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New York City Council Votes To Make Open Streets Program Permanent

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City's Open Streets program is here to stay.

A vote Thursday by the City Council paved the way for some roads to close to traffic, allowing for more outdoor space for pedestrians and restaurants, CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported.

About two dozen people in Jackson Heights, Queens rallied in support of the bill Thursday. They said it's part of their dream for a greener New York that gives pedestrians priority over drivers.

In their neighborhood, a stretch of 26 blocks along 34th Avenue is one of many streets the city designated as a promenade for outdoor activities and exercise.

Click here for a list of Open Streets locations in New York City.

"I like the fact that you can stretch out, you have some room to work out and walk in. A lot of times the streets are a little big congested, so this gives us some space," said resident Gonzalo Escudero.

"We have seen a lot of people come out. Especially in this area, we don't have a lot of parks," said Antonio Alarcon, who lives in Jackson Heights. "We'd love to see Open Streets stay all year round."

The Open Streets program started last April -- during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic -- to give adults, kids, and pets more space to enjoy the outdoors instead of being cramped in their apartments.

The program was originally set to expire in the fall of 2020, but was extended. Some streets were repurposed for outdoor seating at restaurants.

On Thursday, the City Council voted 39-8 to expand Open Streets and increase its funding. It will now be staffed by the Department of Transportation in addition to volunteers.

"We have about 150 volunteers and any given week about 40 of us are putting up barricades," one Jackson Heights volunteer said.

There are currently around 60 miles of streets temporarily closed as part of the program.

In Jackson Heights, neighbors hold dance classes and activities for kids every day in the street.

It hasn't always been positive, though. Drivers have been seen going around barricades, causing safety concerns.

"Do you like having this street closed off for walking?" Duddridge asked a driver.

"No, I don't.... It's a lot of traffic, doesn't make sense," said Alex Benitez.

"I think it's a great idea," said Michael Crosse, another driver. "Because it'll make places safer for people to walk."

A handful of residents started a petition against some components of Open Streets, which they say makes parking more difficult.

"What's going to happen when they have to move their cars? Where are they going to go?" said Sylvia Carraro from Jackson Heights.

The timing of each street closure varies. Some are only closed on weekends, others are closed throughout the week. The legislation makes it possible for some blocks to be closed to traffic 24 hours.

Local vehicle access is allowed for limited use. Drivers are advised to be extremely cautious and drive five miles per hour or slower on Open Streets.

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