A ‘Park to Park’ Open Street Moves Closer to Adoption, Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Cars

Photo via Peter Frishauf (Twitter: @pfrishauf).

By Alex Israel

To the delight of local residents and community groups, West 103rd Street has received a barricade upgrade as part of NYC Open Streets. The city program aims to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists by creating public space for people to walk and ride without fear of being struck by vehicles. But the new barricade is just a small part of the first phase in what some hope will become a permanent fixture.

In 2020, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) significantly expanded the Open Streets program in response to the pandemic, opening applications to community groups willing to maintain a set area of more than one continuous block.

In response, neighborhood volunteers formed the West 103rd Street Open Streets Community Coalition to apply for daily Open Streets from Riverside Drive to Broadway. Since receiving approval last spring, the Coalition has served as the DOT’s local partner, which involves barricade maintenance as well as coordinating programming and communicating program guidelines with local stakeholders, among other operational responsibilities.

Under ‘Temporary Limited Local Access’ distinction, vehicle traffic on the two-avenue stretch of West 103rd Street is limited to local deliveries, pick-ups and drop-offs, and necessary city, utility, and emergency vehicles while Open Streets are in effect—daily, between 8am and 8pm—according to DOT guidelines. Drivers are also advised to exhibit caution and drive at a maximum of 5 MPH in the area via signage posted to barricades placed on the impacted streets.

On April 5 2021, Coalition volunteers celebrated as DOT upgraded that barricade from a single, painted wood NYPD barrier to the new standard: two metal barricades with bright orange signage, split by a 15-foot emergency lane. Among the supporters was Peter Frishauf, Founding Director of StreetsPAC and Coalition member who shared video of the upgraded barricades, flanked by other excited volunteers, on Twitter.

Minutes later, Frishauf shared a second video featuring a taxi driving between the barricades at a speed well over the maximum. “That’s a major case of why people aren’t using it more,” Frishauf later told WSR. “They just can’t trust motorist behavior.” Still, he believes the upgraded barricades are a good step towards public safety and visibility. “It can be scary,” he said, “But for the most part they work well,” he added, noting that simple measures could be taken to further curtail speeding, such as installing automated speed cameras like those found throughout the city.

The Coalition has already added custom signage featuring larger text to supplement the messaging, an enhancement to which Frishauf says DOT is open: “They do want this to work.”

Rogue speeders aside, Frishauf says the block sees significantly less thru traffic compared to other Upper West Side cross streets due to the NYCHA housing block between Amsterdam and Manhattan Avenues. That’s one of many driving factors behind “Park to Park 103”, an initiative from the Coalition that aims to build on the success of the temporary Open Streets program to something more permanent across all of West 103rd Street.

A black, white and blue illustration of a street closed to moving traffic by French barricades with “Road Closed to Thru Traffic, Yield to Ped and Bikes, 5 MPH” signs that is open to pedestrians and cyclists. Cars remain parked on either side of the street, while people walk and ride bicycles down the Open Street. An arrow above the middle of the road shows that a 15 foot emergency lane is kept clear of obstructions between the parked cars.

Diagram of Temporary Limited Local Access typical setup, via DOT.

Rachel Albetski, a project planner at urban planning, design, and research-advocacy firm Street Plans Collaborative, walked WSR through the “park to park vision” for West 103rd Street between Riverside and Central Parks. The firm was brought on by Open Plans, an advocacy organization dedicated to improving transportation systems, to conduct research and outreach to ultimately inform a recommendation for a “21st-century street.”

Initial findings were clear: “This street is begging to be redesigned,” Albetski said. In a survey of 195 local residents in summer of 2020, Street Plans Collaborative found that 88 percent of respondents traveled the block primarily by foot, and only about a third owned a car at all. Four in 5 people were open to replacing a few of the street’s parking spots with something else, like trash collection, seating, greenery, or another public amenity.

In the short term, the Coalition is applying to expand the Open Street to Amsterdam, and planning a slate of public “activations” to invite more neighbors to experience the benefits. In the long term, its goal is to create a continuous park-to-park corridor from Central Park to Riverside Park that connects the car-free Frederick Douglass Houses at the center to the streets around it.

Photo via Street Plans Coalition, who helped organize a trial art and seating installation as part of the Open Streets in fall 2020.

