Sept. 22, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
A video posted online showing an FDNY fire truck failing to maneuver a turn on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights has intensified the dispute between advocates and opponents of the avenue’s Open Streets initiative.
The video, which was posted to Twitter Saturday, shows a firetruck traveling westbound on 34th Avenue and its driver then attempting to make a right turn northbound onto 79th Street. The firetruck is unable to complete the turn due to several new roadblocks put in place at the intersection by the DOT.
The video has generated more than 24,000 views with more than 220 retweets. Queens Councilmembers Robert Holden and Vickie Paladino were among those to weigh in on the video. They both retweeted the video blasting the new layout.
“When every second counts, first responders must not be delayed by barriers placed by the DOT,” Holden wrote.
Paladino panned the situation as a “disgrace” saying that the planners of the new layout “don’t care if emergency services can’t reach you if you’re having a heart attack or your home is on fire.”
However, the DOT, Councilmember Shekar Krishnan as well as an advocacy group for the plan have defended the initiative. The DOT said it consulted with the FDNY before making the changes while the advocacy group Friends of 34th Avenue Linear Park argue that critics are taking the video out of context to “dismantle a visionary and safety-enhancing project.”
We are PLEADING for your help! Residents of 34th Ave & First Responders are in danger. A fire truck can’t navigate through the cement bricks & planters! @GovKathyHochul @communityboard3 @votejgr @jessicaramos @voteshekar @NYCMayor @RPachecoJH @DOEChancellor pic.twitter.com/yj1R2nxvc8
— Gloria (@Gloria69NY) September 17, 2022
The DOT made the changes at the intersection recently as part of the agency’s plans to make the avenue’s Open Street program permanent. The DOT narrowed the intersection using a triangular street demarcation known as a traffic “diverter,” and a large granite block was placed inside the triangle. Planters, boulders and flexible delineators were also put down at the intersection.
Advocates for the open streets plan, known as Paseo Park, argue that the open streets initiative has been a huge success since it creates much-needed public space in the neighborhood. The plan consists of converting 26 blocks from Junction Boulevard to 69th Street along 34th Avenue into a series of pedestrian plazas and traffic-restricted zones, in accordance with a plan released by the Department of Transportation in April.
The agency has long called the avenue the “gold standard” of the city’s Open Streets initiative.
Opponents of the plan, however, say the plan eliminates much-needed parking and makes it harder for emergency vehicles to access local residents. Both sides publicly clashed last week when the initiative’s co-founder said he was the victim of homophobic slurs leveled at him by members of a group opposed to the DOT’s changes.
The Twitter video, which was taken last week, has sparked fierce debate online. Most people who commented on it argued that the changes have slowed emergency response times – and are putting people’s lives at risk.
The FDNY told the Queens Post it was responding to a reported injury at I.S. 145, located on the next block at 33-34 80th St. An ambulance also appeared to be responding to the incident the video shows.
An FDNY spokesperson said that there were no operational issues with the incident.
The 140-second video shows the firetruck traveling west on 34th Avenue before attempting to go around a granite block in order to make a right turn.
The fire truck, which has the number 307 displayed on it, is traveling against traffic since the strip is for vehicles traveling eastbound only. Firetrucks are permitted to go against traffic in an emergency.
However, the firetruck is stopped from completing the turn by a large planter. The truck then backs up slightly and attempts to make the turn again but is stopped by a second planter.
Two firefighters can then be seen jumping out of the truck and helping guide the FDNY driver. The driver eventually backs the truck up and reverses eastward on 79th Street.
Once the firetruck backs up, one of the firefighters can then be seen waving the traffic on 79th Street through the intersection. The incident caused the traffic on 79th Street to back up and — towards the end of the video — an ambulance with its sirens on can be seen caught in the traffic jam.
Throughout the video, the woman shooting the video can be heard criticizing the situation and blaming it on elected officials. The video was uploaded by another resident.
“Our firemen are trying to respond somewhere, but as you can see [they] can’t,” the videographer shouts. “The planters are blocking his way; he can’t back up because of the sticks in the air.”
The videographer calls out the mayor, the governor, the local Councilmember – who is Shekar Krishnan — as well as the chief of the fire department, saying it was a “political issue.”
The woman, who appears to be getting more enraged as the situation unfolds, then comments on the ambulance getting stuck in the 79th Street traffic jam.
“Now look at it, so now traffic is backed up because the truck is trying to back up due to your stupid blocks in the middle of the street that are putting our lives in danger,” she says.
“We’re the ones paying the taxes, we’re the ones voting for you to take care of our lives — and this is what’s happening.”
Holden retweeted the video and hit out at the DOT in a statement to the Queens Post.
“First responders can’t ride scooters to calls,” Holden said. “Putting people’s lives in danger is not progress.”
“The ideological obsession with getting rid of cars and trucks in New York City is not only costing New Yorkers more time and money with slower traffic, more frustration, and incoming congestion charging — but our emergency services also face additional challenges from barriers.”
Paladino also slammed the situation in a three-tweet response to the video.
“The tiny clique of deranged affluent urbanists who inexplicably seem to wield dictatorial control over city planning are quite literally costing lives and making our city more dangerous with their malicious utopianism,” Paladino wrote.
They want their weird little Legoland with closed streets and concrete bollards and rainbow-painted plazas for the junkies to crash out on… when do we start saying no?”
The new layout prevents eastbound traffic along 34th Avenue from 77th Street to the 79th Street intersection.
Kevin Montalvo, a spokesperson for Krishnan, told the Queens Post that the DOT’s new design still allows emergency vehicles to access 34th Avenue. Krishnan has been a vocal supporter of the 34th Avenue Open Streets program.
“As this video shows, DOT’s design allows FDNY and NYPD emergency services to access both sides of the street, without the interference of cars, from either direction.”
He also said that the 34th Avenue Open Street has greatly increased safety and accessibility for residents.
“Car-related injuries and crashes are down significantly,” Montalvo said.
The DOT said it had consulted the fire department before reconfiguring the intersection.
“Prior to implementation we developed an emergency vehicle access plan, taking into account FDNY feedback, and with the project now installed we will make any needed adjustments as we observe conditions,” DOT press secretary Scott Gastel told the Queens Post.
“Our understanding from FDNY is there were no issues on the response or operational end of this call.”
The Friends of 34th Avenue Linear Park, an advocacy group in favor of the Open Street plan, said that opponents of the initiative are using one video to attack the new designs.
“People who have never wanted the street to change are now using a single video, with no context, as a pretext to try to dismantle a visionary and safety-enhancing project,” the group said in a statement to the Queens Post.
“Those same people say nothing about the routine delays to firefighters and ambulances caused by vehicle traffic. News outlets do not cover all the emergency services delayed by traffic and double-parked cars because we have come to accept it as part of life.
“In fact, first responders have had exceptionally easy access on 34th Avenue since the street became open space for the community to enjoy.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance, a group that opposes the Open Streets concept, said the video again raises concerns about emergency response times in the neighborhood.
“In light of the horrific fire that took place only one year ago on 90th Street, where over eight fire trucks were summoned, I doubt any fire truck will fit through this mess,” said Debbie DaGiau, a spokesperson for the group.
“In addition, our beautiful neighborhood now looks like a disgusting obstacle course.”