‘Open streets’ program piloted on Bushwick Avenue scrapped due to lack of use

People walk on Park Avenue that was closed to vehicular traffic during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City
Stretches in every borough but Staten Island were temporarily closed to vehicular traffic during the outbreak of coronavirus disease as part of a pilot program.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The mayor’s office announced Monday that it suspended its “open streets” pilot program that provided designated areas for New Yorkers to safely exercise amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the mayor’s office, the spaces were not used to the level that justified the continued assignment of up to 80 police officers per location. The officers were required to close the roadways to vehicular traffic and ensure that pedestrians were practicing social distancing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the open streets pilot program in March after a public outcry from Governor Andrew Cuomo about large crowds of people in parks and other public venues amid the ongoing outbreak. Closing certain streets to vehicular traffic and opening them to pedestrians was seen as a way to reduce density while still giving New Yorkers a place to exercise or get fresh air safely.

But the mayor’s office, in an April 6 statement, said the open streets weren’t heavily used by residents.

“Given the low utilization of the open streets and the growing number of officers out sick, this is not something we can prioritize at this time,” the statement noted. 

As of April 5, according to police, 18.6 percent of the entire NYPD workforce — including 6,718 uniformed members — had called out sick due to the coronavirus.

The open streets program affected four roadways across the city: Bushwick Avenue between Johnson and Flushing Avenues in Brooklyn; Park Avenue between 28th and 34th Streets in Manhattan; 34th Avenue between 73rd and 80th Streets in Queens; and Grand Concourse between East Burnside Avenue and 184th Street in the Bronx.

The mayor’s office says it is “open to reviewing other innovative ways to open public space to New Yorkers and may adjust course as this situation evolves.”

“The brave men and women of the NYPD never back away from a challenge when the safety of New Yorkers is at stake,” said Jane Meyer, deputy press secretary for the mayor’s office. “We are suspending this pilot because we must protect them like they are protecting us, and not enough New Yorkers are utilizing this program to justify its continuation at this point in time.”

Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, took to Twitter Monday to chide de Blasio for his decision.

“As more cities around the country are following NYC’s lead on #openstreets, we are disappointed that @NYCMayor is now taking away this critically important program from New Yorkers who need safe space for #PhysicalDistancing during this crisis in our city,” Harris tweeted. “Given @NYGovCuomo is picking up jogging and @NYCMayor is taking daily walks in Prospect Park, they should lead by example to ensure that New Yorkers who must be out have safe space for social distancing by opening, not closing more of our 6,000 miles of streets to people.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.