StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Open Streets

We testified today during the New York City Council Committee on Transportation's first-ever Zoom hearing, in support of legislation introduced this week by Council Member Carlina Rivera and Speaker Corey Johnson that would require the opening of 75 miles of city streets for walking and biking, to accommodate social distancing. Our testimony follows below.

StreetsPAC strongly supports Intro 1933, which would mandate the opening of a minimum of 75 miles of city streets for use by people on foot and on bikes.

We’re living in an unprecedented time. Finding enough space on a New York City sidewalk, which was merely an inconvenience less than two months ago, is now nearer to being a matter of life and death. Like many, we believe it’s ideal that New Yorkers stay home as much as possible in order to stem the spread of COVID-19, but essential workers have to get to their jobs, people need to be able to restock groceries, and for their physical and mental wellbeing, many folks need to be able to go for a walk or a run or just clear their heads, especially as weather improves.

That’s nearly impossible to do under current conditions. Well publicized maps circulated in the past few days show that many of our neighborhoods are nearly devoid of sidewalks wide enough for maintaining six feet of separation. At the same time, with motor-vehicle traffic having fallen by about 75% across the city, vast swaths of empty streets crisscross our communities.

We can address that imbalance by extending sidewalks into curbside lanes on wider avenues, by allowing people to open their streets block party-style to gain some breathing room, and by perhaps pedestrianizing traffic-light corridors like Broadway in Manhattan.

Mexico City, Berlin, Bogota, Montreal, Vancouver, Milan, Paris, Auckland, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Louisville and, most notably in the U.S., Oakland, among many other cities, have all opened, or are in the process of opening, streets to walking and biking. And they’re largely doing it with little or no police enforcement.

The only thing that makes New York essentially “different” in this context is the Mayor’s insistence that we can’t do it here, or can’t do it without thousands of cops. Neither of those claims stands up.

We close streets all the time for utility work or tree-pruning or block parties with a few cones and a sign or two. Further, there’s just no factual basis to believe that giving people some extra space will cause a rush of unsafe clustering. Those who would ignore social-distancing guidelines are going to do so on a narrow sidewalk or in the middle of the Great Lawn or Long Meadow. For the 99%+ of New Yorkers terrified of catching Coronavirus, we’re going to self-enforce proactively.

While we know that NYCDOT has been stretched and strained by COVID-19, we firmly believe they should lead the effort to open city streets. Many organizations stand ready to assist them, including numerous BIDs. And they, like we, believe much of this can be accomplished with minimal enforcement.

Let’s also make sure that we prioritize opening streets in those neighborhoods that have the least current access to green space, and in communities where the parks are being most heavily used.

Lastly, the effort to open New York City’s streets to people now will help guide us as we begin the effort to shape the post-COVID future, one that tilts the balance back towards people-powered uses. That’s a topic for another day, but we look forward to having that discussion with the City Council.

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StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.