There are just over 6,000 miles of streets in New York City, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said Monday that up to 1.7 percent of them might soon be opened to pedestrians and closed to cars to give residents more outdoor space in this age of social distancing. That percentage isn’t a typo! This is all very embarrassing and pathetic!
A majority of the streets—up to 60 miles, or 1 percent of the city’s total—will be in or surrounding parks, with the rest chosen in consultation with various community groups. This leaves 98.3 percent of the city’s streets operating as they were before, and comes after a month of weak excuses from de Blasio about why we can’t open up more streets.
It also follows the brief closure of 1.5 miles of roadway last month, which was touted as an experiment, one that did not go particularly well, according to de Blasio at least, for reasons that, well, actually it sounds like he just didn’t like it.
In March, New York City briefly experimented with a small car-free pilot program on a handful of blocks in four of the five boroughs, totaling just 1.5 miles of space. (Oakland, in contrast, cleared 74 miles of streets.) But citing low usage and NYPD staff shortages, the program was cut short on April 5, only two weeks after it began.
Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the NYPD and the Department of Transportation to analyze the Oakland plan, but drew the conclusion that “we are just profoundly different than those other cities.”
“I do not believe it will work, period,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.
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The cops, by the way, were needed to staff the closed streets during the initiative apparently because de Blasio was convinced that without them, drivers would ignore cones and signs and proceed through the streets and plow over people. That’s my reading at least of this explanation de Blasio gave to Streetsblog:
I think there is an assumption in everything we do that gets back to Vision Zero that we want to be very cautious about making sure drivers are constantly given the message, “Slow down. Drive safely. Recognize the ramifications of what it means to drive a vehicle.” So that worldview makes us very cautious about trusting that if you create a situation where there are not protections and not enforcement that you could put people in danger. And the goal of an open-street structure is that people can enjoy it without having a new danger from vehicles.
How these cops, who were mostly on foot, were expected to stop a car from entering a closed street—jump in front of it, I guess?—was left unanswered. But suffice to say that NYC streets are closed all the time for normal reasons—maybe the road is being repaved, maybe utilities are doing work, maybe there’s a block party—and an army of cops is not needed each time to keep away New York City drivers, who I guess de Blasio thinks are the dumbest in the world.
I have an idea that I will be faxing to the mayor’s office after I finish writing this blog: What if, like in Oakland, 10 percent of the city’s streets were closed to through traffic and shared by pedestrians, cyclists, emergency vehicles, delivery vehicles, and buses? What if, let’s get a little wild here, a majority of the city’s streets operated in such a way?
Pedestrians could socially distance that much easier in a city with thin sidewalks, there’d be far fewer cars blocking the path of emergency vehicles, and biking New York City would be less of a death wish. It’s too bad that, as de Blasio keeps explaining to us, something like that could never happen here, even though it already has.
Update, 9:27 p.m.: My math was off because I am dummy but my point stands.