DOT’s McCarthy Outlines Pulaski Bridge Improvements
By Thomas Cogan
At the March meeting of Community Board 2, Maura McCarthy, Queens Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, made a presentation about how DOT means to improve conditions for pedestrians on Jackson Avenue at the Pulaski Bridge. She was seeking approval of the plan, saying that if it could be gained, DOT would be ready to proceed, and safe pedestrian crosswalks could be completed in a few weeks. The Department of City Planning’s Penny Lee had a presentation also, concerning zoning text changes to take effect on Queens Plaza and Court Square and in Hunters Point. Yet another presentation, by Philip Glotzer, head of AIDS Council of Queens County, was concerned with a drop-in center for the homeless, on 11th Street in Long Island City. Another hotel case came up, this time for a 12-story structure proposed to be erected in the Queens Plaza area. There was further dispute over parking on Skillman Avenue, and other items were also brought up.
The Pulaski Bridge spans Newtown Creek. On the Long Island City side, the bridge descends to a convergence of Jackson Avenue and 11th Street. At a point exactly where the bridge ends, there are stoplights and a place for pedestrians to cross. The crossing seems to have been built with the thought that few if any persons would really be crazy enough to make the attempt. If only because the area is growing residentially (evidence: three apartment houses under construction or near completion on either side of the bridge exit), many now do. Sometimes they get across the exit lane only to reach the middle as the light changes and the Jackson Avenue traffic rushes the entrance lane with NASCAR speed, leaving the band of pedestrians huddled at the divider between lanes. (Or vice-versa: they cross the entrance lane, etc.) DOT is proposing an improved crossing that would entail closing a right-turn ramp on the exit lane that allows egress to 49th Avenue. On the Jackson Avenue service road, just around the corner from 49th Avenue, seven parking spaces would be eliminated, but on 49th Avenue, which would now run one-way into the service road, angle parking would be established on the discontinued right lane. That, McCarthy said, would recover five of those seven lost parking spaces. The pedestrian crossing would somehow be broadened and made a less harrowing venture across both lanes of the bridge.
After some squabbling about two lost parking spaces and suggestions about expanding the bicycle lane on the bridge, a motion to approve the plan was passed by a wide margin. The way seems clear for reconstruction and improvement of the pedestrian crossing at the Pulaski Bridge.
Penny Lee of the DCP explained the text changes for Queens Plaza, Court Square and Hunters Point, where large building programs are still projected. First, in the Queens Plaza subdistrict, buildings on Jackson Avenue could have their street walls set back five feet from the street line if planters are installed. Planters, and plants therein, are seen as lessening the harshness of what DCP calls “the streetscape environment”. Then, in the Court Square subdistrict, where the two Citibank buildings stand, street wall setbacks could be provided so the Department of Environmental Protection would have access to a sewer line being relocated because of subway line alterations; and, in two of the subdistrict blocks, setbacks would allow new construction to be consistent with the development on surrounding blocks. Then, in the Hunters Point subdistrict, street wall requirements would be instituted to provide uniformity of buildings. Finally, the requirement long imposed on Citibank to improve access to the 45th Road elevated station could now be fulfilled in the form of entrance/exits on the 44th Drive end of the station, with stairways on each corner and with automated gates and no toll booths. The motion to accept the zoning text changes was approved.
Not approved—in fact, disapproved vehemently—was the plan for construction of a hotel at 42-59 Crescent St. Todd Dale, an attorney for the builder, explained a Board of Standards and Appeals application made by the builder, who was making an appeal to erect a building containing 99 hotel rooms, a significant increase from the original 56; and this, according to the application, is “contrary to bulk regulations”. Dale said his client’s building has “special needs”, being pentagonal in shape. The Board 2 land use committee was not impressed with a plan that would nearly double the original number of rooms, and the rest of the board showed its agreement with a unanimous vote to turn the application down.
As head of ACQC, Philip Glotzer appeared before the board in the past to promote lessening the risk of AIDS and hepatitis through clean needle distribution to drug addicts. At the March meeting he was present to talk about a drop-in center for the homeless, to stand at 44-61A 11th St. It is to be a day center, open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., after which transportation to shelters would be provided for those who needed it. There would be buses that could carry clients “theoretically to all parts of Queens”, Glotzer said. As for the day center, it would have a physician on premises three days a week, plus mental health facilities, recreational activities and possibly showers.
He ran into skepticism, expressed in particular by Barbara Coleman of the board, who figured that most of the day center’s patrons would be persons recently released from Riker’s Island, most of them with some degree of mental instability. Glotzer conceded the possibility that many would be from Riker’s and several would be in need of a mental therapy program, which, he said, could be provided for four hours a week. Coleman found that wretchedly inadequate. Board Chairman Joseph Conley headed off the possibility of a long exchange between them, saying that Glotzer merely wanted to introduce the idea of such a center, and that was all the time the meeting had for it.
The issue of precious parking spaces on Skillman Avenue continued, with Luke Adams of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce showing up to promote angle parking as a way to secure more spaces yet also provide open spaces at street corners that would give “daylighting” to both drivers and pedestrians. The owner of Aubergine, a restaurant on Skillman and 50th Street, was more concerned with the immediate problem of loss of spaces, owing to the efforts of the pedestrians’ group, Save Skillman. If only two spaces were lost, he said, local businesses would realize significant setbacks in patrons’ traffic.
In making his report, Conley acknowledged the closing of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals. He said he and others are in constant contact with the mayor’s office to see what sort of health care program or facility could be added to the Board 2 district, which was critically short of hospital facilities before the recent closings.
Alyssa Bonilla, the new head of Sunnyside Shines, the Sunnyside Business Improvement District (BID), introduced herself and said Sunnyside will be part of the Department of Transportation’s street closing program this summer, when 46th Street by the Arch at Queens Boulevard will be closed for all five weekends in August.
Arthur Cronson of Con Edison explained why the manholes at 40th Street and Skillman Avenue were smoking on a snowy Monday, March 2: salt, used to melt ice, was in the water that dripped on electric wires. It ate through the protective covering on the wires and catalyzed combustion.