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Can ‘Open Streets’ Outlast the Pandemic?

Traffic-restricted streets were a major Covid-era intervention in U.S. cities. A year later, some are making these programs permanent; others are more eager to push the barriers aside. 

A barricaded street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020. One year later, the long-term fate of Covid-era traffic restrictions is uncertain in many U.S. cities. 

A barricaded street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020. One year later, the long-term fate of Covid-era traffic restrictions is uncertain in many U.S. cities. 

Photographer: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images North America

The early set-up shift for my local “Open Street” in western Queens starts at 8 a.m. on weekends. That’s when neighborhood volunteers drag the metal barricades, some adorned with signs, banners or decorations, into the streets from the curb. 

“The key is to place them in specific spots,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, a neighbor and local advocate (and city council candidate), as we heaved them over together. She demonstrated her tactics as we shared a shift one morning: barricades placed on the right of the avenue, so drivers making a left had to pull all the way over; or just a few feet apart, so cars had to slow down, if only out of caution for their mirrors.