Thursday’s Headlines: ‘Visioning Session’ Without Vision Edition

The open street on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights is the most popular in town. File photo: Clarence Eckerson
The open street on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights is the most popular in town. File photo: Clarence Eckerson
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Why are we even debating this?

At the outset of last night’s “visioning session” to being the process of determining what will happen to the 34th Avenue open street, one Department of Transportation official called it a “sterling example of what an open street can be.” Another official called it “the gold standard.”

What followed, of course, was a massive outpouring of public support for the open space, which is closed to all but local car traffic between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. nightly — and has become the poster child (literally!) for how much better our city could be if we banish cars from some streets.

Not all streets, but many streets. Nonetheless, the two-and-a-half-hour session featured plenty of the standard griping by drivers, who claim all they want is a “compromise.” But that’s a bad framing mechanism: the DOT seems to be only considering minor tweaks (and, indeed, subtractions) to the open street, not conversion to a full linear park, completely off limits to cars forever. If that was the plan, the “compromise” would be to merely allow a tiny number of drivers to access the few garages on the street.

But drivers won’t be forced to accept that compromise because DOT’s plan (if there even is one beyond holding month’s worth of these sessions) appears to be simply the status quo (which is great, of course, but hardly a bold vision that addresses the existential threat of climate change).

Indeed, Jason Banrey of DOT said near the very end that the future of 34th Avenue will ultimately be “dictated” by traffic on surrounding streets rather than on creating more permanent open space in a neighborhood with some of the lowest amount per capita in the city. The traffic argument is more bad framing. Traffic is not something to be mitigated for the convenience of drivers. Drivers are the traffic. Reduce their existence and you reduce traffic — voila.

Car ownership is an addiction that must be broken through compassion and treatment. The first step is honesty, something car owners displayed little of last night (several complained, for example, that the car-free street is noisier and less safe than when it is filled with speeding cars — yes, that’s the extent to which this addiction twists the mind). Why the DOT keeps feeding this dependency, forcing the rest of us suffer from the damage of car owners’ destructive habit, is completely beyond us.

[Update: After initial publication of this story, the DOT press office sent over a rowback statement to clarify Banrey’s comment about traffic studies. Here is that statement in full, in the interest of transparency: “The specific comment you reference was addressing feedback that may lead to adjustments to Open Streets hours. In general, the traffic analysis we will be conducting will be one factor among many that will inform discussions about future design options for 34th Avenue as we review the feedback we receive from the community over the next several months.”]

In other news:

  • And here’s how drivers get when you try to give them a ticket! (NYDN)
  • Emissions from passenger cars have decreased by only 1 percent in New York since 2005, The City reports in a full assessment of Mayor de Blasio’s failure to truly get greenhouse gases under control. Friend of Streetsblog Ya-Ting Liu and Travis Eby were appalled.
  • In case you missed it, City & State readers don’t think 24-7 subway service will return next year. It’s an unscientific poll, but C&S readers tend to be the city’s media and political elite (meaning no one is going to stand up to the governor and demand the return of a real New York City subway).
  • The Post tried to scare everyone with its coverage of how the Verrazzano Bridge slightly “heaving” in the windy conditions on Monday, but this is no “Gallopin’ Gertie“!
  • The Times got underground and discovered an important, but obvious, point: Subway use is high in neighborhoods where struggling, working-class people still have to go to work every day, despite the danger of the pandemic. Now, can we get Gov. Cuomo to see that these workers need full overnight service, too?
  • The Paper of Record also looked into the mayor’s Open Streets: Retail program and pronounced it “a dud.” Wow, we’re loving the new tabloid takes from the Gray Lady!

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