By now you probably know about — or have at least seen — open streets around New York City. The Department of Transportation issues permits for streets to be closed to traffic, giving pedestrians and cyclists use of the street for a particular time period. But did you know that city schools can limit vehicle traffic on the streets around them thanks to the Department of Transportation’s Open Streets for Schools program? And one advocacy group is available to help schools make it happen.
Open Plans is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation with a mission to transform how people experience New York City’s streets. If you are interested in participating in the Open Streets for Schools program, Open Plans can help your school go through the permit process. So what are the benefits of having open streets around your school? They can:
- Reduce car crashes near schools
- Create space for outdoor learning
- Help with arrival and dismissal
- Host community events
Right now, an estimated 60 to 80 schools are participating in the open streets program. Schools are able to close off streets based on their schedule. They can choose to keep the streets closed for the full school day, or simply utilize the closures during drop-off and pick-up times. Meanwhile, others like to utilize the street for recess, school events and classes in the warmer weather. Some schools have even set out bistro tables, which have helped strengthen the school community and bring parents together during pick-up and drop-off.
The benefits of open streets around schools seem obvious, but are there any challenges? When we asked Open Plans how neighbors who live on the block typically feel about the street closures, they said that most are not home during the closure times, but typically are happy to live without the daily pick-up and drop-off chaos. As far as any inconvenience, the barricades can be moved to allow them to come and go as needed. And what about school buses? Schools can choose which streets remain open, and Open Plan will work with schools to figure out the best gameplan.
However, it is no surprise that even when it comes to something as simple as safe streets, there are issues with equity. According to Open Plans, the streets in predominantly non-white districts are 43% more dangerous than in primarily white schools. Unfortunately, while any of the city’s 2,600 schools can apply to participate in this free program, a 2022 Streetsblog article highlighted that the schools participating are on average “far wealthier and whiter than the rest of the city.” One of the reasons? Lack of resources that help schools keep the program going. While one private school in lower Manhattan hired a security guard to help with the program, a public school in Brooklyn relied on parent volunteers. But Open Plans hopes to act as a resource for parents and schools who want to bring this program to their school and can give pointers on how to advocate for support. The advocacy group suggests that parents who think the program might be a good fit for their school do the following:
- Speak with your school administrators about the benefits
- Host a meeting with your school community
- Contact after-school programs and nonprofits for support
- Create a petition for parents and educators and ask your council member for a letter of support