NYC to Close 40 Miles of Streets to Give Walkers More Space

Henry Goldman

(Bloomberg) -- New York City will close 40 miles (64 kilometers) of streets to cars next month to provide more opportunity for recreation and expand space for pedestrians to keep social distance, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The plan’s ultimate goal calls for 100 miles of “open streets,” largely near parks, as well as widened sidewalks and additional permanent bike lanes. Police and community organizations will help identify the streets and enforce the traffic ban to ensure pedestrian safety, de Blasio said Monday at a press briefing.

The issue had opened a rift between the mayor and the City Council, where a majority aligned itself with pro-bicycle advocates and anti-traffic groups in calling upon the mayor to follow other cities in the U.S. that had banned cars on some streets during the pandemic.

“If the Mayor won’t open streets to New Yorkers, who so desperately need safe public spaces right now, the @NYCCouncil will look to @NYGovCuomo for leadership on this issue. We are prepared to work with the State to make this happen,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Tweeted on April 26.

De Blasio had resisted the proposal, saying it would create challenges for law enforcement. The mayor also said he was concerned that drivers might not obey the street closing, placing pedestrians and bikers in danger. The conflict ended Monday, with de Blasio announcing street closures would be monitored by a partnership between police and neighborhood organizations.

“There was a really good consensus that we could do something substantial while keeping the health and safety issues up front and ensuring the right kind of enforcement, with trusted community partners,” de Blasio said.

The plan calls to ban traffic near areas that have already attracted crowds, such as parks, and may include using barricades to temporarily expand sidewalks as the city did at Rockefeller Center during last year’s Christmas holidays.

“Warm weather is going to change the dynamic, it’s going to make it more challenging, so the notion of going where the people will be, that’s about maximizing the impact, giving them the most opportunity to be socially distant,” the mayor said. “The real focus will be on the communities that are hardest hit.”

City officials are working on a more comprehensive plan for summer’s warmest months, the mayor said. On April 16, the mayor ordered city pools to remain closed on Memorial Day, saying “right now we do not have a plan to open the beaches, just like we don’t have a plan to open the pools.”

(Adds plan details in second paragraph)

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