Ten new car-free Open Streets are headed to Brooklyn by this summer, bringing miles of streets open to bikers, pedestrians, and community life to the borough’s already-thriving Open Streets program.
“This weekend, we will celebrate Car-Free Earth Day in New York City, but I want to thank the dozens of community partners who will be celebrating the spirit of Earth Day for the many months ahead,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodríguez on April 22. “Open Streets was one of the few bright spots of the pandemic, and I am proud that we have found a way to support more streets in more diverse communities in every borough that can be part of this incredible and permanent program.”
Just about two years ago, the city debuted the Open Streets program, closing certain city streets to through traffic to open up more space for socially-distanced socialization and programming during the first wave of the pandemic. The mostly volunteer-run program closes selected streets to through traffic at different times during the week — some are blocked off every weekday, some on weekends, some just for a few hours during school days — still allowing local traffic for those who live on the open street.
Many New Yorkers quickly embraced Open Streets, using the space for neighborhood gatherings, open-air markets with local sellers, or just a space to let their children play without worrying about passing cars.
Since then, the program has grown, with neighborhood-based community partners applying for and maintaining their Open Streets throughout the five boroughs. This year’s expansion, announced on Earth Day, brings a whopping 156 different Open Streets throughout the city. Four of Brooklyn’s ten new Open Streets are already up and running:
- Watkins Street, from the street end to Belmont Avenue
- North 15th Street, from Nassau Avenue to Banker Street
- South 1st Street, from Berry Street to Wythe Avenue
- Duffield Street, from Metrotech Center to Willoughby Street
Six more new Open Streets will open in Brooklyn by summer, according to the DOT. They are:
- Buffalo Avenue, from St. Mark’s Avenue to Bergen Street, opening June 18
- West 12th Street from Surf Avenue to the street end, opening May 21
- Lewis Avenue from Fulton Street to Hancock Street, opening June 4
- Graham Avenue from Scholes Street to Montrose Avenue, opening April 19
- Chauncey Street from Howard Avenue to Saratoga Avenue, opening July 2
- Benson Avenue from Bay 19th Street to 18th Avenue, opening July 11
A whopping 37 Open Streets either are returning or have already returned to the borough. A full list of Open Streets, their operating hours, and the community group responsible for maintaining each one is available online.
This year’s expansion of the program will also include new free public activities and classes hosted in partnership with the city’s new Public Space Programming initiative. Keep your eyes peeled for fitness classes, arts and culture programming, and more all summer long. Many Open Streets, including the freshly-renewed Berry Street, were buzzing with activity on Earth Day weekend, rejoicing in a day of car-free fun and activities as community groups gathered to educate and entertain their neighbors.
“Expanding Open Streets is necessary for the City’s economic recovery and helps in democratizing access to our street space” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, in a release. “I’ve said this since I proposed the law to legalize the emergency Open Restaurants program and these two programs have made huge strides in our City’s efforts to reclaim our streets for the people.”
The Open Streets program has not been without its critics. Last year, detractors openly berated volunteers and elected officials who spoke in support of Open Streets, and stole barriers and equipment used by some north Brooklyn thoroughfares.
In February, DOT workers suddenly removed the barriers and signs that denoted the Willoughby Avenue Open Street, though the stretch was quickly restored following community outcry. A few weeks later, local supporters and opponents alike gathered at a chaotic meeting hosted by local Councilmember Crystal Hudson and Rodríguez. While the two elected officials said polls had shown overwhelming support for the car-free Willoughby, a number of neighbors said they had not been given opportunity to submit their thoughts officially.
DOT is collecting community feedback on the Willoughby Avenue Open Street through April 30, and is hosting an in-person workshop to discuss a possible new design for the similarly-contentious Berry Open Street on May 14.
Applications are still open for community members or organizations hoping to sponsor a new Open Street. Interested neighbors or community organizations can find more information online at the DOT’s website.