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Jackson Heights Group Says Mayor’s Open Streets Initiative Falls Short

34th Avenue between 73rd and 80th Streets was part of the open streets pilot at the end of March (Google Maps)

May 11, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A Jackson Heights civic group says the mayor’s open streets initiative falls short– arguing that more roadway is needed since the neighborhood lacks park space.

On April 27, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would close about 100 miles of roadway to traffic for the exclusive use of pedestrians and cyclists. He said that the transformation would take place during the course of the pandemic to give New Yorkers more space to stay six feet apart. He said 40 miles of city streets would be free of cars this month.

The administration has opened up just 9 miles thus far, including less than half a mile of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to 77th Street in Jackson Heights. The community based organization Jackson Heights Green Alliance (JHGA) says that is not nearly enough.

Jackson Heights Green Alliance penned a letter to Mayor de Blasio last week to demand more mileage be turned over to pedestrians and cyclists.

The group noted that the closure of the stretch of 34th Avenue was inadequate, calling it “completely unacceptable to our community.”

“Nine blocks of closed streets for a neighborhood at the epicenter of this crisis shows an utter lack of empathy for what our community is experiencing right now,” JHGA wrote. “It is shockingly inadequate.”

“It raises serious questions about this administration’s commitment to this program, its intentions behind implementing it, and which parts of the city it has designed this initiative for.”

The group demanded that the city rescind the proposal to close 34th Avenue to traffic and instead implement its own community-based proposal.

JHGA proposed the city create four shared street ‘superblocks'” in Jackson Heights as shown in the map below.

Jackson Heights Green Alliance proposal for Open Streets initiative (JHGA)

The plan would divert all non-local and through traffic to major roads like Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue and also designate some streets where there are bus routes as bus-only.

The pedestrian-priority streets highlighted in green in the map would still have limited vehicular access for residents, drop offs, pickups and local deliveries, at a suggested 6 mph speed limit.

JHGA said the plan was ambitious, but necessary.

“Only these kinds of ambitious approaches will be effective in slowing the devastation that this pandemic has caused in intensely crowded neighborhoods such as ours, by vastly increasing the possibility of safe social distancing,” the group wrote in the letter.

They said the neighborhood which has just one small park and suffers overcrowding, which has made it and adjacent neighborhoods the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a time for bold and decisive action that will help tip the balance of inequities and risks faced by the residents of Jackson Heights and the rest of the city.”

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