Mayor Adams Says He Didn’t Give the Order to Erase Fort Greene Open Street

The Willoughby Avenue open street is endangered again. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Willoughby Avenue open street is endangered again. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It wasn’t me!

Mayor Adams said on Friday that he did not order the Willoughby Avenue open street to be removed on Thursday — and even claimed he was the one who demanded that the insanely popular car-light recreation street be restored by the Department of Transportation by day’s end.

“When the information came to my attention, which I was not aware of, I called [DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez] and I stated, is this something [the neighborhood’s] Councilwoman wants?” said Adams, referring to new Fort Greene Council Member Crystal Hudson. “And once I was told no, I was very clear, put that street back.”

In a statement late on Thursday, the DOT had blamed an unspecified “miscommunication” as the reason that city workers first removed gates and signs that keep cars off Willoughby Avenue. But on Friday, Adams said that it didn’t matter to him how the alleged miscommunication happened, only that the open street was put back into service.

So that leaves a mystery: Was the Willoughby open street shut down on the orders of the mayor after someone close to Hizzoner, or the area’s police commanders, complained about the popular stretch in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene? And if not, why was it erased at all? And what should residents of the neighborhood think when one day their popular open street can be filled with dog walkers, exercisers, seniors and kids — and the next day it can simply disappear, either on Adams’s orders or from a deputy who’s going rogue? (DOT officials did not respond for a request for comment on Friday. Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, whose portfolio includes DOT, also declined to discuss the mystery.)

Even though the city sent trucks and work crews to restore the open street shortly after Streetsblog published the news of its closure, it’s still unclear exactly why everything that happened on Thursday happened. Phillip Kellogg, a volunteer with the Fort Greene Open Streets coalition, said that while his group was briefed by the DOT before the open street was ripped up, the coalition remained in the dark.

“We don’t have any more information than anybody else,” he said. “There was some kind of miscommunication communicated by the DOT. And it was very distressing. They told us Willoughby was not going to be an open street.”

Many open street supporters believe that the open street was removed because brass at the 88th Precinct didn’t like having one fewer roadway to drive on, but an officer at the Classon Avenue station house denied that anyone at the precinct personally lobbied the mayor to remove the pedestrian-friendly street.

But the officer added that the NYPD is not a fan of the street, which has been providing only limited access to car drivers since almost the beginning of the Covid pandemic two years ago. The city made some additional tweaks to the open street late last year — adding flower pots and some painted mid-block knockdowns — that apparently got the precinct’s attention.

And not in a good way.

“Our concern was that there are flowerpots as well as the street closure,” said Officer Evita Poole, using the car-driver’s vernacular for the open street. “And that’s a very long stretch to have something like that, especially on areas where emergency vehicles need to pass. So when we had to meet Community Board 2, we asked who’s in charge, because they didn’t reach out to the precinct to even tell us that they were doing it.”

Poole suggested that, indeed, the 88th Precinct, where Mayor Adams once served as a police officer, sought to reduce the length of the open street, which runs from Fort Greene Park to Hall Street.

“We spoke to somebody from DOT and asked, ‘Why is it such a long stretch?’ They said that’s something they’re going to investigate and they said that they’d look into removing it if need be, but they never got back to us.”

The precinct has repeatedly shown contempt for residents of the neighborhood in the form of seizing a school playground for a parking lot during the height of the Covid lockdown last year, and also for the way its cops and employees illegally park in the area.

Poole’s assertion that the DOT redesigns streets without taking emergency response time into account is a familiar one, having been lobbed by firefighters, who falsely claimed that bike lanes and Vision Zero efforts were to blame for increased emergency response time. But in response to those claims, former DOT official Jon Orcutt pointed out that the “emergency access is always taken into account” when the DOT works on road redesigns. Current DOT officials have also testified as much at many City Council hearings.

The DOT is thus left holding the bag after the incident, having to shoulder the weight of how they handled the alleged miscommunication.

The incident was only the latest humiliation for Rodriguez, who 42 days in office has yet to deliver any kind of plan or update on his ambitious proposal to harden 50 percent of the city’s plastic bollard protected bike lanes in his first 100 days in office. The DOT also quietly pushed back by one year the completion date of the de Blasio-era plan to create dedicated pedestrian space on the Queensboro Bridge by the end of this year, meaning that cyclists and pedestrians will have to spend another two years sharing the bridge’s narrow north outer roadway.

The city has also seen an explosion in traffic violence at the start of the Adams/Rodriguez partnership, with incidents on Thursday including a fatal crash where a driver in Far Rockaway plowed into 10-year-old Davina Afokoba while she walked on the sidewalk and a hit-and-run in Park Slope that left an unidentified 44-year-old man in critical condition.

It’s clear that proponents of this open streets, and open streets in general, are holding their fire at the moment and just taking the W now that Willoughby Avenue has returned to its proper layout. Council Member Carlina Rivera, who authored the legislation that made open streets permanent, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but did send a supportive tweet about the idea of open streets.

Hudson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. She tweeted that her office would hold a community meeting to gather feedback on the open street and to “ensure all voices and perspectives are heard”

Willoughby Avenue volunteer Mike Lydon said he was unaware of any kind of organized opposition to the street, where strong volunteer effort has created an open street so popular that non-car users have outnumbered car users by a 99-to-1 ratio.

“There is no organized opposition, there’s no one even showing up to the Transportation Committee of Community Board 2 griping about it,” said Lydon. “I’ve spoken to residents on the street a fair amount, and it seems like most people accept it. Even the ones who are a little annoyed and frustrated by it understand that it’s well used and well loved.”

Kellogg said that open streets proponents are going to look to the future, and will start with taking advantage of Saturday’s spring-like forecast to gather at the Willoughby open street in celebration that it still exists.

“It’s important people for people to come out and rally and support the things that they like, and not ever take anything for granted,” he said.

— Additional reporting by Julianne Cuba

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