New Yorkers need space for social distancing. Let’s open streets to pedestrians.

Central
Park on March 20, amid the COVID-19 outbreak. | Photo by Cindy
Ord/Getty Images

Banning cars from some streets would encourage social distancing
and help keep New York City safe

Like many New Yorkers, I’ve been staying home as much as
possible in an attempt to do my part to stop the spread of
the novel coronavirus
. And like many New Yorkers, my apartment
is not especially big, so I’ve been taking short,
socially distant
walks around my Brooklyn neighborhood every
day to combat feelings of stir-craziness.

But maintaining six to 10 feet of space between myself and
others has proven to be its own anxiety-inducing challenge. The
sidewalks in my neighborhood are not particularly wide, and I
usually end up ducking into the street to avoid getting too close
to others. Everyday obstacles like sidewalk sheds, piles of trash,
or even other people have become a major health hazard.

I’m not the
only one
experiencing this problem, which has led elected
officials to call for an obvious solution: turning city streets
over to pedestrians and cyclists in order to give New Yorkers the
space they need to keep their distance from one another.

“In dense neighborhoods, especially in Manhattan, the
sidewalks are way too crowded. There’s only so much space,”
says City Council member Mark Levine. “We know the streets that
are typically easy to close, and precincts should move immediately
to cone those off and give people more room to avoid each other in
public.”

With the state
on “pause”
to
combat the spread
of COVID-19, New Yorkers are being asked to
stay home with some exceptions, such as getting exercise; if you do
go outside, you’re asked to maintain a safe distance from other
people. But “social distancing” is all but impossible in our
cramped bodegas, laundromats, grocery stores, and apartments. Even
the city’s open spaces—parks, playgrounds, and plazas—are
challenging to navigate right now. This has become abundantly clear
in recent days: There are plenty of people who’ve been flouting
the social distancing rules, but there’s also simply not enough
space outdoors for people to stay more than six feet apart from one
another.

Joggers, cyclists, and even those taking short strolls (like me)
are already using our roadways to stay away from one another—why
not make it easier, and safer, for them to do so by closing some
streets to vehicular traffic?

Tell me how New Yorkers are supposed to be 6
feet apart when our sidewalks are barely 10 feet wide (for the
widest ones!) and shit like this is everywhere. This is Fulton
Street in Brooklyn, which you obviously can’t shut down, but side
streets! Or non-busy ones! It can be done! pic.twitter.com/q1r14NKU3O

— Amy Plitt (@plitter)
March 22, 2020

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was the first to make the
suggestion in
an interview with Politico
; now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an unlikely
supporter of the idea, has chimed in. “There is a density level
in New York City that is wholly inappropriate,” the governor said
during a Sunday press conference.

“There are many options, you have much less traffic in New
York City,” Cuomo continued. “Get creative, open streets to
reduce the density. Let’s open streets, let’s open space,
that’s where people should be.”

He’s not wrong:
Rush-hour traffic has dropped dramatically
, with fewer people
commuting in and out of the city. And other cities have already
taken similar steps to give pedestrians and cyclists more space:
Philadelphia’s mayor
closed part of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
, one of the
city’s main thoroughfares, to vehicular traffic in order to
facilitate social distancing. Bogotá
temporarily expanded
its network of bike lanes to encourage
solo means of getting around; Mexico City is
considering a similar measure
. Advocates say it’s time for
New York City to follow suit.

Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York have several ideas
for places where the city could start, which the groups say
they’ve shared with the city’s Department of Transportation:
streets around hospitals (while providing access for emergency
vehicles); the New York City Marathon route; the stretch of Park
Avenue that’s typically closed for Summer Streets; thoroughfares
in that are often closed for block parties or street fairs; and

streets in park-deprived neighborhoods
, of which there are
many.

“There is a wealth of street space in the five boroughs that
could be converted into social distancing-friendly places for
people,” Danny Harris, the executive director of TransAlt, said
in a statement. “Should the City require more hands to turn these
proposals into a reality, Transportation Alternatives, Bike New
York and our partners stand ready to enlist a corps of volunteers
to help construct and maintain these car-free corridors. New York
City bicyclists stepped up in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy,
and we know they will rise to the occasion again.”

Cuomo asked Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council for a plan
on reducing density in open areas, and the Council has already
submitted a proposal that includes closing spaces where gatherings
are inevitable—such as playgrounds and athletics fields—while
also creating more open space in park-deprived neighborhoods, and
possibly banning cars on some streets using the model that’s
already in place for Summer Streets or Play Streets. The Council
plan also suggests opening up private spaces, such as college
campuses or botanical gardens, with strict limits on how many
people can access them at a given time.

“We’re a cramped city in a lot of places, and our parks and
playgrounds are like our backyards. But overcrowding is a serious
issue right now, and we had to come up with guidelines for use of
these spaces to keep everyone safe,” Council Speaker Johnson said
in a statement. “We also want to open up streets to pedestrians
for exercise and fresh air to offset the loss. This won’t be
forever but we have to do everything we can right now to stop the
spread.”

At the same time, the
NYPD has already said it will enforce
the new social distancing
rules by breaking up large gatherings in public spaces, and by
possibly issuing tickets and summons, something that could
unfairly target
certain New Yorkers more than others. New
public spaces need to be in place before enforcement starts.

“We’re certainly going to consider over time the possibility
of opening up some streets for recreation,” de Blasio said during
a press conference on Sunday. “If we’re going to look to have a
street that’s opened up for recreation, we’re going to do that
very smartly and carefully because we have to attach enforcement to
it. It cannot be, oh, we’re just going to close off some streets
and leave it be. If we do that, I guarantee what will happen is a
whole lot of people start to congregate.”

That congregating is already happening, whether
intentionally
—closing playgrounds would make a big difference
here—or simply because New Yorkers have no other option. Staying
home is the
safest course of action
right now, but people also need to get
outside, whether to buy groceries, wash their clothes, or simply to
take a walk for their own sanity. Let’s give them as much space
as possible to do all of that safely.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
New Yorkers need space for social distancing. Let’s open streets to pedestrians.