Queens residents unite against NYC’s Open Streets initiative

A group of Jackson Heights residents claim to be victims of the city’s war on cars.

Open Streets closes 26 blocks of 34th Avenue to vehicles every day and has been doing so for more than 18 months.

The city initiative with the Orwellian name “may look good on paper, but it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous for everyone,” said lifelong Jackson Heights resident Kenneth Weiss, who spoke with an oxygen tank next to it, plastic tubes in his nose and hands. resting on a stick.

City officials counter that 34th Avenue has never been safer or livelier than it is today.

“This program has turned an ordinary block in Queens into one of the liveliest, happiest places in the entire city,” Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Stein told The Post. “The program is overwhelmingly popular, which is why the city council made it permanent earlier this year.”

But Weiss, 62, and other members of a group called 34 Open Streets Resisters United, say the program endangers lives, restricts access for first-aiders and destroys the habitability of their quiet street with tree-lined mean and dignified brick apartment buildings.

Residents Talea Wufka, Carmen Kolodich, Kenny Weiss, Piper Josephine, Kathy Farren and John Tineo on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Residents Talea Wufka, Carmen Kolodich, Kenny Weiss, Piper Josephine, Kathy Farren and John Tineo on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Lisa R. Kyle

“These things put my life in danger,” Weiss said, pointing to a mantle of makeshift barriers located at the end of each 34th Avenue block from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard, a distance of nearly 1.5 miles. The barriers allow traffic across streets, but prevent cars from accessing the wide east-west highway.

Weiss said he almost ran out of oxygen twice when he returned from hospital visits when his ambulance driver was forced in and out of the vehicle to move rows of metal barricades used to block traffic.

“We all know when there is a fire, every second counts,” said neighborhood activist Talea Wufka, 50. “How many seconds will it take firefighters to get out and move these barriers if they run into a fire?”

“We are closely coordinating with emergency services to ensure access, and other vehicles still have access at intersections for pickup and drop off,” Stein said of the DOT, adding that safety has been dramatically improved with accidents down 34th Avenue.

26 blocks of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, are closed to car traffic from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. as part of the city's open street campaign
There are 26 blocks of 34th Avenue closed every day for cars.
Lisa R. Kyle | For NJ Advance Me

The city launched Open Streets in early 2020, eliminating car traffic for several hours every day on hundreds of roads in all five neighborhoods.

But “all they’ve done is make traffic worse” on 34th Avenue, said Open Street opponent Gloria Contreras, 52, as cars that once used the main road are forced to snake their way down side streets. More traffic also means more noise from honking horns, she said.

The Jackson Heights group says the program was never intended to close residential streets like 34th Avenue, which has almost no commercial activity, and that they would welcome Open Streets on nearby 37th Avenue, lined with small locally owned shops and restaurants .

But instead of finding officials willing to listen to their concerns, Open Street opponents say they have been met with hostility.

The city recently expanded 34th Avenue Open Street closures from 12 hours to 13 hours each day, which opponents say was in response to their complaints.

Donna Aguilar, 6, left, and Angie Ramon, 6, right, slime on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens on October 13, 2021.
Donna Aguilar, 6, left, and Angie Ramon, 6, right, slime on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, on October 13, 2021.
Lisa R. Kyle

Jackson Heights City Councilman Daniel Dromm, an ardent supporter of Open Streets, recently taunted local opponents by sharing an editorial cartoon on their Facebook page.

“No! It’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” says a cartoonist under a sign on 34th Avenue as children happily play in the street.

“We have been belittled and rejected just to raise our concerns,” said activist Piper Josephine, 53.

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