Report: less than half of New York City’s open streets are operational

More than 14 months have passed since Mayor Bill de Blasio first introduced his Open streets plan, which was initially intended to give pedestrians and bicyclists more room to disperse safely during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, the program has flourished into several successful branches, including Open Restaurants and Open Culture, and the City Council has legislation passed requiring the city to make Open Streets a permanent program and expand to serve the less affluent neighborhoods that need them most.

But a new report by Transportation Alternatives (TA) argues that although the program is popular and net positive in improving life in the city, there have been “significant inequities in the planning and operation of the program.”

The group sent hundreds of volunteer surveyors to visit all of the city’s open streets at least once this summer, and found that of the 274 open streets listed by the Department of Transportation (DOT), only 46 percent of them, or 126 in total. The streets were really functional. They defined an active open street as one in which at least one surveyor “observed barricades on the street, during hours and days DOT listed. “According to their report, there were no barricades or barriers preventing cars from entering and circulating on most streets during designated open hours.

That means there are only 24 miles of functional open streets in the entire city, far fewer than the 100 miles. de Blasio said it was the city’s goal when it launched the program, much less than the maximum number of open streets the city reached late last summer, which was just under 70 miles.

Point, which recently launched A public participation process to improve the designs and rules regarding permanent outdoor dining facilities, questioned these numbers: They said there are officially 47 miles of streets currently open in the city.

“Open Streets was an emergency response to the pandemic and we are now taking the necessary steps to make this program permanent and sustainable in the long term,” said DOT spokesman Seth Stein. “The neighborhoods that applied for the program are already being supported by resources to make their beloved Open Streets permanent.”

Stein added that the agency is reaching out to communities without BID or local groups to support Open Streets.

Another spokesperson added that they question the methodology of the TA survey: “We actively and frequently check the status of our Open Streets, and we are sure that many of these streets are, in fact, operational, despite what a colporteur may have. “. seen on an isolated visit, “said Alana Morales, DOT spokesperson.” There are also open streets that were recently updated on our maps, which would not have been counted in the TA report. “

The TA report also found that the majority of non-operational open streets were in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. In the Bronx, they found that 84 percent of the Open Streets listed did not exist in practice; in Queens and Brooklyn, they found that 69 and 60 percent of the Open Streets listed were not working.

They also found that only one in five New Yorkers lives within walking distance of an active open street, and that there was an uneven distribution of open streets in wealthier neighborhoods and areas. There are no active Open Streets in any of the six community board districts (none of which are in Manhattan) that they identified as having the fewest residents living within walking distance of a park.

“The streets can be a path to recovery and they can help conquer all the crises in the city, and the open streets should be the center of that,” Cory Epstein, TA spokesperson, told Gothamist today. “We love Open Streets so much that we want them to be successful. Unless someone is tracking the data, we cannot improve the program. If the metrics and data are not captured and shared publicly, it is difficult to improve, so ‘we are. putting everything now. “

This new report comes just over a year since Transportation Alternative’s latest progress report in the program. In the summer of 2020, just a few months after the implementation of Open Streets, the group argued that De Blasio’s plan “lacks[ed] vision and ambition “, and was essentially” a disconnected network of islands of public space with management challenges. “

“The moral of the story is that we know that Open Streets works, but they need to work in a lot more areas,” Epstein said. “We have data that shows they work and legislation that can help them work, but these have been months and months of failed implementation and broken promises from the mayor. This report makes the case that there should be no more delays and why expand and improve Open Streets is essential. “

The report includes several examples of the ways that Open Streets has improved life in the city: bicycle injuries decreased 17 percent on open streets while increasing 20 percent citywide over the past year; driver and pedestrian injuries fell more on open streets than citywide. And as De Blasio has touted, more than 100,000 jobs in the restaurant industry have been saved thanks to outdoor dining opportunities, with only .38% of the street space used by Open Streets

A Siena College survey made for TA found that 63 percent of New York City voters support closing streets to cars to open them to people, including more than 50 percent of car owners. DOT survey at the beginning of this year found that 81 percent of those surveyed want Broadway to be a permanent open street.

Among TA’s recommendations on how to improve the program: make each Open Street permanent and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with better infrastructure and support; lengthen all open streets to at least half a mile; reducing street parking on Open Streets to discourage drivers from trying to enter; target and prioritize neighborhoods that are disadvantaged by racist planning, increased air pollution, and higher rates of traffic accidents; and closing a street outside every New York City school to create School Open Streets.

You can read the full report here.

A photo of an open street at 36th Street

An open street on 36th Street

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An open street on 36th Street

Kostas Lymperopoulos / CSM / Shutterstock

Epstein added that even though the mayor convened a transportation advisory council to suggest ideas for a “transportation recovery,” de Blasio did nothing with any of the group’s recommendations after meeting 18 times.

In its City state address this year, de Blasio said that “equity and inclusion will be at the heart of Open Streets expansion,” but TA argues that this has not been achieved. “We hope the next administration will focus more on the streets and our recovery, and follow up on that recently passed legislation,” Epstein added.

Brooklyn Borough President and mayoral candidate Eric Adams, who previously voiced to gothamist his support for continuing the Open Streets program if he becomes mayor, said in a statement that the program has been a “vital lifeline” during the pandemic, but has room for improvement.

“As this new report makes clear, the distribution of the program has been profoundly uneven, and black and brown New Yorkers across the five boroughs are much less likely to have access to an open street,” Adams said. “As we consider what our city’s cityscape should look like after COVID, we must do a better job of ensuring that the benefits of Open Streets reach the New Yorkers who need them most.”

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