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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 District 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

email the author: [email protected]

25 Comments

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JT

The charitable assessment of your piece is that you’re misinformed and short-sighted. Less charitable: lying and pandering. You’ve managed to get a couple of photos that aren’t populated, way to go. You probably know that that’s a tough photo to get. There are no retail businesses on 34th though you imply it’s closure is harming stores and sending a message. You talk about buying commercial spaces and, what, tearing them down to create parks? Do you not see how destructive that would be to business owners and retail vitality? Not to mention how entirely unrealistic it is from financial, zoning, and other perspectives? A non-idea, unfit to be proposed by an actual politician. The real idea would be to get businesses back and thriving in those vacant spaces. You also repeat false claims that emergency vehicles are hampered in their efforts. Totally unfounded and rebuked by NYPD and FDNY. The only thing you say that has some veracity to it is that the bikes and scooters will at some point harm children (and adults). Why not focus on making that situation safer? Everything else makes you sound out of touch and suspiciously untruthful. Spreading false information and operating on hearsay is not going to get you votes.

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a

There are absolutely no business store fronts on the closed portion of 34th Ave so the argument does not hold water. Nor are there any parks (except for the extremely small patch of Travers “Park”.

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Miggie Warms

I agree with most of this. I am considering voting for Mr. Jaswal, despite the fact that I am a lifelong Democrat who has been politically active during various decades of my life, often supporting those with a “reform” agenda who have challenged Democratic incumbents in primary elections. The 34th Avenue Open Street program has been a “tipping point” for many like me.

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Miggie Warms

Odd that you think the OS debacle does not negatively affect business owners on parallel avenues, such as Northern Blvd. (one block away) and 37th Avenue (two blocks away.) Can’t decide whether you are short-sighted, have tunnel vision, or are wearing blinders. Pick any of those metaphors and correct your limited vision.

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Miggie Warms

It is clear that you do not understand the argument about the negative effect the OS has been having on nearby small businesses. Ironically, having an OS on a commercial stretch of avenue (such as 37th Avenue) might actually have increased profitability for the businesses there. The enormous traffic jams caused on parallel routes by the 26-block long OS on a residential avenue is doing nothing to help neighborhood businesses (other than street vendors on the OS) and is actually hurting them by discouraging shoppers from driving to Jackson Heights and interfering with deliveries to those businesses.

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Ahmed Rashid

The 34th avenue open street should become a linear park. Even as it is now it is MUCH SAFER for everyone than an avenue with cars on it. Let’s work towards making it even nicer and greener.

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DB

I agree with the author that there are not enough public parks in this neighborhood. That is why I support making the 34th Ave Open Street permanent and converting it into a linear park. Thank you for agreeing with this!

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Miggie Warms

How nice of you to twist the words of an articulate candidate for whom English is not his first language. (If you meant that someone other than Mr. Jaswal is “agreeing with” you, then please state that clearly. Otherwise, you are engaging in a despicable rhetorical trick that will fool nobody.)

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Gary

What started 0ut as a good idea went bad because of poor implementation. The street was supposed to be for pedestrians and slow moving bicycles. But it has become rife with fast moving electric scooters, bikes, motorcycles and the like, and the rules against them are not being enforced. A walker is much more likely to be run down and injured on 34th Ave than on Northern or 37th.

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Robbob

This article is sounds very stilted and sensationalized. Based on how this is written, there is very little in it that I can take seriously.

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Miggie Warms

Xenophobic, much? People often “sound” stilted when writing in a language they did not speak from childhood.

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Ellen Halloran

Today at @ 5pm, I was crossing 34th WITH the walk signal at 72, when I was nearly struck by not one, two, but three vehicles (bicycle, scooter, and a moped drive by a helmet-less man with a helmet-less child), all of which ran their red light. As a seriously injured victim of a hit-and-run in 2019, I am a very cautious pedestrian It is the Wild West out there—complete lawlessness—and only a matter of time until serious injuries
or death result from this chaos.

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D

That’s because of a different issue – the mopeds, and not because of the open streets. The mopeds will fly by even on a regular street.

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Jo

This article comes across as completely biased and also from the POV of someone who had cherry picked their research but actually does not live on OS (like I do). Some points of view that may have validity lose credibility due to exaggeration and biased assumptions. School has already started and it is not an “empty” haven of homeless and undesirables. It boggles my mind that a street can be described as a “community party” and at the same time as an empty street all at once. OS has been around for quite awhile now and I would love to see some actual data on safety because compared to Northern and 35th Avenue, which have had several accidents recently including a hit and run, 34th ave seems to be holding up. The “small business” slant is also suspect as anyone would know that this street is nearly 100% residential and OS has actually made decent parking zones for FedEx/UPS/Deliveries. There is almost zero correlation there to be made.

