Last weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo repeatedly emphasized that New Yorkers had been lax about keeping their distance from one another outside, pointing to groups congregating in close proximity in NYC parks, playgrounds and courts. Cuomo became increasingly frustrated at the sight of New Yorkers generally behaving as if the city was not in the grips of a deadly pandemic as the weekend went on: "There is a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate."

While Mayor Bill de Blasio remains reluctant to close down NYC playgrounds and parks, the city did unveil one new density reduction plan to try to create more space for New Yorkers to go outside during the coronavirus pandemic. Starting this Friday, two blocks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx will be closed to vehicular traffic to allow people to roam more freely. At least for the weekend.

From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting Friday March 27th through at least Monday March 30th, the following streets will close as part of the pilot:

  • Manhattan: Park Avenue, between 28th and 34th streets
  • Brooklyn: Bushwick Avenue, Johnson to Flushing
  • Queens: 34th Avenue, 73rd Street to 80th Street
  • The Bronx: Grand Concourse, between E. Burnside and 184th Street

The city says NYPD officers will be onsite to "both to ensure pedestrian safety and to ensure social distancing protocols are being followed." Parked cars will remain in place, bus routes will continue on service roads, and traffic will be allowed on cross streets.

The DOT adds that "additional sites are being considered for this initial pilot and will be announced when details are finalized. These current locations will be re-evaluated for continued public access."

Earlier this week, Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion saw heavy use, including some playing contact sports, which de Blasio has asked people to abstain from. The mayor has not closed the basketball courts, but he did say the NYPD would be removing hoops from 80 of the 17,000 courts in the city in areas where people aren’t complying with the social-distancing decree to “make it impossible to play basketball there." The courts can still be used for other kinds of exercise, but "it's a matter of everyone's safety" to remain six feet apart from anyone you don't already live with. The list of removed hoops can be found here.

On Wednesday, de Blasio reiterated that the city would wait until Saturday before deciding whether to shut down playgrounds, saying he wanted to give New Yorkers the chance to follow the rules. However, he stressed that he would not be shutting down the parks.

"I want to differentiate strongly the parks and the playgrounds," he told reporters during Wednesday's evening press conference. "The area that we're all concerned about is to make sure that there's real clear adherence to the rules, or else by the end of Saturday, we might get to a shutdown of the playgrounds themselves. The parks, obviously many of them are huge, [and are] absolutely necessarily in a situation like this. The parks will remain open, but with a lot of enforcement under any scenario."

Instead of closing the playgrounds, the city began putting signage up warning people that playground equipment is “not sterilized” and to “play at your own risk.”

On Wednesday, Jumaane Williams, New York City's Public Advocate, called for more stringent action beyond Cuomo's PAUSE plan — Williams wants a lockdown of the city, in which all residents except for essential workers would be mandated to stay at or close to home for at least one to two weeks. He said that parks and playgrounds should all be closed as well as construction sites.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday morning, there have been 20,011 confirmed positive coronavirus cases in New York City, with 280 deaths related to the virus.