The Village Sun
New York City is going from “Mean Streets” to Open Streets.
The City Council voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to make the Open Streets program, launched a year ago during the pandemic, permanent. There were only eight No votes.
The driving force — scratch that — the walking and biking force behind the program is Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who was the lead sponsor a year ago of the original bill creating the program. Council Speaker Corey Johnson was a co-sponsor. The initiative was approved last April with the stated purpose of increasing space for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, it was said that Open Streets would affect 1 percent of the city’s roadways.
Though COVID is now on the wane, the Council’s vote on Thursday not only made the Open Streets pilot program permanent but expanded it in several ways.
With the legislation’s passage, the city’s Department of Transportation will now be required to operate a permanent program for Open Streets program, which will be managed either by D.O.T. or local community organizations.
Also, D.O.T. will now be required to conduct annual evaluations of existing Open Streets to determine whether to enact permanent design changes — such as transforming them into shared streets or pedestrian plazas, raising the street grade or removing parking.
According to a press release from Rivera, “D.O.T. will be required to annually evaluate and report on any existing Open Streets to determine if any could benefit from a permanent suite of street changes. These include but are not limited to conversions into a shared street or pedestrian plaza, the addition of bicycle parking, signage, street markings, installation of bollards or street barriers, tree plantings, parking removal, street furniture and accessibility improvements, including raising of the street grade.
“Any conversions to permanent shared street or pedestrian plazas would satisfy benchmarks established in the Streets Master Plan, allowing for a more effective, community-led transition to a more pedestrian-friendly city,” Rivera noted.
In addition, Open Streets operators will now have the ability, when they apply, to designate parking spaces that they want to use for programming or other uses instead of vehicle parking. These uses could include event space or “parklets,” for example.
Also, under the newly approved changes, operators also now have the option to run Open Streets 24 hours a day, plus pursue complete road closures, subject to D.O.T. approval.
The picture above is one of the alpha open streets that were approved during the pandemic in Jackson Heights. And it should look familiar because that's one of the open streets where an apartment building went on fire and displaced 400 people.