Guest Opinion: Keep Open Street Designation, as Redesign Process Plays Out

Exercise and play are among the uses for West 22nd, during its daily Open Streets hours. | Photo by Pamela Wolff

The Guest Opinion piece published by Chelsea Community News on November 18, 2022 (click here to read it) opposes the 22nd Street Open Street we have enjoyed since the beginning of COVID times. Our block association has been happy to support the City’s efforts to promote social distancing.  22nd Street seemed a good choice because of its very narrow sidewalks and heavy auto and trucking use, deflected from 23rd Street since the new bus pattern was instituted. In 2021 the City made the project permanent, renewing annually.

Some members of our group were willing to take on the job of maintaining the gate provided by the City. But as the Opinion Piece demonstrates, there is a contingent of folks who live nearby, and not so near by, who are unhappy at the state of affairs. Most are car owners, distressed at the inconvenience of having  to move the gate or go to the next block to travel east. They have mounted a petition in protest, asking that the program be abandoned.

There is much reference to a “Closed Street.”  There is not now, nor will there be in the future, a closed 22nd Street. The gate at 8th Avenue is readily moved aside, allowing passage for any vehicle. The posted speed limit is 5MPH.

The City plans to redesign the block, 7th to 8th avenues, in a way that should be pleasing to all but those who wish to speed straight down the block.

It will not be gated, but will have calming features that by design slow the passage of vehicles through the block, giving us landscaping features that allow for more greenery, and generally improve the pedestrian experience.

That design will be presented widely to this community—the block associations, and the Community Board. We will all have opportunities to offer our opinions.  A well-advertised and well-attended visioning workshop, held in mid-October, will be presenting the consensus of those who participated in mid-December.

Meanwhile, we ask for patience while the wheels of City government take us forward. We are asking for a reduction in the hours of gate use: from 8am-8pm to 10am-4pm. This seems sensible as winter takes our daylight.

A few salient points need to be made here:

1) According the recent Census, only 12 percent of residents in our area are car owners (full disclosure, I am one of them).

2) The grant recently received by the 22nd St. Open Street is administered by the nonprofit CHEKPEDS, not our block association. The funds are dispersed on an as-needed basis by the committee tasked to oversee the project.

3) Street closings in front of schools, like PS11, have been in place for decades and have nothing to do with this program.

4) The two restaurants on this block—Dim Sum at 8th Ave and the Copper Still on 7th Ave.—both have outdoor seating on the 22nd Street block. Both are supportive of the Open Street.

5) The fact that “there are no schools, police stations, or parks on the block” is an excellent reason for the designation.

6) There is no bike lane on the block because there is no room for one. The Open Street allows bikers to use the street more freely, and safely, than on other streets.

7) Yes, there is a resident parking garage in mid-block that did lose resident and public parkers during COVID.  They left town. Many have not returned, having nothing to do with the gate system.

8) The 10th Precinct block of 20th St. was closed to traffic for a period of time in 2020. That block has its own problems, with diagonal parking on the south side, leaving only one through lane open, but it is open.

9) The other two blocks referred to are westbound, and have no effect on traffic traveling east.

10) The suggestion that this is an elitist plot designed to benefit only the few who live on that block is offensive, and just wrong.  The Open Streets program benefits us all.  Actually, it directly benefits the two blocks to the west—the 300 and 400 blocks—and the block to the east—the 100 block—in that it discourages truckers and others who come to realize they need to seek other eastbound streets to avoid having to open and close the gated street. If there is elitism in evidence here it is from those privileged few car owners who suffer the inconvenience of having to travel an extra block or two, or waste their precious minutes opening the gate.

11) This link (click here) makes clear that the Open Streets program is intended to enhance the street experience of all New Yorkers and visitors, not just a few residents on a given block.

Much has been made of the danger to families with small children and dogs in the car, when a parent exits the car to move the gate. I humbly suggest that parent should take another route, perhaps costing a few minutes, to avoid the need. There is an argument to be made that the gate slows down emergency vehicles responding to calls in the block. The counter argument is that once in the block it is much faster to travel since there are fewer cars and trucks in the way.

The gate is not a perfect solution, but until the redesign is a reality I hope we can live with the current status.

A little history:

The 200 block of 22nd Street has been orphaned for decades by the machinations of governmental forces. In the 1970’s Robert Moses stripped the block of three feet of sidewalk on both sides as part of a scheme to turn 22nd Street into an eastbound trucking street leading from the West Side Highway. When the highway collapsed (literally) and Moses no longer reigned, the plan was abandoned, but for this block the sidewalks never returned.

In the early 1980s, the City planned a traffic calming design for the block. It was resoundingly approved of by all: the City Council, DOT, the Community Board and the block associations, but required the block associations to maintain the plantings, and pay for liability insurance to protect the City. Obviously a non-starter. In 1986 the City completely destroyed the roadbed to install new sewer, water, and gas lines.  Maybe some residents remember that nightmare.

That block has been through the mill, and deserves whatever positive attention it gets.

I would point out here that only a few people have reached out to the Block Association expressing issues with the Open Street. I have met with them in an effort to find common ground.

Pamela Wolff, Chelsea West 200 Block Association

Note: The content in this Guest Opinion piece does not necssarily reflect that of Chelsea Commuity News.


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