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DOT Trims Willoughby Ave. Open Street Hours Because ‘Streets Are For All New Yorkers’

It's a big hit on the same open street that key mayor adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin tried to remove less than two months into Mayor Adams's tenure.

Photo: Dave Colon|

People enjoying the Willoughby Avenue open street, while they can.

If you can't kill it, wound it.

The Department of Transportation quietly announced that it will halve the operating hours of the Willoughby Avenue open street this year, laying a big hit on the same open street that key mayor adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin tried to remove less than two months into Mayor Adams's tenure — and the local Council member won't say if she supports the move or opposes it.

The Willoughby Avenue open street currently bars through car traffic 24 hours per day, seven days per week between Washington Park and Washington Avenue. But under the DOT's proposed plan for 2024, through-running cars would only be barred from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Volunteers were outraged at the proposal (and have started a petition).

"The 24/7 Willoughby Avenue Open Street works and is wildly successful at all hours," the Fort Greene Open Streets Coalition said in a statement. "Opening the street to vehicles during prime early morning hours and throughout the late evenings as the days grow longer will be an unfortunate mistake, and increases the potential for conflict with street safety impacts."

The coalition said that the street provides safe passage for a number of different Brooklynites before and after 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., including joggers, cyclists, people bringing their dogs to Fort Greene Park for off-leash hours that end at 9 a.m. and start again after 9 p.m., joggers and parents dropping off their children at a number of local schools.

School drop off on Willoughby Avenue, open street-style.Mike Lydon

One doesn't need to look far from the open street to see the dangers of unleashed general traffic around Fort Greene Park. Last October, a tow truck driver killed 7-year-old Kamari Hughes on nearby Myrtle Avenue at N. Portland Avenue. That crash occurred at 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the DOT's new proposed hours would be in effect for Willoughby Avenue.

And the safety of car-free or car-light streets is obvious. On 34th Avenue in Queens, which became the city's "gold standard" open street early in the pandemic, there were 96 reported crashes between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Junction Boulevard in 2019, according to city stats. Those crashes injured 50 people. Last year, there were only 27 reported crashes, injuring 16 people.

Data compiled by volunteers on the Willoughby Avenue open street shows that the street is used plenty early in the morning around local schools. Near PS20 on Willoughby, which is between Clermont Avenue and Adelphi Street, a recent count found there were over 200 children and adults at the intersection at 7:50 a.m., with the numbers jumping significantly by 8 a.m. In total, there were 1,657 movements through Clermont and Willoughby and 1,461 through Adelphi and Willoughby from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. In both intersections, less than two percent of the movements were made by motor vehicles.

Council Member Crystal Hudson, who has said she is a supporter of livable streets, issued a statement through a spokesperson that said she was going to keep a close eye on whether the DOT could safely make this transition, given the way the street has been used by residents since it became a full-time open street.

"Our office is aware of the change made by DOT to the Willoughby Avenue open street, and the Council member has raised the issue of adequate, safe implementation by DOT given that people are now accustomed to its 24/7 status," said spokesperson Alejandro Gonzalez.

This isn't the first time the Willoughby Avenue open street has been targeted by the Adams administration, but while open street survived in 2022, this latest blow comes as the city is pulling back support on other open streets.

On Vanderbilt Avenue, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council said it had to start later in the year and cut back its Sunday hours due to a lack of city support for the open street operation, and the Fifth Avenue open street may or may not come back in a reduced manner after the Park Slope BID dropped its sponsorship because of a lack of city support. A number of other open street operators have said that the city has been slow to pay them back for expenses they've racked up running the car-free streets for the city.

Seeking to head off the financial argument, the Fort Greene Open Streets Coalition suggested that cutting hours on Willoughby would actually cost the city more because unlike today, it will require employees from the Horticultural Society of New York to lock up and unlock the barricades every day.

"With this change, the city will be spending more taxpayer dollars on Willoughby. Not less. HORT Crew members will spend hours removing and locking up barricades in the early evening along the entire route. Then crews will come back out to unlock and set up the barricades at every intersection starting at 8 a.m. (or so). As a 24/7 operation, only an occasional once-a-day check-in has been needed, because in reality members of the community using the 24/7 Open Street do the work to reposition any barricades that may have been moved," the organization said.

The DOT, which is currently being sued over the open streets program, defended the change by noting that the Willoughby Avenue open street was the only 24-hour-a-day limited local access open street in the city. The agency also took the position, often argued by opponents of open streets and long denied by the city, that the open street hinders access for the elderly and disabled, and claims the new hours will facilitate a system to aid those drivers.

"Our streets are accessible for all New Yorkers, and the revised hours will provide older New Yorkers and people with disabilities better street access while preserving the Open Street during its peak hours," said DOT spokesperson Anna Correa.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Willoughby Avenue was the only 24-hour open street in the city.

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