June 1, 2020 By Asha MacKay
Midday during the work week, Sunnyside’s “open streets” are filled with runners, parents with young children and a delivery driver carefully navigating around the barricades.
As of late May, more than 40 miles of open streets are on the map for New Yorkers to enjoy some socially-distant outside time. Open streets are closed to through traffic, with vehicle traffic restricted to 5 miles per hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days per week.
Many streets have opened up in Sunnyside since mid-May. There is 46th Street between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue (10 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends); 39th Avenue from Woodside Avenue to Barnett Avenue; 50th Avenue from 48th to 44th Street; and Skillman Avenue from 39th Place to 43rd Street.
The Department of Transportation has listed the streets on its websites.
The reaction to the concept has been mixed. Parents such as Sunnyside resident Kimberly Benzinger, 39, are cautiously supportive. “The road is still not safe,” she observes. “Cars are not going 5 miles per hour.”
However, Benzinger lets her sons ride their bikes down Skillman Avenue, although she is nervous about their safety.
Meanwhile, Justin Ortiz, 23, navigates Sunnyside’s open streets as an Amazon delivery driver. When he has upward of five packages to deliver on a blocked-off street, he has to move the barricades to get his van through. “I always put them back,” he assures, “but yes, driving around here is difficult.”
Henry, a 63-year-old man who didn’t provide his last name, hopes that the barricades stay up for a while. He complains that “people are still commuting down Skillman when they should be using Queens Boulevard.”
He believes that drivers will eventually adjust.
Alp Batauray, 37, an essential worker who often has to get out of a barricaded street to get to work, supports the concept. However, he says that the open streets could have been planned better.
“Why not the streets, rather than the avenues?” Batauray asks. And for that matter, “If streets can be open to pedestrians, why can’t open spaces like parks and schoolyards be open too?”
Local BID Sunnyside Shines is involved in the weekend closure of 46th Street between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue.
According to director Jaime-Faye Bean, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines, the goal is to turn some of these streets into an “expanded cafe format,” as other cities in the U.S. are already doing.
The streets were selected by the DOT with the assistance of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s office and other groups.
When looking for streets to close to through traffic, the DOT has stringent requirements, says Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives.
Streets must not be bus or truck routes, and the DOT prefers it when community organizations can be responsible for maintaining the barricades.
The point of the open streets, Restrepo says, is to show New Yorkers that the city is looking out for their welfare amid the pandemic.
“There are going to be dramatic shifts in the way people move about the world,” he adds, and open streets are going to be a part of that change.