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Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims the group is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims thegroup is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

DOT celebrates new bike rack, 34th Ave Open Street

A ceremony to mark the installation of a new bike rack in Jackson Heights turned into a heated debate about the city’s plan to make the Open Street along 34th Avenue permanent.
The rack at the intersection of 34th Avenue and 81st Street is the 1,000th new bike rack installed in the city since the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a plan last year to install 10,000 new bike racks across the five boroughs by the end of 2022.
DOT previously installed bike racks along 34th Avenue at 69th and 77th streets. The agency is seeking suggestions for other locations to install bike racks across the five boroughs.
“We have seen an uptick in cycling during the pandemic,” said DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman last Wednesday afternoon. “Maybe you are just out for a ride, but some people are using their bikes to get places. And when they get there, they need a place to park their bike.”
Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzales-Rojas said her nine-year-old learned to ride a bike on 34th Avenue during the past year.
“My child has a bike and rides it safely on 34th Avenue, and now he has a place to park it,” she said.
A 1.3-mile stretch – or 26 blocks – of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is off-limits to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m except for local and emergency purposes. Cars and trucks using the street are required to drive at 5 MPH.
The Open Streets program was originally set to end on October 31 of last year, but it was extended indefinitely. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the program permanent.
The stretch along 34th Avenue is part of 83 miles of Open Streets across the five boroughs, the largest program of its kind in the United States.
“Open Streets transformed our city and changed the way we came together as communities,” said de Blasio. “Our urban landscape will forever play host to joyful gatherings of families, pedestrians, cyclists, and small businesses.”
At last week’s event, Gutman called 34th Avenue the “gold standard” of the Open Streets program. He said the closure of the street not only provides open space in a neighborhood with a severe shortage of parks, but allows for activities like yoga, performances and games for kids.
Borough President Donovan Richards said it’s a model that should be replicated throughout the city.
“We reimagined what our streets look like coming out of this pandemic,” he said. “This is an opportunity to reshape where we head as a city and a borough.”
But not everyone is in favor of making the 34th Avenue Open Street permanent. A group of residents called 34th Avenue Compromise argues closing the street has affected the quality of life for people who live along the avenue.
At every intersection, there are metal barriers to prevent cars from turning onto the 34th Avenue. Paolo Peguero says whenever she needs to drive down the street to get home, she has to stop her car, get out and move the barrier, and then move it back.
“When we try to move the barriers, we are confronted,” she said.
Peguero said elderly and disabled residents have trouble moving the barriers. She said she has also heard stories of Access-a-Ride drivers, for-hire car services, and delivery workers refusing to pick up or drop off in front of buildings because of the hassle of moving the barriers.
The barriers are put in place every morning by members of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition. That group, along with another called Friends of 34th Avenue Linear Park praised the announcement that the program would become permanent.
But Gabi Bhart of 34th Avenue Compromise contends those groups only represent a small number of Jackson Heights residents.
“The majority of Jackson Heights residents do not support this,” she said.
Both Peguero and Bhart say there was very little outreach to the local community on the part of DOT and the city before it was announced the closure would be permanent.
They would like to see the hours of the closure and the length of the Open Street reduced. The two lanes of traffic on 34th Avenue are separated by a median, and the group would like to keep one side open to vehicular traffic to alleviate congestion on surrounding streets.
Members of 34th Avenue Compromise are planning a march on May 22 to call attention to their concerns.
Gutman addressed some vocal members of the group at last week’s press conference. He promised that all community concerns would be taken into consideration.
“The idea is not to have one plan dictated from City Hall, but do what the community wants,” he said.
As a member of the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Gutman was instrumental in the creation of the waterfront open space that is used by thousands daily.
“Believe it or not, that project was extremely controversial,” he said. “But we worked it out.”

Debate over Open Street program intensifies in Greenpoint

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused cultural conflicts both nationally and locally. Maskers vs. Anti-maskers, vaccines and anti-vaxxers, open streets and…closed streets?
Throughout the past year, a strange and intense animosity has been growing in Greenpoint regarding whether or not certain city streets should be shut down to allow for more COVID-conscious outdoor pedestrian space.
The tension began last May when Mayor bill de Blasio announced the NYC Open Streets initiative, which placed barricades to stop car traffic on hundreds of miles of streets in the city, including several Greenpoint thoroughfares.
Initially, the NYPD was in charge of the initiative, placing the barricades every morning at 8 a.m. and removing them at 8 p.m. each night. After various complaints that the officers were neglectful of their duties, community organizations volunteered to take charge of the open streets program.
Most notably, the North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition stepped in to manage the situation. With the support of councilmen Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, the volunteer group successfully maintained and facilitated open streets on portions of Berry, Nassau, Russell, and Driggs streets since last year.
However, the open streets program has faced significant pushback since its inception. Last November, a petition titled “Stop Open Streets from becoming a permanent fixture in Greenpoint” gained 962 signatures on Change.org.
“Many members of the community feel they were misled on the original plan, and were unaware that they were signing to completely remove the streets of Greenpoint and turn them into pedestrian-only walkways,” the petition read. “This petition is on behalf of my neighbors and car owners of Greenpoint, our voices are being silenced and we are getting increasingly worried and upset that we are not being represented in the plans for Open Streets.”
Last month, the situation reached an unprecedented fever pitch. A man in a “counterfeit” Amazon delivery truck stole 16 of Greenpoint’s open street barricades overnight, then proceeded to throw the barricades into Newtown Creek.
Members of the community organization North Brooklyn Mutual Aid searched for the missing barricades. Five were found washed up on the shoreline at the end of Apollo Street. Two were fished out of the creek by volunteers in a rowboat. The other nine were lost completely.
While less dramatic, the open street drama continues up to this week. Greenpoint local Logan Reeves recently published an op-ed calling for changes to make the open streets program more focused in its intent.
“Residents have asked multiple times to see the data that was collected in order to figure out what streets to close, and the North Brooklyn Open Streets Coalition declines to share the information,” he wrote. “Do better NYC.”
Despite the pushback, the mayor has expressed his intention to maintain the program. Many of the major Democratic candidates for mayor, including Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Diane Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang, have also pledged to upkeep the open streets initiative.

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