New York City celebrated the start of Earth Week by announcing the addition of 21 new streets citywide as part of its Open Streets program, according to a press release from the Department of Transportation (DOT). Nine streets on the Upper East Side will be participating again this summer.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most indoor activity, New Yorkers left their apartments to utilize outdoor spaces to ward off cabin fever. In April 2020, the DOT pedestrianized streets all over the city, making them car free in an initiative to allow “New Yorkers to reclaim and repurpose city streets for alternative uses.”
But the program was not without its struggles. Some streets thrived, others did not. The Bill de Blasio administration was scrutinized for the streets that were chosen – the emphasis seemingly on the wealthier neighborhoods – and for the lack of appropriate resource allocation for maintenance. Nevertheless, the program persisted.
In March 2021, then Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer laid out a four-point plan to make the program a success:
- Transition successful Open Streets into the current DOT redesign programs.
- Make the Open Streets program permanent and expand it.
- Correct outstanding program issues pertaining to equity, vision, maintenance and management.
- Provide sufficient funding to community groups for community-led streets.
De Blasio signed the Open Streets program into law in May 2021. But it continued to spark debate all over town, particularly the City’s plan to amend the zoning code to allow Open Restaurants to become permanent. On the Upper East Side, there were 487 sidewalk cafés in September 2021 — as opposed to 126 before the pandemic.
The issue made its way to Community Board 8 where, according to Patch, members of the public largely supported the proposal both during the board’s meeting and in the online comments solicited by the board before the meeting. The board voted 27-15 in favor of a resolution supporting the amendment.
The Open Restaurants zoning amendment was approved by City Council on February 24, 2022 and expansion of the Open Streets program was announced on April 22, with 21 new locations set to begin by this summer.
The following Upper East Side streets will be returning, the schedules varying for each.
East 73rd Street: Lexington Avenue to Park Avenue (starting September 12), Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm.
East 78th Street: Lexington Avenue to Park Avenue, Monday-Friday, 7am-4pm.
East 81st Street: Park Avenue to Madison Avenue, Monday-Friday, 8am-3pm.
East 82nd Street: Madison Avenue to 5th Avenue, Monday-Friday, 8am-3pm.
East 90th Street: Madison Avenue to 5th Avenue (starting May 1), Wednesdays, 2pm-6pm; Sundays, 12pm-2pm.
East 91st Street: Park Avenue to Madison Avenue (starting August 29), Monday-Friday, 10:30am-2pm.
East 91st Street: Madison Avenue to 5th Avenue (starting September 9), Monday-Friday, 8am-3pm.
East 92nd Street: 5th Avenue to Madison Avenue (starting September 5), Monday-Friday, 9am-2:30pm.
East 93rd Street: Park Avenue to Madison Avenue (starting August 29), Monday-Friday, 8am-3pm.