The program began as a way to provide more public space during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 29, 2021, the City Council voted to pass Int. 1933-A, a bill to make a permanent Open Streets program. The Open Streets program closes streets for a given time period to provide pedestrians and cyclists with open street space free of vehicular traffic.
The program was created last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to provide more open space for New Yorkers to go outside during the pandemic. Streets would be restricted for a few hours a week or during weekend days and would be managed by various community organizations or the NYPD. The program provided public space around the city, during a time when many businesses were closed and access to playgrounds was restricted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Due to the popularity of the program, many community advocates have been calling to make the program permanent. For CityLand’s prior coverage of the Open Streets program, click here.
The bill requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to operate an open streets program annually. Open streets could be operated by community organizations. Community organizations that wish to apply will at a minimum need to indicate the geographic bounds of the requested area to be used, the duration and hours of operation, resources the organization plans on contributing to the operation of the open street, resources the organization will require from DOT, accessibility measures, and how to maintain emergency vehicle access. The bill further outlines factors DOT will consider in its selection process, including the equitable distribution of open streets across the city, the presence of bus and truck routes and medical facilities nearby, existing parks, open streets and other public spaces and how they are used, and access for emergency and commercial delivery vehicles, among other things.
DOT would provide signage, street furniture and other equipment where available to community organizations that operate open streets. The department would also maintain a list of open streets and their operating hours on the department’s website.
The bill also requires DOT to annually evaluate open streets to determine if permanent design changes like creating pedestrian plazas or traffic reduction measures would be appropriate. DOT would present a report to the Mayor and Speaker of the Council annually evaluating the open streets program.
This bill will take effect 120 days after it becomes law, and was sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera and Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The bill has been sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio for his signature.
Council Member Carlina Rivera stated, “From Avenue B in my District, to 34th Avenue in Queens and Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, it’s clear that Open Streets aren’t just a solution to social distancing challenges posed by the pandemic – they are a successful model for pedestrian prioritization that have helped save local businesses, inspire entrepreneurs and performing artists, and connect us to our neighbors in a way that few City programs have before. It’s time we expand this program equitably and make it permanent. That’s why I’m proud that the legislation we are passing today not only requires DOT to use equity metrics and supply staff and resources for at least 20 Open Streets, but that it also provides more opportunities for Open Streets operators to implement new features on their streets and pursue permanent infrastructure changes as well. This is the kind of quick-build mentality we should be bringing to transportation and infrastructure projects across our City as we recover from the pandemic and build back a New York City that is green, resilient, and accessible to all.”
By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)