Give us a plan to open Coney Island.
That was the message from Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Mark Treyger. The two elected officials and Alliance for Coney Island’s executive director Alexandra Silversmith held a press conference along the Coney Island boardwalk to discuss the city’s lack of guidelines for opening up the area’s shops and beach during the summer.
Adams discussed the consequences of keeping the city beach closed.
“This is where our residents and small communities come, so when we make the determination of closing a beach or shutting down a beach, think about shutting down the entire Central Park. Think about shutting down the entire Hamptons. Think of shutting down all those entities that affluent New Yorkers go to. Without the economics that come from these small, seasonal shops and without having a place to come and enjoy one’s time during the summer months, it is really hampering the lives of people. They can’t merely go to their backyards or terraces. Many of them are crammed into small apartments as you see here.”
Mental health was also a topic.
“We also think of the public safety of traumatizing people in a close environment,” Adams said. “You see domestic violence is increasing. We see all of the byproducts of what comes from COVID-19, the physical part and also the mental part, that many people want to ignore.”
Treyger and Adams discussed some steps that the city can take to allow the beach to be used safely.
“This is more than just a beach,” Treyger said. “This is a neighborhood that is called home to over 50,000 people, and if you look at the recent Health Department stats, Coney Island has the fifth highest per capita death rate in the entire city of New York. These are human beings. That is someone’s grandmother, that’s a veteran, that’s a retired teacher. So whenever anyone proposes a beach idea, I want to first be a voice to those that we lost and to the families that lost someone. This is not just a beach or a Wonder Wheel. It’s a neighborhood that people live in all year round. I will not allow them to be forgotten.”
One of the requests is to have signs in multiple languages due to the diverse nature of the community.
Another topic involved cleaning and sanitizing stations.
“When I spoke to the Health Department, they didn’t realize Coney Island and Brighton Beach don’t have outdoor hand washing stations,” Treyger said. “If you want to wash your hands you have to physically go to a comfort station. Historically, they have not always been maintained. This is a contagious virus that breeds in indoor spaces.
“We know there are hand washing stations in other parts of the city, so why don’t we have any here in Coney Island or Brighton Beach?” he asked. “I also asked about hand sanitizer stations. No information about that. I am told there is a national back order on them. This is why planning in advance is so important.”
The councilmember also called for additional portable bathrooms due to the lack of bathrooms for the entire peninsula.
“There will be long lines of people to enter these comfort spaces,” he said. “We need more affordable restrooms and outdoor hand washing stations. If we had health guidance, that would dictate it.”
He also recommended the city create a local summer youth program for jobs such as social distancing ambassadors and asked about how many dedicated park staff would be assigned to beaches throughout the summer to clean the area.
Traffic is another concern.
“If the mayor and MTA are discouraging people from using the subways and buses, and more counties that surround New York City,” Treyger added. “My fear is that many people will drive in. It is already crowded during the summer so this becomes more challenging. We need coordination between traffic, NYPD and DOT to control traffic flow in this neighborhood.
“We have challenges having ambulances to get to the peninsula. If you live in the west end of Coney Island by West 33rd Street and you have to get to Coney Island Hospital, the traffic on Neptune could be 40 minutes long in the summer.”
They also discussed a sectional grid system using identifiable markers such as flags to create numbered sections of beach, with city staff assigned to each section to proactively address crowding in each section by ensuring flow of people to the next section.
“If we see a section becoming too dense, park staff could then be assigned to say, ‘OK, let’s move to the next section,’” Treyger said. “That requires staffing and personnel.”
Silversmith mentioned the importance of Coney Island businesses as well as a space to exercise.
“With playgrounds being closed and sprinklers being closed, as it gets hotter this is where you see New Yorkers cool off,” she said. “This is like the natural air conditioner of New York. If we don’t have lifeguards, the proper guidance or outlines, this is going to be a huge problem.
“As the economy opens up for our merchants to survive, they’re a seasonal economy and only have a few months to make the revenue they need to support their families. These merchants survive in the summer months.”