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Opinion: Time to Get Back to Work and to Re-Think ‘Open Street’ at 34th Avenue

34th Avenue is empty most of the time (Photo provided by Suraj Jaswal)

Sept. 22, 2021 Op-ed By Suraj Jaswal, candidate for the 25th City Council seat

New York City schools are back in session which is a sign that play time is over and now it is time to go back to work.

The debate on whether to have 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights permanently remain barricaded for the ironic name of “Open Streets” has raged all summer.

As summer comes to an end the city must return to supporting local businesses to employ our neighbors.

The Open Streets program was designed to be a temporary relief during the summer for children which started over a century ago (originally called “play streets”).

Closing streets in the summer was not too heavy of a burden on infrastructure as the city emptied while people spent time at beaches and traveled out of state. However, as the leaves turn into vibrant colors the city once again becomes a center of commerce.

The city streets were designed for traffic. This is especially true for the mile and half of 34th Avenue (both lanes from 69th street to 93rd street), closed in Jackson Heights.

Thirty-fourth Avenue is a main artery in Jackson Heights for local businesses and residents who need street access for their vehicles.

Now, with the Mayor always trying to appease everyone, the city has made 34th Avenue even more dangerous as cars, bikes, and scooters are permitted to enter by removing the barricades at will. (Cars are permitted to still enter Open Streets to drop off residents). This appeasement will not work as streets were never intended to be a hybrid form of a park and transient method for vehicles.

How much longer until a child is struck by a bike or scooter?

34th Avenue (Photo provided by Suraj Jaswal)

As a father, it does fill me with joy to see young children run free and wild. However, it also saddens me to know that the children must run on the streets because Jackson Heights ranks 159th out 188th in the city neighborhoods with access to park space.

The solution is not to turn concrete streets into chaotic havens for community parties, rather the solution is to bring more green space to the neighborhood.

For all the store closures that we suffered locally, the city should buy-up the conglomerate of commercial spaces to create parks and spaces for passive use.

Blocking 34th Avenue permanently has divided Jackson Heights residents and defeated the initial purpose of bringing joy to our community by creating this ‘open street’.

Complaints by the elderly, handicapped and the majority of vehicle owners have fallen on deaf ears of NYC Dept. of Transportation and elected officials. Blocking both lanes of 34th Avenue from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day, 365 days a year is an extreme measure.

Proponents of ‘open street’ say that it’s to protect school children from vehicular traffic but it has only created a false sense of security as children and other pedestrians are at great risk from speeding bikes and scooters that run wild on 34th Ave ‘open street’.

Homeless and people appearing to be intoxicated have started to utilize this ‘open street’ too. Residents are fed up with loud music and trash lying around due to various activities being conducted at ‘open street’ to justify its existence.

Emergency vehicles and personnel also waste precious time reaching people in need of their services. Even on rainy or bad weather days, when there is no scope of any outdoor activities, so called ‘open street’ is still on.

Suraj Jaswal (Photo courtesy of Suraj Jaswal)

Queens politicians and ‘establishment’ political candidates continue to take on more ‘anti-common sense’ agendas such as ‘defund the police’ or creating an environment suitable for punks, pimps and prostitutes.

Open Streets is another issue that sends a message to the entrepreneurs, residents and innovators that NYC is no longer the place of building a business to realize the American dream.

The hardworking small business owners need to know that the city will support their needs as they struggle through the difficult economics of this pandemic.

The barriers are erected every morning at 8 a.m. (until 8 p.m.) on 34th Avenue, the peak time for rush hour traffic, for business owners to receive deliveries and workers to go to work.

These barriers just send a message to small businesses that the city government will just create more obstacles for businesses to maintain a razor thin profit margin.

In reality, what will happen to the Open Streets as children have returned to school?  The street will be barren except for the unsavory characters to hang out creating an unseemly sight for residents.  This is not the example we want to set for our children.

To be clear, I am not advocating that Open Streets be terminated as a program.  I welcome its return in the summer (for limited hours and in limited number of blocks), and it is possible to continue the program on Sundays during the Fall and Spring.

The permanent solution is to build parks designed for children to play and families to relax.  While streets should continue to exist for its original purpose – to keep the city moving.

Suraj Jaswal is a Libertarian Party candidate running for the 25th District City Council seat. The 25th District covers Elmhurst/ Jackson Heights/ East Elmhurst and parts of Woodside

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