On the heels of Community Board 7 passing a resolution aimed at implementing short-term measures for safety during the COVID-19 crisis, elected officials are also pushing for up to 75 miles of open street space.
Council Member Carlina Rivera is sponsoring the bill that would force Mayor de Blasio to free up street space.
“We’ve fallen behind so many other cities when it comes to ensuring safe social distancing - this legislation will be an important first step towards fixing that,” Rivera said on Twitter. “I look forward to working w/ @NYCMayorsOffice, but let’s be clear - the need for open streets can’t wait any longer.”
On April 7, CB7 approved a resolution that calls for temporary bike lanes, additional Citibikes at existing stations, more pedestrian space for safe distancing and enforcement of all street rules.
Chair Mark Diller explained this was not a slam-dunk decision and it only passed by two votes.
“The reason why it was proposed is that the mayor has suggested that people take crowding out of the subway by using Citibikes and other methods,” Diller said.
Diller stressed they are in no way advocating for permanent bike lanes, but simply a temporary solution to help with social distancing and hopefully help curb the spread of the virus. The board has no set location for the bike lanes.
The board chair noted that navigating the antiquated subway system is difficult, but today, with social distancing, it is nearly impossible. In fact, there have been countless images all over the news and social media of packed subway cars.
He said he is not surprised, because many people besides doctors and nurses still have work, including grocery store and pharmacy employees and food delivery. These people really just need another viable option to commute to their jobs, he said.
“We’re looking out for people who have no choice, but to go to work,” Diller explained.
Diller told the Westside Spirit that one concern for some board members was that putting more cyclists on the streets would be dangerous, because since the COVID crisis began, drivers have been speeding excessively on the empty roads.
The board members also emphasized that all cyclists must obey traffic laws.
The resolution is now in the hands of the Department of Transportation.
Chelsea Yamada, Manhattan organizer for Transportation Alternatives, praised CB7. She noted that along with CB7, two other boards, CB5 and CB4 have also requested open street protections in recent weeks.
“While hospitals and other essential businesses seek increased use of sidewalk space, open streets would be an excellent solution to allowing customers to access essential goods without creating any mobility conflicts on narrow sidewalks where social distancing is otherwise impossible,” Yamada said. “Open streets could enable safe passage via bicycle, especially as those numbers of essential workers commuting by bicycle continues to remain steady or increase.”
"We're looking out for people who have no choice, but to go to work." CB7 Chair Mark Diller