Mayor adds five Downtown Brooklyn blocks to city’s open streets plan

Willoughby Street between Pearl and Jay streets in September 2019.
File photo by Aidan Graham

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled roughly five more Brooklyn blocks Wednesday that city officials will close to most traffic as part of the city’s open streets program.

Starting May 7, a small stretch of Downtown Brooklyn will close to most vehicular traffic for eight hours a day, making more space for Kings Countians to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Together with the Department of Transportation and the Police Department, the local business booster the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership will close Willoughby Street between Pearl and Lawrence streets, Pearl Street from the Fulton Mall to the Renaissance Plaza Walkway adjacent to the Marriott Hotel, and a block of Lawrence Street between Fulton Mall and Willoughby Street, creating less than 0.3 miles of pedestrian and bike-friendly zones in America’s Downtown.

Roughly five blocks on and around Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn will close to most traffic during the day starting May 7.Google

The streets will be closed to through-traffic from 10 am to 6 pm daily, seven days a week, while still allowing emergency vehicles, local deliveries, and pick ups or drop offs to drive there at a speed limit of five miles-per-hour. The busy Jay Street, which bisects the stretch of Willoughby Street, will remain fully open to traffic, according to a release by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. 

This isn’t the first time the business group has teamed up with transportation officials to limit traffic on Willoughby Street. The two opened the borough’s first so-called “shared street” there in September, narrowing the roadway, installing seating and planters, and reducing the speed limit for drivers to five miles-per-hour.

Now, the blocks make up part of 1.5 miles of streets on which the city will limit traffic in collaboration with business improvement districts around the five boroughs. The additional streets are a part of Hizzoner’s commitment to opening 40 miles of city streets to pedestrians and cyclists by May 31, and his ultimate goal of opening up 100 miles of city streets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An open street around Prospect Park.Photo by Todd Maisel

Officials first closed 7.14 miles of thoroughfares inside or adjacent to parks on May 2, including sections of Prospect Park West and Parkside Avenue bordering Prospect Park, along with a 200-foot sliver running through the pint-sized Callahan-Kelly Playground in Cypress Hills.

The city has closed a total of 8.64 miles of streets to cars since the beginning of the month and will have to move forward with more than 10 miles per week before the end of the month to meet the 40 miles.

So far, the mayor has shortchanged Brooklyn with just a mile of open streets — less than an eighth of the open roadways citywide — despite being the largest of the five boroughs by population and second only to Queens in size.

De Blasio previously ordered the closure of four streets in the five boroughs on weekends as part of a pilot program in late March — including a 0.4-mile stretch of Bushwick Avenue — before abandoning that project less than two weeks later on April 6.