Are More Car-Free Streets in N.Y.C.’s Future?

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Alternate-side parking: In effect until Saturday (Feast of the Assumption). Read about the amended regulations here.

New York City has a love-hate relationship with cars. If you’re a restaurant owner desperate for expanded outdoor seating, you might have a hate-hate relationship with cars these days.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, traffic dried up, prompting the city to close more than 70 miles of roadway to cars and trucks for its Open Streets program. That made extra room for socially distant walking, biking and outdoor dining … for now.

There’s competition brewing for the city’s 6,000 miles of streets, and critics of car culture are pushing officials to redesign the grid to accommodate fewer vehicles and more pedestrians and cyclists.

[Will cars still rule the roads in a post-pandemic New York?]

“The longstanding tension between those who see cars as evil and those who see cars as essential has been heightened by the pandemic because usable outdoor space is more crucial than ever,” Jerold S. Kayden, a Harvard professor, told my colleague Winnie Hu.

Here are some takeaways from an article on the turf war by Ms. Hu and Nate Schweber:

Every few weeks, the city has been adding a batch of roadways to its Open Streets program, which bans cars for a stretch of the day, allowing restaurants to extend seating past sidewalks and cyclists to cruise freely. But it’s all temporary.

Some New Yorkers say now is the time to make long-lasting changes by creating more public space and reducing real estate for cars. Restaurant owners on Dyckman Street in Upper Manhattan, for example, want to keep the outdoor dining; across the city, some parents wish to use the streets near schools for classes.

“You’re reimagining your city’s open spaces in a way that it feels like it belongs to people on foot and on bikes,” City Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn told my colleagues. “It feels, in my opinion, like a crusade for a more sustainable city.”

London plans to create new walking and biking routes by widening sidewalks and permanently limiting some traffic. Officials in Paris want to add more than 400 miles of bike lanes.

New York City hasn’t presented any plans to permanently redesign the streets, but the fight to reduce traffic is unlikely to go away after the health crisis ends. City officials say they’re waiting to see how traffic fluctuates as more people return to work.

The coronavirus has made many New Yorkers wary of public transportation. Streets are filling up with cars and trucks, and traffic volumes have more than doubled at some bridges and tunnels between the city and New Jersey.

It’s likely that many workers are preferring cars over the subway and buses as a safer commute. Demand for monthly parking spots is up — and so are the prices.

Sitting in traffic is expensive. Before the pandemic, congestion cost the New York region about $20 billion a year in lost worker productivity and fuel and operating expenses.

Citi Bike promised to add thousands of its electric bikes to city streets this summer, but several neighborhoods still don’t have any. [Gothamist]

Bars have been getting creative to comply with a rule that requires alcohol purchases to be accompanied by substantive food, not just chips. [New York Post]

The Times’s Troy Closson writes:

Decades ago, Native Americans were guaranteed free federal health care. But in 2020, it’s still difficult for eligible New Yorkers to see Indian Health Service providers in person because the agency’s nearest locations are hundreds of miles from New York City, according to Sutton Mikole King, a Bronx woman who is descended from the Menominee and Oneida Nations of Wisconsin.

Even with telemedicine, Ms. King said, the barriers that people faced were striking, partially because of what she said were restrictive definitions for whom the government considers Native American.

“Seeing the gaps in services that the government provides, I just thought, I can do more,” she said.

So, she left her job at the New York Indian Council, a social services organization, to help start another nonprofit, the Urban Indigenous Collective, a year ago. She is now president and executive director of the collective, which focuses on both the health and the general wellness of hundreds of Native Americans in the city.

Those issues are particularly pressing, Ms. King said, because the data available suggest that Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis. Also, over the past two decades, suicides have risen within American Indian and Alaska Native communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Higher rates of mental illness are common among the groups, too.

Ms. King said the coronavirus crisis had delayed a plan for a physical clinic, though opening one remained a top priority. In the meantime, she said, the collective was developing an app to connect people with Native American therapists who can center conversations on unresolved historical trauma.

“Working to provide healing” for Native Americans has been something that Ms. King says she has wanted to do since the second grade. After moving to the Bronx from Wisconsin nearly a decade ago, she realized that the city was where she wanted to embark on her passion.

“I just knew New York City was where I was supposed to make a difference,” she said.

It’s Tuesday — follow your passion.

Dear Diary:

I had just taken, and passed, the most difficult exam of my life.

I walked outside, hailed a cab in front of Madison Square Garden and told the driver my destination: the New York Botanical Garden. It was my favorite place in the city, and I wanted to bask in its beauty.

As we drove to the Bronx, I called my parents excitedly to tell them the good news.

When we got to the garden, I asked how much the fare was.

The driver replied that he had heard me calling my parents and the ride was on him. He said he was proud of me. His nephew had just passed his medical boards, too, he said.

— Rebecca Moellmer

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