NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Yorkers were urged to go car-free for Earth Day on Friday.
Parts of the city were closed off to cars Friday, including Broadway between the Flatiron Building and Union Square, streets near Washington Square Park and four blocks of Wadsworth Avenue in Upper Manhattan.
Officials said they wanted the event to reduce emissions and bring attention to the need for more investment in mass transit. Residents are encouraged to walk or ride a bike.
“Events like Car Free Day can help us imagine a safer city with more public transportation, more walking, more public space and cleaner air,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa.
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg celebrated the event in the shadow of the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street.
“We are turning this section of Broadway, turning it from its traditional uses of sea of asphalt of cars to, basically, it’s a playground — biking, walking, listening to music,” she told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
Trottenberg touted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s One New York initiative, which hopes to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
“The mayor’s One New York plan has focused all of us in his administration on the environment, and on focusing on initiatives that will help the city grow, but also ensure that it remains just, equitable and sustainable,” said New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez (D-10th), who said he would walk, take a bicycle or ride a donkey where he grew up in the Dominican Republic, quoted Pope Francis.
“We don’t know if we have the time to fix the damage that we have made to our planet,” he said.
Citi Bike also invited New Yorkers to go green by going blue on Friday. The bicycle rental company celebrated the city’s first ever car-free Earth Day by offering free bike rides.
New York Water Taxi and ride-share company Lyft also offered discounts on services, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“The bike lanes are beautiful and drivers are respecting the bike riders too a little bit more, you can see it,” a representative of the Waterfront Alliance said.
Mayor de Blasio even got in on the action, saying he would go without a car on Friday whenever feasible.
However, some who still chose to drive Friday found themselves frustrated by increased traffic due to the road closures.
“[The closures are] going to cause a lot more pollution with this traffic, you see,” one driver said. “They were supposed to have less traffic, but you’re causing more traffic.”
Meanwhile, many New Yorkers celebrated Earth Day by volunteering. Dozens rolled up their sleeves to clean up Crotona Park in the Bronx.
Students with Validus Preparatory Academy joined the community to pick up trash and litter and lay mulch in an effort to beautify the park. They hoped to inspire other people around the city to keep the parks clean – not only on Earth Day, but year-round.
“So much people out there that does not help clean up the park and stuff, so we’re here today to protect our parks so we can have fresh air,” said Jacqueline Asubontng of Validus Preparatory Academy.
“We want other youth members to do the same, to help us clean the parks and take care of nature,” said Fatou Gakou of the school.
The park cleanup event was hosted by Build On, a nonprofit organization that runs youth afterschool programs.
And on Staten Island, New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia announced the launch of an electronic waste collection system, TV 10/55 Long Island Bureau Chief Richard Rose reported.
“Many of the bigger TV sets have leaded glass. They have toxic metals inside them. So when they’re broken, they become more of a hazard,” Garcia said.
Garcia said Staten Island residents can simply call 311 to schedule a pickup. And if the pilot program on Staten Island is successful, the e-waste curbside pickup will be expanded nationwide.
Also Friday, leaders from 171 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate change as the landmark deal takes a key step toward entering into force years ahead of schedule.
Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must update them every five years.
The United States and China, which together account for nearly 40 percent of global emissions, have said they intend to join this year.
Twenty million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, sparking the birth of the environmental movement. Enormous celebrations in hundreds of cities across the country eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
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