The Jackson Heights Plaza Is Growing on Some Local Merchants

Planters installed last week are adding a little bit of color to the 37th Road pedestrian plaza in Jackson Heights. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

A package of enhancements and adjustments to the new pedestrian plaza on 37th Road in Jackson Heights — the object of a high-profile backlash from a group of local merchants this winter — is winning over some of the skeptics.

DOT has placed new planters and seating to spruce up the plaza and give it more color, while also adding parking and loading spaces and reversing the direction of traffic on a nearby block to improve access to the plaza, allaying some of the merchants’ fears.

The larger package of transportation changes related to the plaza had shown impressive benefits — shaving seven minutes off of local bus trips — and the new public space was already widely used. But recent tweaks have helped build a stronger consensus around the plaza, which proved to be the most controversial element of the plan.

City Council Member Daniel Dromm is a plaza supporter and has used his discretionary funds to pay for its upkeep. “DOT has stepped up to the plate,” he said of the dozen or so planters that arrived in the plaza last Thursday. “The place is looking much more attractive.”

More street furniture is set to be delivered this Friday, when tables and chairs will be delivered at the request of two local restaurant owners. Those business owners, who had previously aligned with the merchants leading the fight against the plaza, have disassociated from the opposition. “They have grown to see the benefits to their restaurants,” said Dromm.

The tweaks aren’t limited to the new pedestrian space between 73rd and 74th Street. One block to the east, DOT has changed the direction of 37th Road. Now, the street feeds into the plaza rather than away from it, easing merchant fears that the redesign of the neighborhood’s street network had made it harder for customers to access their stores.

On that same block, DOT replaced a bus layover area and striped bike lane with parking; the buses were moved a block away and the bike lane replaced with sharrows. According to Dromm, the addition of  these spots is more than enough to offset the removal of parking to make way for the plaza. “There’s actually more parking for the merchants now,” he said, estimating that there’s been a net increase of five parking spaces. Loading zones were also added around the corner for stores fronting the plaza.

Overall, the new traffic pattern appears popular in the neighborhood. At a town hall meeting held last night, ten or so plaza opponents held up signs and protested, but a much larger number cheered and clapped for the changes, reported Len Maniace, a vice president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. “There was opposition,” he said, “but there was significantly more support.”

“It was an overwhelming show of support for the plaza,” said Dromm. “It was just great.”

When the transportation plan for the neighborhood was first presented to the local community board last year, including rerouting two bus routes and making the one block of 37th Road car-free, it passed unanimously.

While some merchants are coming to embrace the plaza, the hard core of opposition shows no sign of being mollified by the modifications. “I don’t think they will be totally satisfied until the plaza is gone,” said Dromm, “and that’s not going to happen.”

In addition to speeding bus service, said Dromm, the plaza has had a marked impact on safety. The intersection at one end of the plaza, where 37th Road, 74th Street and Broadway all meet, was the most dangerous in Jackson Heights until last year. “Since the implementation of the traffic study, there hasn’t been one accident on the corner,” said Dromm. “That alone is reason to keep it.”

A more formal DOT evaluation will be ready next month, said Maniace, and will be presented to the community board.

With better weather around the corner, Maniace said he expects the plaza to become only more popular in the coming months among residents and merchants alike. “With the spring and summer coming up, there’s a real opportunity for increased business there,” he said. “They may end up needing even more tables and chairs.”

  • “I don’t think they will be totally satisfied until the plaza is gone,” said Dromm, “and that’s not going to happen.”
    The Councilmember is awesome.  And not only that, he’s right, traffic has improved, buses move thru smoother, people are loving the plaza more and more.

  • I agree. So much better than before. And the impact on 73rd street as a result of those changes is tremendous – no busses, fewer cars circling. I either walk or ride my bike through that “most dangerous intersection” daily, and it’s so much improved, regardless of my mode of transportation. Can’t wait to see what kind of new street furniture is coming. And yes, Danny’s pretty awesome. 

  • Great news. And Daniel Dromm is truly a gem. One of the best votes I ever cast. 

  • Jjmelon

    Ugh! Those planters are the ugliest things!

