Less Than Half of NYC’s ‘Open Streets’ Are Ever Actually Open, Study Finds

Of the 274 “Open Streets” listed by NYC’s Department of Transportation (DOT), only 126 were found by surveyors to be off-limits to cars during planned operating hours, according to a new study by the safe street advocacy nonprofit Transportation Alternatives. 

The study was based on 800 crowd-sourced reports by 350 volunteers who surveyed every listed Open Street across the city. 

The group also found big disparities between boroughs. Of the active Open Streets, 33.7 percent are in Manhattan, 32.3 percent are in Brooklyn, 25.5 percent are in Queens, 6.3 percent are on Staten Island and only 2.2 percent are in the Bronx. To put that in perspective, the authors of the study explained that “Manhattan residents have access to 1,409 percent more miles of active Open Streets than Bronx residents.”

In total, only about 20 percent of New Yorkers live within “walking distance,” defined as a quarter-mile, of an active Open Street.

And, the authors found that if 75 percent or more of the people living within walking distance of an Open Street were white, the street was four times as likely to be car-free than if the 75 percent of those living around the registered Open Street were Black. 

Early on in the pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged 100 miles of Open Streets, allowing for safer social distancing through increased outdoor space. He stated that “equity and inclusion will be at the heart of the Open Streets expansion, with underserved neighborhoods getting new opportunities to participate.” 

This year, de Blasio pledged to make the program permanent, a measure reportedly favored by the majority of New Yorkers. Currently, de Blasio is far away from his original goal. Only 24 miles of Open Streets are active, according to the study. 

“The longest, safest, best-protected, and highest-rated Open Streets in New York City should be in the neighborhoods with the least green space, the highest asthma rates, the worst congestion and air quality, and the most dangerous streets,” the authors wrote. “Today, the opposite is true.”

This is not a brand new issue, particularly in Bushwick. This past May, Bushwick Daily writer Nate Torda went to check out a local few streets that are part of the program. 

“I found absolutely nothing,” he wrote. “There was no signage indicating the streets were subject to any restrictions and there were no barriers on the street.”

Harman Street, Between Myrtle and Wilson Avenues. A dedicated “Open Street”

The success of the Open Streets program relies heavily on volunteers to set up and break down barricades, build barricades and ensure that cars are, in fact, staying off the roads. Relying on volunteers benefits neighborhoods “where residents are rich in free time,” the authors of the study explained. 

In a statement to AMNY, DOT Spokesperson Seth Stein said, “Open Streets were an emergency response to the pandemic, and now we are taking the necessary steps to make this program permanent and sustainable in the long term. Equity and fairness have been central to this program from the start, and we are doing outreach to neighborhoods that lack community groups or BIDs so they get the support necessary to take part in the program no matter what.” 

“We look forward to reviewing this report and any recommendations to make this already successful program even better,” Stein added.

Featured Image: Nate Torda

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