Jackson Heights parents mad at play street nix

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Travers Park community activists were angry and frustrated this week after Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee recently voted not to support their proposed summer play-street application, and at least a few plan to make their voices heard at this week’s community board meeting.

The Jackson Heights Green Alliance earlier this year applied to turn the 78th Street block between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue into a 24-hour play street from July through August for perhaps the most park-deprived neighborhood in New York City, according to city officials.

Although the Transportation Committee members voted not to support the measure, the district community board, which was scheduled to meet this Thursday at IS 227 at 32-02 Junction Blvd., ultimately will decide whether or not to recommend the measure to the City Council and the city Department of Transportation.

Play-street supporter Dudley Stewart, 38, who has participated in the initiative since it began two years ago, lives near the park with his wife and two small children.

“Most of the people involved in the initiative got into it because we have kids,” he said. “We’re really limited to one crummish ´╗┐playground, which is extremely overcrowded. We started looking into ways of increasing the park space in the neighborhood. This was one of the more creative and logical ways we found.”

Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Sunnyside) said the final decision on the matter rests with Council and the DOT. Although he has not yet decided on this particular matter, the councilman said he supports the neighborhood’s play-street effort.

“A big part of the reason I won [November’s election] was because I campaigned on providing more open space for the community and also acquiring additional school seats,” he said. “We have a lot of new young families coming into the area. I think a big concern for them is where are their children going to play and where are they going to go to school?”

Len Maniace is chairman of the Friends of Travers Park, a division of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, which works to create more open space in the community. He said the neighborhood’s previous play-street initiative only took place Sundays during the summer and that this year they hoped to try it seven days a week for a two-month period, which is routine in other neighborhoods.

Transportation Committee Chairman Stephen Kulhanek did not return calls for comment, but Maniace said he has heard opposition to the play-street initiative.

“People have raised a bunch of random issues,” he said. “Some people are concerned it will slow down emergency response time .... They’re worried about kids collecting near the apartment building. The park is across the street and kids don’t collect there now. They don’t do it.”

FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer could not comment on whether or not emergency response time could be affected in this instance, but said the department works closely with the DOT and other city agencies to ensure the safety of all neighborhoods.

“If there is talk about making a change to traffic patterns, we’ll work to make sure safety is not compromised,” he said.

Maniace said this deals with an important issue for neighborhoods like Jackson Heights.

“For God’s sake, much of Times Square is closed for pedestrians,” he said. “It’s just so hard to believe that these guys are so worried about partially closing one block relatively one side of a commercial street.”

Reach Reporter Chauncey Alcorn by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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