SEE IT! Mayor Adams Visits 34th Avenue — But His Plans for ‘Gold Standard’ Open Street Remain Unclear
Hula hoop. Jump rope. The farmers market. Lots of happy people. Safe kids.
Mayor Adams made a surprise visit on Sunday to the 34th Avenue open street in Queens, a 1.5-mile stretch of Jackson Heights and Corona that the Department of Transportation has long considered its “gold standard” of the Covid-era open space program. But even as he played with kids of all ages, Hizzoner did not discuss the future of the roadway, which many locals (and electeds) hope will be turned into a linear park to make the space permanently car-free.
Council Member Shekar Krishnan — also a supporter of the linear park plan — openly lobbied Adams for the conversion from nasty road to neighborhood resource, and left feeling optimistic about the mayor’s commitment.
“He really got a sense of how great it is and how important it is to our community,” said Krishnan, who is chairman of the Council’s Parks Committee and led Adams on the tour. “I advocated for a linear park and how transformative it would be for our city. I reminded him that it’s not anything novel in other cities, but for us, we’re so far behind in how we create public space.”
That’s especially true in Krishnan’s district, which ranks 50th out of 51 council districts for public space per capita. Krishnan’s 25th District is 44 percent Hispanic and 42 percent Asian. The median household income of the neighborhood — $61,882 — is more than 14 percent lower than the citywide average.
“I take the mayor at his word that he is committed to expanding greenspace in our city in an equitable way, and I look forward to working with him to make 34th Avenue a linear park,” Krishnan added. “He really saw how 34th Avenue brings out the community, even on a cold day. He saw in powerful terms how we can use street space. And he seemed so open to it. He definitely saw how important it is to our community. You can tell how excited he was to be there. I know he shares our vision for equity on open space.”
Jim Burke, who oversees the massive volunteer effort that keeps 34th Avenue largely car-free (and safe!) from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, was on hand as Adams tried, but failed, to hula-hoop (the mayor was far better at jump rope).
“He really enjoyed interacting with both kids and adults on the open street,” said Burke. “I got the sense he liked the traffic-free environment and the workout/physical activities on the street. I just told him — as did everyone on the street — how much we love it.”
For his part, Adams didn’t say much except that he was happy to hear about the project from Krishnan.
“If the Council reaches out to me and says, ‘Eric, I want you to see what’s significant in my district,’ … that’s important to me,” he said. “I wanted to be out hear with him to let him know I hear him, I see him, and I need to learn from him about what’s important in his district.”
Clarence Eckerson Jr.’s video (above) shows that the mayor’s tour of the area started on 78th Street between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue, a street that was supposed to be turned into a park in its entirety, but was left partly as a roadway to appease a politically connected car dealer. Krishnan said he told Mayor Adams about the broken promise by the previous administration and is optimistic that the mayor understood.
In the end, there was nothing random about Adams’s seemingly random visit to the open street, or its timing.
Two weeks ago, City Hall was thrown into chaos when someone in the Adams administration — it remains unclear who — ordered the erasure of the equally popular open street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, only to have that order counteracted hours later by the mayor himself (at least according to him).
The DOT claimed there had been a “miscommunication” — but the agency didn’t say who did the initial communication nor how it was misunderstood and remedied. Mayor Adams said he ordered the open street restored when he found out about its removal.
The larger context of Adams’s visit includes Hizzoner’s own signature on a petition last year to turn the open street into a permanent “linear park.” The petition included an implicit critique of then-Mayor de Blasio’s plan to maintain the open street more or less how it is today, albeit with several “plaza blocks” that would bar cars entirely. Since taking office, Mayor Adams has not said what he intends to do with the de Blasio plan, though in visiting 34th Avenue on Sunday, Adams has gone where no mayor has gone before; not even de Blasio visited what his own agency called “the gold standard” of open streets.
Last week, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez visited the 34th Avenue open street — and was again on hand on Sunday.
The visit to 34th Avenue was not on the mayor’s official public schedule. Streetsblog asked City Hall why it was omitted, given the public politics around the ongoing open streets program, but we have yet to receive a response.
We also asked City Hall and DOT for information about why Adams had left out the conversion of 34th Avenue into a linear park from the DOT budget. Also omitted from the fiscal year 2023 plan was money for other Adams promises: bike superhighways, a public subsidy for Citi Bike, and expansion of the city’s composting system. We have not received an answer. But Transportation Alternatives noticed the omission of funding for Citi Bike, which candidate Adams supported last year as a way of expanding the system rapidly to neighborhoods that have been neglected by the Lyft-owned service.
“Using city funds to expand bike share is a key way to grow cycling and build a more equitable, healthy city. We hope over the coming months of budget negotiations that this will be a priority for the council and administration,” said Cory Epstein, the group’s spokesman.
DOT spokesman Vin Barone called the 34th Avenue open street “a true gem in this great program,” but dodged a question about whether the Adams administration would set aside money to make it a linear park, saying only that the 34th Avenue open street “has helped us reimagine miles of our streets as lively community spaces for neighborhoods in need.
“With new public funding, we’re excited to expand this program to more parts of the city,” Barone added.
City Hall also did not respond to other questions about Sunday’s visit. We will update this story if we hear back.
Getting stuff done all day everyday, and twice on Sunday #inQueens! @NYCMayor joined @voteshekar and @NYC_DOT Commissioner Rodriguez at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket this morning. #GetStuffDone pic.twitter.com/QcosKgxlRL
— NYC Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) February 20, 2022