Sept. 1, 2020 By Allie Griffin
A group of transportation advocates are pushing for 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights — part of the city’s Open Streets program — to be turned over to pedestrians and cyclists on a permanent basis.
Each day, a large stretch of 34th Avenue closes to traffic and opens for pedestrians and cyclists as part of the citywide Open Streets program — which the mayor began in May to give New Yorkers more outdoor space during the pandemic.
Transportation Alternatives launched a call-to-action petition about a month ago to make it a permanent Open Street.
Currently, 1.3 miles of 34th Avenue, from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard, closes to cars and most vehicles from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Vehicles are permitted to drive — at 5 MPH — on the closed street for local purposes.
Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said Monday that 34th Avenue is one of the most successful Open Streets in the program.
“It’s very clear that 34th Avenue is the defining Open Street,” Restrepo said.
He said its success is largely due to the dedicated residents who care for what has become an ad-hoc linear park. The entire community comes together to make sure the space works and is a safe place for neighborhood kids to play, Restrepo said.
“There’s general buy-in from parents to let this be a space for their children to be a child again,” he said of the stretch. “It’s kind of a weird time for a lot of kids and the space has really helped them to find their community — it’s a truly special space.”
The advocates also have the backing of some elected officials. State Sen.Jessica Ramos and Council Member Daniel Dromm have announced that they support making 34th Avenue a permanent Open Street as well.
“Hear us all: Danny Dromm and I want the 34th Avenue Open Street to be permanent!” Ramos tweeted on Aug. 16. Dromm also tweeted that he’s fighting to make it permanent.
Advocates for the permanent closure also want a larger section of 34th Avenue to be included as part of the Open Street. They want it to be extended from Junction Boulevard to 114th Street in Corona so that the residents and children who live there can benefit as well.
Restrepo said the kids in Corona deserve the same amenities as those in Jackson Heights — two neighborhoods that are both park-deprived and were among the hardest-hit by the pandemic.
“Jackson Heights is a much more politically active community [than Corona], but that shouldn’t be a deterrent for why someone shouldn’t have access to space like this,” he said.
The city has yet to set an end date for the Open Streets program and a decision has not been made as to whether any streets in the program will be made permanent.
“We’ll continue to evaluate the future of the program going forward,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said. “It’s a hugely successful program and we’re proud to see it so warmly embraced by communities across Queens.”
Transportation Alternatives is asking residents to write letters to their representatives advocating for both the extension and permanence of the 34th Avenue Open Street.
On Sunday, the group lead roughly 150 cyclists through a tour of the borough’s open streets. The bike ride was joined by several advocates including Ramos, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the Democratic pick for Assembly District 36 Zohran Mamdani and potential Astoria City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán.
Restrepo said 34th Avenue got lots of love from cyclists who joined the ride and Jackson Heights activists reminded riders to sign the petition as they biked through the tree-lined blocks.
Over 150 cyclists rode through Queens for our #OpenStreets ride.
We got to see how open streets provide more space for community programming, traffic calming, social distancing, recreation, biz seating and more. pic.twitter.com/CP5M22Q3x8
— Juan Restrepo 🚲 (@juaninQNS) August 30, 2020