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78th St. to become Sunday ‘play street’

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Jackson Heights pedestrians will get a little more breathing space on Sundays this summer and fall after Community Board 3 voted to close off 78th Street to vehicle traffic.

The play street initiative was spearheaded by JHGreen, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and the Western Jackson Heights Alliance, civic groups that hope to bring the nearby green market and recreation activities to the street on weekends.

Ilena Madison, one of the organizers, complained that the current Greenmarket space on 34th Avenue is crammed with baby strollers and needs to expand.

The street will be closed between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue on Sundays from until the third week of November when the Greenmarket closes. Organizers hope to start the closings by the first weekend of July.

Advocates contend that Jackson Heights has precious little park space, and 78th Street is adjacent to the much-used Travers Park.

Dorothy Phelan, a Democratic district leader who has helped refurbish Travers Park, said in April that Jackson Heights ranks 50th out of 51 communities in the city in terms of park space.

Board member Arturo Sanchez, an urban planning professor at Cornell University, praised the proposal.

"This is good," he said. "It's about livable spaces for family, about giving reference to people over automobiles, getting people involved in the community."

Will Sweeney, the Western Jackson Heights Alliance founder, compared the proposal to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement that 6.9 miles of Manhattan road from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street would be closed to vehicles this summer.

Members of CB 3 were generally supportive of the movement, voting 28-3 in favor.

Some questions remained about what group would assume liability for the street closing, but Deputy Inspector John Lavelle, the 115th Precinct commander, offered his support.

"We'll work with the community whatever way they want to go on this," he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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