Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera to Introduce Legislation to Open City Streets During Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic 

Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera to Introduce Legislation to Open City Streets During Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic 

Official Press Release furnished by the Office of the NYC Council

NEW YORK, NY – New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera will introduce legislation to open city streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to allow New Yorkers more room for social distancing. The legislation, which has widespread Council support, will be introduced at the Council’s April 22 Stated Meeting. The bill will require the city to allocate more street space to pedestrians and cyclists in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, with a citywide target of 75 miles of streets.  

“New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis. 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. Other cities across the country and around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. There is no reason we can’t do this here,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  

“For years, New York City led the nation in developing innovative solutions to our biggest urban challenges. Now we’ve fallen behind so many other cities during the COVID-19 crisis, including when it comes to ensuring proper social distancing on our streets for New Yorkers, from the senior going to the grocery store, to the essential worker on their way to the hospital. And as the weather gets warmer and more New Yorkers seek brief respites from stuffy, cramped, and often un-airconditioned homes, we have to provide them with outdoor spaces where they can properly social distance, and our parks just can’t do the job alone. I’m proud to be leading this effort, and I look forward to working with the Mayor’s Office and DOT collaboratively, but let’s be clear – the need for expansive open streets in New York City can not wait any longer,” said Council Member and Lead Sponsor Carlina Rivera. 

“I am proud to stand alongside Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera in sponsoring this bill. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been calling for the City to open the streets for pedestrians and cyclists to use during this national health crisis,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chairman of the Transportation Committee. “The increase in cyclists we saw in March must also be accompanied by an increase in street space available for all New Yorkers to use. We must also continue working to expand the bike-sharing programs to nearby hospitals and medical centers for all healthcare workers and members of the community to use during this time. I will continue working alongside my colleagues and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to ensure that New Yorkers continue to practice safe social distancing procedures while maintaining a healthy way of life during these unprecedented times.” 

“Addressing the impact of dealing with COVID-19 also requires maintaining physical health and mental health.  New Yorkers have been mostly indoors for more than a month.  While “stay at home” measures are working to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, they also have unintended consequences for mental and physical health, for which exercise is an important component.  Let’s open streets to pedestrians, while we continue to enforce social distancing and face covering.  People need more space for social distancing and fresh air to be both physically and mentally healthy,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera.  

“New Yorkers need to be able to exercise and shop for food, medicine and other essential items while social distancing. This legislation will allow them to do that,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm“My district is the epicenter of the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also one of the most densely populated districts in the city.  The open space this legislation would provide is absolutely crucial to our health and well-being. I thank Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for their leadership and will continue to work with them to implement these public safety measures.” 

“New Yorkers deserve an active government that delivers more open space so they can properly social distance,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides. “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. New Yorkers deserved a reimagining of our streets long before the COVID-19 crisis — now their call is at a fever pitch. Thank you to Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for pushing this legislation forward, to once again make New York City the leader on urban innovation in a time of crisis.” 

“Since we are now certain that ‘NY Pause’ will be in effect until at least May 15th, we need to give New Yorkers who live in densely populated areas more outdoor space to get fresh air while adhering to the social distancing rules, said Council Member Ben Kallos. “It has been a tough month for New York City. However, the strict social distancing guidelines put into place have had some success in flattening the curve. If opening up streets and creating more spaces for outdoor activities will not hurt our progress, why are we not doing it? As temperatures rise and the days get nicer, we will need the space even more. Let’s come up with a fair plan now and put it into place as soon as possible.” 

Council Member Peter Koo stated, “Our parks are the only respite for New Yorkers during the pandemic, and opening up our streets to pedestrians will greatly supplement our open space. Opening city streets will help ensure social distancing and allow all of us the space we need to get through this difficult time.” 

