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De Blasio’s ‘open streets’ are still used by drivers, survey finds

De Blasio’s ‘open streets’ are still used by drivers, survey
finds 1

More than half of Bill de Blasio’s “open streets” across the city remain open to drivers, according to a new report.

The program — which closes streets to all but local and emergency traffic to make room for biking, walking and play — launched during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and was made permanent by the mayor and city council this past May. Yet just 46 percent of the Department of Transportation’s listed open streets locations are active, according to a survey by Transportation Alternatives released Tuesday.

Meaning the majority of the pedestrian-friendly “open streets” (54%) aren’t being enforced.

Whiter and wealthier nabes are more likely to have “successful’ open streets, which often rely on volunteers and outside funding to maintain. In the Bronx, the survey found just one in eight listed locations were active — compared to seven in 10 in Manhattan.

As a result, Manhattanites have 14-times as many operational open streets as Bronxites, the group said. Brooklyn and Queens are similarly suffering, with just 40 percent and 31 percent, respectively, of locations active.

The data comes from Transportation Alternatives collecting 800 reports from volunteers in the field at all 274 open street locations in the five boroughs.

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De Blasio’s open streets have emerged as a pandemic era battleground, with restrictions being hotly contested in some neighborhoods and totally ignored in others. While the city has scrapped a number of failed open streets, others have simply faded away without notice or fanfare, as the Transportation Alternatives survey found.

A sign for an “open street” near Herald Square. The city first started closing certain streets to vehicle traffic at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

City data shows “huge reductions” in traffic injuries on open street blocks, the group said. Cyclist injuries have dropped 17 percent at open street locations compared to the 12 months before traffic restrictions started, according to the report — defying citywide trends in the opposite direction.

But Manhattan and Brooklyn account for two-thirds of the program’s listed locations. Open streets in predominantly white neighborhoods are more likely to be kept “consistently” car-free, according to the group’s findings.

“All communities deserve Open Streets and the health, climate, and safety benefits they provide,” said Danny Harris, the group’s director. “We demand that New York City elected officials make urgent changes to ensure the Open Streets program has the support it needs to succeed and grow, especially in communities currently left out.”

The Open Streets Program in Forest Park, Queens on May 17, 2020.
The Open Streets Program in Forest Park, Queens on May 17, 2020.
John Nacion/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

DOT spokesman Seth Stein said open streets is in the process of transitioning from “an emergency response to the pandemic” to a “permanent and sustainable” program.

“Neighborhoods that applied to the program are already being supported with resources to make their beloved Open Streets permanent,” Stein said. “Equity and fairness have been central to this program from the start, and we are doing outreach to neighborhoods that lack community groups or BIDs so they get the support necessary to take part in the program no matter what.”

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