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'Environmentally Just' Move Will Open 100 Miles of NYC Streets to Pedestrians as Social Distancing Enters Warmer Months

Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement of the new policy on Monday. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 25: A street remains mostly empty in midtown during the coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 200,000 lives with infections close to 2.9 million people. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

A street remains mostly empty in midtown during the coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images)

In a win for advocates of a more walkable urban environment, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that he will open up to 100 miles of streets in all five boroughs to accomodate outdoor recreation as social distancing from the coronavirus outbreak meets the warmer months. 

"Over the next month, we will create a minimum of 40 miles of open streets," de Balsio said. "And as the crisis continues, the goal is to get up to 100 miles."

"We will focus first on streets in and around our parks," the mayor added.

Opening the streets to pedestrians is not expected to result in a relaxing of social distancing guidelines in place in the city and is in keeping with the restrictions.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to cripple New York, city streets have been largely empty of cars, leading to increased calls for opening up roadways from advocates like City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who threatened Sunday to go over the mayor's head to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open up more pedestrian space for New York residents. 

Johnson welcomed de Blasio's announcement, saying in a statement Monday that he was "thrilled."

"As the weather gets nicer and this unprecedented crisis stretches on longer, we need to do everything in our power to keep our neighbors safe and healthy," said Johnson. "This announcement is a great starting point for the ongoing conversation about how we share our public spaces during this pandemic and in a post-coronavirus future."

As Common Dreams has reported, other cities around the world have taken a more green approach to managing their urban centers as the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the globe. In Milan, city planners are keeping at least 21 miles of streets car-free as the Northern Italian metropolis releases its citizens from lockdown.

Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told NYC Street Blog that the decision should be seen as a first step in a more pedestrian-friendly city.

"In New York, it is high time to recapture precious space from the reign of cars and return it to people," said Harris. "The result will be a more prosperous, healthy, community-minded, environmentally just, and resilient city for all New Yorkers."

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