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Car-Free Streets

Opinion: The Next Mayor Must Commit to Removing Thousands of ‘Parking’ Spaces

12:01 AM EST on November 10, 2020

Amsterdam: This is what a city street can look like … if you stop giving priority to the storage of cars. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

What did we learn most of all from COVID? That streets are for people.

Mayoral initiatives such as "open streets," which turned 60-plus miles of roadway into recreation space for a cramped population, and "open restaurants," which repurposed curbside spaces to help 10,000-plus restaurants, brought life back to our streets with virtually no cost — except to car owners who believe they, and they alone, can leave their private property in the public right of way...for free in most cases.

So what's next? Let's go to the videotape!

How Streetsblog covered Amsterdam's innovation.
How Streetsblog covered Amsterdam's innovation.
How Streetsblog covered Amsterdam's innovation.

Last year, I traveled to Amsterdam to cover the news that the newly victorious Green Party was beginning an initiative to repurpose 10,000 car spaces to prioritize living, biking, greenery and quiet. We did two separate Streetfilms on the plan (the news was that great!), and both films sparked discussions on-line in other cities about doing the same.

What about New York? Besides the mayoral restaurant initiative, we remain far behind other North American cities, such as Montreal and San Francisco, that have built parklets in former "parking" spaces for the better part of the last decade.

But our experience with COVID shows that we can do better — New Yorkers are demanding it every time they patronize a restaurant with seating area in the roadway along the curb.

So why stop there? Restaurant owners love having the additional space, but so would residents of non-business communities, who could certainly find much better ways to use excess, wasteful public space to improve their communities rather than provide free car storage to a minority of well-off neighbors.

Starting on Monday, the 2021 mayor's race officially begins (we were all waiting for that Biden-Trump thing to finish). So no serious mayoral candidate can dodge the question anymore: Where do you stand on repurposing curbside space for community use? Do you have a yearly target or a more general idea? We have far more parking spaces than Amsterdam — so if the Dutch can eliminate 10,000 spaces, we certainly can do a lot more.

Right, mayoral candidates? Let's hear what you have to say.

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