New York

How New York City Lost 63 Miles of Pedestrian-Friendly ‘Open Streets’

New York, on the other hand, made the open streets program permanent last year after a handful of breakout successes, including 34th Avenue in Queens, Vanderbilt Avenue and Berry Street in Brooklyn, and Dyckman Street in Manhattan, a result of the tireless efforts of residents, community groups, businesses and transportation and open space advocates. But many other open streets have struggled, been scaled back or have been scratched entirely.

A popular Italian-style piazza on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx went from three blocks in 2020 to one block this May, so that 90 curbside parking spots could be freed up. “People drive to us,” said Peter Madonia, the chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District, which tries to balance the open street with the needs of businesses and customers. “We still have a piazza, it’s just smaller.”

In Jackson Heights, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the open streets have drawn a backlash from some residents who say they make it more difficult to drive, find parking and get deliveries. They also create gridlock on surrounding streets, residents say. Greenpoint drivers essentially took back two open streets on Driggs Avenue and Russell Street after metal barriers were vandalized, run over and dumped into Newtown Creek.

“The more open streets there are, the harder it is for drivers to navigate,” said Assemblyman David I. Weprin, a Queens Democrat, who has received complaints about the program. “There are still parts of New York City where people rely on their cars, and it’s becoming increasingly anti-car in the city.”

Others argue that with traffic deaths surging, open streets make navigating the city safer for pedestrians and cyclists. They can also bring health and environmental benefits, especially to poor neighborhoods with few parks.

“Cars remain king,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group which reported on the inequitable distribution of open streets. “We need more open streets, not less, to support New Yorkers and our recovery.”

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