For months, West End Avenue has been blocked off to vehicle traffic from 87th to 96th Street for part of the day as an “open street” for pedestrians and bicyclists. But the Department of Transportation suddenly decided to rescind that designation on Thursday night, surprising some neighborhood leaders who had wanted to find a way to keep it.
The street was meant as a place for residents to have a chance to stretch their legs during Covid-19 without having to worry about vehicles.
But the experiment has had mixed success, in part because cars kept driving around or through the barricades, often smashing them as they went. The street is near an exit from the West Side Highway, and the people ignoring the barriers may have been out-of-town drivers. “There is zero enforcement of speed, red lights and truck traffic on WEA,” one neighbor wrote to us last month.
In recent days, a group had come together to try to find a new sponsor for the street so that the NYPD wouldn’t be expected to police it. They posted out a survey attempting to find out how many people also wanted the street. At a community board meeting on Tuesday, board members had offered differing opinions on whether the street should be continued, and whether it should only be blocked on weekends. They didn’t come to a final decision but board member Ken Coughlin said that at the very least the DOT should have consulted local leaders before changing the rules.
“Speaking only for myself, I think this is a lost opportunity to reimagine this section of West End Avenue as a true local, neighborhood street,” Coughlin wrote to us. “We have enough north-south arteries for drivers to hurriedly pass through our community. This was a chance to imagine and create something different.”
Assembly member Linda Rosenthal is asking the city to reinstate the Open Street and let the community find a partner to help maintain it. The DOT did not immediately respond to our request for more information.
Taking the path of least resistance by shuttering WEA’s Open Streets program instead of working w/ the community to address concerns is unacceptable @NYCMayor @NYC_DOT @BaronVonJessica @CityRiseNYC @chabot_jackson @StreetopiaUWS @CB7Manhattan
See my letter ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/BUwVRegbxi
— Linda B. Rosenthal “the #OriginalRosenthal” (@LindaBRosenthal) November 13, 2020