City Abruptly Ends West End Avenue ‘Open Street’ Program


Barriers blocking West End keep getting smashed by drivers. Photo by Daniela.

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.

NEWS | 70 comments | permalink
    1. Kelly M Mueller says:

      Seems like a better option would be to close Amsterdam. To promote all the restaurants and businesses already spilling into the street.

      • West 90th Street Jeff says:

        @Kelly:
        Though closing Amsterdam Avenue might be a good thought, its closing would be impractical. At present, it and Broadway are the only two arteries permitting commercial vehicles (i.e., large, long delivery trucks) to pass through. CPW is too narrow for them, and attempting to use a single-lane avenue as a substitute for the multi-lane uptown traffic that would be diverted away from Amsterdam. West End Avenue has always been blocked for commercial vehicles unless they were making a delivery to a particular building. So using West End would change convert it suddenly from no vehicles to a flood of vehicles – also in a single lane headed uptown.

    2. WEA resident says:

      Top notch!!!

      • Paul says:

        It was rushed out and poorly executed. Signs setting the rules – local traffic only 5 MPH – were never large enough for drivers to read. The 5 MPH rule was equally ignored by delivery e-bike and other bike riders, making use by smaller children impossible even if the car and truck drivers had observed the restrictions.

        Advocates bemoaning this decision had five months to push for better signage and enforcement, or organize community partnership to properly maintain the street. Instead they chose to have one event where someone danced with plastic bags.

    3. Miss Mary says:

      Was this particular open street really necessary when Riverside Park is just one block away?
      Just guessing, but weekend closure of Amsterdam may have had something to do with rescinding the WEA open street, since it would have forced traffic from both avenues onto Broadway as a result.

      • Josh P. says:

        To all the people saying “is this really necessary when Riverside Park exists?” I would flip it around and say why is this necessary as a road when the West Side Highway, Riverside Drive, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue all exist. Roads exist to serve our community, not the other way around.

        • Paul says:

          The typical street along West End has four 16 story buildings with about 80-100 units each. If you live on it you’ll notice that delivery vehicles are ubiquitous, the elderly and others routinely need cabs and other for hire vehicles, and emergency vehicles routinely use it.

          Yes, the Avenue serves the community.

          • Kevin says:

            Those are all uses that were permitted when the Open Street was operational.

            • Paul says:

              I took Josh P at his word.
              I have nothing against the open street, btw, but there are some who would have gone farther in terms of restrictions on vehicles and I’m opposed to that.

    4. Leslie Rupert says:

      I live on West End at 89th St and am out several times a day to walk my dog. Many drivers especially around 5:30 in the evening completely ignored the barriers. The only out of town cars I observed were from New Jersey and they just drove around the barriers heading to 96th St an the highway.

    5. John P says:

      Whatever. Probably less dangerous if people are expecting cars racing down WEA than not. Please put an end to Saturday/Sunday open Amsterdam gig. Cars don’t respect those rules either. Was a good idea but let’s move on

    6. Pedestrian says:

      Kudos to LINDA Rosenthal.

    7. ZoomZ says:

      Finally some lucid thinking.
      I live on 89th street and WEA.
      At no point were there more than 4 people on the entire stretch of the off traffic area.
      It was a waste of time and frankly – a way for people to say – WTF???
      Another street that was closed to traffic was/is 75th between WEA & Riverside drive.
      Why? Please tell us – WHY???

      • Jay says:

        Your observations about the use of the open street is false. I used it every day and there were dozens of people there almost every time.

        I don’t know why so many people would prefer their public space for driving through the neighborhood at high speeds than allow for our neighbors to actually use the open space we all pay for.

      • Josh P. says:

        75th between West End and Riverside, despite what it shows on Google maps, has not been closed to cars for months. The city never really tried to make a lot of these open streets work, which is why our parks are currently overcrowded.

      • Jeff says:

        WEA/Riverside Dr at 75th is closed during the week day due to”outside” learning at Manhattan Day school…

    8. Burtnor says:

      Wow. Another imperious decision made by the city without community notification or input. Could they not be bothered to even hear what residents had to say at the CB7 Transportation meeting just two days ago (11/10)? Certainly not a citizen friendly process, Mr. Mayor.

      Did they end all the Open Streets locations or just WEA? Was there pressure from UWS people friendly with the Mayor to close the program specifically to avoid further discussion about it? This is truly a shame. It was a great option for people shut in by Covid, many unable to walk to or in the park with its hills and stairs.

      • Boris says:

        What does this have to do with people shut in because of COVID if they’re not able to walk to/in the park even without COVID? What did they do before?

