New York City’s transportation chief on Tuesday proclaimed a “car-free future” — while calling for an extension of the Big Apple’s controversial COVID-era street closure and outdoor dining program.
“The future of New York City will be car-free,” Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez told reporters during a press conference praising the city’s “open streets” initiative, which he believes has boosted economic recovery.
His promise to lure New Yorkers out of cars came despite heightened fears about the city’s staggeringly high crime rate. The system is on track to see a record homicide rate this year.
Still, Rodriguez emphasized that he hopes to expand the program — which has drawn heat to allow parking lots to be taken over by food sheds that critics say are tycoons for crowd noise, garbage and rodents.
According to city figures, it swallowed up some 8,500 parking spaces during its peak. Rodriguez championed the parking removal as a necessary response to the NYC real estate crisis.
“If we compare it to other cities like London, [which has] 8.9 million people. Here in New York City we have 8.6. But they are larger than 600 square miles. We only have 350,” he said.
“I know what it is [like] find parking from 8pm to 12pm No, we don’t have a space. Anyone who gets into a car should know that.”
Rodriguez added: “It is our responsibility to have a better plan about how we reuse and use our streets.”
The commissioner praised new statistics showing businesses and restaurants on streets closed to most car traffic recovered faster from the pandemic than streets that remained open.
Businesses on the so-called open streets saw revenues rise 19% compared to pre-pandemics, while those on streets that remained open to drivers saw revenues fall by nearly a third, the Department of Transportation report found.
Critics deride the food stalls as rat-infested refuges for the homeless and drug users, as well as makeshift toilets.
People have even witnessed X-rated activities in broad daylight at the structure, The Post reported in August.
A group of residents across the city have tried to sue to prevent the program from becoming permanent. But a judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month, allowing the city to move forward with developing a permanent program.
“Look around you. Do you think it worked out well?” asked West Village resident Leslie Clark, whose group of West Village Residents was among those filing a lawsuit.
“It’s no surprise that open-street restaurants did well financially. Why wouldn’t they? They got free public space, they doubled their capacity in some cases. What about the people who live near those open streets and open restaurants?”
According to city statistics, complaints about outdoor dining near the city were up 70% in the second quarter of this year compared to the first quarter.
Mayor Eric Adams has said he plans to replace the sheds and make other changes to the program, but a final plan has yet to be realized and will require city council approval.