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Coronavirus Crisis

Mayor Under Fire for Quickly Killing His Ill-Conceived, Over-Policed ‘Open-Streets’ Plan

Too many cops. This is 34th Avenue in Queens on Sunday, April 5. Photo: Angela Stach

Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined advocates on Monday morning in blasting Mayor de Blasio for suspending his own "open-streets" plan late on Sunday, saying the failure of the program stemmed from City Hall's own misguided design and terrible execution.

Johnson, who had initially called for more open space two weeks ago, said de Blasio had failed to act in a "smart" manner when he decided that his four short stretches of car-free streets required a massive police deployment to ensure that people would not cluster in the newly created public space.

"The goal here was for the Department of Transportation to start looking at solutions that may not require as much staffing," Johnson said on NY1 on Monday morning, hours after Streetsblog broke the news. "We want to be strategic, we want to be smart [and] look at wide swaths and stretches [of roadways to open up]."

Johnson said de Blasio's approach had been "very small" (emphasis his own) and that it did not need nearly as many cops as were deployed — Streetsblog counted 25 cops in an eight-block stretch of 34th Avenue in Queens, 19 cops on the seven blocks of Bushwick Avenue and 22 cops on the five-block stretch of Park Avenue in Manhattan. (The number of cops prompted Streetsblog's in-house satire band to produce its latest hit, "All We Get Are Cops.")

"We can do something a lot bigger than [the four-street plan] while not needing a lot of personnel," Johnson added. "The Council is going to keep pushing. It's going to be more important than ever as the weather gets nicer. I'm afraid we're going to see crowding in parks today."

https://twitter.com/BrooklynSpoke/status/1246983815870009346

Transportation Alternatives was equally disappointed. The group had initially expressed optimism that the mayor's plan would be a model that would be expanded across the city as residents feel crowded into limited public space during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are disappointed that Mayor de Blasio is taking away this critically important program from New Yorkers who desperately need safe space for social distancing during this crisis in our city," the group's executive director, Danny Harris, told Streetsblog. "Per usual, the mayor has leaned on a heavy handed police presence rather than adopt best practices in opening streets to people."

Harris said the city has "a long history" of using business improvement districts, block associations, crossing guards, transit advocacy groups, and volunteers" to close off streets to cars so residents can recreate safely and, in the current context, at the required six feet of distance.

"Given that our governor is picking up jogging and our mayor is taking daily walks in Prospect Park, they should lead by example to ensure that New Yorkers who must be out have safe space for social distancing by opening, not closing, more of our 6,000 miles of streets to people," Harris added.

Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, now with the Trust for Public Land, weighed in on Twitter:

Johnson and Harris's comments came after the mayor had explained his rationale to Streetsblog on Sunday night. The mayor's rambling, somewhat contradictory explanation was followed by an official statement from City Hall spokeswoman Jane Mayer, which we quote in full under the headline, "City Hall: Not Enough People Used 'Open Streets' To Justify the Massive Police Presence That It Didn't Really Require In the First Place Because This Was Never Going to Be a Tourist Attraction":

Last night, we reached a decision to suspend the safe streets pilot. This is a part of our ongoing effort to use city resources wisely to promote social distancing. We are still open to reviewing other innovative ways to open public space to New Yorkers and may adjust course as this situation evolves.

Every day, to keep New Yorkers safe, it took over 80 members of the NYPD to shut down 6-7 blocks in four boroughs for pedestrian access. Over the past two weeks, overcrowding was not an issue, but we did not observe enough New Yorkers utilizing the open space to justify the NYPD presence . The NYPD is playing a crucial role in protecting New Yorkers from COVID-19, and they themselves are vulnerable like the rest of us to this virus. Given the low utilization of the open streets and the growing number of officers out sick, this is not something we can prioritize at this time.

The brave men and women of the NYPD never back away from a challenge when the safety of New Yorkers is at stake. We are suspending this pilot because we must protect them like they are protecting us, and not enough New Yorkers are utilizing this program to justify its continuation at this point in time.

That comment prompted Jon Orcutt, a former DOT official who now works for Bike New York, to point out that the mayor's failure could show the way to how these things should be done in the future.

“Managing public space is not the same as crowd control at a mass event," said Orcutt, a leader of the movement to strip the NYPD of its traffic-control function. "This would be a good time to establish the distinction in official city practice.”

Here's the song parody:

all we get are cops final

One, two, three, four
We don’t need so large a corps
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten
Too many!

A B C D
Dermot Shea is no emcee
E F G H I J
Too many!

Bom bom bom bompa bom
Make the space, bompa bom
Fix your ops, bompa bom
It’s a joke, bompa bom
Don’t need cops!

All together now
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops

Black, white, too much blue
We don’t need this massive crew
Closed streets’re already safe
Bill don’t have a clue

All together now
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops

Bom bom bom bompa bom
Make the space, bompa bom
Fix your ops, bompa bom
It’s a joke, bompa bom
Don’t need cops!

All together now
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops
All we get are cops

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