In early May, a mayoral initiative called the NYC Open Streets Initiative placed barriers on hundreds of miles of streets around the city, including several streets in the Greenpoint area. The barriers stopped vehicular traffic on certain streets and allowed space for people to safely socially distance outdoors. The initiative, as explained by Mayor de Blasio was a way for New Yorkers “to safely enjoy the outdoors.”
At first the NYPD was tasked with maintaining the open streets in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, (namely removing the barriers every night at 8 p.m. and replacing them every morning at 8 a.m.) After complaints that the police were not adequately maintaining the program, community volunteers stepped in. A slew of community organizations came together under the name the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition (NBOSCC) and through volunteer efforts began maintaining the open streets.
There was never a set end date to the Open Streets, and in November, North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition launched a petition to keep the streets open permanently. The Coalition hoped to start a conversation with the Department of Transportation and community members about what permanent open streets might look like.
“We are passionate about making sure that the our neighborhood is safe, quiet and accessible for all,” says one of the coalition’s volunteers, Noel Hidalgo. “That is that under is the undercurrent of all of the work that we do.”
However, some Greenpoint residents oppose the open streets. A counter petition called “Stop Open Streets from becoming a permanent fixture in Greenpoint,” is on Change.org. The petition, “is on behalf of my neighbors and car owners of Greenpoint, our voices are being silenced and we are getting increasingly worried and upset that we are not being represented in the plans for Open Streets.” Simon Edward, a Greenpoint resident and first responder, was among the signatories. Edward is a firefighter and says that he personally has had to move the barriers several times. “Every second counts sometimes, and to have to stop at every intersection to move barriers can cost someone their life,” he says.
This is an issue members of the coalition are concerned about as well. Volunteers for the coalition were concerned by the counter petition and felt that the goals of the open streets were either misunderstood or misrepresented.
Hidalgo says that keeping the streets open to pedestrians does not mean prohibiting access for all vehicles. “When it comes down to the future of open streets in the neighborhood, we absolutely recognize that these streets will need emergency and sanitation access. It is misinformation to say that closing off the streets is going to happen because it’s not going to happen,” Hidalgo says. “The street will need sanitation access, emergency vehicles will need access.”
Additionally, “There is very clear disinformation that is out there about parking,” says Anthony Buissereth, a volunteer for the coalition and the executive director of North Brooklyn Neighbors says “Parking is not affected by open streets. People are still allowed to park on the block.”
The Coalition is eager to hear from neighbors on the issue. “This is very much a beta program,” says Lynn del Sol, a coalition volunteer. “This is really us just running through the beta motions of its viability. And what we need is for the community to really push back in a constructive way, and tell us how do we make our streets better.”