Included among the elements up for consideration are: new paint treatments to better signal to vehicles on the street; modern, sanitary bays for trash collection; “parklets” with greenery; designated loading zones; and dedicated seating areas accompanied by art installations. “We’d love to see a self-enforcing slow street that helps cars navigate the space slowly,” Albetski said, adding that West 103rd Street is the ideal block to pilot a program like this—”this is basically a street served up on a platter.”

Outreach to local organizations like the NYCHA Tenant Association and the Broadway Mall Association, as well as local businesses like Hosteling International and Purple Circle, is already happening, and will continue throughout the spring and summer. So far, the response has been generally positive. “Everyone that we’ve spoken to so far has been really receptive to the idea,” Albetski said.

Once community engagement and further surveys are complete, the Coalition will present a plan to DOT and ideally work closely alongside them to bring the vision of a permanent Open Street to life.

“We have two world class parks. We have a low traffic street,” said Albetski. “It’s begging to be seen as a 21st-century street that works for people, not just automobiles.”

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    1. LIzzie says:

      These folks have worked hard, and hopefully these barriers are just the first step. Remember, the High Line was considered to be pipe dream when the idea was first floated. A park-to-park greenway is doable!

    2. G says:

      When will someone curtail the bicycle, skate, scooter, unicycle, motorbike, e-bike, etc users?

      • Paul says:

        The great myth is that folk will let their kids play on the street while the bikes, especially the ebikes, totally ignore the 5 mph speed limit and ride in both directions.

        Of course the advocates financing this from the “Open Plans” conglomerate (Streetopia, Streetsblg, etc) and transportation alternatives are just pushing their anti-car agenda.
        Oh. The “neighborhood survey” they ran? Seriously?

    3. John says:

      If I want to sit outside I jump on a plane and go somewhere where I don’t smell pot, exhaust, sewage and experience angry deranged folks. So I do not understand this concept.

      • Tired of the 1% telling the 99% how to live says:

        John, Congratulations. You get the most obnoxious, elitist comment of the week award! Let us know how HELL is as you are surely headed there. Thanks for the climate change you are causing. This proposal is part of the solution. You are a part of the problem.

        • So many questions says:

          Do you live in the bush of Africa, subsisting on hyper-locally sourced sorghum and river water? No? Then you’re part of the global warming and pollution problem.

          You think you’re the 99%? You live on the UWS of NYC in the 21st century. Chances are you’re in the 1% of global wealth. Certainly 0.1% in the history of humanity. So, please check your misguided privilege.

          You think closing a street is part of the solution to global warming? How exactly? How many car trips did you eliminate? How many hours of cruising for parking spots? How many miles of people circling around? How much congestion in the neighboring streets? Where’s your environmental study?

          You’d like John to communicate to you from hell? Email, phone or USPS? I think you need to see a therapist. It’s not how it works.

          • John says:

            I grew up in the projects in a single Parent home. Worked to pay for my own education and I am not in top 1% But upper middle class. The city is turning into sodom and gomorrah and soon prostitution will be legal(it de criminalized now). The building you live in creates more global warming then the commercial flight I take to actually get fresh air.

        • blacklikeu says:

          Dear “Tired of the 1% telling the 99% how to live” – You may be a part of the 99% but you (!) sure are at the very top of the obnoxious percentage. Just because a reader says he does not like the idea of open streets, does not give you the right to wish him to go and be in hell. It’s such comments from people as you that keep the big divide in full bloom. And do really you imply that only the 1% fly on planes? I doubt it, as much as I doubt that you yourself have never contributed to climate change. Yes you have, as have I and the rest of the 7.5 billion people. Take a deep breath and remember, just as you are not alone, so are other people. Peace be with you.

    4. jms says:

      Having a strong aversion to being hit by speeding vans (seriously, it hurts!), I’m all in favor of this, but somehow the idea of achieving Open Streets via barricades seems faintly Newspeak. Anyhow, had this been proposed for W. 102nd Street instead, I would definitely have my doubts about it.

    5. j says:

      Ms. Albetski is correct-we have “two world class parks”. We also have a “park to park” route that “works for people”. It’s called a “sidewalk”!

    6. Wishing good luck says:

      When my block became an open street it pit neighbor against neighbor. Some people arranged the barricades such that it was impossible to pass without getting out of the vehicle and with great difficulty moving the interlocked barriers. People had trouble getting to medical appointments since car services could not get down the street. Not everybody is physically able to walk up to the corner and hope to hail a passing taxi. I personally do not like streets being closed every day from 8-8, cities need to move. But I wish the best of luck to everyone on 103 Street!

