Jackson Heights residents were celebrating after the City Council passed legislation to make the Open Streets program permanent across the five boroughs.
On Thursday, the City Council voted 39-8 to expand the Open Streets initiative and increase its funding, including the popular 34th Avenue corridor from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard.
“Thirty-fourth Avenue is the perfect example of how we can reimagine our streets for the 21st century,” Councilman Daniel Dromm said. “It’s about time we started making our public spaces public again. Seeing children and pedestrians using space that was once reserved only for cars brings a smile to my face. I stand with my colleagues in support of this legislation and look forward to bringing more Open Streets to Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.”
The Open Streets program was launched last year as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to shut down and New Yorkers needed adequate space to leave their cramped apartments and enjoy the outdoors while still being able to practice social distancing.
“Open Streets has enabled us to begin to heal the scars on COVID that hit us hard early in the pandemic. During this past year we have formed stronger bonds and formed new friendships on our Open Street,” said Jim Burke, co-founder of 34 Avenue Open Streets Coalition. “We walk, work out, bike and study with one another on 34th Avenue. We have built a stalwart volunteer network that not only opens, closes and programs our streets but has come together and helped our neighbors in need.”
The 34th Avenue Open Street has become the model for other neighborhoods across the city. Councilwoman Carlina Rivera traveled from her Manhattan district to rally with the Jackson Heights crew just hours before her legislation was passed.
“From Avenue B in my district to 34th Avenue in Queens and Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, it’s clear that Open Streets aren’t just a solution to social distancing challenges posed by the pandemic – they are a successful model for pedestrian prioritization that have helped save local businesses, inspire entrepreneurs and performing artists, and connect our neighbors in a way that few city programs have before.”
Children’s foot races, Zumba classes for adults, arts and crafts and other activities have become a normal occurrence along the 1.3-mile stretch of 34th Avenue.
“Expanding and fully funding Open Streets are racial justice, environmental justice and public health issues for our neighbors here in Jackson Heights and around the city,” Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said. “Our communities have historically been starved for open space and we have the opportunity to provide necessary resources now to meet the need. We can have healthy and safe communities as we begin to heal from the harm that COVID-19 caused here in the epicenter of the pandemic and this legislation helps us do that.”
Elsewhere in the borough, Councilwoman Adrienne Edwards spoke of her car-dependent district in southeast Queens, describing a streetscape where parking is highly valued and mass transit options are few.
“Areas of Queens are a significant transportation desert and parking is at a premium in so many spaces and places,” Adams said before voting against the bill. “I really think that we need more green space and parks and if we’re to get it right for the entire city, it has to be reevaluated and repositioned.”
Back in Jackson Heights, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined the rally of 34th Avenue.
“Today is monumental. Today is a big achievement,” Richards said. “That although Robert Moses might have overbuilt your community and didn’t think about park space, we can take back our streets and that’s what we’re doing today.”