own Public Spaces Unit in which residents were told the open street was being removed was all a big misunderstanding.

“The barriers were temporarily moved from the Open Street due to a miscommunication,” said agency spokesman Vin Barone. “We will restore the Open Street barriers this evening.”

Story was updated early on Thursday evening to reflect the DOT’s statement.

— Additional reporting by Eve Kessler and Julianne Cuba.