      • Alex from 115th says:

        Open Streets that our safe for children and little old ladies to use for games and such is the real NY that we all recall from our youth.

        Stickball is coming back

    7. TravelgalNYC says:

      Yes! Would love this.

    8. Realist in The City says:

      You want your own “front lawn” or “backyard” to hang out in? Move to the burbs. Or perhaps try one of the “world class parks” just down the block. Lazy people. Dumb idea.

    9. Jay says:

      If you can get the license plate number off the video for the cab that was speeding – use the 311 app or website and report it to the TLC (put the video on YouTube and link to it in the complaint). That’s a moving violation and the taxi driver will face some pretty steep penalties – possibly license suspension if it’s not the first moving violation. BUT the cab has to be on duty. If it was off-duty they won’t know who the driver was at the time.

    10. Great Scott says:

      I have said it before and I will say it again.

      People who live and work in this city and have no transit options to get to their place of work or to take care of family members (now more than ever) – either reverse commuting or commuting in – will not be able to afford the parking garage rates as they exist today if we continue to support this kind of nonsense. If the city needs money, make residential parking in the city affordable and mandatory in certain neighborhoods during certain times of the day, and have delivery trucks come in after rush hour times. The UWS has already lost more than its share of parking spaces – meanwhile and I am not sure if these “transportation” groups have heard, but there are two of the largest parks abutting the UWS neighborhood – Central and Riverside Parks! Enough with this constant attack on the middle class who have lived and have supported this neighborhood through the decades in both good and bad times! Stop. The. Madness.! There are so many other more important issues this city needs to address – crime, homelessness, business deserts, quality of life (sanitation), crime, crime, crime, etc. crime…

      • Isaac says:

        There are no transit options on the UWS? Turns out we have this great thing called the ‘Subway’. You should try it sometime.

    11. Upper West Sider says:

      Worst concept ever. Whoever is making these decisions clearly doesn’t understand Upper West Siders. We live in a neighborhood flanked by 2 amazing parks. If people want to get outside and get some fresh air, GO TO THE PARKS! Why make parking and getting around on the Upper West Side even harder.

      • The one sided bias shown in the article to promote does not point out the negatives or any alternatives that can be as beneficial to the community. Our elected officials who forget they represent a community rather than small special interest groups will use this as evidence that it is what everybody in the community wants and needs. What is popular is not always a well thought idea.

    12. Stu says:

      And how to the folks in Douglas Housing like this idea?

    13. Julia says:

      Well, I am handicapped and live at the corner of 103rd. I have a necessary car. The way parking is disappearing in the city makes things difficult for me. Even the nearest parking garage is too far for me to get to and from regularly. Let the criticism begin.

    14. Christine says:

      Actions result in trickle down consequences.

      When traffic is blocked here, just like water, it needs to find a way around, and in this case — as well as the other street closures around the city — that means surrounding blocks (i.e. your neighbors) feel the brunt, meaning we reap the exhaust and frustrated drivers and uptick of car horns on OUR blocks.

      Thanks very much for considering your neighbors in this grand scheme to better YOUR block while SURROUNDING blocks suffer the results.

      Go to the park(s)!

      • Sarah says:

        This isn’t actually the case, empirically. Cutting traffic capacity ends up cutting traffic. Or, looked at the other way, the easier and cheaper it is to drive, the more people will drive. In order to reduce our reliance on cars, we need to make drivers internalize the costs they currently dump on the rest of the world, making driving more difficult and expensive.

        • Leon says:

          I really don’t understand the car haters. Perhaps they should make an effort to escape the UWS bubble occasionally and also think about other people. As I have said before, this behavior/attitude is why the rest of America hates us.

          People have friends, family, jobs outside the city. We like to see these people and/or go to these jobs. For many of these places, the only way to get there is by car. Even more so now during a pandemic where train/bus travel is less safe.

          I have a lot of family in the suburbs, some of whom I help care for. I don’t own a car – I either rent or use ZipCar. But I am still inconvenienced by all of these closed streets, lack of spots, etc. I am frequently in the parks and there is plenty of room for everyone there. I don’t understand why this is not sufficient.

          • Jay says:

            Umm.. open streets doesn’t limit your ability to park or drive on a street. It only limits your speed to one where you can share the road safely with pedestrians, bicyclists and others who deserve access to the roads when they please.

            So, I fail to see what all the complaints are about.

