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Video of Fire Truck Stuck on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights Sparks More Debate About Open Streets Initiative

A video posted online showing an FDNY 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 (Photo: Twitter)

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.”

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.”

A photo of the intersection during reconfiguration (Provided by the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance)

The intersection in 2019 before the Open Streets initiative was put in place (Photo: Google Maps)

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 road layout from 77th Street to 80th Street (Photo: DOT)

The new road layout from 77th Street to 80th Street (Photo: DOT)

34th Avenue layout (DOT)

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.”

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13 Comments

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Yvonne

The Open Streets worked beautifully during Covid, and I support continuing the program. However, there never was a need for a “plaza.” The street is used for walking, running and biking, not for gathering in the middle of it.

The plaza in front of Travers Park has created a maze for walkers and runners. The green street markings give a wide birth to the bikers, and it feels frenetic having to navigate walking between the green area and the planters.

Whoever decided that 34th Avenue needed to be changed certainly didn’t not use the Open Streets on 34th Avenue during Covid. They did not see that the people who walked, ran and biked daily had figured out the rules of the road, all on their own. They didn’t need the DOT’s colorful street paint to show them where to walk and bike.

The most beautiful street in Jackson Heights has been made to look cheap and childish – like an elementary school project. And now it’s evident that this DOT experiment is an obstacle course for our first responders.

Please, bring back the old 34th Avenue… with the original Open Streets. The people made it work before and they’ll do it again.

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34th

Don’t think anyone remembers the double parked cars and traffic that used to plague 34th street. I want a proper comparison of response times than hand wavy assumptions. Not surprisingly, more crimes still happen on 37th Ave and Northern blvd than 34th.

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Diane

Dies the DOT ever gi back and take a look at their redesigns and say , you know what this does not work. They have ruined the streets of Astoria. 33 and Astoria Blvd. Is a nightmare 4 lights in the morning to get to GCP. Is that part of the green initiative? Isn’t the idea to have less emmisions? The closed streets are a waste. How many people are inconvenienced as opposed to the amount of people sitting in the street? DOT needs to take a second look.

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Leonard Gonsalves

Thank you for your article on “Video of Fire Truck Stuck 34th Ave in Jackson Heights……”
Point of clarification:
The article referenced that the “DOT’s new design” still allows emergency vehicles to access 34th Ave. from either direction. It is not clear exactly what this new design looks like as it is not illustrated or identified as part of this article. I am unable to see a copy of this “new design”, that shows the location of the granite blocks along 34th Ave. Can you provide and/or publish this new design?
The two granite blocks that were located on the northern corners of 34th Ave at 79th St. and 80th St. have been removed but relocated further down the avenue.
The two granite blocks that are still currently installed at the corners of 79th St. and 80th St on the eastbound (south) side of 34th Ave, both located within the triangular street traffic “diverter”, do not provide and/or comply with the required NYC turning radius for Fire Ladder companies and fire trucks. This non-compliance prevents them from reaching apartment buildings along the eastbound/south side of 34th Ave. Fire Ladder companies would have great difficulty, assuming it is even possible, for them to extend their ladders to reach apartments and conduct rescues during an emergency from the north side of the avenue.
I strongly recommend that these Granite Blocks be completely removed from 34th Ave for Fire safety consideration. The DOT has a large staff of very talented and creative Engineers that surely have alternative devices and ways to control traffic that would not pose a risk to public safety and endanger people’s lives.
Thank you in advance for providing any information on the “NEW DESIGN”

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Me

Lenny, in this very video the fire truck is parked right in front of your building on the south side of 34th Ave. So what are you even talking about?

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Concerned 34th avenue resident

Thank you so much to this kind woman for posting that video. She is doing us all a huge favor by recording the issues with this backward street closing. Imagine 4inches of snow on top of that. What a joke!!!!!! We need to vote these people out!!

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migwar

It is pretty clear from this video, and just common sense, who is being quoted telling lies (hint: Krishnan) in this article. One criticism of this otherwise-excellent (and balanced) article: the writer appears to be directionally-challenged, as 79th Street runs North, so the following sentence made no sense: “The driver eventually backs the truck up and reverses eastward on 79th Street.”

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Javier

As I said, this was not completely thought through, now…..add 3 feet of unplowable snow to the mix. When this situation happens to me, I will be suing everyone involved.

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Caroline Flores-Oyola

Saying “we spoke to the FDNY” & providing receipts (which in two years they (34 friends bozos) have yet to do) are two different things. Saying it should work & evidence of F A I L U R E should be enough to FINALLY do an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY which friends & DOT also never produced to the community asking for evidence if benefits of this “park” (asphalt). Also, you can’t say vehicle-pedestrian accidents are down on 34 like it’s something to marvel at… if you remove cars yes, no CAR accidents, but motor bikes? Can I see T H O S E reports? Cause my own mom was almost run over & she’s almost 60! Cutting down a forest will guarantee no more forest fires but did you really solve the issue? Some poor family just lost their son recently to a hit & run in the neighborhood, what good did 34 do for them? The answer to wreck-less driving isn’t the abolishment of cars, & ridding people of places to park, drive, etc isn’t helping the environment but rather making it much worse. What do you do when you can’t find parking ? Or have to go through an obstacle course to get around your neighborhood? You emit more gas. The ironically named friends of 34 are just that friends of 34 ave & it’s supporters ONLY. They don’t care about the community because if they did they would’ve listened to the significant amount of us who rallied last summer instead of hiding behind the DOT & their pack of paid-off ass-hats who make rules about a neighborhood they don’t live in or frequent. Let me ask you, who else moved somewhere & changed things for the people that were ALREADY there because they thought it was best & had the means to do so? His days coming up. Just because SOME native JHers enjoy it does NOT mean they speak for all. This issue is ongoing. I started a group a while back to prevent this but encountered so many road blocks & private assurances from higher ups that this was a done (under the table) deal. I decided to pull back & let them be their own undoing. It’s sad that it will take tragedy to get the delusional utopians in check, but I promise you it will take that & it has to be one of THEM or they won’t care. I hope it doesn’t come to that but the writings on the wall they just don’t want you to read it.

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Dodie Braver

Not only is it a safety issue for firetrucks and ambulances and police and now Jews the criminals a chance to run up and down on scooters bicycles and rob people as they walk on 34th Ave. whoever thought of this idea is out of their mind the Blasio started it during the pandemic I understand it the pandemic is over go back to normal nobody asked for this DOT thinks they can do whatever they want to the neighborhood nobody asked for this Northern Boulevard is Packed with traffic 35th Ave. is packed with traffic side streets are jammed it’s ridiculous and residents are having trouble looking for parking for their own cars we pay taxes we should be able to park our cars but no DOT decided to draw the lines put planters restrict the parking spaces I would like a reasonable explanation for that one but I won’t get one because DOT is not reasonable they do whatever they want and whatever the wonderful mayor says How long with the city Council

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paul

This certainly is an issue but to be fair to this group, it has only been a minor inconvenience to me. I deliver costco stuff to my two senior relatives in that area. All I have to do is remove then replace the barrier to get down 79 st., unload the stuff and when I hit 34 ave. I make two rights to avoid traveling on that ave and leave JH without too much trouble. I have more trouble with the gay, hispanic, mile events which causes major gridlock for traffic.

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Dumb

Att: Montalvo
Of course there’s less accidents, there’s no traffic .
Also if a fire truck can’t get to a fire houses full of people can die each time rescue services can’t reach them. I hope none of your loved ones needs an ambulance in a hurry. Every second counts. Wake up

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