Aug 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Car-free "Open Streets" — a pandemic favorite — are drawing pushback

A street in NYC's Chinatown that has been closed to traffic and painted by an artist.
Doyers Street in Chinatown is part of the New York City's Open Streets program, which has ushered in public art installations and banished or limited vehicular traffic. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Early in the pandemic, lots of cities started limiting or banning traffic on particular streets, aiming to encourage cyclists and pedestrians to get outside in a socially distanced way — while patronizing local restaurants and businesses.

Yes, but: Now that cities like New York are making these measures permanent, complaints are mounting that so-called "safe streets" and "slow streets" programs are replacing old congestion problems with new ones.

  • In Queens, residents "complain that 34th Avenue has turned into an obstacle course — with bicycles and scooters weaving around pedestrians," the New York Times reports.
  • Those residents say that the city's "Open Streets" program — broadened by Mayor Bill de Blasio into "Open Boulevards" in May — "caused gridlock on surrounding streets and made it harder to find parking and get deliveries and services in a neighborhood where many depend on cars," per the Times.
  • The situation "has provoked a backlash from some residents and drivers over what they see as an experiment gone too far," the Times article said.

By the numbers: Bloomberg reported in May that "a survey of 43 member cities of the National Association of City Transportation Officials found that 22 were planning on making Covid-era traffic changes permanent, while 16 more were considering it."

Go deeper