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Cars Get Police Protection at Rally for Full Travers Park Plan

10:34 AM EDT on May 12, 2019

Cars get protection during a 2019 rally on 78th Street to demand the city make good on its promise to fully pedestrianize the block. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Kids to cars: Boooooo!

Hundreds of Jackson Heights residents, and scores of children, angrily protested the continued use of 78th Street by a politically connected car dealership that has halted plans for a long-promised, block-long greenspace between 34th Avenue and deadly Northern Boulevard.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined local reps Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer and other elected officials on Saturday in condemning the dealership for appropriating space meant for a park — and for city agencies allowing it.

"It's inconceivable that this dealership, which has an entrance on 77th Street, by the way, gets police protection when children are supposed to be using that space," Dromm told Streetsblog after the rally. The council member added that he learned only on Wednesday that cops would be out in force to protect the dealership — and had told Dromm that protesters would be arrested if they interfered with the operation of the dealership by exercising their right to civil disobedience, as some had at an earlier rally.

"I couldn't believe it," Dromm said.

To this day, it remains unclear how Koeppel Mazda has been permitted by the Department of Transportation to use a curb cut on a block that had been set aside years ago as a park. The Parks Department has not returned calls from Streetsblog. The Department of Transportation has said it is seeking a compromise, but agency Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told Streetsblog last month that she believes Koeppel is exercising its legitimate property rights.

"I wish she hadn't said that because someone with the city clearly screwed up," said Dromm said, who said he may sue the city to force it to exercise its eminent domain power to simply seize the remaining portion of the block. He said he was reluctant to go that route because it would be timely.

"We just want the mayor to end this tomorrow," Dromm said. "If he really believes in Vision Zero, all he has to do is choose kids over cars."

Speaker Johnson took the same approach in his remarks at Saturday's rally.

"We believe that 78th Street should be car free," Johnson said, referring to the long-promised plan. "This mayor talks about Vision Zero, talks about doing the right thing for communities, but this has been a project has spanned over a decade and over $13 million has been invested in upgrading Travers Park and in pedestrianizing this street. So for Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Trottenberg and [Parks] Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver to go back on promises that were made to this community is unacceptable."

Corey Johnson added his voice to supporters of a pedestrianized 78th Street. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Corey Johnson added his voice to supporters of a pedestrianized 78th Street. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Corey Johnson added his voice to supporters of a pedestrianized 78th Street. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The rally came one day after Dromm excoriated Trottenberg at a Council hearing for failing to simply put the street off limits to cars, as initially promised. Trottenberg said the situation was "unique" because "the property changed hands" just as the city was finishing the project.

"We’re very sorry for the situation and understand your frustration. This is something that is being trying to worked out at the highest level,” she had said Friday.

Perhaps that's why residents were so stunned to see on Saturday that the northern end of 78th Street had been reconfigured to give cars their own barricade- and police-protected driveway into Koeppel Mazda.

"I couldn't believe that the NYPD was taking sides with the car dealership," Dromm said.

Koeppel Auto Group sent a statement to CBS2 saying it would accept a compromise that includes physical barriers to protect children but allows the dealership to still use the curb cut.

In the statement, Koeppel said it was a “victim.” The dealership claimed it was not aware of plans for the park when it finished construction of its dealership earlier this year.

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