How Can NYC Keep its 'Open Streets' Post-Pandemic?

A debate over one Queens 'open street' project illustrates the challenges of maintaining open streets.

2 minute read

August 16, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Strete view of 34th Avenue in Queens, New York

Google Maps / 34th Avenue in July 2018

Each day at 8 a.m., New York's 34th Avenue becomes off-limit to cars (with some exceptions). As Winnie Hu details in the New York Times, this 26-blocks stretch anchors a network of dozens of miles of open streets across the city that was created in response to the outbreak and provides a tantalizing glimpse of a future of traffic-free streets." 

But "a push to make 34th Avenue into a 'linear park,' where cars would be permanently restricted, has provoked a backlash from some residents and drivers over what they see as an experiment gone too far," causing gridlock and making it "harder to find parking and get deliveries and services in a neighborhood where many depend on cars." A resident group called 34 Compromise seeks to scale back the open street program, in part by reducing the hours. 

In New York City, "[t]he streets make up about 27 percent of the city’s total land area." According to urban planner Mike Lydon, "[p]rogramming them so they are not just mobility corridors is absolutely a lesson of the pandemic" and should remain at the heart of planning policy. 34th Avenue now plays host to social events, picnics, and performances that could continue to connect neighbors well beyond the pandemic. "[T]he battle over 34th Avenue goes beyond whether cars or people should have priority to a debate over how an open street adds to — or detracts from — a neighborhood’s rhythms."

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