De Blasio Finally Unveils Plan to Open Streets for Social Distancing

Rally 2019 photos Luongo
Under increasing pressure from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a plan for street closures and other measures to provide opportunities for New Yorkers to move about outdoors while practicing social distancing.
Michael Luongo

Less than 24 hours after out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson threatened to go to Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reluctance to open streets for social distancing, the mayor announced 100 miles of pedestrian and cyclist road space.

According to the speaker’s office, this plan will start with 40 miles of street closures, sidewalk widening, and additional bike lanes for the first month —  following weeks of de Blasio telling New Yorkers enforcement complications have kept the administration from creating social distancing space in roadways.

Mayor acts after Council speaker warns he’ll seek out governor’s support for the idea

“As the weather gets nicer and this unprecedented crisis stretches on longer, we need to do everything in our power to keep our neighbors safe and healthy,” Johnson said. “This announcement is a great starting point for the ongoing conversation about how we share our public spaces during this pandemic and in a post-coronavirus future.”

Opening up street space for pedestrians will start in areas around parks despite the mayor closing the majority of parks explaining that New Yorkers were not remaining six feet apart. The open streets plan will be in place for the duration of the governor’s PAUSE program.

“I’ve said consistently that we want to see new approaches but we have to make sure that they’re safe and we have to make sure that there is enforcement,” de Blasio said Monday. “The focus will be where the need is greatest…  Some of the communities we’ve already identified as having been hard hit by COVID.”

Some communities will have sidewalks widened like is seen around Rockefeller Center during the holidays, and bike lane miles will also be expanded throughout the city.

Automobile and truck vehicle miles traveled by borough have been reduced by 78 percent in the Bronx to about 92 percent in Manhattan, according to statistics from StreetLight Data.

Johnson and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who each represents districts in Lower Manhattan, introduced legislation in the Council on April 22 that would require the city Department of Transportation to create 75 miles of open road. While this bill only recently went through the Transportation Committee, it has support from councilmembers across the city.

On Sunday morning, de Blasio told reporters the ability to open streets came down to the police force having the personnel they need to enforce it.

Later on Sunday, Johnson wrote on Twitter that if the mayor did not get serious about opening street space, he would appeal to the governor to wield authority over the matter.

“You have to be very realistic, you have a lot of people in a very dense urban environment,” Cuomo said Monday. “It’s very hard to walk down a sidewalk in New York City and social distance. Remember, in New York City, the traffic is way, way down… I spoke to the City Council speaker and the mayor about it. We did open streets and there was a program that was operational. Apparently they have a disagreement of how it works. I said figure it out.”

This debate over open streets goes back to Cuomo, in the early days of the pandemic, mandating that streets be opened up after observing crowding in parks. De Blasio committed four stretches of roadway in four different boroughs that remained open less than two weeks before being discontinued.

“You have no cars, you don’t need as many streets. There is a direct proportionality,” Cuomo added in his Monday briefing on coronavirus.

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