About 40 Jackson Heights residents rallied against the 34th Avenue Open Street on Saturday, Oct. 9, citing safety and quality-of-life concerns.
The Open Streets program launched in the summer of 2020, closing select streets for certain parts of the day in order to promote safe, outdoor dining during the pandemic. However, the Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the program, has pushed to make the 83 miles of Open Streets in New York City permanent.
Though this program has been credited with giving city dwellers more room to be outside and saving local businesses that were struggling during the height of the pandemic, some residents don’t want it in their neighborhoods. The rally on Saturday on 34th Avenue was not the first time residents of the area protested the often-referenced Open Street.
Admittedly, Gloria Contreras thought the Open Street on 34th Avenue was a great idea to bring her community together. But, as her daughter started to use 34th Avenue to get to school, Contreras said that her daughter almost got hit by a bicyclist on three separate occasions.
“My daughter’s life is priceless,” Contreras said. “It’s extremely dangerous; these mopeds fly through and you don’t hear them like you hear cars.”
Other members have complained that their once quiet street has turned into a high-speed track for bicycles and scooters to weave around pedestrians.
The group that protested on Oct. 9, who call themselves Resisters United, was started about four months ago by Contreras and another resident who wants to be referred to as Piper.
Contreras lives on 34th Avenue and said she is tired of hearing the exorbitant amount of noise that comes with the hustle and bustle of Open Streets.
“My daughter sees people drinking and smoking weed,” Contreras said. “I moved to 34th Avenue because it was a beautiful, quiet residential neighborhood. I never had the issues I have now.”
Piper said she is not entirely against the Open Streets program, but doesn’t want them in residential neighborhoods. Instead, Piper thinks they should be moved to business-concentrated areas.
Along with safety and quality-of-life concerns, the members of Resisters United said Open Streets are inaccessible to older adults and have made it harder to find parking and receive packages.
The organization called on Councilman Daniel Dromm on Saturday to meet with them and hear their concerns. Contreras and the other member said Dromm has not taken them or their concerns seriously.
“We’re fighting a giant,” Contreras said. “Dromm is the only person who can make a difference and he’s refusing to listen.”
The group told the Queens Post that they are also considering a class action lawsuit against the city over issues with emergency vehicles and other issues.
Dromm responded to their criticism by saying he stands with the majority of his constituents that support the Open Streets program.
“I represent 166,800 residents in my district,” Dromm said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority are highly supportive of the 34th Avenue #OpenStreets. The protest by 30 people last Saturday, their unwillingness to identify themselves and the vitriol they are spreading on Facebook is harmful to the community. The 34th Avenue #OpenStreets is here to stay.”
The DOT also said they are supportive of the group’s right to voice their concerns regarding the Open Streets in their neighborhood.
“These protesters are welcome to make the case about why they are opposed to increased access to open space, enhanced safety for hundreds of students in the six nearby schools, as well as community-centered activities,” DOT Spokesperson Seth Stein said. “Open Streets, especially 34th Avenue in Queens, are an overwhelmingly popular and now permanent fixture of our streetscape for good reason. We always aim to ensure our Open Streets are accessible and are open to improvements that make that possible.”
Some supporters of the Open Street, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas, are advocating for the street to become a linear park.