  • Anonymous

    The planters are getting flowers and additional greenery next week.   

  • Anonymous

    It’s about time that people stood up for what was right and good for Jackson Heights instead of tearing the place down in a chaos of self-interest and exploitation.  The bones of Jackson Heights have been obscured, it’s time to turn the place back into a truly great place to live. 

  • jwmun

    The Jackson Heights Green Alliance supports the plaza and issued the following statement at Tuesday night’s Town Hall on this (and other) matters.

    JACKSON HEIGHTS GREEN ALLIANCE

    STATEMENT ON
    37TH ROAD PUBLIC PLAZA
    IN JACKSON HEIGHTS

    The
    37th Road Public Plaza is the product of a sound idea and perhaps
    less-than-perfect execution, whose success is nevertheless already
    visible and will become even more obvious with time.  We wish to
    emphasize that, while this project is not of our making, the Jackson
    Heights Green Alliance fully supports it.

    The
    claim has been made that the 37th Road Public Plaza initiative is being
    rammed down the throats of the community with no public meetings or
    input.  We find this claim not only unfounded and untrue, but
    destructive to the community dialogue.  This was a road, and therefore
    under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Transportation
    (DOT).  

    The
    decision to convert it to a plaza was a direct outcome of the DOT’s
    Jackson Heights Transportation Plan which was years in the making and
    included a robust public involvement process – with walkthroughs, open
    houses, public workshops, and several community board meetings.  Our
    members have attended many of the workshops, having come across flyers
    for them posted around the neighborhood.  The claim that the plaza had
    no public process is false and inflammatory, and we wish those who are
    making it would, for the benefit of honest, civil community dialogue,
    stop.

    As
    to the merits of the plaza itself, the claim is also being made that it
    has resulted in increased vagrancy, gangs, trash, and a drastic drop in
    business. We think this characterization is unfortunate in a
    neighborhood that prides itself on its diversity.  And, with regard to
    this last claim, it is our understanding that no data has been offered
    to support it; therefore, the rest of the community is being asked to
    simply take their word for it.  As local residents who have observed the
    plaza countless times and at all times of day, all we can say is that
    we, again, are troubled by this claim, as 37th Road appears to us more
    busy and vital than ever.

    Jackson
    Heights has one of the lowest percentages of open space in the city,
    and for that reason, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance has successfully
    advocated for the 78th Street Play Street, which is also becoming a
    plaza this year.  The key to a successful plaza is that it must be used,
    and therefore it is helpful if it is located near to other activity.
     In that case, we have Travers Park.  But, in many ways, 37th Road is
    even more fortunate in its location, nestled between the busy 73rd and
    74th Streets, and the second busiest subway station in Queens.  It is,
    by far, the busiest pedestrian location in the entire neighborhood.

    There
    was a lot of doubt and skepticism when the Times Square plaza was
    established, but a recent article in the Times Real Estate section said
    that the end result has been to render the retail there some of the most
    valuable in the whole city. Regressing
    to the point of allowing motor vehicles back on the 180-foot stump of
    public space that was 37th Road, in this heavy pedestrian center, would
    make no sense.

    In
    summary, a lot of claims are being made with very little – or in some
    cases contrary – data in evidence.  Jackson Heights needs open space,
    and 37th Road is an excellent location for some of that open space.  To
    many of us, this is an experiment that is working.  But we suggest that
    whatever decision gets made be made on actual verifiable data, and not
    just on a lot of claims, however passionately or frequently stated.

    ###   

    The
    Jackson Heights Green Alliance is an entirely volunteer-run 501(c)3
    non-profit organization founded in 2007. Our mission is to expand,
    protect, and promote open space in Jackson Heights, New York. Our recent
    successful initiatives include the award-winning 78th Street Play
    Street and the Grow A Park campaign to expand Travers Park. For more
    information, visit our website: http://www.jhgreen.org

  • Fergus

    We residents of the area support the Plaza.  Now if we could only get better traffic enforcement to alleviate the double-parkers which kills traffic flow and causes severe, daily horn honking on 73rd Street.  One step at a time.   

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