STREETS WEEK! Now Mayor Creates ‘Open Boulevards’ to Bolster Outdoor Dining, Strolling

The city will allow 10 street segments to become more than just basic Open Restaurant streets but more like "Open Boulevards," according to City Hall. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The city will allow 10 street segments to become more than just basic Open Restaurant streets but more like "Open Boulevards," according to City Hall. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The mayor’s “Open Streets: Restaurant” program has a new name and a broader mission.

Mayor de Blasio announced on Wednesday the creation of “Open Boulevards” — 15 short road segments on which restaurants would not just be able to operate as they have during the pandemic, but become true “dining destination experiences [with] cultural activities, community-based programming, landscaping and other beautification, and art installations.”

“It takes the concept of open streets and supercharges it,” Hizzoner said, touting the cultural programming. “This is the kind of thing people will love: all the diversity and energy of New York will be on display on these open boulevards. … There will be places to hang out, picnic tables, for people to gather in a safe, positive way.”

Details were not immediately available about how different these roadway segments will be from existing Open Streets Restaurant streets, but the city release did say these new “Open Boulevards” would be distinguished with “branded light pole banners and gateways at entrances and public tables and chairs.”

Restaurants will will receive free barriers, City Hall said. (And picnic tables will help Vanderbilt Avenue diners, for example, from having to sit in the dirt of them median):

Vanderbilt Avenue was one of the open street successes last year. It will return this year — again, thanks to a massive fundraising and volunteer effort. Photo: Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council
Vanderbilt Avenue has become a true gathering place. Photo: Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

Many of the areas covered by the announcement will be familiar to culinary-minded New Yorkers. Most (if not all) have taken advantage of the mayor’s open streets program spinoff that allowed restaurateurs to set up dining areas in curbside spaces and, in cases such as Arthur Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Fifth Avenue and Woodside Avenue, the roadway itself during some weekend hours.

“I always go back to the Winston Churchill quote, ‘Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,'” said Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “All these programs are using that expression to show that we can build something better.”

That list expanded on Wednesday — day three of the mayor’s Streets Week! — to this full list:

  • Bronx
    • Alexander Avenue between Bruckner Boulevard and E. 134th Street (Thurs-Sun, 2-8 p.m.)
    • Arthur Avenue between E. 187th Street and Crescent Avenue (Thurs-Sun, 6-10 p.m.)
  • Manhattan
    • Amsterdam Avenue between 106th and 110th streets (Sat-Sun, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.)
    • Columbus Avenue between 106th and 110th streets (Sat-Sun, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.)
  • Brooklyn
    • Vanderbilt Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Park Place (Fri, 4-10 p.m.; Sat-Sun, noon-10 p.m.)
    • Fifth Avenue
      • Dean Street to Park Place (Sat, noon-10 p.m.)
      • Sterling Place to Berkeley Place (Sat, noon-10 p.m.)
      • President Street to Third Street (Sat, noon-10 p.m.)
      • 10th to 13th streets (Sat, noon-10 p.m.)
      • 39th to 41st streets (Sat, 4-11 p.m.)
      • 45th to 47th streets (Sat, 4-11 p.m.)
      • 55th to 59th streets (Sat, 4-11 p.m.)
  • Queens
    • Ditmars Avenue between 33rd and 36th streets (Fri, 5-9 p.m.; Sat-Sun, noon-9 p.m.)
    • Woodside Avenue between 76th and 78th streets (Sat-Sun, noon-11 p.m.)
  • Staten Island
    • Minthorne Street between Victory Boulevard and Bay St (Fri, 4:30-11 p.m.; Sat, noon-11 p.m.)

Transportation Alternative Executive Director Danny Harris applauded the slight broadening of Open Streets: Restaurants to Open Boulevards:

“Open streets are helping neighborhoods recover from the pandemic, and have the opportunity to serve our public health, small businesses, and community needs for decades to come. That is why we have advocated with the Open Streets Coalition for the program to be expanded and permanent,” he said. “Launching the Open Boulevards Program is a strong signal from Mayor de Blasio that open streets are here to stay and improving.”

Predictably, some reporters asked the mayor about what happens “to the traffic” when the open boulevards are in effect.

“We’re in an extraordinary moment, coming out of such pain but moving to recovery, so we have to do things that fuel the recovery — the life and vitality of New York City,” he said. “This is an opportunity to bring back jobs, hope and tourism.”

Chief Strategy Officer Jee Kim added that that’s the reason this particular slate of streets was chosen — most if not all have “already proven” that they roadways are working fine during open restaurant hours.

It’s the latest announcement as part of the city-exclaimed “Streets Week!” series of releases. But like others — on Monday, the city announced lower speed limits on a handful of streets; and on Tuesday, some bike and bus initiatives  — it’s not like the news was earth-shaking, given how much the city has already accomplished in getting all these programs up on their feet earlier in the pandemic.

And continuing the trend of putting a punctuation mark on existing programs, on Thursday, the mayor will sign the Council bill that makes the open streets program officially permanent.

The idea does not go as far as what advocates have long been pushing the mayor to create: fully pedestrianized zones that bar cars 24-7-365, which many European cities created decades ago to reduce car use and save lives. Oslo, Norway, for example, has reduced road deaths to zero, but Mayor de Blasio has rejected that strategy.

“God bless those other cities. I respect them,” the mayor said earlier in Streets Week! “We’re a different city than they are.”

This is a breaking story and we’ll update later.

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