    9. Ridiculous says:

      I live on W. 94th St. this was a stupid idea from the beginning because it was never used by pedestrians.

      • Ben Jade says:

        Stupid may be somewhat of a euphemism. Why close a heavily-traveled, paved avenue cluttered with parked cars and lined with high-rises when only one block away you can stroll in a beautiful park, with majestic trees, grassy areas, great promenades, countless benches, and splendid river views? Our city fathers (and mothers) should do well by thinking before they act.

      • Johnny says:

        Definitely disagree, I used it all the time and saw others doing the same.

        • Your next-door neighbor says:

          Johnny,
          Shame on you –
          I know you and you’ve never been using West End Ave. for exercise or walking around other than walking to Zabar’s and back.

    10. Chris says:

      My wife and I have been walking West End Ave nearly every day since it was first closed to through traffic. The closure was never fully respected by drivers but lately it’s been treated as a high-speed slalom and is no longer safe. What a shame.

      • Josh says:

        Yeah, it was inevitable that this was going to go away. People in the neighborhood were walking on the sidewalks rather than in the street because drivers literally were slaloming around the barriers at high speed. Especially once the sun went down.

        But let’s see if it returns with lockdown #2 that is inevitably coming.

    11. J. L. Rivers says:

      It was great while it lasted. It was easy to see just a few weeks into the closure that it was a little bit of an issue with some drivers ignoring the barricades, like the article says. I wish it could’ve been worked out.

    12. Jessica says:

      What a huge loss for a neighborhood, but we’re fighting to get it back! For anyone interested in joint a group of fellow neighbors banding together as a group to volunteer and support this Open Street please email us at weaopenstreets@gmail.com!

    13. Richard Beeson says:

      This did not work for people who live on the block between WEA & RSD on 87th St. All the cars turning left off WEA and either roaring down 87th, or locked in a traffic jam because of a double-parked UPS truck or an ambulance in front of the nursing home at the corner of RSD, made for a lot of angry frustrated drivers. It was really dangerous for the residents. At the very least, the turnoff should be a 2-way street so drivers can decide to go east as well as west. Not to mention the dangers of having drivers force their way through the barricades. It wasn’t just traffic coming off the highway. I say good riddance.

      • Paul says:

        Poor planning and execution are responsible for this. The northbound turn should have been set up at 86, not 87.

    14. Teri says:

      Why should WEA no longer be closed for its residents’ private enjoyment?
      Let me count the ways.
      1.) Nobody’s using it.
      2.) It’s getting cold and dark by 4:00. Not terribly enticing for socializing.
      3.) The sidewalks are the most spacious and least congested of any on the UWS – to serve all one’s strolling needs.
      4.) There’s a 250 acre park one block away.
      5.) Unlike every other Open Street – this one has no community sponsors to manage the barricades, provide signage, etc.
      6.) NYPD has better things to do than service this “amenity” for the few.
      7.) Unlike every other Open Street – this one has no community sponsors to manage the barricades, provide signage, etc.
      8.) Struggling retail and restaurants on Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus are choked with extra car traffic diverted from West End Avenue.
      9.) Several major construction projects on Broadway 80s/90s create additional congestion, so ditto.
      10.) Dozens and dozens of school busses have been rerouted off WEA, picking kids up and dropping them off on Broadway or Riverside. In the winter. In the dark.
      11.) Backups and congestion at all points north, south east and west for vehicles accessing the West Side Highway at 95th/96th? A nightmare.

      I could go on, indefinitely.
      Every New Yorker would love to live on a car free block.
      All proponents of this closure need to zoom out to a perspective that recognizes its impact on the rest of the UWS. It’s bigger than a couple of dozen residences on 8 blocks of West End Avenue.

      • Katherien says:

        Thank you Teri for this clear analysis. The school bus situation alone is enough reason to reverse the decision. Of course if schools are closed there are no buses, but let’s hope for schools being able to stay open.

      • UWSmaven says:

        Have to agree with Teri– they looked for streets with no bus routes and while it was nice, no enforcement, no park access and few used it. NYPD resources are better used elsewhere. Why not close Riverside DR or CPW to vehicular traffic, on weekends in the spring thru fall?

      • Leon says:

        Well stated. This was a bad idea from the start and it is time to move on. The sidewalks in this area are plenty wide and the park is a block away. Meanwhile, Broadway is a congested mess. Buses and ambulances can barely move.

        Some people just have an issue with cars – I don’t get it. Everyone in this neighborhood is looking for something to complain about. They think they are being “aware activists” who are so much smarter than everyone else but they are being narrow minded whiners.

