A group of Jackson Heights residents claim to be casualties in the city’s war on cars.
Open Streets closes 26 blocks of 34th Avenue to vehicles every day, and has 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 a canister of oxygen at his side, plastic tubes in his nose and hands resting on a walking cane.
City officials counter that 34th Avenue has never been safer or livelier than it is today.
“This program has transformed an ordinary block in Queens into one of the most vibrant, joyful places in the entire city,” Department of Transportation spokesperson 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, limits access by first responders, and savages the livability of their quiet street with tree-lined median and dignified brick apartment buildings.
“These things put my life at risk,” said Weiss, pointing to a gauntlet of makeshift barriers placed at the end of every 34th Avenue block from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard, a distance of nearly 1.5 miles. The barriers allow cross-street traffic but prevent autos from accessing the broad east-west thoroughfare.
Weiss said that he’s twice nearly run out of oxygen returning from hospital visits as his ambulette driver was forced get in and out of the vehicle to move rows of metal barricades used to block traffic.
“We all know when there’s 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’re racing to a fire?”
“We closely coordinate with emergency services to ensure access, and other vehicles still have access at intersections for pick ups and drop offs,” said Stein of the DOT, adding that safety has improved with accidents down dramatically on 34th Avenue.
The city launched Open Streets in early 2020, eliminating auto traffic for several hours each day on hundreds of roads in all five boroughs.
But “all they’ve done is make traffic worse” on 34th Avenue, said Open Streets opponent Gloria Contreras, 52, as cars that once used the thoroughfare are forced to snake down side streets. More traffic means more noise, too, from honking horns, she said.
The Jackson Heights group says the program was never intended to shut down residential streets like 34th Avenue, which has almost no commercial activity, and that they’d welcome Open Streets on nearby 37th Avenue, lined with small locally owned shop and restaurants.
But instead of finding officials willing to listen to their concerns, Open Streets opponents say they’ve been met with hostility.
The city recently expanded the 34th Avenue Open Streets closures from 12 hours to 13 hours every day, which opponents say was in response to their complaints.
Jackson Heights City Council member Daniel Dromm, an ardent supporter of Open Streets, recently mocked the local opponents by sharing an editorial cartoon on their Facebook page.
“Noooo! It’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” says a man in the cartoon beneath a 34th Avenue sign, as children joyfully playing in the street.
“We’e been belittled and rejected just for raising our concerns,” said activist Piper Josephine, 53.