Since May, 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard, a 1.5-mile stretch in Jackson Heights, has been closed off to most cars.
Twice a day for the last six months, local volunteers have put up and taken down the barricades. With the roads clear, families take walks, run, and ride bikes and scooters, all without the fear of being run over by a vehicle.
Seniors have set up in the middle of the street to play Bingo safely outdoors. Some residents take part in dance classes and Zumba exercises. When organizations want to protest or march for a particular cause, they can use 34th Avenue without having to stop traffic.
The Open Street on 34th Avenue is so successful that residents, local activists and elected officials fought to make it permanent.
According to Councilman Daniel Dromm, the Department of Transportation has agreed, though the devil will be in the details. There will be upcoming meetings and visioning sessions that local residents should attend to make their voices heard.
Hundreds of people have already signed a petition to make it permanent. At a march over the weekend in support of that effort, even politicians from other boroughs came to say how jealous they were that Manhattan or Brooklyn didn’t have Open Streets as popular or successful as the one on 34th Avenue.
The success is a testament to the dedication of local volunteers who fought for Open Streets, envisioned outdoor programs and take responsibility for setting up and putting away the barricades. The city, too, should be commended for creating the program during a pandemic.
Now it’s time to not just extend Open Streets beyond October 31, when it’s set to end in most places, but also expand the initiative. During the march, advocates called on the DOT to extend the 34th Avenue Open Street down to 114th Street in Corona, which would add another 1.1 miles.
Most local elected officials already support the idea, but it needs buy in from everyone, including lawmakers, local volunteers and city officials, to work. Now is as good a time as ever to make it happen.