      • Richard says:

        Totally agree! The whole idea was poorly planned and executed. As many have said their is an amazing park one block away. I walk my dog on WEA because of the wide spacious sidewalk.

      • EC says:

        Great analysis Teri! I would also add that Riverside is getting way more traffic as a consequence which really increases the risk of accidents given the number of bikers and joggers on that road, and the fact that restaurants, stores and museums are currently open provides means there is even less need for Open Streets generally.

        Overall, I do think that Open Streets worked in the April-May timeframe, when there were few other places for folks to go, traffic was at a standstill and the weather was great. (I did see people using it then and it also seemed a lot safer.) It should have ended after stores and restaurants opened up and been replaced instead by options focused on restaurants like what we have on Amsterdam north of 97th.

    15. ST says:

      About time!! Stupidest idea ever.

    16. Mike says:

      Those barriers have been hit so many times they been reduced to splinters. I’ve seen cars drive through the one at 96th and West End at 40 miles per hour. Only way Open Streets will work is with more solid barriers and people to maintain them. The cops have better things to do with their time.

    17. good humor says:

      In the past 26 years, I have never seen a cop step foot on West End Avenue. Not once. It is exceedingly rare to see them even driving on West End Avenue. I have no idea where they are.

      Thus it’s become a drag strip, or some form of Urban Sturgis.

    18. cma says:

      Here’s an idea to contemplate. How about hiring some of the homeless men (or women?) to monitor the barricades? Would be a way for them to keep busy and contribute to and be part of the community. Win win.

    19. Judy says:

      It would be nice if City planners and NYPD kept
      in mind that residents of Manhattan (along with
      the other boroughs) pay significant City taxes
      every year, to pay for the services those
      planners and police provide; one might remind
      them that we’re not a bunch of freeloaders or flouters, but the providers of their income. We
      could use a little more consideration when laws
      are suddenly flip flopped.

    20. West End neighbor says:

      I live on West End Avenue at 90 street and I think it’s time for the people to go back to the parks and stretch their legs. W. End Ave. was never used to what it was designed for during the coronavirus epidemic. I’ve never seen anybody during the closed time on the street.
      We have many beautiful parks East and West of us to use and the gyms are open! The people who want West End Avenue closed a very selfish small amount of people who don’t want to hear cars or trucks on the streets.

    21. Cintra says:

      Westend should be left open for pedestrians, Not car traffics. Cars are always zooming out of there so fast. One of my dogs almost got hit by a car coming up behind me.

    22. The Columbus Amsterdam BID has moved Amsterdam (96-110) Open Streets to 11am-8pm last weekend. Despite cones, police barricades and large white and orange barricades, large reflective signs and smaller yellow signs, we had 6 barriers crushed by vehicles. We cannot enforce speed and reckless driving and next weekend11/20 will retreat to W106-110 and look for safer methods with the 24th Precinct and DOT

      • JS says:

        No one should be speeding or endangering others.

        But closing Amsterdam and rerouting the M7 and M11 buses was not the right thing to do.
        Mass transit should be a priority.

        (BTW there are also cyclists going pretty fast on closed streets)

    23. HNH says:

      Closing this section of West End was a silly plan that worked poorly. It created strange and annoying traffic patterns for seemingly no purpose. Riverside park is infinitely nicer than a street on which, even if drivers obeyed the rules, cars and trucks would occasionally be allowed to drop off, pick up and park. I saw 0 people using the closed street for anything other than a glorified sidewalk.

      Also, this experiment was yet another example of the city government taking a half-baked idea and enforcing it poorly. As someone who
      1) drives the right way down the street
      2) obeys traffic lights
      3) doesn’t speed
      4) cares about pedestrian safety
      it is pretty infuriating to see ebikes which weigh 50lbls (plus passenger) traveling 30 miles an hour in any direction with no regard for traffic lights, electric scooters which weigh slightly less doing the same and (per this article) cars swerving through police baracades to make their way to the west side highway. It’s dangerous and annoying. How about enforcing traffic laws as a weigh to close the budget gap and make the streets safer and more pleasant?

      • Nevets K says:

        How dare you speak about bicycles, e-bikes, scooters, electric scooters, Revels, mopeds, and motorcycles in the same breath as CARS?
        Don’t you know that CARS IN MANHATTAN are the DEVIL and that bicycles, e-bikes, electric scooters, et al. are the GODS OF OUR IDOLATRY?

        “Two wheels good, four wheels bad — Bahhh!”