“All over the world, cities are successfully closing streets to cars, in order to help people get a little fresh air and sunshine. To exercise. For a kid to ride a scooter. For a quick game of catch. So people can practice physical distancing and stay home, without so many of the harmful health impacts of extended isolation and inaction. Too many neighborhoods lack access to outdoor space, and our parks, as wonderful as they are, are becoming crowded for those lucky enough to live nearby. The solution is literally at our doorsteps. Berlin, Paris, Montreal, Denver, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Portland, Bogota, and Oakland have all taken this common-sense action. None of them needed four police officers per block to make this program work and ensure that people observe physical distancing. Neither do we,” said Council Member Brad Lander. 

“As New York’s PAUSE extends into May, it is of vital importance that we utilize every possible option to provide our communities with access to safe pedestrian spaces, fresh air and exercise. Many neighborhoods have limited public outdoor space and sidewalks that make social distancing impossible. As the weather warms up the requirement to shelter in place will become more difficult for many. We must act quickly to open streets for the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Steve Levin.  

“It is very difficult, sometimes impossible, for New Yorkers to observe social distancing on our narrow sidewalks and in city parks crowded with people desperately trying to get out of their homes for much-needed exercises and fresh air. We are asking New Yorkers to sacrifice so much to combat this virus, the least we can do as a city is to give them room to spread out and feel safe when they must go out. The obvious solution that has been successful in other cities is to close down more streets to car traffic so pedestrians have space to be safe. I commend Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for making this a priority and working hard to ensure New Yorkers have the room to maintain proper social distancing,” said City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine.

“Whose streets? Our streets! Opening up more streets for pedestrians and cyclists is a critical tool in flattening the curve all while allowing New Yorkers the physical space to travel safely and stay active. The reduction in public transportation service has forced people to cram buses, trains, and ferries. We need to make it safe and open for our neighbors to use alternative means of transportation. As a bicycle commuter and safe streets advocate, I applaud and sponsor this legislation,” said Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, District 38 and Chair of the Committee on Immigration. 

“We have to think differently regarding how we act and adapt for New Yorkers as the city manages the impact of COVID-19. Opening streets to pedestrians and cyclists will allow people to maintain social distancing, safely. There are no more rushes at rush hour — it is time we gave streets back to New Yorkers. I thank Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for their leadership,” said Council Member Keith Powers.  

“The need for more open space in New York City is not new, but during the COVID19 crisis, it has become essential. During this pandemic, a walk around the block, to the local park, or even to the grocery store, has become a lifeline for the majority of our City’s residents who have had to transition to a homebound lifestyle. Speaker Johnson’s open streets legislation will give pedestrians greater space to enjoy outdoor respite while also helping folks uphold proper social distancing requirements that are necessary to help flatten the curve. I am grateful for Speaker Johnson’s understanding of how important open space is to a healthy, vibrant City, and look forward to working together to bring District 34 residents the room they deserve,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.  

“Opening streets to pedestrians and cyclists advances safety and equity. For transit riders, open streets mean safer passage to and from subway and bus stops. Open streets can also reduce crowding on subways and buses, enabling people with short trips to walk or cycle to their destination safely rather than pack onto public transit. At a time when we are relying on transit to move a million essential workers each day, we need to leverage all of our infrastructure to keep riders as safe as possible. Given the inequitable impact of the pandemic, opening streets also expands access to public space for those who need it most. The Riders Alliance applauds Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for their leadership at this pivotal moment,” said Danny Pearlstein, Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director. 

“As New York fights and emerges from this crisis, we need to ensure that New Yorkers who must be out have the safe space they require for physical distancing,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “We are grateful to Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for stepping up for New Yorkers by advancing this ambitious open streets plan. We look forward to working together to bring much needed space to every neighborhood.” 

Among the many benefits of street openings are the lives it will save. The City’s own study showed a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian deaths, and 60 percent in injuries, after car-traffic was restricted at Times Square. Like so many these days, we also have lost loved ones. This legislation will prevent others from suffering as we do. By opening more space for people we reduce traffic crashes and lower the strain on our hospitals and first responders, allowing them to focus on saving the lives of people fighting the coronavirus. We are grateful for the bold leadership by Council Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera in advancing this life-saving legislation,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder, Families for Safe Streets.