April 17, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Several Queens officials are backing legislation that would ban vehicles on up to 75 miles of city streets to create space for pedestrians.
Council Members Costa Constantinides, Daniel Dromm and Peter Koo are supporting legislation that would block vehicles from certain roads so that the public can use them with enough space to safely socially distance from one another.
They said that there is currently a lack of outdoor open space available for the public to use for exercise and that the new measures are needed as a matter of urgency.
“Right now it’s impossible on many of our cramped streets, which both endangers those who must go outside and discourages others from getting fresh air, said Council Member Costa Constantinides.
The proposal is being introduced by Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera who said that the council can no longer wait on Mayor Bill de Blasio to act and instead wants to force the city into action.
“While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, this issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves,” Johnson said in a statement Friday.
De Blasio said in a press briefing Friday he would look at the legislation but that he had several safety concerns including the danger of blocking roads that emergency vehicles might need to use. He also said he was not convinced the measures justified the use of law enforcement officers that would be needed to police the streets.
De Blasio piloted a similar program on March 27 but scrapped it 10 days later because he felt that police officers could be better used elsewhere.
However, Johnson said that other states and countries have successfully implemented similar measures and said he sees no reason why the program cannot be applied to New York City. Washington D.C., Austin, Cleveland and Denver, and several other cities have shut streets down for the use of social distancing purposes.
The proposal also has the backing of bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives who said that council members are seeking to lead and not play catch-up as the crisis unfolds.
“We call on the City Council and the mayor to implement this plan without delay, and, over time, to expand the program to support the needs of all New Yorkers,” the group’s Communications Director Joe Cutrufo said Friday.
“Streets account for roughly 80 percent of New York City’s public space, and their ambitious open streets program will give 75 miles of streets back to people, their rightful owner, when New Yorkers desperately need them,” he said in a statement.
The legislation is set to be introduced at the Council’s April 22 Stated Meeting, according to Johnson.