UCCA Hears From Sanitation, Transportation Heads
"Tonight, we're going to talk trash, or as we call it, visual pollution," said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association (UCCA). She alluded to the fact that New York City Department of Sanitation (DOS) Commissioner John Doherty and Queens Borough Commissioner of Transportation Maura McCarthy were featured guest speakers at the UCCA April meeting last week.
Doherty said street cleaning throughout the city has shown improvement, although he was not yet satisfied. "We've come a long way," he said. "Is it where we want it to be? No."
City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. took issue with DOS enforcement, however. "I think I do disagree with our esteemed Commissioner on ticketing for gum wrappers on the sidewalk at 1 p.m.," he said. Although the City Council approved the sanitation enforcement policy, Vallone Jr. said it was left up to the mayor to decide the hours of enforcement.
"It was a mistake," said Vallone Jr., noting that 1 to 2 p.m. was an inappropriate time of day for residents. "The two times of the day [for Sanitation enforcement] should be the morning and in the evening when people come home from work," he said.
Doherty also said DOS has begun to enforce a law, passed by the City Council two years ago and introduced by Vallone Jr., that holds owners of residential buildings of six units or more liable for cleaning graffiti off their property. Residents of 1-, 2- and 3-family homes are exempt, as are commercial establishments.
"If you have graffiti on a piece of property you own, you can call 311 and request a waiver that will allow the city to come and clean it," Doherty said. "If, for some reason, you don't clean the graffiti yourself or don't opt to sign a waiver, you can get a summons." Doherty emphasized that enforcement applies only to residences of six units or more and cleaning service are provided to everyone, including commercial buildings and smaller residences.
Vallone Jr. said anyone in a six family residence or more who receives a summons can contact his office for assistance.
Concerning recycling, the city is pushing to reach a goal of 25 percent. "We really need to do more recycling," Doherty said. Currently, the rate stands at between 16 and 17 percent citywide. Within the area that is UCCA's home base, it is somewhat better at 19 percent. "We want to reduce the amount of waste we have to send to landfills," he said. Some residents expressed confusion over what is and what isn't recyclable. One man said he was fined $25 for putting plastic Chinese food cartons and a pill bottle out for pickup.
Although snowfall was not significant this year, Doherty acknowledged that his department suffered through "two miserable ice storms" in February and March. "They caused problems," he said.
"Why do snow plows have to go to the right all the time?" asked a resident, noting driveways on one side of the street are continually blocked.
"That's an issue on one-way streets," Doherty replied. "In order to get everything done quickly on two-way streets, we can't have snow pushed to the middle of streets. There's 6,000 miles of street and we've got to get them open as quickly as possible."
"I live on the right side of the street and I recycle the wrong stuff too," said Vallone Jr. "Astoria is a hardworking, tax-paying community. We don't demand much, just safe, clean streets."
Commissioner McCarthy said the Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved a long desired traffic light in the community at 21st Avenue and 81st Street. "We are thankful," said Poveromo. "However, for many, many, years we have requested a red light camera at 81st Street and Ditmars Boulevard."
McCarthy said approval of the traffic light at 21st Avenue was the result of a DOT review and that she has requested a red light camera be evaluated for 81st Street and Ditmars Boulevard. "We're seriously considering putting cameras in the area of your request," she said.
McCarthy also said that with the help of Vallone, DOT has obtained the temporary use of Department of Parks land under the Triborough Bridge to provide about 70 parking spaces to help alleviate the loss of parking from construction of the senior housing residence on the former municipal lot nearby. McCarthy said she did not have information concerning any plans to sell other municipal lots in the area because the city Economic Development Corporation handles that.
Concerning enforcement, McCarthy said that Queens DOT is implementing new truck signage. Calling enforcement of truck routes "intermittent", McCarthy said Queens DOT was working with the truck industry to educate truckers about new uniform signs. Inspector Brian McCarthy, commanding officer of the 114th Police Precinct, said violations issued to trucks doubled from 2005 to 2006.
DOT Commissioner McCarthy also said a new law absolves the city of any liability for sidewalk repairs in front of residences with four or more families. Property owners are solely at risk," she said.
Asked by the Gazette about a plan known as congestion pricing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly was to introduce during his radio program this past Sunday, Commissioner McCarthy said, "Whatever the mayor unveils, we are going to support."
The plan, as reported in the April 20 New York Daily News, could charge drivers of cars going into Manhattan below 86th Street as much as $8 during the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The charge would be offset by bridge or tunnel tolls paid. According to the Daily News, cameras similar to those used in red light enforcement would record cars that pass without paying. The fee could be charged in the same way as E-Z pass is now.
Former Long Island City Councilmember Walter McCaffrey, a spokesperson for the "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free Coalition", in the News report described the plan as a regressive tax for working people.