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Miggie Warms

Remove the cars from any avenue and the number of pedestrian-car accidents will necessarily diminish drastically. That is just logical. The accident have been detoured to the other avenues you mentioned. The “parking zones” for trucks that you mention are intersections in which it is illegal to park (and some of those trucks actually block all or part of a crosswalk!) and where they decrease or eliminate visibility so that pedestrians and bicycle riders can no longer see approaching motorized vehicles, many of which are silent (unlike most cars.) The also prevent car drivers from having any advance warning of the whereabouts of pedestrians, joggers, kids on skateboards, etc. Your mention of accidents on Northren Blvd and 35th Avenue actually SUPPORTS the theory that accidents have been “pushed” to other avenues by the OS on 34th Avenue, which you somehow think is a good thing; it is not.

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Miggie Warms

It boggles my mind that a person can be eating at one time of day and be hungry at another; can be reading a book in the morning and watching TV in the evening; can see people crowding a small section of the OS for a couple of hours during an “organized activity” while the remainder of the OS is almost empty for most of the day. (Actually, none of this is mind boggling. It is your comment that boggles the mind with its irrational conclusion that descriptions of a “community party” somehow contradict the fact that the rest of the street – and even the “party” section of the street, the rest of the time – can be underutilized and empty or almost empty. It is your comment that comes across as biased. (Your characterization of the opinion piece as “stilted” simply comes off as prejudiced, as you are likely aware that the writer’s first language is not English. I challenge you to write an article in HIS native language without having your words sound in some way strange to those who speak that language.)

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Jen

There is false information in this article. If Jackson Heights Post wants to be taken seriously they need to do some fact checking!

OS was designed to give people space during the height of the pandemic, not, as you put it, to give kids a place to play in the summer. OS restrictions ARE suspended when there is inclement weather.

Oh, and people experiencing homelessness have a right to public space, too.

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Miggie Warms

As it is no longer the height of the pandemic, your logic would dictate that the OS should be eliminated or cut back, not made permanent. Since when are “giving people space” and giving “kids a place to play in the summer” mutually exclusive reasons for a project like the OS? Answer: they are not. Although the OS was “suspended” for one snowstorm and for a hurricane, there were several other days when bad weather SHOULD HAVE caused it to be suspended, and the suspension for the recent storm that caused so much flooding in NYC was very much “too little, too late,” as it was on other bad weather days, when barricades were NOT secured in time to prevent damage to parked cars and danger to those walking on the OS (or even on the sidewalk) when the winds rose and the barriers were blown around. Sure, those experiencing homelessness have a right to be in public space, but do you really want them in close proximity to children who are being encouraged to play in that same public space? The homeless who gather on our avenues are not doing it to get fresh air or social distancing. They exhibit all sorts of anti-social and unsanitary behavior and make those public spaces less, not more, inviting for those wishing to exercise and/or play healthy games or conduct classes. Your comment is replete with false information and faulty logic and will not be taken seriously by anyone whose life has been upended by the OS.

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Javier

You GOT MY VOTE!!!

Open up these streets already!! Or make bicyclists and vendors pay their fare share!! Can’t wait until “Do nothing, DiBlasio is out of office.

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Noah

Very well said, lets hope deaf ears dont continue to okay stupid as they now how harmful bikes, scooters, mopeds and cars are when everyone is distracted by their phones. Maintaining this on weekends for limited hours should suffice as you say the city can buy space to create new parks . Maybe elected officials can chip in part of their salary when those half the time are ignoring constituents. Residents pay high rents in Jh and deserve to live in peace NOT in Nuala and Jims Circus as they use children to hide an anti car agenda.

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Kevin

Open streets was a terrible idea to start with, took roads away from cars who pay for them, gave the opportunity to homeless and other criminals to violate the neighborhood. People’s cars would get vandalized. Bill de Blasio made a terrible idea and the city officials who agreed are all idiots. Time to end this and all other car blocking ideas once and for all. All residents who worked from home during corona and did not travel should pay a 20% increase in taxes to cover the clean up and recovery of these streets for cars. Take the bikes away and restore parking, and force meters at bike stands.

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Mel

I live on 34th and I really hope the Avenue goes back to normal. It’s too much chaos living there. We don’t get a break!!!

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Julia Passof

Thank you Suraj for being the only politician brave enough to speak the truth about OS. So many elderly and disabled are suffering because of OS. I hope you get elected you have my vote.

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