At best, the citywide Open Streets program creates safe, fun places to gather outdoors, aids economic development and facilitates free cultural experiences for all ages.

At worst, it’s a recipe for sanitation issues, bottlenecked traffic and excessive noise.

A four-block-stretch of Lewis Avenue, the latest Brooklyn Open Street to be approved by the Department of Transportation, will be shut off to all non-emergency cars for eight Saturdays this summer to make space for outdoor gatherings, shopping and free, family-friendly activities.

A section of Lewis Ave. where the Open Street will operate. Photo: Google Maps.

The proposal, which was approved last week, sparked blowback from Bed-Stuy neighbors citing rats, noise and car gridlock on nearby streets as concerns that would negatively impact their quality of life.

Around 250 neighbors signed a petition in opposition of the program, according to Gene Gray, president of the 200 Decatur Street/Stuyvesant Avenue Block Association.

Most of all, constituents felt they were not adequately consulted or considered before the proposal was made, Kemba Dunham, a Lewis Avenue resident said.

“Before we can talk about if this is a good idea, how about we discuss the fact that the community wasn’t really brought into this decision-making until after the fact,” Dunham said.

The Lewis Avenue Open Street, which is facilitated by Bridge Street Development Corporation, will run in a mixed-use area between Decatur Street and Hancock Street from 12:00pm to 6:00pm on June 4, 11, 25; July 9, 16, 23, 30; and August 6.

“The fact that there wasn’t significant outreach is just an insult,” Dunham said.

Neighbors have mixed feelings

Craig Samuel, the proprietor of Lewis Ave restaurant Peaches, says he is looking forward to the Open Street event series on his avenue.

“I’m certain that it’s an opportunity to get exposure for my restaurant for people who don’t already know about it,” Samuel said, adding that one of his other restaurants benefitted from a successful Open Street last summer, also put on by BSDC, on Tompkins Avenue.

However, he said his neighbors’ concerns about traffic and sanitation were “absolutely valid.”

“I couldn’t agree more that this city has problems that need to be addressed right now. These are quality of life issues that exist with or without Open Streets.”

But, not all businesses have the same needs.

Denise Allen. Photo: Provided.
Denise Allen. Photo: Provided.

For Denise Allen, who runs Miles Funeral Home, Inc on Decatur Street, the blocked-off streets pose a problem.

“As a funeral home owner, my limousines travel that area down Lewis Avenue regularly to serve families in the neighborhood,” Allen said.

“My ultimate concern is that I was not considered. How can you say you are doing it for the community when you didn’t reach out to us? My funeral home has been here for over 90 years. How could you not know?”

Finding a balance

The original proposal for the Lewis Ave Open Street was for 16 Saturdays, but the program was halved after a Feb. 28 emergency town hall meeting between Councilmember Chi Ossé, leaders at BSDC and a number of concerned constituents from different block associations.

Gray wrote in a formal letter to Ossé that those opposed to the program “will not accept one day more than four Saturdays if we must accept any.”

Ossé, in response, expressed disappointment and announced that the program would still run for eight weeks, but that DOT has committed to a town hall-style meeting after the fourth installment to check-in.

Ossé also said he’d allocate funding to the sanitation issue, schedule a walking tour to plan for more trash receptacles and supplemental sanitation services in the area. Ossé also said he already scheduled a series of virtual rat trainings with the Department of Health, which neighbors are free to attend.

BSDC has also purchased more streetside garbage cans, subcontracted supplemental sanitation services for each operational weekend and is collaborating with NYPD and DOT to support traffic control in both corridors. And, no loud music equipment will be used on Lewis Avenue.

Oma Holloway. Photo: provided.
Oma Holloway. Photo: provided.

“We are going to improve on both corridors,” Oma Holloway said, referring to the Tompkins Avenue and Lewis Avenue Open Streets.

Holloway, a Bed-Stuy resident and COO of BSDC, said there would also be monitors at each barricade to make sure the 15-foot lane remained clear for emergency vehicles and Access-A-Ride. Additionally, all of the cross-streets will be open for car use.

The BK Library, which is on the Lewis Avenue stretch, will hold free events for all ages during Open Streets.

Lisa Price. Photo: Provided.
Lisa Price. Photo: Provided.

“We really want to make these blocks an all-access resource for this community,” Holloway said.

Lisa Price, who started popular hair and body care brand Carol’s Daughter and lives near the Lewis Avenue Open Street, said supporting the program was an easy decision for her.

“To advocate for small business in the place where I built my business and where I live and where I’ve known many entrepreneurs, it was just a no-brainer,” Price said.

“I’m very happy that it’s been approved and I look forward to attending and shopping.”

Issues not isolated to Bed-Stuy

Lewis Avenue is not the only contentious Open Street in Brooklyn.

Last summer, the Vanderbilt Avenue Open Street in Prospect Heights received several complaints due to excessive noise coming from a local restaurant’s DJ booth.

The crowd gathered during the Vanderbilt Ave Open Street program in 2021. Photo: Brianna Lopez for BK Reader.

This year, the all-volunteer management team said in a press release it would improve logistical support, increase clear signage directing pedestrians and cyclists, and ensure accessibility for emergency vehicles. The Vanderbilt Avenue program, which will return on April 1, has raised over $4,000 on GoFundMe.

The Vanderbilt Avenue Open Street website also mentions that this year, the use of sound equipment without a permit won’t be allowed.

The chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, which oversees the program on each year, was not available to comment on programmatic changes by the time of publication.

Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

Join the Conversation

4

  1. A-ha we are not the only neighborhood that wasn’t consulted on Open Streets. Go Bed Stuy residents don’t let them do it fight it. Don’t wait like we did Jackson Heights, we all thought it was temporary during the pandemic. Now we have 26 blocks of OS.

  2. Bed Sty has gone bourgeo (as in .bourgeoisie) For people who are always screaming about gentrification, they literally are segregating themselves from the rest of the community.
    Lewis Avenue is not a destination for me any way. Carry on.

  3. Berry St. Alliance is an alliance of multiple block associations, residents and small businesses that are negatively impacted by the conditions created by Open Streets on Berry St. The community complains of non-transparent application process & total lack of management by Mayor’s office & Horticulture Society. We experience emergency delays, increased & diverted traffic, seniors disabled & pregnant residents can not move barricades, trucks are forced to block intersections which didn’t happen before, trucks driver deeper into neighborhood and in front of a public school, barricades stay up in heatwaves, hurricanes, snow storms and freezing weather, barricades are stored on small landlords sidewalks creating liability no body consented too, random people move barricades into street 24-7, excessive program runs 7 days a week 12hours day or more becuase no one is managing. 15 ft clearance is never observed. DOT has gaslighted the community and failed to supply studies required by law before rezoning. All businesses and workers suffer from OSP that are not bars/restaurants. We want the OSP on Berry St to end after years of being ignored, harassed, violently threatened by community board members and open streets sponsors/coalitions that do not even live in our neighborhood.

  4. They’re doing the same garbage in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. They basically slid it in quietly in during the pandemic and said it was so that we had more space during Covid.

    Considering the pandemic, this was understandable, and I don’t think anyone had an issue with it even though again, it was done without ACTUAL neighborhood input.

    THEN…at some point in 2021 right before that idiot DeBlasio left, he made “Open Streets” a LAW, and then the OpenStreets nutjobs decided to make Willoughby Avenue a PERMANENT OpenStreet.

    They didn’t slip any letters under doors or even ring any doorbells. How could they? We were all socially distanced and staying indoors.

    They didn’t even go to the Community Board regarding this! If you take a look at the Community Board 2 meetings that have been recorded and posted on YouTube, even the Community Board members who live right on those blocks are saying they had ZERO input or notice. Coincidence?

    So essentially, these OpenStreets nutjobs are going over the Community Boards (who are supposed to be representatives for the community) and going through to the DOT in order to get their closed street fantasies off. This actually violates the City Charter! And in some cases, they are infiltrating the Community Boards and claiming to speak for the residents! Imagine how some of the Black residents of some communities must feel that for decades their concerns or wishes were ignored, but once some OpenStreets reps whine enough to the city, they get their streets cut off, sometimes permanently, 24/7!

    They also put up bogus surveys that almost no one knows about, but can be easily populated with fake information since they are made in Microsoft Forms and have no real legitimacy since anyone can fill out the survey and say they are for these closed streets.

    And mind you, these people are organized/funded by lobbyists and PACs (Transportation Alternatives/StreetsPAC) which is why you will see certain City Council members and other politicians sending them love letters and shoutouts on social media. The City Council would like to pretend they are “progressive” and for the people, but they too have masters and those masters are not “the people” but big real estate developers, lobbyists groups, and other shady funding sources.

    These politicians don’t care about this city, they don’t care about their constituents, they only care about the political donations they can receive (either directly or indirectly), the kickbacks they get as a result of cozying up with these adhoc “community groups”, and how it looks on their political resume in case they have higher aspirations.

    These groups and politicians say that there are too many cars in the city…HOWEVER…Transportation Alternatives and StreetsPAC actually receive money from Uber/Lyft! So best believe that their goals are not completely altruistic. If you’ve been on this Earth longer than the past decade, you know that the reason why the amount of drivers and cars in this city has skyrocketed is BECAUSE of ridesharing services and delivery services. Stand on any busy street in your community for 15 minutes or so and see how many license plates that begin with “T” drive by.

    Bed Stuy residents should take heed of this and be aware of the people in your neighborhood who are campaigning for this and the expansion of it. Also be aware of which City Council members are indulging these people and their “cars are rolling death machines” rhetoric. They will trump up all sorts of statistics and incidents to claim that the people are in danger because of cars but it’s just to make you fearful and nod your head in agreement. They will all use the same language that they have been coached to use by their lobbyist group masters and funding sources. Imagine being told that you don’t care about public safety or children because you don’t think a street should be closed off so people can walk in the street. That’s the kind of thinking and tricknology they will try to use.

    Do not let your neighborhoods get taken over by dishonest politicians, shady corporate schemes, or bicycle zealots. If you don’t need OR want a car in NYC, you probably don’t have one. However, manipulating the community into thinking we want entire blocks filled with Citibikes or car spaces removed when there is already finite space to park is bogus! Claiming that people “want” OpenStreets when the community is perfectly fine walking on the sidewalk is also nutty transplant/gentrification propaganda, because the people in these neighborhoods were never clamoring for these CitiBikes and OpenStreets before. What they WERE clamoring for were clean streets, low crime/cooperative NYPD, and efficiency/quality/safety with regards to the trains and buses that already exist!

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