A group of Jackson Heights residents claimed to be victims of the city’s war on cars.
open streets 26 buildings on 34th Avenue are closed to vehicles every day, and for more than 18 months.
Jackson Heights resident Kenneth Weiss, who spoke with an oxygen canister next to him and plastic tubes in his nose and hands, said the city’s eponymous initiative “may look good on paper, but it’s dangerous and dangerous for everyone” resting on a walking stick.
City officials counter that 34th Street has never been safer and more vibrant than it is today.
“This program has transformed an ordinary building in Queens into one of the most joyful and vibrant places in the entire city,” DOT spokesman Seth Stein told The Post. “The program is very popular, which is why the city council made it permanent earlier this year.”
But Weiss, 62, and other members of the group called 34 Open Streets Riders UnitedThe program, for example, puts lives at risk, limits access for first responders, and savages the possibility of living on their quiet street with brick, tree-lined apartment buildings.
“These things are putting my life at risk,” Weiss said, pointing to a gauntlet of makeshift bollards placed at the end of each 34th Street block from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard, about 1.5 miles away. Barriers allow traffic through the streets but prevent cars from accessing the wide east-west road.
Weiss said he twice ran out of oxygen returning from hospital visits as his rickshaw driver was forced in and out of the car to move rows of metal barriers used to block traffic.
“We all know that when there’s a fire, every second counts. How many seconds would it take firefighters to get out and move these barriers if they were racing into the fire?” said neighborhood activist Talia Wafka, 50.
“We are coordinating closely with emergency services to ensure access, and other vehicles can still arrive at intersections for pick-ups and drop-offs,” said Stein of the Department of Transportation, adding that safety has improved with accidents significantly reduced on 34th Street.
The city launched Open Streets in early 2020, eliminating car traffic for several hours each day on hundreds of roads in all five boroughs.
But Open Streets opponent Gloria Contreras, 52, said “all they did was make the traffic worse” on 34th Street, where cars that once used the road are forced to slide into side streets. More traffic, she said, means more noise, too, from honking horns.
The Jackson Heights group says the program was never intended to shut down residential streets like 34th Street, which has virtually no business, and that they would welcome Open Street on nearby 37th Avenue, which is lined with locally-owned shops and restaurants.
But rather than finding officials willing to listen to their concerns, opponents of Open Streets say they have been met with hostility.
The city recently expanded its 34th Avenue Open Streets closure from 12 hours to 13 hours a day, which opponents say was in response to their complaints.
Jackson Heights City Councilman Daniel Drum, an ardent supporter of Open Streets, recently ridiculed local opponents by sharing an editorial cartoon on their Facebook page.
“Noooo! This is the most terrible thing I have ever seen in my life,” said a man in the cartoon under the 34th Avenue sign, while the children were playing gleefully in the street.
“We’ve been belittled and rejected just to raise our concerns,” said activist Piper Josephine, 53.