EAST HARLEM, NY — Plans are afoot in East Harlem to install an open street along one of the city’s busiest freeways — FDR Drive.
Borough President Mark Levine received a pitch Tuesday night from a member of Community Board 11 to close the northbound lane of the freeway between East 96th and East 125th streets during the summer months.
“Technically, there is precedent at the state level,” Jessica Morris told Levine at CB11’s monthly board meeting. “But that would require not only huge community support, but also political will.”
Levine, who came to brief council on borough initiatives and answer questions, praised Morris for a knowledgeable question, but expressed hesitation for the plan.
“The idea of using FDR as a recreational space is exciting,” Levine replied. “I can think of some political logistical complications, but I’d like to talk about it with you. I’d like to get involved.”
Complications include the fact that motorways are not eligible for open streets under current Department for Transport guidelines.
But Morris noted that former Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was open to the idea and had several conversations with FDR Open Street supporters about the project’s potential.
The community council member asked Levine to meet her before the April 29 deadline for community organizations to submit Open Street applications to the Department of Transportation.
An open FDR Drive street would bring much-needed exercise space to East Harlem, serve as an immediate replacement for the neighborhood’s crumbling plaza, and present partnership opportunities for local organizations to provide services to the community. , explained Morris.
Morris proposed opening the freeway to pedestrians on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis and noted that Boston has been periodically closing part of its four-lane Memorial Drive for decades.
“Believe it or not, I rollerbladed on Memorial Drive when it was an open street back then,” Levine replied. “So I’m with you on that.”
Neither the Manhattan Borough President’s Office nor Community Board 11 responded to Patch’s request for comment.
The DOT, which operates the Open Streets program and the FDR Drive, told Patch that it has not yet received such requests.
The stretch of FDR Drive in question — from East 96th Street to the Robert F. Kennedy (or Triborough) Bridge — is one of the busiest stretches of the highway, New York State Data from the Ministry of Transport shows.
Data from 2019 shows the 30-block stretch saw an annual daily average of 162,561 vehicles per day, placing it among the 25 busiest stretches of freeway in New York City that year.
The data does not delineate weekend traffic, which is likely lighter, and when the proposed open street would likely close northbound lanes to cars.
Despite logistical and political hurdles, Morris urged Levine to team up with her to convince the DOT and state government to work together to make FDR Open Street happen this summer.
“Hopefully I will reach out and muster the support needed,” Morris said. “It’s not impossible.”