The COVID-19 pandemic has caused cultural conflicts both nationally and locally. Maskers vs. Anti-maskers, vaccines and anti-vaxxers, open streets and…closed streets?
Throughout the past year, a strange and intense animosity has been growing in Greenpoint regarding whether or not certain city streets should be shut down to allow for more COVID-conscious outdoor pedestrian space.
The tension began last May when Mayor bill de Blasio announced the NYC Open Streets initiative, which placed barricades to stop car traffic on hundreds of miles of streets in the city, including several Greenpoint thoroughfares.
Initially, the NYPD was in charge of the initiative, placing the barricades every morning at 8 a.m. and removing them at 8 p.m. each night. After various complaints that the officers were neglectful of their duties, community organizations volunteered to take charge of the open streets program.
Most notably, the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition stepped in to manage the situation. With the support of councilmen Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, the volunteer group successfully maintained and facilitated open streets on portions of Berry, Nassau, Russell, and Driggs streets since last year.
However, the open streets program has faced significant pushback since its inception. Last November, a petition titled “Stop Open Streets from becoming a permanent fixture in Greenpoint” gained 962 signatures on Change.org.
“Many members of the community feel they were misled on the original plan, and were unaware that they were signing to completely remove the streets of Greenpoint and turn them into pedestrian-only walkways,” the petition read. “This petition is on behalf of my neighbors and car owners of Greenpoint, our voices are being silenced and we are getting increasingly worried and upset that we are not being represented in the plans for Open Streets.”
Last month, the situation reached an unprecedented fever pitch. A man in a “counterfeit” Amazon delivery truck stole 16 of Greenpoint’s open street barricades overnight, then proceeded to throw the barricades into Newtown Creek.
Members of the community organization North Brooklyn Mutual Aid searched for the missing barricades. Five were found washed up on the shoreline at the end of Apollo Street. Two were fished out of the creek by volunteers in a rowboat. The other nine were lost completely.
While less dramatic, the open street drama continues up to this week. Greenpoint local Logan Reeves recently published an op-ed calling for changes to make the open streets program more focused in its intent.
“Residents have asked multiple times to see the data that was collected in order to figure out what streets to close, and the North Brooklyn Open Streets Coalition declines to share the information,” he wrote. “Do better NYC.”
Despite the pushback, the mayor has expressed his intention to maintain the program. Many of the major Democratic candidates for mayor, including Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Diane Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang, have also pledged to upkeep the open streets initiative.