Sept. 24, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are calling on the city to make its Open Streets program a year-round initiative.
The officials penned a letter to the mayor Thursday asking him to extend the program that turns specific streets over to pedestrians and restaurants beyond its Oct. 31 end date.
They also asked the mayor to expand the city’s Open Streets program to allow small businesses, like clothing stores, bodegas and nail salons to sell their products and services on sidewalks or open streets. This would be similar to the way restaurants can serve diners at tables on sidewalks and certain closed streets.
“There are simply no good reasons why small businesses across the five boroughs could not be afforded the same benefits as our restaurants when it comes to leveraging outdoor space in a way that is safe and effective for customers and business owners alike,” Stringer and Ramos wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Their main focus, however, was on the extension of the program.
“Open Streets have served as a case study in how we can add vibrancy to our neighborhoods and transform our streetscapes from throughways for cars into lively civic spaces,” the pair wrote in the letter.
“Indeed, we urge your administration to instead double down on the program by opening up larger swaths of City streets, reopening streets that have been returned to automobile use, and allowing for more kinds of small business, including retail, to participate in the program.”
Stringer and Ramos questioned why the city would risk hurting small businesses by ending it next month. The initiative has helped save more than 10,000 restaurants and 90,000 jobs during the pandemic as indoor dining closed down, according to City Hall.
They said it could help more small business owners if the city allows retail shops to sell their products along open streets.
“As we work to help small businesses recover and strengthen our economy the right way, we’ll need more Open Streets, not fewer,” Ramos said in a statement. “The City should extend and expand the program to spur growth for our small businesses and help our communities thrive.”
The lawmakers want the program continued at least through the duration of the pandemic, if not permanent. They urged de Blasio to repurpose street space for community and business use, not just cars.
“Streets are for people, not cars,” Ramos said. “The Open Streets program has been a lifeline during the pandemic, creating safe havens for our neighbors to enjoy fresh air and support restaurants.”
Ramos — along with City Council Member Daniel Dromm — called on the city weeks ago to make the 34th Avenue Open Street in Jackson Heights permanent.
She is now asking for all Open Streets to be made permanent in her joint letter to the mayor with Stringer.
“Open Streets should not be considered a temporary response to the ongoing pandemic but should be embraced as permanent re-designs for New Yorkers to enjoy,” Ramos and Stringer said.
The Comptroller, who is running for mayor, questioned why the city would end such a successful initiative.
“Why end an initiative that generates critical income for restaurants, keeps workers employed and allows New Yorkers to spend time safely outdoors?” he said. “Instead, we should extend the Open Streets Program year-round, provide guidance around heat lamps and other ways to adapt for cooler weather, and expand the program so that more small businesses and retail establishments can participate.”
He added that expanding the program is a “no-brainer,” especially with the holiday season approaching.
Stringer and Ramos said now is the time to give more business owners the opportunity to conduct their businesses outdoors.
“There are simply no good reasons why small businesses across the five boroughs could not be afforded the same benefits as our restaurants when it comes to leveraging outdoor space in a way that is safe and effective for customers and business owners alike,” they wrote to de Blasio.
The New York City Business Improvement District, which represents 76 BIDs across the five boroughs, is also calling on de Blasio to mirror the Open Streets: Restaurants program for other local businesses.