New York City’s Open Streets program may have been launched to provide New Yorkers with more space to follow social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic but growing evidence about its benefits and impact on safety may make it a fixture for the foreseeable future.
That’s because initial data show a considerable decline in vehicle traffic in areas where streets have been transformed into public spaces, as well as a major drop in injuries.
What is the Open Streets Program?
New York City’s Open Streets is a program that creates additional space for the public by converting streets into vehicle-free zones. Roadways are closed to motor vehicle traffic daily from 8:00am to 8:00 pm, with limited exceptions for emergency vehicles and delivery drivers, who may only drive 5mph.
The open streets project considerably expand the amount of vehicle-free space available to the public, allowing pedestrians, cyclists, and others to enjoy themselves safely.
Promising Statistics Show Benefits of Car-Free Streets
So, just how safe are vehicle-free streets? According to a recent statistical review from Streetsblog NYC, much safer than most expected.
Using section along 34th Avenue between 69th St. and Junction Boulevard, Streetsblog compared traffic crashes for all of 2021 to the last full pre-pandemic year (2019). Some notable findings:
- Crashes during open streets hours dropped 77% from 26 in 2019 to only 6 in 2021.
- Injuries fell 89% from 19 in 2019 to just 2 in 2021.
- Pedestrian and cyclist injuries fell to one injured pedestrian in 2021 compared to seven in 2019.
Crash and injury rates also fell dramatically outside of open streets hours, which some credit to the possibility of drivers growing accustomed to using alternate routes or driving more carefully on the roads when they are open. As the numbers show, total crashes fell 55% from 40 in 2019 to 18 in 2021, and injuries fell 72% from 29 in 2019 to 8 in 2021.
The Future of NYC Open Streets
The numbers don’t lie: promoting a vehicle-free environment has a positive impact on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, both during times when streets are closed to cars and when they’re open. And while some opponents have argued that the program makes some streets safer at the expense of others, the data show that entire neighborhoods surrounding an open street saw lower accident rates. Other benefits include reductions in noise and air pollution.
The findings have led many to call for an expansion of the program beyond Jackson Heights, and have fueled a petition recently signed by Mayor Eric Adams to transform 34th Avenue into a permanent linear park. A preliminary plan for the permanent open street released by the DOT last year would create several car free blocks using diverters at 26 intersections, but may include more permanent barricades in future revisions.
As a law firm the fights for victims injured in motor vehicle crashes, including pedestrian accidents and bicycle accidents, our team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., commends the city’s efforts to reclaim space from cars and make streets safer. Even on open streets, however, we know that accidents risks will remain, especially as they relate to negligence, unsafe conditions, and premises accidents.