By Matthew Fischetti
The open street on Willoughby Avenue hasn’t made everyone happy.
At the community meeting about the project, hosted by Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and members of the Department of Transportation (DOT), critics of the program constantly interrupted, shouted at speakers and derailed the conversation multiple times.
The open street program was introduced during the pandemic as a safe social distancing measure. In May 2021, New York City passed legislation to make some of the open streets extend permanently. Willoughby Avenue isn’t a “full open street” but a variation known as a limited local access street – which allows limited vehicle usage for uses such as parking and local deliveries. Full closure lanes don’t allow for cars, besides a 15-foot emergency lane reserved for emergency vehicle use. Willoughby Avenue is also a street that is open 24 hours a day.
The Fort Greene open street recently made headlines recently for being temporarily closed and then promptly restored within the span of a few hours. Mayor Adams didn’t deny that the call to close the street came from someone in his office before taking action to correct the issue, as Gothamist has reported.
Councilwoman Hudson’s office conducted a survey via Google forms for the open street that had over 400 respondents. The results of the survey showed that 85 percent of respondents expressed full or partial support for the open street. People who didn’t support the plan expressed concern about traffic, emergency vehicle access and accessibility for elderly and disable people.
Throughout the meeting, opponents of the program complained about not knowing about the survey. Staff from Councilwoman Hudson’s office offered notecards to members of the audience in order to take their concerns as a remedy.
“This meeting should have been held two years ago when the plan started,” said Renee Collymore, a candidate for State Committee in the 57th district, who was in attendance that night. “I hope the community can come together to resolve what was unresolved tonight.”
Councilwoman Hudson noted that she is currently drafting a bill that would require community notification of changes to the open street program but did not elaborate on the specifics of how such a program would work.
Kyle Gorman, a senior project manager at the DOT, also highlighted the department conducted a community feedback survey in Summer 2021 that had over 1300 respondents and a 90 percent approval rate. Gorman also said that a post-implementation survey will be conducted this month and a presentation will be held at the next Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting.
Janis Russel, a local community member and car owner, says that she partially supports the open street program but doesn’t understand why they are open 24 hours a day.
“My opinion is that the open streets weren’t really figured out completely at the time. Because at the meeting, certain questions were asked, and they said ‘well, we’ll get back to you we’re doing a study’ or ‘we’re coming out with these numbers.’ So it just seems like some of that should have been done upfront,” Russel said.
Kevin McGhee, a resident of Clinton Hill who is involved with the Clinton Hill Safe Streets campaign, told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that while the opponents of the program interrupted the discussion it was understandable.
“This kind of venue is always tough, because the people that tend to show up are here, because they’re passionate. Sometimes that passion comes in the form of anger. But I think that you have to really listen to what people are saying, but also try to understand where they’re coming from. Ultimately, every person in this room cares about the well being of their community, they want a better quality of life, we just have different ideas about how to get there,” McGhee said.
McGhee also added that critics brought up a solid point about accessibility issues for the street and that he would like to see the DOT address that in future plans. He also noted that there is still work to be done on Willoughby Avenue and that he would like to see protected bike lanes and residential loading zones in order to counter double parking.
When asked about the common complaint about lack of community input, McGhee had his doubts.
“I mean, community input, what does that mean? Does that mean in a public forum like this, where people show up and they yell over everybody that tries to speak in favor?” McGhee said. “I don’t think that you necessarily just let the loudest, angriest voices dictate what happens.”