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Greenport planning for post-pandemic life, which could include pedestrian-friendly streets

Getting closer to reopening the local economy, business owners and local officials alike are starting to plan for how life after lockdown will unfold in Greenport Village.

As ideas percolate, one initiative gaining momentum is a petition that would create more pedestrian corridors in the heart of the village.

The change.org petition , which has over 600 signatures, asks the Village Board to consider closing Front Street and portions of Main Street to cars to provide more space for pedestrians and physical distancing.

The petitioners note that the pedestrian areas would also serve as an added buffer to Mitchell Park, where people have already begun to gather after weeks of quarantine and rain.

“People have relaxed on social distancing and mask-wearing,” Greenport Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said Monday.

Observations that people have become lax on the guidelines prompted Mayor George Hubbard to sign an executive order Friday that requires anyone on public property — roads, sidewalks, parking lots, beaches, parks, docks and the ferry area — to wear a mask.

“It’s been very busy downtown,” Mr. Hubbard said Monday. “It’s a small community. Do the right thing and put a mask on.”

Emptier than usual streets have led to discussions about downtown walkability. Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced several street closures to encourage social distancing.

The Greenport petition suggests designating pedestrian-only streets on Friday evenings after 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until one hour after sunset and on federal holidays.

“It sounds like a great idea,” Mr. Hubbard said. “But the city has a lot more streets.”

The street closures would largely mirror the strategy used during large events like the Maritime Festival. “It takes a lot of manpower and coordination with the police department and village to close that down,” the mayor noted.

Officials must contend with impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the village, and whether decisions like closing streets could encourage more people to congregate.

Greenport Business Improvement District president Rich Vandenburgh said in an interview Tuesday that the group has been meeting regularly to discuss those ideas and intends to formally present its thoughts to the Village Board.

“We want to make sure we’re really being proactive and safe and allow not only local residents but anybody else who happens to come to the village to be able to properly socially distance themselves and not create added, crazy congestion,” he said. “That’s exactly what we don’t want to see.”

Mr. Vandenburgh said the BID hopes to find middle ground on proposals that could involve one-way streets or adding pedestrian space by removing parking from the direct downtown area. “That would then allow businesses to have more of a curbside, outside presence for commerce,” he said.

Officials noted that ideas for street closures and outdoor dining would both require coordination with outside agencies, including the state Department of Transportation and county Department of Health.

Mr. Hubbard said the board is exploring measures it could take independently. Current code, for example, does not allow displays or tables and chairs to be set up on sidewalks. “We could expand that and allow it to put tables six feet apart and do less tables inside,” he said.

Mr. Vandenburgh said the village can also think about increasing public refuse bins and collection and placing porta-potties in public spaces. He said it’s a “tricky” line to walk because many businesses are on the brink of survival yet, from a public health standpoint, it’s too soon to have the usual influx of visitors.

“If we can’t figure out a way to walk that line in terms of allowing there to be a reawakening of commerce, but also accommodating the new normal of separation of people … we’re really going to be in trouble as a village.”

Any decisions made by the Village Board must be in compliance with guidelines issued by the state under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s phased reopening plan.

Mr. Hubbard said the board must be mindful of how their decisions could impact businesses other than restaurants, when they are eventually permitted to reopen. “We have to try and keep everyone in business,” he said.

The governor announced Monday that he will allow the NY PAUSE order to expire May 15, but regional reopenings will be determined on a set of criteria measuring new infections, hospital capacity, testing and tracing.

The reopening of different industries will be staggered to first address construction, manufacturing and some retailers that can offer curbside pickup.

The next phase will include professional services, real estate and retail, with restaurants, hospitality and entertainment following in third and fourth phases.

Long Island remains a “higher-risk” region. The regions at “lower risk” — all located upstate — can begin reopening first. 

“It’s still a ways away until they open the downstate region,” Mr. Hubbard concluded, noting that village officials will continue discussing ideas.

The Village Board is set to meet again for a work session on May 21.