City council passes bill ensuring open streets are permanent
April 30, 2021 By Allie Griffin
City council passed a bill Thursday to make the Open Streets program a permanent fixture in New York City for years to come.
the bill, sponsored by Manhattan Council member Carlina Rivera, codifies and expands the original program that closed streets to through traffic for pedestrians and cyclists.
The program was introduced about a year ago as a temporary measure to provide New Yorkers with adequate outdoor space amid the pandemic. It has proven popular in many neighborhoods, finding particular success on 34th Avenue, an area with limited park space.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had pledged to make the program permanent. The bill, however, makes that legal promise and ensures that there are adequate resources for it.
The bill also seeks to expand the program.
The program currently integrates more than 200 open streets as shutter to transit traffic from 8am to 8pm in most cases. Local traffic is permitted on some streets, at 5 MPH.
The bill, however, would give communities the ability to extend those hours to keep open streets closed to through traffic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, seven days a week.
The DOT will also have to monitor annually the success of each open street and make improvements where necessary, such as the addition of traffic calming measures, the construction of pedestrian spaces or the elimination of parking spaces.
The legislation requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide personnel and other resources to a minimum of 20 open streets in neighborhoods that would normally be underserved. The aim is to create open streets in neighborhoods that do not have groups of volunteers equipped to manage them.
Several Queens lawmakers, joined by Rivera, staged a rally on the open street of 34th Avenue to support the legislation ahead of the council vote.
The avenue, which closes between 69th Street and Boulevard Junction every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., is one of the most popular open streets in the program.
Neighbors have formed the 34th Ave Open Streets Coalition and run weekly dance classes, kids’ activities, ESL assistance, and exercise classes on the 26-block, 1.3-mile stretch.
Assembly Member Jessica Gonzáles-Rojas, Senator Jessica Ramos, Council Member Daniel Dromm and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards all came to the rally on 34th Avenue Thursday.
Richards called the passage of the bill – and the expansion of the program to underserved communities – monumental.
“What we are telling the communities around town is that you matter,” he said. “Although Robert Moses may have over-built your community and didn’t think about the park space, we can take back our streets and that’s what we are doing today.”
Transport advocates also applauded the bill.
The director of the organization of transport alternatives, Erwin Figueroa, said the bill would facilitate open streets like the successful 34th avenue in the five boroughs.
“From now on, the open streets will be part of the fabric of New York City,” Figueroa said at the rally. “It will be part of New York’s infrastructure, because now we are taking our streets back and giving them back to people.”
The bill was adopted by the Council with a vote of 40 to 8 votes.
Among the no votes were Queen’s council members Adrienne Adams, Barry Grodenchik, I. Daneek Miller and Francisco Moya.