West End Avenue Removed From Open Streets Program

The New York City Department of Transportation announced Thursday that “West End Avenue has been removed from the Open Streets program.”

The DOT’s announcement came as a surprise to many, as there was no real explanation for the agency’s decision.

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The previously sectioned off stretch ranged from West 87th to West 96th Streets. The area was first limited to pedestrians-only back in May. The move caused mixed emotions among Upper West Siders. Some grew concerned about issues like parking, accessibility and safety, while others rejoiced in having a new, fume and traffic-free play space during the peak of the pandemic.

Pedestrianized UWS

photo by @katnyc2

Open Streets New York

photo by Andrea Herwitt

In response to the DOT’s announcement, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal wrote a letter addressed to Mayor de Blasio, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

“I am writing regarding the New York City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) abrupt decision to remove West End Avenue from the West 86th to 97th Streets from the Open Streets program. While there have been a series of neighborhood concerns regarding this area, it is critical that DOT work with residents to improve the safety conditions along the avenue instead of taking the path of least resistance and shuttering the program.

“It was brought to my attention by both Manhattan Community Board 7 and Upper West Side residents that many drivers are actively disregarding the City’s Open Streets regulations on West End Avenue. According to DOT, only emergency vehicles, local deliveries, pick-ups/drop-offs and necessary city service vehicles may drive on a designated Open Street. However, residents have witnessed far too many drivers break or move the blue wooden police barriers, which are meant to cordon off the street, to the side of the road in order to continue driving down the block. Whether drivers are confused by the barriers or purposefully removing them for their own conveniences makes little difference; each interaction jeopardizes the physical well-being of every pedestrain.
“This 11-block stretch of West End Avenue is supposed to be maintained by the New York Police Department (NYPD) as the area does not have a Business Improvement District, Block Association or other community partner that can oversee the street. Since the NYPD is not always present along this part of West End Avenue, residents have noticed an uptick in vehicular infractions.

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“In response to the burgeoning safety concerns, the newly formed West End Avenue Open Streets Community Coalition has proposed an alternative plan: beginning this winter, the street would be closed to traffic on the weekends only; the street would be reopened on a daily basis in spring 2021. This plan provides time for the community and DOT to identify a more appropriate community partner that can maintain the street on a permanent basis.

“Additionally, it is imperative that the DOT post more visible signage near a City-designated Open Street to alleviate confusion and to educate drivers about the closures. Barriers that have been knocked down or removed must be immediately replaced by NYPD, and until a community partner is identified, NYPD Traffic Enforcement Agents must inspect the area as part of their daily rounds.
“The Open Streets program was designed to create safe and physically distanced space for New Yorkers of all ages to walk, bike and enjoy the outdoors during the COVD-19 pandemic. As cases increase across the City, and the possibility of another lockdown looms, the need for these spaces will only continue to grow. I request that the City reinstate West End Avenue as an Open Street, and provide residents with the time to seek out another community partner. As the program expands throughout the City, it is critical that the Mayor’s Office, DOT and NYPD partner with area-elected officials to determine the needs of the neighborhood and to propose solutions that prioritize the safety and health of all New Yorkers.”

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