April 17, 2019 By Meghan Sackman
Jackson Heights residents gathered for a town hall meeting Monday night to discuss the next steps toward making 78th Street a car free plaza as a part of the newly renovated Travers Park–after a car dealership placed a service entrance on the road.
About 100 people attended the meeting, held at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, including Council Member Daniel Dromm and activist group Make Queens Safer, who are fighting for 78th Street– between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard–to remain a car-free area of the park, as originally planned.
The meeting came after residents took note of and rallied against Koeppel Mazda Car Dealership opening a service entrance for cars on 78th Street, threatening the street’s car free status.
This entrance is located to the north of Travers Park, the Garden School, and Staunton Field, on 78th, where the street was designated to be a car free plaza in a decade-long plan for the park redesign.
The original agreement, according to Dromm, who was the first one to make the Travers Park redesign a reality by convincing Mayor Bloomberg at the time to buy the land, was for the park to go from 34th Avenue to Northern Boulevard, not allowing access to cars.
Dromm said that unbeknownst to him, Howard Koeppel spoke to the Parks Department and Department of Transportation to allow for the service entrance on 78th Street.
Dromm also said that this entrance is unnecessary due to the fact that the Toyota dealership, which was there before Koeppel, chose not to put a service entrance there on its own accord, before talk of a car free plaza even came up.
“They were using only the 77th Street entrance. There’s no reason why Koepel cannot use the 77th street entrance,” Dromm said.
Dromm has also been working with the De Blasio administration on this and said that they say they are onboard with the car free plaza.
“As of today, the administration has said that they remain committed to the project as it was originally planned,” Dromm said. “I don’t know what that means 100 percent, but we have to keep the pressure on them.”
Residents and activist groups at the meeting, who rallied against the service entrance last month, made a presentation with reasons why this mostly car free plaza is a necessity and put forward a plan to make sure it happens.
Christina Furlong, co-founder of grassroots group Make Queens Safer and a presenter at the meeting, highlighted the danger of allowing cars to turn off Northern Boulevard into the service entrance on 78th Street.
Furlong listed names and showed images of about 20 people who have been killed on Northern Boulevard within the 115th Precinct since 2010, which included children to senior citizens.
“We can’t lose the momentum to this bad deal that will put cars in direct contact with our most vulnerable users,” Furlong said of the city’s proposed compromise for the service entrance which involved allowing cars to enter 78th street, through the park from Northern, with only benches and trees as barriers from the rest of the park.
As of now, according to Dromm, the only reason a curb cut is necessary at all is for the possible necessity of fire trucks should a building catch fire, and a contracted agreement with the Garden School to allow access to their garage for certain things which can be renegotiated after the five year contract is up.
These compromises are the only ones that Jackson Heights residents should have to make, according to co founder of Friends of Diversity Plaza and low income tenant lawyer Shekar Krishnan.
“No compromise is acceptable to us. The only acceptable solution is to close the service entrance on 78th,” Krishnan said. “Koeppel can use the other two service roads that he has…he doesn’t even need this one.”
Krishnan also speculated that this fight for green space would not even be happening in a more affluent, less diverse neighborhood.
“In communities like ours, we are fighting the imposition on us of what we want in our neighborhood. This wouldn’t happen in Park Slope or Upper East Side or Upper West Side,” Krishnan said.“This is fundamentally an issue of equity as well as racial equity, as much as it is environmental, health and space equity, as much as it is pedestrian safety.”
Krishnan provided residents with several things they could do to make sure their opposition to the service entrance is heard.
He urged residents to sign a petition against the service entrance, which can be found online or in a physical copy at meetings such as last night.
Another option he offered residents to get involved included emailing the Commissioner of the DOT, Polly Trottenberg [email protected]; the Commissioner of the Parks Department, Mitchell Silver [email protected]; and the Executive Manager of the Koeppel Mazda Dealership Mark Lacher, [email protected]
Krishnan also urged residents to leave comments on the Northern Boulevard DOT project feedback map, where people can pinpoint a specific problem area on Northern Boulevard and DOT will take the comments into consideration when redesigning Northern Boulevard.
The final encouragement Krishnan gave was to boycott the dealership and to notify them why.
“If we take all of these steps, we will be in a position for the next event and next action to make sure our concerns are reported,” Krishnan said.
In response to inquiries about plans by the Parks Department and the DOT, a spokesperson from Parks said, “Parks and DOT remain committed to opening up pedestrian access on 78th Street. We look forward to continuing to work with the community on this project. The Travers Park project is on schedule and moving forward. The design is currently under review, but no changes have been finalized at this point.”
Koeppel has yet to respond to residents, who sent him a letter about two months ago, and any requests for comment.
Why not make them free? Everything else for most JH residents is free too…
There’s really no practical justification to oppose the car dealership from using an existing curb cut with garage entrance into their facility. The park does not begin until after this, and as the street is not a through-street there is limited traffic. This makes the street act more as a driveway.
We have to ask, then, what is really going on here? Considering the sort of manipulative rhetoric you can see in these comments and in these meetings it is clear that there is an organized interest group who are advocating for THEIR interest over the auto facility. Their interest is masked under the guise of “protect the children” and other ridiculous appeal-to-sympathy ploys that are inherently dishonest. This street was a through-street until recently and the current situation, with service entrance or not, remains a significant net improvement.
This means that we have to identify their genuine interest based upon the information we have available to us. A simple glance across the street provides the most simple and obvious explanation: The Garden School.
What’s really going on here is that a private school has been leveraging the city to expand Travers Park across 78th street, effectively making it an extension of their school. This plan has been going well until the Auto dealership saw an opportunity to use this public street access for their benefit as well. Now the school is trying to rally “the community” in order to gain the improvement for THEIR BUSINESS that they’ve been working so hard on.
Change my mind.
Could someone post a link to the online petition?
Block Koeppel from using 78th Street South of Northern Blvd
Shame on Koeppel
Where was Daniel Dromm when the bullets were flying in Jackson Heights ? No one saw or heard from our “leaders”
The next time you see Daniel Dromm he’ll be reading fairy tales to kid with his army of Drag Queens.
I think the demand is BS. The portion of 78th Street that leads to the dealerships service department is more like a driveway than a street. I question the wisdom of having children, who can be difficult to supervise, direct access to the heavy traffic of Northern Blvd. Seems like a safety feature to me and should be embraced.
It is in the best interest of Koeppel to work together with our very diverse community. This is a safety concern for all and especially for the most vulnerable – children and seniors.
I think if one is concerned about the safety of children, parents would not want their children to have easy and immediate access to the high traffic volume of Northern Boulevard. Having a zone that protects the play area from intentional intrusion of a wayward vehicle also improves the safety of the park users. I think the neighborhood needs to get off of their high horse and be grateful for the increased protection offered by the short dead end street used only by Koeppel service customers.