New York City will close 40 miles (64 kilometers) of streets to cars, mostly near parks, to expand the amount of space that pedestrians have to keep social distance, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The ultimate goal will be to have 100 miles of “open streets” during the coronavirus outbreak, de Blasio said Monday at a press briefing.
The mayor has been pressed by the City Council and bike advocates to open more streets to pedestrians and bikers, and to give more recreation possibilities to New Yorkers. De Blasio had resisted these proposals, saying they would create challenges for law enforcement. The mayor also said he was concerned that drivers might not obey the street closing, placing pedestrians and bikers in danger.
As a temporary measure, this seems like it makes some sense given the need for space to get outside within denser communities. It does raise other issues, such as delivering packages in certain areas or, as the article notes, law enforcement concerns.
Perhaps more interesting is the long-term consequences of such a move. In the last one hundred years or so, American cities and communities have often prioritized moving vehicles through cities. Manhattan already had a problem with crowded sidewalks before COVID-19. Pedestrian and bicyclist safety is already an issue. More cities were already considering closing streets to cars. Road closures might be motivated in the short-term by COVID-19 but this could also be part of a growing movement to provide for human-powered means of transportation.