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Morning Spew

Tuesdays Are for NYPD and DSNY Employees Riffing on the Horrors of Open Streets

An officer comes out forcefully against the 34th Avenue Open Street, and other links to start your cloudy Tuesday.

Costumed marchers at the Jackson Heights Halloween Parade. (Hell Gate)

For more than two years now, residents in Jackson Heights have enjoyed a changed 34th Avenue—1.2 miles with fewer cars during daylight hours, safer streets for kids getting out of school, and cross-cultural programming. Recently, three pedestrian-only zones have been built to operate 24/7, as the City’s Department of Transportation has embraced what looks to be one of the only survivors of the City's once much more robust Open Streets program. 

Not everyone is a fan. A small but loud group of anti-Open Streets activists have held marches, disrupted press conferences and community meetings, and tried to get the DOT to remove "Paseo Park," as the small stretch of 34th Avenue has been named. The anti-Open Streets group, which is calling itself the Jackson Heights Co-Op Association (not to be confused with the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, which has supported Paseo Park), argues that the Open Street harms people with accessibility issues, and slows down emergency response times. 

One flaw in their logic: None of the streets are actually closed to traffic. Each has easily removable barriers to allow emergency vehicles to pass, or cars to pick up the elderly or people with disabilities. Parking remains plentiful along the stretch as well—only a few spots were removed.

In fact, the DOT recently pointed out that the 34th Avenue Open Street has led to a 41.7 percent drop in crashes along the stretch, and created a safer environment on surrounding streets. There have been no public reports or any findings that the Open Street has negatively affected emergency response time. 

So who would amplify bogus claims from anti-public space advocates? Give the NYPD and the DSNY the mic.

"To be completely honest with you and you may all agree, this is the worst I've ever seen this area," NYPD Officer Kevin Lawrence told a group of people calling itself 34th Avenue CLOSED STREETS. "It's impossible." 

Lawrence, the neighborhood coordination officer from the nearby 115th Precinct, was speaking at a rally for the group in late September, according to a video posted to YouTube last week, and added that City agencies have had trouble responding to emergencies because of the Open Street, and that generally it has made the area less safe. 

Not to be outdone, a DSNY outreach worker told the group that collecting garbage in the area is now "impossible" because of the Open Street.  

"From an operational standpoint, we are having trouble as well," the worker said, to applause. "This doesn't work."

A DSNY spokesperson quickly walked back their employee's statements. 

"DSNY was under the impression it would be a town hall meeting, not a rally or advocacy event," the spokesperson told Hell Gate. "I want to apologize for any lack of clarity. We are fully on board with DOT's plans and would never, ever want to state otherwise."

The NYPD told Hell Gate that Officer Lawrence was invited to speak at "a town hall meeting held by the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance on Thursday, September 29, 2022. The officer answered several questions from community members regarding quality-of-life matters, traffic conditions and crime."

The police department did not answer any questions about whether Officer Lawrence was violating the NYPD's own patrol guide for uniformed officers which bars them "while on duty or in uniform, endorsing political candidates or publicly expressing personal views and opinions concerning the merits of…any public policy matter."

We bumped into Officer Lawrence at the Jackson Heights Halloween Parade on Monday, but he told us he didn't want to comment. "Nope," he said, and turned his back. 

Hell Gate reached out to City Hall for comment, and we'll update if we hear back. 

A brief links round-up to start your day: 

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