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34th Avenue Open Street

UPDATE: Cuomo Orders de Blasio to Ban Cars on Some Streets to Promote Social Distancing, But Mayor is Unsure

Photo: Governor’s Office

Two days after Streetsblog called for the same thing, Gov. Cuomo has demanded that Mayor de Blasio create a plan to bar cars on some streets so that residents could have the space so they can move around without fear of spreading the dreaded coronavirus — but the city's chief executive doesn't think he can act as quickly as the governor asked.

At his daily press conference on Sunday, the governor said he spoke with the mayor and with Council Speaker Corey Johnson and told them that "New York City must develop an immediate plan" to reduce density.

"There are many options," he said. "You have much less traffic in New York City because non-essential workers aren't going to work. Get creative. Open streets to reduce the density. You want to go for a walk. God bless you. You want to go for a run. God bless you. But let's open streets. Let's open space. That's where people should be — not in dense locations."

In a press conference on Sunday afternoon, de Blasio admitted that he agreed with the governor on the need for more open space for socially-distant recreation, but — for the second time in as many days — cautioned that he will not be banning cars widely.

"If we have a street opened up for recreation, we have to do that smartly because we have to attach enforcement to it," he said. "If we just close streets, I guarantee people will start to congregate. … If you put barriers at the end of a block and everyone comes out like it’s normal, we can’t have that. We have to do it in a systematic fashion. We will start with parks and playgrounds that we have and can enforce. One stage at a time and we will keep people updated as we do."

He did promise to come back to the governor in 24 hours with an "approach."

"We certainly are going to consider, over time, opening up streets for recreation [but] if we’re going to expand, we’ll expand purposefully," he added.

The leaders' comments came less than 48 hours after Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Streetsblog asked the mayor to consider closing some streets to cars so that pedestrians could keep their distance from each other, or socialize at a distance, in the street.

At the time, the mayor said he wasn't into it. Here was that exchange:

Streetsblog: Yeah. The question was simply, are you considering closing some residential streets as some cities have done so that people can socialize at a distance without cars going through?

Mayor: Yeah. Without overstating it, Gersh and I just want to – I'm going to put some brakes on you to make sure that your interpretation does not get too energetic here. Definitely interested in creating more spaces for people outdoors so we can have social distancing. I think we have some good models of, like, summer streets – is an interesting idea. That's something we'll look at right away. Obviously, school yards. ... So, the question is going to be how can we create the right space, the right amount of space in different places so people have alternatives and they can keep some distance. That is not necessarily the same as closing residential streets. But it means making sure there's enough space and that'll be something that will constantly grow over the next few weeks.

On Sunday, Johnson tweeted his support for the governor.

And Danny Harris of Transportation Alternatives also commended the governor.

“New York City has a long history of doing this for block parties, races, Summer Streets, and festivals," said Harris, who had issued a list of street safety demands two weeks ago, as the crisis began unfolding. "We must work quickly to make more public space available to New Yorkers to reduce density and keep our streets safe.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated. We've reached out to City Hall for comment.

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