The City Council will introduce legislation next week to open up a huge amount of streets to pedestrians and cyclists to ease the pressure on crowded parks and give New Yorkers more room to safely spread out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill, which is set to be introduced by Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera next Wednesday, will require the city to allocate street space throughout the five boroughs, with "a citywide target of 75 miles of streets."

“New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis," Johnson said in a statement. "While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, this issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves. Other cities across the country and around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. There is no reason we can’t do this here."

Rivera noted that New York has "fallen behind so many other cities" and added that the city needed to start planning for summer, especially at a time when beaches and pools will possibly be closed: "And as the weather gets warmer and more New Yorkers seek brief respites from stuffy, cramped, and often un-airconditioned homes, we have to provide them with outdoor spaces where they can properly social distance, and our parks just can't do the job alone," she said. "The need for expansive open streets in New York City can not wait any longer."

The bill already has the backing of at least 12 other council members, who all offered statements in favor of it. Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris also praised the plan: "We applaud the leadership of Council Speaker Johnson and Council Member Rivera for advancing this bold open streets plan that will ensure New Yorkers who must be out have the safe space they require for physical distancing," he said. "We call on the City Council and the mayor to implement this plan without delay, and, over time, to expand the program to support the needs of all New Yorkers."

A Toronto resident found a clever new way to demonstrate just how difficult it is for pedestrians to follow social distancing rules while walking on the streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed skepticism that an open streets plan modeled after the likes of Oakland, which recently opened up 74 miles of streets to pedestrians and bikers as part of their "slow streets" pilot program, could work here. Asked about the proposed legislation at his press conference this morning, de Blasio said that while he hasn't seen the details of the plan yet, anything that builds on examples seen in other cities that have enacted open streets programs recently are "very different realities, and plans that would not work here if adopted as they were other places."

De Blasio laid out his major concerns with any open streets plan: "I want to make sure anything we do with out streets keeps in mind the following: that we do not put any New Yorkers in danger. That we do not create a situation where people think they can walk in the middle of the street but in fact there are still vehicles there. We do not create a situation where emergency vehicles and crucial deliveries cant get through. We do not create a situation where we need to use enforcement personnel we still don't have enough of, drawing them off of other things that are crucial."

He added that he was open to hearing the council's ideas and that the situation could change over time, but, "I'm gonna hold a high bar for that."

In late March, with signs of clustering happening at NYC's parks, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was appalled by the lack of social distancing in parks, and ordered the mayor to come up with a plan to fix it. For two weeks, the city tried out its own version of this, a pilot program in which a few blocks spread out among Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx were closed to vehicular traffic—altogether, it included just 0.06 percent of the city's 120,000 blocks. Last week, he ended that program citing poor attendance, bad weather, and the amount of NYPD resources necessary to close the streets.

“The problem with the additional street closures is you have to attach enforcement to them,” de Blasio said at a press conference last week. “If don't attach enforcement to them, we're very concerned they become new gathering points and we do not want to seem to be solving one problem by creating a new one.”