Car Free NYC, an event held on Earth Day to promote environmentally friendly transit options, will expand in 2017 if city officials get their way.
Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and advocates at a kick-off rally Tuesday to drum up support for the second year of Rodriguez’s initiative to get New Yorkers out of their private vehicles.
Rodriguez’s office said it is in discussions with the city’s Department of Transportation to plan street closures for Earth Day, April 22, which falls on a Saturday.
“We started the efforts toward a Car Free Day last year with a simple idea: New Yorkers can move around our city so much more efficiently when they leave their cars at home,” said Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, at the rally in New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. “Through travelling in other ways, it’s efficient for our personal health, for the health of our planet and often even faster” than driving.
Last year, several city streets were shut down, albeit for a limited window of time. Rodriguez hopes to expand on the locations and hours of the closures. Though no details were available yet on what streets, or what time frames, are currently being considered.
A car-free commute is already the reality for a majority of New Yorkers. The event must go beyond offering an opportunity for elected officials to pose for photos in front of bus stops where they wait once a year. So Car Free NYC includes advocating for transit deserts, which are some of the last affordable neighborhoods for working-class New Yorkers, according to Nick Bedell, education director at the Transport Workers Union Local 100.
“We sort of focus on Manhattan streets as a metaphor for city streets,” said Bedell at the event. “I want us to recognize and think about the fact that we need to improve transportation options and street life in all five boroughs … so that the subway system and bus system don’t only work for folks in affluent areas.”
The event is also an opportunity to showcase how closing streets can transform the surrounding area. Transportation Alternatives was at the rally speaking on the “Peopleway,” its idea to close 14th Street to private vehicles during the L train shutdown. The design and architecture firm Perkins Eastman offered details on its “Greenline” proposal to transform Broadway into parkland.
Adams said he was inspired by the event and the city’s more recent movement to “reclaim streets” for the people of the city and remarked on progress made thus far.
“They laughed when I was a state senator and was called … to talk about a 20 MPH (speed limit) and talk about cameras around schools. They came to our conferences in Albany with tomatoes in their hands — they wanted to throw them at me,” Adams said. “But now we’re using those tomatoes to make my salad.”