De Blasio to 34th Avenue Open Streets Opponents: Stop Parking in Children’s Play Areas!

What part of "No parking" don't some residents of Jackson Heights understand? Photo: Streetsblog
What part of "No parking" don't some residents of Jackson Heights understand? Photo: Streetsblog

Kids, not cars!

Mayor de Blasio ordered the immediate towing of a dozen or so cars left illegally in Fresh Air Fund play zones on the 34th Avenue open street because the behavior of drivers is selfish, illegal and “not acceptable.”

Responding to a question from Streetsblog about the two Fresh Air Fund zones on what the city calls its “gold standard” open street, the mayor went on the attack against open space opponents who — encouraged by Council candidate Yi Chen — have flagrantly disobeyed “No parking” signs to allow kids to play.

“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 said, before referring back to our question. “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.”

The mayor promised that “today” he would “get enforcement going in that area.”

“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.”

The towing indeed began on Tuesday afternoon.

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It’s good we asked, apparently, because on Monday and Tuesday morning, the police department had ignored multiple 311 calls complaining about the illegal parking in a city-permitted child play zone, the NYPD has repeatedly closed the cases without action (as you can see from one of several complaint logs below):

The NYPD claimed no action was necessary, but cars were still parked illegally.
The NYPD claimed no action was necessary, but cars were still parked illegally.

And residents of the block said the offending vehicles were not moved as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, meaning that children are having their play area reduced due to so residents’ desire to store their private property in the public roadway.

The mayoral comments come after a weekend of complaints from opponents of the 34th Avenue open street, who apparently have started to notice the “No parking” signs go up at the two Fresh Air Fund play zones (between 73rd and 74th streets and between 93rd and 94th streets). In a series of inflammatory posts on the Facebook group “34OS Resisters United,” Chen, who recently lost the Democratic Party primary for City Council to open streets advocate Shekar Krishnan, claimed the “No parking” signs were fabrications and should be ignored by residents:

Some comments by Council candidate Yi Chen. Names of people who have not sought public office have been obscured by Streetsblog.
Some recent Facebook comments by Council candidate Yi Chen. Names of people who have not sought public office have been obscured by Streetsblog.

Other residents even questioned why the city would permit the Fresh Air Fund — a venerable New York institution that has been providing vital summer recreation for low-income kids since 1877 — to create play areas out of car parking in the first place. Some snarked on the Fresh Air Fund’s plans, demanding that the agency relocate its play area to the already crowded Travers Park — which is the neighborhood’s only public greenspace (and a small one at that, which explains why Jackson Heights and Corona have among the lowest amount of park space in the city).

Some people may think the “No parking” signs are forgeries, but they are, in fact, not.

“Fresh Air Fund has all of the necessary open streets and Street Activity Permit Office permits,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Zumhagen “When the camp is in effect, no parking is permitted on the blocks they are on.” (Chen, whose campaign website has no contact information, did not immediately respond to a Twitter direct message from Streetsblog.)

The fight over a dozen or so parking spots is just the latest flashpoint between opponents of the safe, car-free open street in Jackson Heights and Corona and the hundreds of volunteers who maintain and protect the open street from thru traffic. Earlier this week, members of the City Cleanup Corps — a post-COVID initiative to hire unemployed people to give the city a sprucing up — were deployed to 34th Avenue. Even though that deployment came, in part, because opponents of the open street had complained of an increase in trash commensurate with the increase in people enjoying the roadway, many opponents of the open street questioned why the CCC workers had been dispatched at all. In the opponents’ private Facebook page, some questioned whether the workers were being deployed in a pernicious effort by the city to bolster the open street rather than in an effort to address their original concern about trash.

And also last week, open street volunteer leader Jim Burke posted a letter from the DOT on a public Jackson Heights Facebook page showing that the agency supports Burke’s group’s positioning of barricades in a manner that prevents drivers from easily slipping past the barricades to access the roadway. According to the DOT letter, the barricades are supposed to be placed inside the crosswalk, not, as opponents have argued, on the cross street side of the crosswalk so that drivers can enter easily.

When the letter was posted publicly, several opponents derided it as a forgery. Others boasted that they always moved the barricades to the driver-friendly position whenever they can. Zumhagen said that the DOT would make it clear to open street opponents that such behavior will not be tolerated.

“Emails to the group 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise have been explicit in stating that they are not to move the barricades and that they are placed correctly [when inside the crosswalk],” he said. “We are meeting with the group [and] will again reiterate the above to the Compromise group during this meeting.”

Of late, members of the so-called “Compromise” group, many of whom have private gardens, have been increasingly clear that their definition of compromise is to see the open street fully returned to cars again, despite thousands of residents enjoying the new stretch of public space between Junction Boulevard and 69th Street. And supporters of the conversion of the open street into a permanent “linear park” have gathered thousands of signatures on their petition.

Both sides are waiting for the DOT to reveal its plan for a permanent design — whether it is a full plaza treatment or a truncated open street. The DOT is expected to return to the local community board in the fall. Presumptive mayor, Eric Adams, has said he supports turning 34th Avenue into a linear park.

It’s important to note that Krishnan soundly defeated Chen in the portion of the district abutting the 34th Avenue open street. In preliminary results posted by the Board of Elections, Chen dominated the southern portion of the 25th Council district — the area furthest from the open street, where residents have not benefited from its success — while Krishnan won virtually every election district that directly borders the open street, an indication that supporting open streets is a successful campaign strategy among voters whose lives are directly affected by an open street (see graphic below):

Yi Chen's voters (blue) were concentrated farthest from the open street, while Shekar Krishnan's (yellow) were along the open street, which he supported.
Yi Chen’s voters (blue) were concentrated farthest from the open street, while Shekar Krishnan’s (yellow) were along the open street, which he supported. Carolyn Tran’s supporters (green) were also largely in the area of the open street.

Streetsblog’s voluminous coverage of the 34th Avenue open street is archived here.