Oct. 25, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
A long-running dispute between supporters and opponents of the 34th Avenue Open Street initiative in Jackson Heights clashed Monday when elected officials cut the ribbon to mark the completion of the controversial 1.3-mile initiative.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Councilmember Shekar Krishnan were heckled during the event to mark the completion of a major redesign of the permanent Open Street initiative.
The project, also referred to as Paseo Park, has seen the DOT convert 26 blocks from Junction Boulevard to 69th Street along 34th Avenue into a series of pedestrian plazas and traffic-restricted zones.
Advocates for Paseo Park argue that the open streets initiative has been a huge success, reducing the number of traffic-related incidents and creating much-needed public space. The DOT and the mayor have long called the avenue the “gold standard” of the city’s Open Streets initiative.
Opponents of the plan say that it eliminates much-needed parking and makes it harder for emergency vehicles to access residents in need.
Video posted online yesterday shows demonstrators clashing with Richards and Cruz during their respective speeches on 34th Avenue, between 79th Street and 80th Street. A group of around 15 protestors had gathered at the side of a podium where the speeches were being voiced.
In one video, a woman can be seen heckling Richards as he speaks.
“What you did is despicable, despicable,” the woman says, referring to the Open Streets plan. “You have not lived with the mess you created.”
HAPPENING NOW: The ribbon cutting of the #TrickOrStreets program to make nearly 100 streets car free on Halloween turns into a shouting match in Jackson Heights. Get details on what happened @NBCNewYork Live at 11am #nbc4ny #Queend pic.twitter.com/k3PLK5F7yd
— Tracie Strahan (@tstrahan4NY) October 24, 2022
In another video, a man can be seen disputing accident statistics put forward by Cruz to justify the Open Streets plan.
Cruz said that 16 residents had been killed by cars in the neighborhood in the last 10 years. The man questioned the statistics and doubted that they exclusively pertained to the 34th Avenue stretch that is now called Paseo Park.
He also asked how many children were among the fatalities.
“Whether they are children or not these are 16 members of our community,” Cruz says, before asking the man to settle down. “Can you just give us 30 seconds, this is what we deal with, people just don’t care.”
Yesterday was not the first time both sides have clashed.
Last month, 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, while a video posted online showing an FDNY fire truck failing to maneuver a turn on 34th Avenue onto 79th Street intensified the dispute between the sides.
Monday’s event was attended by Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, former Councilmember Daniel Dromm Richards as well as representatives for the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition and Friends of 34th Avenue Linear Park, two volunteer groups in favor of the project.
And here is @voteshekar speaking about the dramatic reduction in crashes and injuries (41.7%) on @34_ave and the need to make streets safer for children while crowd heckles him non-stop. I’ve been to 100s of press conferences, never seen behavior this rude. pic.twitter.com/tPqND5QGa2
— Streetfilms (1,041 videos!) (@Streetfilms) October 24, 2022
Krishnan said that the number of crashes has been drastically reduced along 34th Avenue since the Open Streets program was first implemented in 2020.
“As a parent of two small children, I cannot say enough how urgent the issue of pedestrian safety is for New York City families,” Krishnan said.
“If we are going to save lives, we must create safer streets.”
Several hecklers also heckled and jeered at Krishnan during his speech.
The elected officials also held a sign referring to DOT data which found that pedestrian accidents on 34th Avenue were down 41.7 percent from May 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021.
The data is derived from a DOT presentation in April on plans for the 34th Open Streets redesign. The DOT did not respond in time for publication to explain how that figure was determined.
The officials also used the occasion to announce a new initiative that will extend the hours of Open Streets across the city on Oct. 31. for Halloween.
The initiative, called Trick-or-Streets, will see more than 100 Open Streets closed to traffic from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Richards said the initiative was another example of the benefits of Open Street programs.
“Turning these spaces into spooky hubs of haunted Halloween fun for families next week is yet another incredible example of why the Open Streets program is so great.”
However, some of the protesters at the ribbon-cutting event also took issue with Trick-or-Streets since it would completely shut down Paseo Park for four hours — as opposed to having limited access to the 34th Avenue Open Street.
They say there is already an annual parade for kids on Oct. 31 — which will run along 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 76th Street – and therefore it is unnecessary to close 34th Avenue.