NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, will close some streets to vehicle traffic, expand sidewalks and create temporary bike lanes to offer New Yorkers more space to stay apart outside as lockdown measures continue, the mayor said on Monday.
The announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes just days after city officials and the mayor himself cautioned against a proposal to open up streets to pedestrians, saying it could not be done safely in a city as dense as New York.
But in a news conference on Monday, the mayor said the City Council had come forward with a vision for opening up more streets that alleviates concerns by the city’s Police Department.
“Over the next month, we will create a minimum of 40 miles (64 km) of open streets. And as the crisis continues, the goal is to get up to 100 miles (160 km),” de Blasio said.
He said the city would focus on streets in and around parks, where officials expect many people to congregate as the weather gets warmer.
Many of the most populous U.S. city’s 8 million residents live in small apartments, and officials are concerned residents will flout social distancing rules the longer lockdown rules continue into the summer.
De Blasio on Monday also said the city would expand sidewalks and create more temporary bike lanes, but did not provide additional details.
The debate comes as cities around the world experiment with ways to gradually ease restrictions without compromising safety.
Several cities, including San Francisco and Denver in the United States and Milan, Dublin, Budapest and Berlin in Europe, have closed some streets to cars and expanded sidewalks and bicycle lanes to provide more outdoor space.
New York City Council members last week introduced a bill to dedicate 75 miles (120 km) of city streets to pedestrians and cyclists by closing at least one lane to vehicles while coronavirus restrictions are in place.
But representatives for the city’s Department of Transportation and the Police Department on Friday poured cold water on the proposal, saying the city did not have the resources to protect people on those streets from drivers.
De Blasio himself in mid-April shot down the idea of closing streets to traffic, saying he did not believe it would work.
Asked about his change of mind on Monday, he said the city council had proposed community partners to help the Police Department keep streets safe.
Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis