The city on Friday announced its first round of street closures designed to open up more space to pedestrians and bicyclists, with the goal of allowing for more social distancing during the fight against the coronavirus.
Five stretches of roadway in Queens will be closed to motor vehicles — or “opened” in the city’s parlance — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Three of them are in Forest Park, one in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and one in Long Island City. They total 2.7 miles out of the 7.14 miles of streets that will be affected citywide.
In Forest Park west of Woodhaven Boulevard, in Woodhaven, Forest Park Drive, which the city called West Main Drive, will be closed to cars from the Seuffert Bandshell parking lot to the golf course lot. East of Woodhaven, in Richmond Hill, Forest Park Drive, aka East Main Drive, will be shuttered from Metropolitan Avenue to the Overlook parking lot. So will Freedom Drive from Park Lane South to Myrtle Avenue.
In Flushing Meadows, Meadow Lake Drive will be closed from the Model Aircraft Field on the east side of the lake to what was referred to as the Meadow Lake Bridge Parking Lot. Going by the length of roadway the city said would be closed, 1.5 miles, that could mean Meadow Lake Drive will be closed from the Model Aircraft Field south to the baseball fields adjacent to Jewel Avenue, and then back north along the west side of the lake to the parking lot, but that could not immediately be confirmed. (Update: That was confirmed Monday.)
In Long Island City, Court Square West will be closed from Jackson Avenue to where it dead-ends against the train tracks a 10th of a mile away.
The roadways chosen in the first round all run through parks or are adjacent to them (Court Square Park sits in front of the LIC Courthouse between Court Square West, Jackson Avenue and Thomson Avenue).
The streets will be closed to motor vehicles 12 hours a day starting Monday. The only exceptions are for local deliveries, pickups and drop-offs, “necessary city service vehicles” and emergency vehicles. Those drivers are told to be “hyper-vigilant” and to keep it to 5 mph.
Officials hailed the move in the announcement they issued.
“New Yorkers deserve safe ways to enjoy the warm weather while we fight through this crisis, and I’m proud of my team for jumping into action with this first group of open streets,” Mayor de Blasio said. “Our parks have played a critical role in maintaining public health during this crisis. But we cannot afford to have a high demand for open space create unhealthy situations. That’s why we’re opening streets and offering more options for New Yorkers to get outside safely.”
"Today is a great first step and an exciting day for an entire city starved of adequate open space,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who had pressed a reluctant mayor to close some streets to traffic weeks ago. ”The Council is glad our efforts on this initiative have brought us this far, and we are eager to work with our colleagues in government, community groups, and our neighbors to keep expanding this program in a safe, effective, and enjoyable way. While we continue our fight against this awful virus, we need to give people the space they need to maintain proper social distancing, and I'm glad we're making progress towards that goal.”
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the closures are only a first step and urged community boards and other neighborhood organizations to recommend more streets for shutting to cars, “particularly in areas hit hard by COVID-19.”
The first Queens street closures announced are not in those areas.
City Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), whose district includes Forest Park, was the only Queens official quoted in the announcement.
"The Department of Transportation informed me of its decision to close three streets in Forest Park as part of the Mayor and City Council's initiative to allow greater social distancing," Holden said. “I’d like to thank Commissioner Trottenberg for calling me personally to discuss the plan, and I believe it will have a minimal impact on the community while providing some more space for safe recreation during the pandemic."
The closures are the first round in what the city says will be 40 miles of shutdowns to traffic during May, with plans for another 60 miles “in the weeks ahead.” Officials previously have said the changes “will only be in effect for the duration of ‘NY PAUSE,’ with the exception of bike lanes.” New York PAUSE — which stands for Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone and refers to Gov. Cuomo’s collection of stay-at-home and social distancing orders — is now slated to run through May 15, though it is expected to be lengthened in the city and the rest of the downstate region at least.