Now Brooklynites Call For Permanent Open Streets In Williamsburg And Greenpoint

The Berry Street open street, which is beloved enough that residents want to lock it in forever. Photo: North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition
The Berry Street open street, which is beloved enough that residents want to lock it in forever. Photo: North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition

Another county heard from!

Open street volunteers in North Brooklyn are demanding through a petition that the city permanently set aside Berry Street between Broadway and North 12th Street and Driggs Avenue between Monitor Street and Meeker Avenue as car-free space — the latest community group to make the request for permanence, following residents and elected officials along 34th Avenue in Queens.

“We’re a grassroots coalition of community non-profits and neighbors who are passionate about this program,” North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition member Noel Hidalgo told Streetsblog. “We built this community network that’s maintained these public spaces, so now how do we move forward?”

In their petition, the Coalition asks the city to “make our neighborhood’s streets permanent safe havens for families and neighbors with all abilities.”

The petition says that both streets have flourished in different ways since the city closed them off to most car traffic (open streets still allow local traffic, but bar through traffic). On Driggs, the coalition says the area has become a safe space to exercise and made McGolrick Park a more relaxing environment, while Berry has “flourished as a non-commercialized public space.”

Hidalgo said that the group has had conversations with the DOT asking what comes next for the popular car-free thoroughfares, which are maintained by almost 100 neighborhood residents in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. With the petition, Hidalgo said the group is laying out the best ways to build a future for the pair of open streets, and is hoping that it spurs the DOT to open a kind of community engagement process that will make the program permanent. (In Queens, the DOT has already made a presentation to the local community board — which certainly kvetched — to make 34th Avenue a permanent open street, though its future is unclear, despite massive support from residents).

In order to really make the open streets hum, the organizers requested that the city alternate the traffic directions every other block on Driggs and Berry to make it impossible to drive long distances down each street, place detour signs and planters at large intersections to scare off non-local drivers, and extend the pedestrian island where Meeker Avenue, Driggs Avenue and Morgan Avenue converge into a pedestrian island.

The Driggs Avenue open street has faced some problems in the form of a hostile NYPD and drivers who slam through barricades, so the coalition made sure to ask the city for some financial and material help, as well as a commitment to working with the community on the ground, to make sure the streets stay respected and in good shape.

And just like 34th Avenue, which got an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, a DSA elected official has thrown her rose into the fray with a supportive tweet for the idea. State Senator Julia Salazar, whose district contains chunks of each open street, tweeted that Brooklynites “deserve to have safe, open and clean public space” and thanked the organizers for their efforts to make the open streets work.

The proposal to lock in the open streets could have run afoul of City Council Member, and Brooklyn Borough President candidate, Antonio Reynoso’s proposal to put a busway on Berry Street. After publication though, Reynoso said that he’s in favor of the NBOSCC proposal to make Berry Street permanently car-free instead.

“The Department of Transportation must help us explore ways to reclaim street space in North Brooklyn, and that starts with a conversation about making the closure of Berry Street permanent,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “I look forward to further conversations about how we can make street space equitable and accessible for all.”

And the desire for the permanent open streets is very real locally. As of Tuesday afternoon, Hidalgo said that the overwhelming majority of the over 700 petition signatures that came in so far were from the 11222, 11249 and 11211 zip codes, which contain or border the areas with the open streets.

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