Hell’s Kitcheners longing for a fresh air, car-free New York are in luck, as the Department of Transportation brings back a beloved Earth Day open streets celebration from Union Square to Times Square on Saturday, April 23.

Earth Day 2018 New York
Earth Day in 2018 when Broadway was car free. Photo: Department of Transport

This year’s Midtown transformation will convert Broadway from E17th to W42nd Street into an extended pedestrian plaza from 11am to 5pm. Programming will include pop-up performances from Fogo Azul drumline (along the entire route), family-friendly fitness classes from Zing! and a display of the city’s electric vehicle fleet at Broadway Boulevard Plaza (W40th St), activities hosted by the Times Square Alliance (TSQ Plaza), as well as family-friendly games, activity, and trivia from The Brown Bike Girl, Flatiron BID, and DOT (W25th-W27th St). 

“Earth Day is when we can all commit to protecting our Earth – and one way we can do that is by repurposing our roadways,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a press release, adding: “Car-Free Earth Day is a growing tradition that allows New York City’s car-free streets to come alive. The last two years of Open Streets, Open Restaurants, the surge in cycling and so much more — have only made us appreciate even more how much better we must treat Mother Earth — and a day without cars allows us to envision a more sustainable world for more than just one day.”

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Fogo Azul drumline entertained 9th Avenue during the pandemic and will be on Broadway for Earth Day.

Launched in 2016, the initiative was designed to temporarily convert select Manhattan streets into pedestrian and cyclist plazas. After a two-year pause (not including separate Open Streets programming implemented throughout the pandemic), the program returns in an expanded form, including pedestrian celebrations across all five boroughs on eight sites. The car-free zones connect over 100 streets, 22 plazas, and offer access to over 1,000 miles of the city’s bike network.

Local leaders stressed the importance of increased public transit and sustainability measure investments citywide. “I commend Mayor Adams, Commissioner Rodriguez, and the entire DOT team for expanding an already highly successful program,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “I look forward to enjoying this year’s Car-Free Earth Day utilizing this temporary expansion of public space, with great connections to some of our borough’s and city’s best Open Streets. We should treat every day like it’s Car-Free Earth Day by investing heavily in expansions of bus lanes, bike lanes, public space, and Open Streets, and I look forward to working with the Administration to making Manhattan a healthier and greener borough.”

“New York City must be a leader in the global fight to combat climate change, and this important event can act as a template for a more sustainable future. Open, public spaces are not only a critical part of a more environmentally friendly NYC, they have been a lifeline to New Yorkers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to taking advantage of Car-Free Earth Day open streets,” added Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who represents The Theater District and parts of the Garment District. 

Car Free Earth Day 2018 in Herald Square looking up Broadway. Photo: Department of Transport

Public transit, pedestrian, and cyclist advocates met in Hell’s Kitchen earlier this year to discuss permanent safety and sustainability improvements to the neighborhood’s dangerous sidewalk crossings and bike lanes. Juan Restrepo, a senior organizer at advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, emphasized that the DOT’s Earth Day celebration was an opportunity to demonstrate the value of investing in long-term pedestrian infrastructure. Said Restrepo: “Car-Free Earth Day is an important opportunity to showcase the benefits of Open Streets, and the importance of providing them with resources, support, and permanent infrastructure so they can thrive in many more New York City neighborhoods. Not only are car-free streets good for our climate, but study after study shows that car-free streets significantly reduce traffic violence too. Car-free streets are key to our NYC 25×25 vision to reprioritize streets for people and must also be central in our approach to Vision Zero.”

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