Advocates and Corey Johnson To Mayor: Here Are The Streets To Close to Cars

Can't we just get this? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr
Can't we just get this? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Advocates are demanding car bans on highways, roads inside parks, as well as a fully pedestrianized NYC Marathon route, as Mayor de Blasio considers far-less-ambitious efforts to follow Gov. Cuomo’s order on Sunday that the city create more space for pedestrians during the coronavirus.

And Council Speaker Corey Johnson agrees with a lot of it (plus he would close all the playgrounds!).

Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York have created a broad agenda for the mayor that includes the removal of cars from existing “Summer Streets” avenues, streets that have “robust block associations and histories of block parties,” plus the Jackie Robinson and Moshulu parkways — and the entire 26.2-mile marathon route.

The full list from TransAlt and Bike New York includes banning cars from:

  • Zones around hospitals, with vehicular access only for emergency vehicles and hospital staff
  • The New York City Marathon route
  • Streets routinely closed for Summer Streets and the annual Car-Free Day
  • NYC Street Fair Routes (2020 calendar here)
  • Streets with robust block associations and histories of block parties
  • Streets in neighborhoods not within walking distance of a park (map here)

The groups also seek pedestrianization of  streets “that lack directly adjacent commercial or residential land uses, which may be the most straightforward options for meeting Gov. Cuomo’s call.” Those include:

  • 73rd Avenue and Francis Lewis Boulevard within Cunningham Park
  • Forest Park Drive
  • 164th Street within Kissena Park
  • Shore Boulevard within Astoria Park
  • Crotona Avenue and Claremont Avenue within Crotona Park
  • Jackie Robinson Parkway
  • East Fordham Road between the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo
  • Mosholu Parkway in Van Cortlandt Park
  • Bay Street in Red Hook
  • Lorimer Street within McCarren Park
  • Margaret Corbin Drive within Fort Tryon Park
  • Roadways within Latourette Park

It may sound ambitious, but it isn’t really.

“You don’t need the Jackie Robinson Parkway in the best of times and you especially don’t need it now,” said Jon Orcutt of Bike New York. “What does it even accomplish in terms of connecting areas that Union Turnpike doesn’t offer?”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Streetsblog that he sent his list of recommendations to the governor at 10 am on Monday, just before the loose 24-hour deadline.

Johnson’s plan goes significantly further than the mayor will likely want to go, firstly demanding the closure of “all children’s playgrounds.”

“Any playgrounds that are not enclosed should be temporarily enclosed,” he added.

Regarding streetscape changes, Johnson’s plan mirrored the advocates’:

“Our first priority must be to create those alternative spaces in neighborhoods with the least open and green space so that density is reduced in the existing parks in those neighborhoods,” he said, specifically citing Summer Streets, block associations and street fairs, as the advocates did.

Johnson also called for opening up large private spaces that are being underused right now, including “large college campuses with significant outdoor space, which exist in every borough,” plus botanical gardens, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal.

Outside of the ambitious proposals, there are easy wins for the DOT at the moment, according to Orcutt. The city should work with area precincts to barricade roads that run through parks, like the sections of Crotona Avenue and Claremont Avenue that run through Crotona Park in the Bronx.

The city will need to do a fast inventory of what resources can be diverted to street openings, including taking an inventory of physical barricades it has and which personnel can be shifted to enforce the car-free rules, in order to enforce the car bans and create car-free streets outside of parks.

“You can just put a barricade at the entrance to a park,” Orcutt said. “Someone might move the barricade, but you just put it back. if you want to do something immediate, that’s the low-hanging fruit. Maybe transit cops and parking cops have less work right now and can man barricades.”

The groups also called for the city to reinstate its long-dormant Play Streets program, which has been all but forgotten in recent years, and was barely hanging on by 2017. The Police Athletic League, which managed a number of Play Streets, hasn’t updated its page on Play Street locations since 2018; and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene page on Play Streets now displays an error message. (In a symbol of how little the city cares about the safety of children near schools, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza once admitted to Streetsblog that he has never had a conversation with the mayor about banning cars in front of school buildings.)

It’s not the first time during the virus crisis that Transportation Alternatives has taken the lead in pushing the mayor to do more. On March 9, the group put out a list of demands that included zero-tolerance for vehicles in bike lanes, lots more temporary protected bike lanes, more space for cyclists on the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges, more bike parking and a broader, faster Citi Bike expansion.

The mayor chose the least-ambitious portion of that list, announcing last week that emergency bike lanes would be installed on Smith Street in Brooklyn and to close an infamous gap in the Second Avenue bike lane in Manhattan.

A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told Streetsblog on Monday that the mayor’s office was still reviewing the ideas from the two organizations for further action. But on Sunday, the mayor said it wasn’t so easy carrying through on the governor’s demands.

“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.”

— with Gersh Kuntzman

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