NYC Commits to 40 Miles of Open Streets in May, 100 Miles in Total

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After significant urging from the city council and the governor, at a press briefing Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to opening 100 miles of city streets to pedestrians and cyclists in order to provide New Yorkers space to socially distance.

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The mayor committed to 40 miles of open streets in the next month, beginning with streets around parks and other high-activity areas, as well as in the most hard-hit areas. After that, the goal would be to reach a total of 100 miles over the course of the pandemic, however long that timeline may be.

The move follows a pilot program nixed by de Blasio, and a bill from city council that would have required 75 miles of open streets. It also follows similar initiatives in cities around the world, and the country, that have taken steps to open more space to people during the coronavirus shutdown, especially as streets remain empty of cars, and as the weather warms up. 

De Blasio canceled a short-lived pilot for open streets in early April because it required too much enforcement, de Blasio said at the time. The city council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, then introduced a bill to counter de Blasio’s move, which would require the city to open 75 miles of open streets. In a hearing about the bill on Friday, many council members pushed back on the need for enforcement, pointing out that New York already has precedent for pedestrian-friendly streets on a smaller scale, such as Summer Streets, and there are already unmonitored barricades in parks where there is rarely, if ever, need for police enforcement.

Nevertheless, at the press briefing, De Blasio reiterated the need for caution and enforcement, and said the city would work with community groups to monitor the open streets and alert the NYPD when needed. “Let’s find a solution that helps open up space but absolutely keeps people safe, because the first job here is to keep people safe,” de Blasio said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his own daily press briefing Monday, said he had told de Blasio to work things out with the speaker, or he would get involved. “You can’t tell people in a dense urban environment all through the summer months, we don’t have anything for you to do, stay in your apartment with the three kids,” Cuomo said. “There’s a sanity equation here also that we have to take into consideration.”

The choice of streets, and the rollout of the program, will be managed by all the relevant agencies including the NYPD, the Department of Transportation, the city council and the Mayor’s office. The program will include several measures including expanded sidewalks near already crowded areas such as parks, opening local streets and early-action bike lanes.