Don’t allow these COVID-19 Car Bans to become Permanent

Supposedly, the banning of cars from city streets due to the COVID-19 crisis was temporary, but of course, anti-car and Big Bike folks are yelling loudly that cars banned from streets should be made permanent.

We all knew this would happen. Give an inch, and anti-car advocates take a mile. A Staten Island, NY columnist Tom Wrobleski wrote recently, “Every crisis is an opportunity, after all. It’s a chance to remake society, not just “return to normal.” He added:

“But we all know how often these “pilot” programs become permanent. We’ve seen it with busways in the city already. And city Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at a mayoral press conference last week said of the July street closures, “If this is a model that proves successful, we’ll see how much of it might endure after Labor Day.” You know what that means, drivers. Get used to it.”

But how are these car bans really working?

The New York Post declared recently declared that it’s open season on the city’s “open streets.” Apparently, the car bans have sparked open hostility between neighbors.

Even Streetsblog NYC recently lamented that “Open Streets” are not working for everyone. Motorists are reclaiming roadways, neighborhoods have asked City Hall to remove some of the open streets, and there appears to be little equity because open streets appear to be primarily benefitting more affluent neighborhoods. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged 100 miles of Open Streets in May and said recently that his city had more open street mileage than any other in the country. That Streetsblog writer made a bicycle tour of the city and stated that out of the 112 blocks surveyed, only 57 percent were not closed to the public. He blames that no thought was put into the idea by the city DOT and also no follow-through. He reported that the signage is so small on the NYPD saw horses that close the streets, drivers don’t care, and just move them out-of-the-way.

New York City and many others around the country have also opened streets so that restaurants could serve customers outside with better social distancing.

Now that is even making the Big Bike folks angry—restaurants are pushing into bike lanes and crowding out bicyclists. Oops!

Zach Miller, New York Truck Stop Co-Publisher and Keep NYC Moving Co-Founder had this to say about the outdoor dining situation on NYC’s “Open Streets:”

“Fire hydrants and bus stops cannot be blocked, so this greatly limits available space for some while others can take up large chunks of city blocks. The enforcement of outdoor dining is extremely heavy-handed with various task forces, led by the State Liquor Authority issuing massive fines and threatening to pull liquor licenses if the establishment is not enforcing social distancing or if they sell drinks without food. DOT has started going around to ensure the barriers meet an ever-changing standard. This has put owners in a bind as the hassle and fear of citation might outweigh the barely- breaking-even of outdoor dining. Yet, with indoor options delayed indefinitely, owners have to carry on with a system many don’t like.”

In Chicago, small business and restaurant owners in at least three sections of the city said that they don’t want streets closed down for street dining. It hurts delivery to the restaurant plus customer pick-up of take-out. Other businesses that have opened might as well not have since few customers show up due to lack of nearby parking. Foot and bike traffic is not enough to sustain profitability.

Keep the US Moving Co-Founder Chris LeGras said recently that he had not seen any car bans on streets where he lives in Santa Monica, California. He added,

“That said, the city just rolled out a major new road diet/complete street on Main Street, which is one of the last places you’ll still find small businesses in Santa Monica. They took away a ton of street parking and installed k-rails to block off half the street (ironically they now have the bike lanes squeezed between cars and k-rails, incredibly unsafe!)”

State of Washington officials are relaxing the rules so much for open streets that they say highway lanes through town and cities can be closed to cars. To be eligible for the car ban, cities must prove that the streets they want to close are state highways with speeds of 35 mph speed limits or lower and within population centers with a demonstrated lack of space for social distancing for walking, bicycling, or other forms of “active” transportation. Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said recently,

“Opening up portions of roadways will help retailers, restaurants, and other businesses adapt to new operating requirements by giving customers greater access at their locations. These steps strengthen communities and let people experience their main street and downtown commercial neighborhoods in new ways.”

Washington Policy Center Coles Center for Transportation Director Mariya Frost recently wrote about this “temporary” car ban,

“This program is likely less about public health, and more about advancing WSDOT’s existing, anti-car agenda, which predates COVID-19. It also appears to be a loophole around the state constitution’s 18th Amendment, which protects gas tax dollars for highway spending alone. With the agency’s new program, highway lanes that the public paid for with gas taxes can be closed to drivers and given away to provide additional bike and pedestrian infrastructure.”

Car bans, road diets, and traffic calming are all ways our elected and bureaucratic officials will use to get everyone out of their cars. We encourage everyone to fight these temporary car bans due to the COVID-19 crisis to make sure that they are not permanent in your neck of the woods.

Here are 10 other Keep the US Moving headlines that we have been following at the National Motorists Association:

The Keep the US Moving blog is a collaboration between the National Motorists Association and the Keep the US Moving (KUSM) group written and curated by NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn (with some guest authors as indicated). The KUSM weekly blog focuses on road diets, traffic calming, and programs such as Vision Zero and Complete Streets.

The NMA and the KUSM believe that it is important to include stories that oppose our viewpoint. We try to indicate those as needed.

Keep the US Moving Blog Resources

Check out the NMA Facebook Page called the War on Cars Watch! If you are interested in joining the closed group, follow the directions on the page. If you would like to know more about the National Motorists Association, check out our website at motorists.org. Also, if you would like to contact the NMA with a question or a link, feel free to contact us via email at [email protected].

Keep the US Moving is a grassroots organization dedicated to publicizing the detrimental effects of arterials road diets. We connect people who want to share experiences and information to help their communities craft truly safer roads. KUSM has a very active and closed Facebook group. Connect with them at [email protected] and find additional information on their website at https://www.keeptheusmoving.com/.

Here are a few NMA Blog Posts that might interest you:

Road Diets and Traffic Calming

Vision Zero and Complete Streets

If you would like to keep track of the many issues currently involved with the War on Cars and road diets, take a daily peek at the NMA’s Driving News Feed or subscribe to Driving News Daily, a five times per week email.

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