          • Sarah says:

            I don’t hate cars (and I haven’t spent most of my life on the UWS; I grew up in a city with virtually no useful public transit). It’s just extremely obvious that we, and the Earth, can no longer afford (if we ever really could) the massive direct and indirect subsidies we give to car drivers.

        • Paul says:

          Traffic was cut in this area before cars became a thing.
          Nobody in the neighborhood keeps or uses a car for local use or casual shopping.
          The locals use cars to leave town to get places like Copake, Claverack, and Catskill.

          And the local people who use livery vehicles (often because they are mobility impaired), and those who get deliveries aren’t going to stop so yes, closing one street will shift traffic to another.

        • Christine says:

          Hi Sarah,

          Clearly you don’t live on my block which was significantly impacted when West End was deemed a “safe street” from 96 to 87 during certain hours over the last year. Traffic couldn’t flow and subsequently became backed up into to the hundreds with morons blocking the box and laying on their horns trying to make it south and onto the West Side Highway.

          But — empirically — thanks for your two cents. Yeah for city parks!

        • Also Big Wheels says:

          How can we ALSO do this for: motorcyclists, electric scooters (Revel), e-bikes, unicyclists, bicyclists, tricyclists, skateboarders, blade-scooters, Segwayists, inline skaters, roller skaters, etc etc and so on and so on. Everybody should share the burden/responsibility not only for making the air cleaner but also for making the neighborhood streets safer.

      • Paul says:

        True that. The people who live in the high rises on RSD between 102 and 104 aren’t going to stop taking cabs or using their cars.
        And the residents of 103 are not going to stop using Amazon and other delivery services.

    15. Big Earl says:

      This might be the stupidest idea yet. The nerve. The city is about us few on this block and our wants. All you other blocks can eat the extra traffic. And when people don’t abide by our rules and speed past a useless little barricade with a sign no one can read, lets act surprised. If you want to play outside, go to the two parks around you. If you still want to play in the streets, move out of the city to a cul-de-sac.

      The picture of the lady reading in the street is comical!! She couldn’t find any other nook in the whole city? That’s the best she can do? A folding chair in the street? Looks uncomfortable and only done to prove a point, not for enjoyment. No cars can use the street so she can read in peace in her little oasis? I thought I’ve heard and seen it all. I was wrong. The 2021 stupidity award goes to…..the 103rd block. Congrats. Can’t wait until I can close down 72nd St so I can read in the street.

    16. Ken says:

      Wonderful to see residents who are able to conceive of and use a street for something other than the movement and storage of cars! This kind of change is taking place in progressive cities all over the planet, so why not the Upper West Side?

      • Paul says:

        The streets were laid out in 1811, which likely predates the birth of Henry Ford’s grandparents, and the mode of transport then (and for almost 100 years thereafter) left tons of stuff called manure.
        Accordingly, the claim that, somehow, cars ‘Stole’ the streets from some ‘better’ use is, quite literally, horse flop.

    17. nemo paradise says:

      Replacing wooden barricades with metal somehow makes the street safer?

      Pedestrians outnumber motorists, so we should ban cars from the streets?

      Optics and nonsense.

    18. Bill says:

      I must say I simply don’t understand this concept. I live on 102nd and my rear window looks out onto 103rd. It’s a very quiet street with little traffic, like mine. There’s hardly ever a big street scene, and no retail that folks might be headed for. On a nice day you’ll see people headed to the park at the end of the block, but again, just a trickle of people. What does opening up a short side street or two actually accomplish?

      Not to say that closing down some streets to cars isn’t a bad idea. For instance, the recent closures of Amsterdam Ave have resulted in a pleasant ambiance for strolling among the restaurants. But shutting a short, quiet block I just don’t get.

    19. robert moses says:

      jesus, more hippy bohemian shit from the uws “farmers market” crowd…

    20. Is this really needed? As usual someone is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The unintended consequences of the 103 Street proposal are greater than its limited benefits.

      Is a greenway necessary to connect the parks or subway stations? Why 103 Street and not 106 Street? Seasonal and temporary weekend street closures might be a better alternative. Fixing many of the current access and maintenance issues in Riverside Park will make a more significant impact.

    21. SM says:

      This is all part of the “progressive” (translation: socialist) agenda. Look at what happened on CPW – they removed all the parking spots on the east side of the street and the result is a predominantly empty street. Great use of space, right? They could have easily designed the space to satisfy cyclists and car owners. But the socialists don’t want that.

