Times Newsweekly: Rigs to be rerouted

(February 17, 2011)

Feburary 17, 2011

by Robert Pozarycki

Last Wednesday’s session in Maspeth also featured an explanation of the city’s new smoking ban at public parks and beaches as well as appeals by two Middle Village parents to bring a traffic control device to a busy intersection near a local public school.

Truck routes

Billed as the “first step” toward reducing the number of trucks traveling through the neighborhood, the board overwhelmingly recommended approval of a plan put forth by the city’s Department of Transportation

DOT) to change Grand Avenue from the Brooklyn/Queens border to the Long Island Expressway—and Flushing Avenue from the border to Grand Avenue—from through to local truck routes.

The switch of designation would limit truck traffic on both roadways to trucks making local deliveries. Rigs heading through the area to points in Brooklyn and Long Island would be diverted to other thoroughfares including those in industrial portions of Maspeth.

Prior to the advisory body’s vote, two local elected officials and a civic activist spoke in favor of the proposal during a public hearing on the matter— but also insisted that the DOT move forward with additional methods toward reducing truck traffic in the neighborhood.

“Everyone is aware of the problem that trucks cause in our community,” said Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. “I believe they do not belong on our local shopping strips. But in talking with Queens Borough Commissioner Maura Mc- Carthy, I told her that this is not the panacea we would like it to be.”

Markey noted that the DOT has been conducting an ongoing study of the Maspeth Bypass proposal, which would direct trucks away from local streets and into industrial sections of the community to and from the Long Island Expressway. The agency will unveil its findings at a public hearing in Maspeth on Wednesday night, Feb. 23 (see front page for details).

“For far too long, we have been burdened by these trucks that have been using our borough as a doormat,” added City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. “They’re putting pollution in our air, stopping traffic flow and hurting local businesses. This plan will help alleviate truck traffic ... [and] we need to make sure that the DOT moves quickly with the Maspeth Bypass plan.”

Local activist and business owner Tony Nunziato stated that he along with the late former Board 5 Chairperson, Frank Principe, helped to draft the bypass proposal nearly a decade ago. While he supported both the truck route change and the bypass plan, he questioned why the DOT hadn’t acted sooner.

“This really should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “I want the people of Maspeth to have a healthy and safe neighborhood. These trucks are destroying our quality of life. Let’s make sure we get what we deserve. Nine years is way too long to wait.”

Also speaking in favor of the truck route change was James O’Kane, past president of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, who observed that reducing the number of rigs on Grand and Flushing avenues would go a long way toward making the local air cleaner for everyone to breathe.

“The trucks are so large and they spew so much pollution,” O’Kane said. “That black smoke is all carbon. It stays in your lungs and it doesn’t do us any good.”

Opening next year in F.H.

With just three dissenting votes, the board recommended approval of a plan by the city’s Department of Education (DOE) to open the first class of Maspeth High School this September on the campus of the Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hills.

Maspeth High School’s campus at the corner of 57th Avenue and 74th Street remains under construction and is scheduled to open for the start of the 2012-13 school year. In the meantime, as previously reported, the DOE has proposed opening a freshmen class of 250 students this September at Queens Metropolitan, which opened last year and will have the space to accommodate both of its classes and Maspeth’s first class next year.

“Forest Hills is adamantly opposed to this for good and legitimate reasons,” said Patricia Grayson, chair of Board 5’s Education Committee, noting that parents have complained that the DOE has not fulfilled promises regarding the size of Queens Metropolitan’s student body as well as the number of security cameras and crossing guards on site.

Nevertheless, opening Maspeth High School in Forest Hills next year will allow for Maspeth to open at their permanent home in September 2012 with two classes and at 50 percent capacity, noted Dmytro Fedkowskyj, a member of Board 5 and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

One of the three opponents of the resolution, Robert Holden, argued that opening Maspeth High School’s campus with two classes would be a shock to the system for the neighborhood. Phasing the school’s opening one class at a time, as originally proposed by the DOE, would help soften the blow, he stated.

Anti-smoking law

Two members of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, an organization of various groups seeking the elimination of tobacco use around New York, got an earful from board members regarding the recently-passed smoking ban at city parks, beaches and public plazas.

Lisa Spitzner of the American Lung Association and Matt Rider of Asian-Americans for Equality stated that the bill—which was approved by the City Council and awaits Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature— aims to reduce second-hand exposure to non-smokers at each of the locations. Numerous medical studies, Spitzner told the board, have indicated that even the slightest exposure to second-hand smoke can trigger asthma attacks and lead to other short- and long-term health effects.

“Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death. Seventy-five hundred New Yorkers die every year, including 2,500 that are non-smokers,” she said. “Sixty percent of New Yorkers who are not smokers have a byproduct of tobacco use in their blood. We need to start doing something about it.”

After focusing on eliminating smoking at indoor premises such as restaurants and bars, Spitzner stated, the coalition lobbied for the city to ban tobacco use in public outdoor areas which are promoted as places for healthy activities. Allowing smoking to continue at parks and beaches, she observed, is “inconsistent with the messages the city promotes” about the locations.

But several board members argued that the ban goes too far and infringes on the rights of smokers.

“I think what you’re doing smacks of 1984 in the 21st century,” said Peter Comber, who noted that he quit smoking three decades ago. “You’re out in the open air. When people smoke, it blows away. You should allow people to kill themselves if that’s what they want to do.”

“It would have been better to have designated areas” of parks and beaches for smokers, added Brian Dooley, who chairs Board 5’s Environmental Committee. “It will drive people away from populated areas of parks and into wooded areas where they will toss away their cigarette butts. In a designated area, at least you can contain the waste.”

Asked about how the bill will be enforced if it becomes law, Rider noted that the Parks Enforcement Police would be responsible for issuing summonses to violators. Though the PEP staff is relatively small, he indicated that the coalition hopes that the regulation becomes a “social norm” inferred by parkgoers who encourage smokers not to light up.

Too dangerous to cross

Several near-misses involving speeding vehicles and children and parents near P.S./I.S. 49 in Middle Village have prompted two members of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association to seek a traffic control device at a nearby intersection.

Lillian Sheridan and Elizabeth McArdle called on the board to support the installation of an all-way stop sign at the corner of Penelope Avenue and 79th Street. Sheridan noted that a vehicle traveling through the intersection “clipped” her son and husband recently.

“Despite the growth of our school, no additional safety measures have been put into place,” McArdle added, noting that the school’s population is about 900 students since the campus expanded recently. “People treat Penelope Avenue like its NASCAR. It’s very dangerous.”

“Something’s going to happen there, and the blood will be on someone’s hands,” Sheridan added.

Council Member Crowley noted that she has sent letters to the DOT’s Queens Borough Commissioner Mc- Carthy requesting a traffic study for the intersection. Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri added that there are several proposals being considered by the Queens County Traffic Safety Committee as well as the DOT’s Queens office.

Counseling center move

Erutania Jorge of JNS Counseling informed the community board that the organization plans to open an outpatient, substance abuse counseling center at 919 Wyckoff Ave. in Ridgewood. The board had previously recommended approval of the center at 752 Onderdonk Ave. in Ridgewood, but according to Jorge, the organization opted to relocate due to problems at the original site.

The Wyckoff Avenue location is exactly the same size as the previous office and is close to several medical offices, she told the board. Though it is closer to the L train, the site is further away from Maspeth, one of many other Queens neighborhoods which Jorge stated the center intends to serve.

Board members raised concerns about the Wyckoff Avenue’s close proximity to several public schools, but Jorge noted that JNS would reach out to administrators at each institution. She also indicated that another counseling center unaffiliated with her group is currently in operation in the vicinity of 919 Wyckoff Ave.

Arcuri referred the matter to the board’s Health and Human Services Committee for further consideration.

Budget crunch

Local organizations seeking state or federal aid for their programs may need to turn to other sources for assistance, according to State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Evelyn Cruz, a spokesperson for Rep. Nydia Velázquez.

Addabbo noted that the state is considering a host of various budget cuts in order to close a projected $10 billion deficit. The executive budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo “is a starting point,” the senator said, but currently has in place a $600 million funding cut for New York City as well as no member items for the second consecutive year.

“We’re working to see if we can get some of that money back,” the senator told residents. On a brighter note, he stated that Cuomo’s budget does not include any proposed new taxes or fee increases.

Cruz informed the audience that the House of Representatives’ leadership, now in Republican control, has proposed $750 million in cutbacks, including no “earmarks” (discretionary funding). The result, she said, would have a devastating impact on various local groups which rely on earmarks for the programs.

“Between the city, state and federal government, all will be feeling hard times. Community organizations will face a great deal of difficulty,” Cruz added.

Things aren’t looking that much better in the city budget, according to Antonio Reynoso, chief-of-staff to City Council Member Diana Reyna. He indicated that the city has proposed reducing funding for future capital budgets by 20 percent due to an anticipated deficit.

Demolition notices

Arcuri announced that the community board has received demolition notices for the following locations: 56-66 and 56-68 Melvina Pl. in Maspeth and 58-48 77th Pl. in Middle Village. Board members were advised to keep a careful eye on work at these properties and to report any questionable activities immediately.