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Car-Free Streets

Open-Street Killjoys in Jackson Heights Tried To Silence the Circus

An acrobat performed on Sunday at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Flatbed Follies on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Photo: 34th Avenue Open Street Coalition

Send in the clowns!

The same people who recently sought to deny kids their Fresh Air Fund play zones on the 34th Avenue open street also opposed a free circus that happened this weekend.

In a series of surly posts on the Facebook group “34OS Resisters United,” open-street opponents took aim at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, which brings its Flatbed Follies to neighborhoods with little arts programming and those hit hardest by COVID (which are usually one and the same). The free circus performed acrobatics, stilt walking, and other feats on (a slightly extended version of) the Jackson Heights, Queens, open street for two hours on Sunday — to the delight of hundreds of children and parents.

But that didn't stop the car-loving killjoys — these folks organized motorists to park illegally to foil a summer camp! — from fulminating against the free event. The naysayers also created hassles on Sunday by ignoring no parking signs, which required cars to be towed, said open-streets organizers.

"So do we have anyone that knows a lawyer? How can we stop these events?" wrote one poster, Gloria Contreras. (Contreras had "no comment" when Streetsblog reached out about the posts.)

Another, who signed himself "Rabid Rich," wrote, "I'll be listening and documenting!"

Documenting?

Kidding aside, the anti-open-street effort on 34th Avenue — often called the "gold standard" of the city's Open Streets program — represents the spearhead of a retrograde movement to grab back space for private car storage in some of the densest, most-COVID-smacked neighborhoods. Open-street leaders are campaigning to turn 34th Avenue into a permanent linear park and have gained support from many residents and local elected officials, which has prompted an ugly backlash.

A circus performer walked on stilts.
A circus performer walked on stilts.
A circus performer walked on stilts.

"I was incredulous to witness neighbors of mine attacking this unassailable program," wrote Jackson Heights dad Jacob White, whose daughter attended a Fresh Air Fund camp. "These neighbors seem to believe their private vehicles have more right to the public land than the people," he added.

The derisive tone of the anti-circus posts dismayed open-street volunteer leader Jim Burke.

It's "the usual 'why can’t we do it elsewhere' — anywhere but 34th Avenue!" he said. "It’s the same whether it’s distributing food, hosting children’s races, riding the avenue for family bike ride, Zumba, bike repair, teaching English ... Even when we clean, they suggest an alternate location. When we pick a completely new, different location, they lose their mind all over again! It’s always same script: outrage on behalf of others, not themselves.

"Meanwhile, 34th Avenue has never been quieter, cleaner or more safe," Burke continued. "It has free exercise and dance classes for all ages, ESL conversation club, food distribution, kids programming, gardening and clean up days — all free and open to all. Yet they scream, howl!"

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently remonstrated the renegade motorists associated with the open-street opponents.

“With all due respect to any neighborhood resident that wants their parking … I know the feeling, but an open street is an open street, it is the law, it is the approach that has been agreed upon by the city,” he told reporters in response to the play zone offensive. “You’re right — giving kids an opportunity in the summer to do something, that’s sacred. It’s just not acceptable for people to ignore those [no parking] rules.”

He added: "I think it’s very important … that we send the message to anyone who tries to violate those rules that it won’t be tolerated, because open streets have been a great success, and we need to defend that success.”

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