April 30, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The City Council passed a bill Thursday to ensure that the Open Streets program is a permanent fixture in New York City for years to come.
The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, codifies and expands upon the initial program that closes streets to through traffic for pedestrian and cyclist use.
The program was introduced about a year ago as a temporary measure to provide New Yorkers with adequate outdoor space amid the pandemic. It proved popular in many neighborhoods, garnering particular success on 34th Avenue, an area short of park space.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had pledged to make the program permanent. The bill, however, makes that pledge law, and ensures that there are adequate resources for it.
The bill also aims to expand on the program.
The program currently incorporates more than 200 open streets that shutter to through traffic from the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in most cases. Local traffic is permitted on some streets, at 5 MPH.
The bill, however, would provide communities with the ability to expand these hours to keep the open streets closed to through traffic 24/7, seven days a week.
The DOT will also be required to monitor the success of each open street annually and make improvements where appropriate, such as adding traffic calming measures, building pedestrian plazas or removing parking spaces.
The legislation requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide staffing and other resources to a minimum of 20 open streets in neighborhoods that would ordinarily be underserved. The aim is to create open streets in neighborhoods that don’t have volunteer groups equipped to manage them.
Several Queens legislators, joined by Rivera, held a rally at the 34th Avenue open street in support of the legislation ahead of the Council vote.
The avenue, which closes between 69th Street and Junction Boulevard each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., is one of the most popular open streets within the program.
Neighbors have formed the 34th Ave Open Streets Coalition and host weekly dance lessons, kids activities, ESL assistance and exercise classes on the 26-block, 1.3-mile stretch.
Assembly Member Jessica Gonzáles-Rojas, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Council Member Daniel Dromm and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards all came out to the rally on 34th Avenue Thursday.
Richards called the bill’s passage — and the expansion of the program to communities underserved by it — monumental.
“What we’re saying to communities around the city is that you matter,” he said. “That although Robert Moses might have overbuilt your community and didn’t think about park space, we can take back our streets and that’s what we’re doing today.”
Transportation advocates also applauded the legislation.
Transportation Alternatives Director of Organizing Erwin Figueroa said the bill will facilitate open streets like the successful 34th Avenue throughout the five boroughs.
“Now open streets are going to be part of the fabric of New York City,” Figueroa said at the rally. “It’s going to be part of the infrastructure of New York City because now we are reclaiming our streets and giving them back to people.”
The bill passed the Council with a 40-to-8 vote.
Among the no votes were Queens Council Members Adrienne Adams, Barry Grodenchik, I. Daneek Miller and Francisco Moya.