Reclaiming Our Space: The Battle for Open Streets

The growth of pedestrianized spaces and car-free streets depends on a transformational shift in thinking about what—and who—public spaces and streets are for.

2 minute read

March 19, 2023, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The fierce debate over how to use public space continues as cities weigh the future of the ‘open streets’ initiatives that gained popularity during the pandemic. Reis Thebault outlines the ongoing issue in The Washington Post.

Over the last year alone, major U.S. cities doubled-down on plans to restrict driving on main streets. Municipalities from Michigan to Washington, D.C., banned right turns at red lights. Voters earmarked billions for public transit projects. Officials unveiled hundreds of miles of new bike lanes. New York City proposed a new tax on motorists, and California relaxed jaywalking restrictions and freed up land once reserved for parking spaces.

These nationwide actions signal a shift in how we view public space, which has for decades been largely devoted to accommodating cars and driving. Change hasn’t come without controversy, but car-free streets are gaining widespread public support and momentum. 

The article points to the heated fight over car access to San Francisco’s JFK Promenade (nee JFK Drive), a 1.5-mile stretch of road in Golden Gate Park. Last November, “More than 60 percent of voters approved a measure permanently banning cars from part of JFK Drive, while a similar number rejected a competing initiative that would have allowed cars to return to stretches of Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway, another popular city roadway that was partially closed at the onset of the pandemic.”


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