      • This image shows what should have been done for Central Park West.

        http://www.nycissues.org/images/CPWBikeLaneKeepsParking.png

      • Nevets K says:

        I of course agree with you about the anti-community act of placing an unnecessary protected electric bike lane on CPW, of placing unused “loading zones” on West End Avenue, and of placing Citibike docking stations on Riverside Drive itself, instead of the wide walkway that borders the Drive, as is done on the walkway that borders Fifth Avenue. All these actions removed parking spots for many middle class reverse commuters and has therefore increased stress among people looking for spots and – “ironic!” – has also caused an increase in pollution by cars circling blocks.
        However, the CB 7 people who approved all this are not socialists. They simply do not care.
        But there is a silver lining: By the end of the summer, the electric bike riders and the non-electric bike riders may be engaged in a full scale war. We can sit back and relax on this one!

    22. Elizabeth Oram says:

      This is so wonderful. its just beautiful to see children on their scooters, learning to ride bikes, playing a little ball with Dad – right outside their own home! Its like New York used to be, before it was overrun by cars – the street is a place of enjoyment and sociality, a place neighbors can meet and greet. I bet the haters get all nostalgic about old pictures of New York when kids could play stick ball in the street. Why did we every give that up?

      • Paul says:

        Before NewYork was “overrun by cars” the streets were far from idyllic.

        This, from an article on pollution in Manhattan:
        “The horse population of New York City in the 1880s was just over 100,000. With the population being so vast, it came with an average of 2.5 million pounds of manure being produced each day, as each horse produces between fifteen to thirty pounds of manure a day, along with about a quart of urine[1]. There was an observer from this time and he was quoted as saying, “[the streets were] literally carpeted with a worm, brown matting…smelling to heaven.”[2]”

        • Jay says:

          And before that, the upper west side was farmland. What’s your point?

          The city and neighborhood change all the time and I think we don’t need to make cars a priority in the neighborhood, especially when most of us don’t own them. There are better ways of using our public lands, so that everyone can use them.

          • Paul says:

            What’s my point?
            I was simply answering a person who longed for the idyllic days “before” we were “overrun” by cars.
            A frequently repeated wish that, in reality, harkens to a time when the city was drowning in horse crap.

            Is there a problem with the facts as I described them?

            • Jay says:

              There’s a problem with the inability to share public spaces. The roads do not belong to cars that are owned by a few. They are to be shared whether that by letting kids use the streets for stickball or people driving slowly on the street to get where they need to go.

            • Paul says:

              So there was no problem with the facts recited in my earlier comment. Thanks.

              There is no problem with the continued use of the streets for the purpose they were plotted 210 years ago, the transport of people and their property to and from their homes, the access provided to emergency services, sanitation, fuel to provide heat and hot water, etc. The biggest change from then is how much cleaner they are with the horses gone. And, by the way, horse drawn vehicles were not safer than cars, traffic death rates were higher than now. https://newrepublic.com/article/121327/vision-zero-challenges-new-yorks-history-fatal-traffic-anarchy

              I totally agree that in “park deserts” there’s an argument for repurposing of streets as park substitutes.
              This is not a park desert.

    23. DAK says:

      I live on this block (W. 103 between Broadway & WEA), and pre-pandemic cars would FLY down the block to try to make the light on WEA. It was truly scary. I am all for doing whatever is necessary to slow the drivers down and make the streets safer.

    24. lis says:

      A little puzzled…
      The block association hired consultants?
      And is there information on how the firm/Rachel Albetski conducted the survey?

    25. Robin says:

      I’m five blocks away from 103rd, but the thought of a street with no traffic running from Riverside to Central Park is absolutely delicious!

    26. BA says:

      Ms. Albetski’s summary of the “survey” distorts the results. The survey was publicized solely by announcements attached to the trafic barriers. Just because 88% of respondents claimed to travel the block “primarily by foot” doesn’t say the block should be closed to traffic. Similarly, even if 4 of 5 respondents don’t own cars, one can’t impute that they don’t want vehicle traffic (cabs, delivery vehicles, trade vehicles, etc.) eliminated.

    27. Glenn says:

      This is a wonderful idea to connect the two parks and the NYCHA super block to the rest of the neighborhood. We need more intergenerational spaces and places for people to gather and kids / elderly to play/meet. We talk about racial integration but we segregate our city in so many ways. Having at least a few streets where we can all spend time together without spending money is a fabulous idea.