        Electric bike lanes for food delivery drivers – good!
        On street parking for residents – bad!

        Bahhh!

    24. Matthew says:

      SPIKE STRIPS! Problem solved. Just bust out the bbq and grill some dogs and crack some beers and watch idiots blow out tires.

    25. Kathy says:

      Why not just shut off a lane on one side like the restaurants do. We do have riverside park one block away .

    26. Christina says:

      The problem is that the police barricades did not stretch from street to across the street! There was an opening either in the middle or one side or the other where a car can get through! Of course cars would go through if there’s an opening! A ridiculous layout!

    27. G says:

      It was time to go….a few months ovedue. Very few pedestrians actually walked on the street itself

    28. JS says:

      BTW the closure of Amsterdam means no M7 and M11 bus service (buses rerouted)
      A real hardship for people who rely on buses – elderly, disabled, residents of NYCHA buildings, people needing to get to the hospital, nursing homes nearby, workers (leaving/coming home at night) etc.

    29. mary willis says:

      I have an office on WEA & 96th. In all the time this area has been blocked off for a “Place for pedestrians to stretch their legs” I’ve seen maybe, four people use the space. I don’t even own a car, but the pain this closed off area has caused seems greater than the pleasure it provides. Especially as the months grow colder.

    30. Joshua says:

      Thank God. Since they did open Street on w 103rd St, there’s twice as much vehicle passing by. Open streets mean double traffic because nobody will stop them, they just move away barricades in the morning and use Street as normal. But, somehow, traffic is doubled. Do, no more open streets please, unless you gonna enforce it.

    31. G. Lynas says:

      Using two barriers so that drivers could not easily pass them and marking them with signs that say something like PEDESTRIANS ONLY or NO VEHICLES DURING ———HOURS.

    32. dang! says:

      Uppity yuppities want a place to walk?? WALK IN RIVERSIDE PARK, it’s a block away!! Give me a break snowflakes!

      • Christina says:

        And you yuppity entitled people want to drive! Go a on a highway a or somewhere, where you need to drive! We Are a Pedestrian city! Like it or not! Geez!

    33. Johnny says:

      I am sad to see this open street abruptly end, but have a lot of great memories from walking this stretch with my wife almost daily during the last 5+ months. It was a great outlet for us during these times.

    34. Paul of NYC says:

      Any news on the 103rd Street closure? Cars also ignore those barricades.

    35. CrankyPants says:

      Like Ms Rosenthal, Open Streets is useless. Streets were made for transportation. Sidewalks for walking. If you want to loll around a block from a huge, beautiful park then—dare I suggest—going to the Park?!

    36. Upperwest says:

      While this program had a reason when it started in the warm weather (too many people were crowding the park making Social Distancing difficult), it has long since lost its function.

      I live right at the corner of 87th and WEA and have heard cars hit those barriers every night and last night it was hit so hard it sent part of the wood on top of the car that hit it. But you can’t blame the driver because it was dark, the barriers were dark blue and it was past 8PM.

      Time to shut this down until the nice weather returns if we can get a community partner.

    37. Hi I’m Troy McClure says:

      Here’s my idea that no one besides me would approve of: keep closing off west end but make it so the center island is used for extra parking for local residents, open it up to food carts and other people selling stuff, and let people sell alcohol and allow open containers while they walk around this new upper west side bourbon street.

    38. Rita Yoskowitz says:

      These residents should stretch their legs walking one block away to beautiful Riverside park and leave the streets be. The awful traffic this project had created is intolerable and unsafe

    39. Elaine H Toth says:

      Better idea, tell the patents to take their kids, nanny’s, all their help to Riverside park to play and syretch their legs.
      Just BS woo woo crap.
      Streets Re for transp not vaby carriages.

    40. Richard head says:

      I walked down when closed to vechiles and a vechile came right near me. I think they should try to still keep it open and but barriers so there are no gaps for cars to sneak in.

    41. West Side Dad says:

      Dear West Side Rag – it’s inaccurate to say that vehicles were absolutely allowed, they just needed to go 5mph and yield to pedestrians and other street users. Pick-ups, drop-offs, deliveries, car loading were not only allowed but were much safer because cars were not whizzing by at 30-50mph.

    42. I rarely if ever saw pedestrians walking the open street.
      It was a bad and selfish idea to begin with. It created more traffic on Broadway which at times is squashed into a single stand still lane in either direction. To slow down traffic, install SPEED BUMPS. Simple and effective.
      Polly Trottenberg keep it open as it’s original ‘historic’ intention and urban design.