Open Letter to Mayor de Blasio from the Open Streets Coalition

The Vanderbilt Avenue Open Street in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

We’re members of the Open Streets Coalition, including leaders and supporters who for the past ten months have helped maintain and support Open Streets in New York City. We thank you for listening to the millions of New Yorkers yearning to breathe freely in our streets by making the Open Streets program permanent. Today, we’re asking you to ensure that the Open Streets we enjoy and manage be improved and expanded equitably throughout all five boroughs.

As New York City became the epicenter of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, the need for physical distance, fresh air, and exercise to stay healthy became a pressing need for many of our communities. Open Streets not only allowed us to get outside during the first wave of the pandemic but also enabled our communities to spring back to life in the summer.

Open Streets allowed us to rethink how we use our streets, not just as space for transportation and storage of vehicles, but as space to meet our neighbors and stroll, socialize, dance, and relax safely. Prioritization for motor vehicles in our public space has resulted in thousands of senseless deaths and injuries caused by traffic violence, and respiratory illness caused by carbon pollution. By prioritizing people, our streets can instead serve as playgrounds for children, a reprieve for parents looking for fresh air, and a place for local businesses to attract more customers. In neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, they provided outdoor space in a community that lacks sufficient park space. In neighborhoods such as North Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and others, residents and restaurants shared space that helped to save our local businesses, as well as spaces for demonstration and protest. Our streets are an essential part of a neighborhood’s way to enjoy life, to cope with the current pandemic, and our streets must be a way to help us bounce back as COVID-19 recedes.

Now more than ever, we need to ensure that these spaces continue to serve communities. While New York City is home to the biggest Open Street program in the nation, there are still neighborhoods that do not have access to this valuable program. Communities such as the South Bronx and the North Shore of Staten Island still lack corridor-wide Open Streets. Even more, some Open Streets that were open in 2020 have since been closed. While some have received confirmation that they will return this spring, the fate of others is uncertain.

Based on our experiences as community partners who support, have operated, or seek to operate Open Streets, we recommend the following to improve and expand the Open Streets program:

  • After assessment by the New York City Department of Transportation, determine which Open Streets can be shifted to 24/7 full-time operation;
  • Codify into law the reduction of the speed limit on Open Streets to five miles per hour;
  • Dedicate resources to volunteer groups that manage open streets, with an emphasis on lower-income communities, as volunteer-led Open Streets are unsustainable and inequitable;
  • Connect Open Streets into a useful transportation network, bringing residents to retail corridors, transportation hubs, and open park space;
  • Provide amenities, such as signage, benches, chairs, planters, and improved barriers, to provide for a safer and more inviting experience;
  • Implement permanent street safety measures and provide more sophisticated barriers to prevent through-traffic on Open Streets;
  • Limit and optimize commercial vehicle use, such as encouraging freight and for-hire vehicles to make pick-ups and drops on side streets, and creating loading zones to discourage double parking;
  • Provide daily programming to encourage Open Streets usage by the local community, including exercise classes, educational programming, arts and cultural performances, and more.
  • Improve traffic calming measures on Open Streets: Restaurants corridors;
  • Allow businesses in the Open Storefronts program to utilize the roadway on non-Open Streets.

We hope that these suggestions serve you as we continue fighting COVID-19 and building a safer, more liveable city. As the city recovers from the pandemic, Open Streets must be seen as a tool to maintain physical distance, a cornerstone of vibrant communities, and a priority for our city budget, newly infused with funding from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Sincerely,

#OpenStreets Coalition, 63 local groups below

Transportation Alternatives

34th Ave Open Street Coalition

510 West 134th Tenant Association

89th Street Tenants Unidos Association

BetaNYC, a founding member of the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition

Bike New York

BRAKES

Bronx Health REACH

Bronxmama

Brooklyn Greenway Initiative

Congress for a New Urbanism

CHEKPEDS

Ciclistas Latinoamericanos de New York

Court Square Civic Association

COVID Care Neighbor Network

Eastchester Gardens Resident Association

El Puente

Families for Safe Streets

Financial District Neighborhood Association

Fort Greene Open Streets Coalition

Friends of Cooper Park

Friends of Tremont Park

Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce

Guardians of Flushing Bay

Hall St. Open Street

Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association

Hollaback!

Hunters Point Parks Conservancy

Jackson Heights Beautification Group

KiDiCAL Mass NYC

Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club

Loisaida Open Streets Community Coalition (LOSCC)

LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens)

Make Brooklyn Safer

Make Queens Safer

New York League of Conservation Voters

North Brooklyn Mutual Aid

North Brooklyn Neighbors

North Brooklyn Stewards Initiative

Open Plans

Out Cycling Inc.

Out Rockaway

Queens Bike Initiative

Park To Park 103

Park Slope Neighbors

play:groundNYC

Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

Redbeard Bikes

Respect Brooklyn

Riders Alliance

Safe Roads Alliance

St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction

Sixth Street Community Center

South Asian Fund For Education Scholarship and Training INC (SAFEST)

Staten Island Therapeutic Gardens

StreetsPAC

Sunnyside Woodside Open Streets (SWOS)

The Children’s Village

Together We Can Community Resource Center

Urban Health Plan

UP-STAND

WE Bike NYC

West 22nd Street Open Street

West 134th St Block Association

Transportation Alternatives is your advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit in New York City. We stand up for #VisionZero & #BikeNYC.