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History of New York City’s Open Street Program

New York City started its Open Street program in the spring of 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to provide residents with a safe, accessible, free, outdoor space to meet up with friends and neighbors while social distancing.

Since then, the program has developed into a permanent Department of Transportation initiative, continuing to provide free public space, programming, and space for communities to come together.

W 103rd Street Has Been Operating as a Successful Open Street since 2020 - Here’s How it Started

When the pandemic hit, local residents applied for an NYC DOT Open Street designation. The NYC Open Street program began as a pandemic response to give neighborhood residents space to recreate outside while remaining socially distant from one another. The W. 103rd St Open Street is maintained by the W. 103rd St Community Coalition, a group of some 30 neighborhood groups, businesses, and community partners. Founding members include:

  • Streetopia UWS
  • Restaurante Bosino
  • Purple Circle Early
  • Childhood Education Center
  • The West Side Federation of Senior and Supportive Housing
  • Valley Restoration LDC
  • Hosteling International
  • NYCHA Douglass Houses
  • Tenant Association
  • Residents of 210 W. 103rd St Co-Op

Through the NYC DOT’s Open Street program, the W. 103rd St Open Street Community Coalition has organized community partners to reclaim street space for people walking, cycling, making deliveries, or socializing on W. 103rd St. There are barricades placed on W. 103rd St at Riverside, West End Avenue, Broadway, and Amsterdam to welcome walkers to the block and inform drivers that the street is a shared space limited to local traffic traveling at 5 MPH.

Additional traffic calming measures, including planters, better signage throughout the corridor, and design features presented as part of this report will greatly improve the experience for walkers, those using wheelchairs, and bicyclists, while preserving access for cars and service vehicles that need it.

amsterdam park 103 nyc

W 103rd Over the Years + How the Open Street and SIP Came About

W. 103 St. is historically rich, from the time of the Lenape indigenous people to the present. In the 19th Century, a massive bridge carried water through the Clendening Valley farmland, now home to Douglass residents. A state-of-the-art multi-unit apartment building — one of New York’s first — to care for disadvantaged women was designed by the renowned Richard Morris Hunt, in 1883.

It now houses Hosteling International, on the Amsterdam Avenue stretch of the NYCHA campus. Two other magnificent landmarks are on W. 103 St: The Marseilles on Broadway, built in the early part of the 20th Century, repurposed in 1980 as supportive housing by WSFSSH, the first of 31 model buildings mostly on the Upper West Side.

And, the tallest building on Riverside Drive, The Master Apartments, the 1929 Art Deco skyscraper, is easily recognized by those flying into LaGuardia. Many notable people have lived (and live!) in and around the corridor, including the Gershwin brothers, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall, Dorothy Parker, and Norman Rockwell.

The Department of Transportation’s Street Improvement Plan will deliver a more permanent version of the Park to Park 103 Open Street. A wealth of data and ideas have been used to develop these plans and accumulated through interviews and observations shared by hundreds of residents, business owners, and local organizations/institutions.

In aggregate, the studies used to inform this plan are the most comprehensive reports on this half-mile stretch of the Upper West Side since the construction of the Frederick Douglass Houses in the 1950s.

In creating these plans, we’ve created reports illustrating existing street conditions and offer conceptual interim and permanent design changes that could improve safety and the experience throughout the corridor, block by block.

Immediate improvements, including street cleaning, plantings, and tree-well maintenance have already been started by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) through their partnership with New York Horticultural Society’s City Clean-up Corps program. Their enthusiasm and practical support of this work and all Open Streets are indispensable.The first discussions of a people-first Park-to-Park corridor on W. 103rd St started in 2009 when the West 102nd &103nd Streets Block Association transformed the long-neglected corner at Broadway and W. 103rd St into a temporary green space where residents joined hundreds of neighbors at The Marseilles supportive housing apartment.

The street, with room for music, children’s activities, and those in wheelchairs, brought joy to many. Surveys done over the next years by the Block Association and as part of this new work completed over the past two years show overwhelming support for redesigning the street.

With ongoing outreach to NYCHA residents, support is growing for redesigning the pedestrian walkway in the Frederick Douglass Houses NYCHA campus at the center of W.103rd St.