Residents Sue to Stop “Open Streets Program”

Claim “Closed Streets” Discriminate Against Residents With Disabilities

By Arthur Schwartz

A dozen Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn residents and local organizations have filed suit in Federal Court to halt the “Open Streets” program, first launched without many guidelines during the COVID Pandemic, by former Mayor Bill de Blasio. The program still has the support of Mayor Adams and his Transportation Commissioner. The lawsuit asserts that the program violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

This summer, more than 300 city blocks across the five boroughs are expected to take part in the program. Streets in participating areas are closed to vehicular traffic for a set number of hours on specific days. The program features activities that promote economic development, support schools, and provide the public with opportunities to enjoy cultural and community programs. According to a recent study published by the NYC DOT, the program has helped increase sales for businesses in open street locations.

A DOZEN QUEENS, MANHATTAN AND BROOKLYN RESIDENTS and local organizations have filed suit in Federal Court to halt the “Open Streets” program.

However, according to the lawsuit, “Only the City of New York (the “City”) could come up with a program that promises to eventually choke off 100 miles of public roadways (representing 1.6% of the City’s total street mileage) and 20 miles of public bus lanes, and which robs tens of thousands of disabled City residents of their independence by turning them into shut-ins, and assign it such an Orwellian “Newspeak” name as it has done here: the ‘Open Streets Program.’ ”

This civil rights case, challenges that program as unlawful and claims that it discriminates against disabled residents by barring them from the City’s public street services and restricting their access to vehicular traffic in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, 42 U.S.C. §1983, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The suit claims that “Open Streets” actually results in “Closed Streets” for individuals with disabilities whose only means of accessing any of these public services is by motor vehicle. This includes ride share or para-transit service, which take them to and from their residences, places of employment, recreational activities, doctors’ offices, shops, and activities of independent daily living.

Approximately 11% of New York City’s population has a disability. Over 500,000 New Yorkers have a disability that affects their mobility or impedes their ability to walk. Closed and barricaded streets impact seniors, veterans and individuals with other medical issues. For instance, those who use wheelchairs, as well individuals with visual impairments, who rely on curb cuts to safely cross a street and mount a sidewalk.

According to Department of Transportation spokesperson Scott Gastel, “Open Streets enhances safety, accessibility and equity for a large number of New Yorkers using the roads, including seniors and people with disabilities. The City will review the case.”

Access for All, the not-for-profit which organized and raised money for the lawsuit stated, “After three years of being ignored by two Mayors, the DOT and NYC Council, 12 petitioners are forced to take legal action in Federal Court seeking to have their right to access public spaces restored. Petitioners demand freedom to move to and from destinations, to live life independently without harassment or being policed by DOT third-party partners, volunteers or Transportation Alternative activists.” Access for All can be reached at (718) 913-8007.