Opponents of the 34th Avenue Open Streets program in Jackson Heights are not giving up in their efforts to transform their block back to what it was before being blocked off to most vehicle traffic.
The 34OS Resisters United group organized a march called “Operation Take Back 34th Avenue” on Saturday, chanting “Tear down the barricades” and “Open 34th.”
“We created the resistance group because we realized that there is no compromising and that the Department of Transportation nor the 34th Coalition were willing to compromise,” said one of the organizers, who goes by the pseudonym Piper Josephine due to the fierceness of the controversy, referring to the 34th Ave Open Streets Coalition.
The resisters’ group said it is in partnership with the Jackson Heights Co-op Alliance, Inc. and the 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group that formed last May in response to the program. The compromise group, however, said it is not affiliated with the resisters, something the organizer known as Josephine later acknowledged.
Their requests include moving the Open Streets program to the busy commercial corridor of 37th Avenue.
Approximately 40 people gathered to march down 37th, past Councilman Daniel Dromm’s (D-Jackson Heights) office and the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition office and then down 34th Avenue. Participants included City Council District 25 candidates Yi Chen and Suraj Jaswal.
“Blocking a street should be the last option to create a park, not the first,” Jaswal said in a statement. “How come City Council can’t find a place to build a real, secure park?” he said.
Gloria Contreras, another organizer for the resisters’ group, was motivated to take a stand after her daughter almost got hit by a bicyclist. “Luckily, my daughter did not get hit but I’m passionate about this because of that incident,” she said.
Sherif Sadek is a father and bikes to work but feels that the Open Streets program is dangerous for pedestrians.
“It created a situation where you’re putting bikes and pedestrians on the same road,” he said.
Sadek would still like to see some compromise made and for their side of the issue to be heard.
“In the beginning of lockdown, it made a lot of sense,” he said. “But we still woke up one morning and it was happening and no one told us about it. There was no discussion.”
Carlos Cortes is the president of Section 4 of the Southridge Cooperatives in Jackson Heights. He has been fighting for compromise since May, working “different angles” and through Community Board 3 and the Department of Transportation.
“We want our neighborhood to function for all of us,” said Cortes.
But Open Streets remains ensconsed.
In an emailed statement, Seth Stein, a spokeperson for the DOT, said, “These protestors are welcome to make the case about why they are opposed to increased access to open space, enhanced safety for hundreds of students in the six nearby schools, as well as community centered activities. Open Streets, especially 34th Ave in Queens, are an overwhelmingly popular and now permanent fixture of our streetscape for good reason.”
He added, “We always aim to ensure our Open Streets are accessible, and are open to improvements that make that possible.”
This article was updated to note that Piper Josephine is a pseudonym after the Chronicle learned that fact, and also to state that the 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise group is not in partnership with 34OS Resisters United.