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34th Avenue Open Street

Mayor Won’t Commit to Bold Plan for 34th Avenue that <b>All</b> His Would-Be Successors Support

11:00 AM EDT on June 16, 2021

All these mayoral hopefuls (from left, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang) have signed the petition calling for a linear park on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights. (Art Chang has also signed.)

The stall continues.

Mayor de Blasio said he ultimately didn't care that the likely next mayor of the city of New York has committed to building a linear park on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, saying that his Department of Transportation would come up with some plan for the permanent open street, and his successor could abandon it to do something more bold if he or she wants.

Under questioning from Streetsblog on Tuesday — one day after we reported that mayoral frontrunner Eric Adams had joined Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang, Art Chang, Maya Wiley and Scott Stringer as signers of a petition to turn the so-called "gold standard open street" into a permanent 1.3-mile linear park — de Blasio refused to commit to go as far as his all-but-certain successor wants.

"We continue to look at this issue," "Hizzoner said, referring to the DOT's announcement that it would release a design this fall or winter. "We haven't been ready to take the step [towards a linear park], and we're continuing to look at it."

But de Blasio suggested that he has not given the green light to his DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman to go big as he prepares to go home.

"And, look, there'll be another administration in here in a little over six months, so, I don't think we're talking about a big change either way," he said. "If my administration ultimately decides to move forward on it, that's great. If we don't think it's the right time yet, and a new mayor is ready to, they'll be able to do that soon. But I give you points for persistence."

It is not Streetsblog's persistence, of course, but the efforts of a group of supporters of open streets who agree with the mayor that his COVID-era open space program was a success, specifically on 34th Avenue, where thousands of residents are enjoying car-free space from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. A small group of vocal opponents are seeking to undermine the program by demanding reduced hours, days and length — or the complete elimination — of the open street, which currently runs between Junction Boulevard and 69th Street in a neighborhood with among the least greenspace in the city.

In addition to the mayoral front-runners, the linear park earned the support of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards; the neighborhood’s Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas and Council Member Danny Dromm; one of the candidates to succeed that Council member (Shekar Krishnan); and many every day residents — all of whom have penned op-eds for Streetsblog.

The administration's failure to put forth a bold plan even in the face of clear neighborhood backing and overarching need is not a surprise to activists, who have long become numb to the mayor's Vision Zero blindspot around anything that can be construed as restricting driving. The mayor has certainly overruled community boards on issues such as protected bike lanes, but he has also repeatedly disempowered and undermined his own DOT when a tiny minority of neighborhood residents have protested, say, the removal of parking, as he did with the long-stalled bike lane project on Queens Boulevard.

"I don't blame DOT for the long timeline; the good people there are certainly not going to move any faster without the expressed support of mayor," said Doug Gordon, the "War on Cars" podcast co-host and Brooklyn Spoke blogger. "Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has spent zero of his last eight years in office empowering DOT with the budget and backing to move faster as far as community outreach is concerned."

Gordon complained that de Blasio should have "come around to issues of open space and people-centric streets much earlier in his two terms in office." If he had, he could have given DOT "the tools to simply 'go for it' across the five boroughs."

Instead, the agency gets bogged down convincing local communities to accept the successes that other neighborhoods are already enjoying. Indeed, during the 34th Avenue debate, whenever DOT officials tout a popular program from any other neighborhood, they get shouted down by a so-called "compromise" group that can not seem to fathom that one neighborhood's experience is actually applicable to improvements that could be made in another neighborhood.

Gordon said de Blasio's could have left behind "a high-quality, legacy-defining project befitting his original campaign promise to end the 'tale of two cities,'" — one that will be left to the next mayor.

And it's not as if the next mayor hasn't cottoned to that; all of the leading candidates have signed onto Transportation Alternatives' proposal to repurpose 25 percent of the public street space allocated to cars for better public use. That plan, however, remains vague on the details (like, how does the city get to 25 percent if it can't even take a popular open street and keep it permanently closed to cars?). For now, the group's Executive Director Danny Harris told Streetsblog that the linear park "visionary [and] much-needed."

The news that Mayor de Blasio is not ready to move ahead quickly on the linear park proposal will certainly cheer opponents of street safety and greenspace, though certainly uncomfortably; opponents of the linear park have spent months complaining of de Blasio's open streets program and his supposed "war on cars," but now the target of their ire appears to be there last chance to delay progress and enable the pollution and driving that leads to climate change.

New Yorkers of all races and income levels tell pollsters that their lives are better when car traffic is reduced around them. For instance, in a recent survey commissioned by Streetsblog from the respected polling firm Data for Progress, we learned the following:

    • 67 percent of voters said the city was right to close some roadways to traffic to create space for restaurants and people. The support was strong across the board:
      • 66 percent of voters making less than $50,000 and 67 percent of voters making more than $150,000 agreed.
      • 64 percent of Latino voters agreed (versus only 23 percent who didn’t)
      • The support was also strong in all age groups.
    • 72 percent of voters say they prefer “livable streets that prioritize people’s needs and their safety.”
      • The number rose to 77 percent among Black or African-American voters.
      • And 72 percent of voters support livable streets in all income levels.

People say they feel safer on car-free streets (which makes sense because crashes have fallen by 80 percent in the hours when the open street barricades are up, limiting through traffic).

Poll: Data for Progress
Poll: Data for Progress
Poll: Data for Progress

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