The below is an opinion piece by Logan Reeves. Op-eds do not represent the opinions of Greenpointers or its staff. All community members are invited to share op-eds with firstname.lastname@example.org, for a chance to be published.
New York City’s Open Streets Program began last year amidst a pandemic and a city in panic. The need to follow the then CDC guidance, of social distancing, made this program appear to be just what the city floundering in chaos and fear needed. The program is significantly underfunded, mismanaged, and has put a handful of the loudest proponents for Open Streets in charge of a citizen volunteer brigade.
Last March, New York Magazine‘s GrubStreet published a piece questioning the program: “It’s confusing. The DOT oversees regulations and big-picture planning — if you file an application for an Open Street, you file with the DOT — but the agency doesn’t manage the day-to-day operations.” This has been extremely problematic as those opposed to the program have no idea who to contact. This program was not vetted enough before its implementation.
After weeks of inaction, the NYC DOT finally decided to ask the individuals in the affected neighborhood how they actually felt about the North Brooklyn Open Streets program. The NYC DOT posted three dates to canvas the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the DOT canceled all three times, citing abstract reasons. On 4/12 when they were supposed to survey the community they canceled, claiming that the light rain would make the task of speaking with North Brooklyn residents impossible. Two days later on 4/14 they canceled for alleged vandalism. On 4/16 they simply did not show up and disrespectfully did not post any sort of notice or apology. It became apparent that the NYC DOT does not want to engage with their community unless those individuals are willing to use social media as a bully pulpit. Furthermore, this lack of accessibility, is a staunch reminder that this city and its departments seem to value the opinions of only a certain demographic. [Editor’s note: The DOT hosted three virtual listening sessions, an online survey, and the Community Board’s Transportation Committee has hosted meetings about Open Streets].
A group of Greenpoint locals organized and have personally reached out to DOT. The DOT has still yet to confirm a makeup date. This group has also taken to exercising their first amendment rights by creating flyers to bring awareness to the issue. The flyers they posted have been ripped down, and members of this closed-minded group have set out to harass and intimidate their neighbors who want their opposition to North Brooklyn Open Streets to be heard.
On Sunday, April 18 a larger issue came screaming to the front lines of the North Brooklyn Open Street Program. A fire had broken out on North Henry Street, off of Driggs Avenue. When New York’s bravest rushed to the scene, they were quite literally obstructed by the street closures. It was no secret to the community board of Greenpoint that this closure in particular would be a major point of concern for emergency vehicles attempting to render services to the neighborhood. During one of the community board meetings, neighborhood residents were told that emergency vehicles should “ram through” the barricades, or that residents should “run to move the barricades” when they heard sirens. This request to shift the responsibility of the city to the community members did not sit well with the residents who continued to raise concerns.
Unfortunately, on that Sunday, when the fire was blazing on North Henry Street, the FDNYUFA, the cities [sic] FDNY Union, tweeted about the issue. They specifically cited the new roadblocks delayed response times, which is unacceptable to both the FDNY and the public.
[Editor’s note: The barriers around McGolrick were removed on April 12th and were not present when the fire broke out. The FDNY made it to the scene of the aforementioned incident in 3 minutes and 6 seconds].
Traffic is yet another issue of this program. Exit 34, Meeker/Morgan Ave off of the BQE, is experiencing an extreme increase in traffic delays. The closure of Driggs Avenue and Russell Street have created a less than favorable environment for residents and an abundance of traffic for those who live on Morgan Avenue, one of the only offshoots of the Kosciuszko bridge that has been left accessible. Morgan Avenue residents were not considered or consulted before street closures began. The City spent $873 million dollars in order to build a new bridge, park, and traffic pattern off the exit, which includes Driggs Avenue for local traffic. The closure of Driggs Avenue is a waste of both city planning knowledge and taxpayer dollars.
Local reporter, Greg Mocker, of PIX 11, was out in the community reporting on the chaos and havoc this program is wreaking on residents. One resident stated that although she supports open streets in general, she does not understand what the use of an open street next to a park is. She also stated that although the street is closed, it is usually empty of both cars and people. Another resident said that he could not believe that no one was asked before the barricades were placed, and that it is unfair to the elderly residents who have to move them to park their cars.
From pedestrians, to cyclists, to those who drive motor vehicles or take public transportation, all sides should be thought of equally. People have argued that the open streets programs are what we need for equity amongst these groups, but in reality this program is disenfranchising whole groups of people that apparently are not deemed worthy of consulting with due to a difference of opinion.
We must work together, going forward, to create plans to keep all types of commuters happy, safe and heard. Residents have asked multiple times to see the data that was collected in order to figure out what streets to close, and the North Brooklyn Open Streets Coalition declines to share the information. Do better NYC.
— By Logan Reeves