2015-05-13 / Features

CB 2 Meets, Announces Participatory Budget Results

By Thomas Cogan

Community Board 2’s May meeting was long, much of it being filled with three events:  first, a highly contentious session—how could it be otherwise?—with the board and a representative from Access-a-Ride; then, a presentation about new bicycle routes that was literally all over the map; and finally another presentation, of a new part of the riverside park at Hunters Point South.  It drew some disagreeable commentary, owing to an all-too time-honored method of picking someone to place artwork in the park.  Jason Banrey, representing City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, announced the results of the recent vote on the Participatory Budget and invited everyone to the groundbreaking for the Hunters Point Library. 

Kenneth Stuart, a public information officer for Access-a-Ride, a transport service that is part of the New York City Transit System and is designed to assist those who are not ordinarily able to travel about the city on trains or buses for such matters as getting to work or medical appointments.  The service is meant for persons of all ages, but its appeal to those of limited ambulatory ability means that inevitably it is mainly a service for the elderly.  It has come under criticism frequently for being unreliable fulfilling appointments or for taking its customers out of their way and leaving them late for arrival at their destinations.  Stuart knew he’d be facing such criticism.  He said that Access-a-Ride is 90 percent efficient but quickly added that that figure is not good, having lately declined from 95 percent.  He cited a time two years ago when one of its servicers under contract had to be dismissed for continuously bad performance.  He said even he has sometimes needed Access-a-Ride service and experienced some of its failings first hand.

Two strong voices were the first to reply to him.  Opening was Gert McDonald, a board retiree, who soon turns 99 years of age.  She had an account of enduring a vehicular odyssey that took hours, involved several pick-ups and ultimately rendered her journey futile.  The second, from Darnley Jones, emergency coordinator for the Department of Aging, was made from the back of the room at Sunnyside Community Services by a speaker who needed no microphone.  Jones said that his office and his personal acquaintance with Access-a-Ride, as someone who needs a walker to get around, have made him a specialist with it.  He said he has direct lines to its dispatchers and knows how to hold them accountable for sometimes handling riders’ needs and situations badly.  He called the company’s GPS (Global Positioning System) “antiquated,” though when he asked Stuart to explain the company’s routing schedule, Stuart’s complicated reply was comprehensible to him.  Jim Condes, a Woodside resident who excoriated Access-a-Ride at a board meeting months ago, said that drivers demand that riders strictly adhere to their instructions but seldom inform them anytime they, the drivers, might be delayed, despite having riders’ mobile phone numbers.  He said the voucher system the company used to use was good but the broker system that replaced it is deplorable. Stuart mused aloud that the company might consider returning to a voucher system.  Board Chairman Patrick O’Brien made an agreement with Stuart so that he would send the board an email going over several of the items he had covered at the meeting.

Jason Banrey of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s office began his list of announcements with the winners of the Participatory Budgeting vote for the 26th

District.  The leader was the Long Island City Bikeway project, which has been allotted $500,000.  Second was the Jacob Riis Settlement House senior van, $50,000, and in third place was the upgrade of five Queensbridge Houses playgrounds, also $500,000.  The councilman marked these other project for inclusion:  accessibility improvements for the Woodside and Sunnyside Libraries, $50,000 apiece; Woodside re-forestry, $200,000; and district-wide real-time passenger bus countdown clocks, $100,000.  Banrey said that the late April installation of traffic lights at the crossing of Skillman Avenue and 51st Street was actually an emotional event, local residents being so glad to have lights after requesting them for years.  Another thing for years in the waiting is the Hunters Point Library, groundbreaking for which is to occur Saturday, May 16 about noon at Center Boulevard and 48th Avenue, Banrey said.

While the Hunters Point Library has yet to be built, the Woodside Library has stood since 1934, though lately it has been open only five days a week and not on Saturday, despite being situated in a neighborhood full of schoolkids and others who might use it on that day as much as they do on days when it’s open.  Chris McKee of the library came to plead for Saturday service and to announce that a rally for it will be held Friday, June 5 at 5:00 p.m. at the library, 54-22 Skillman Avenue.

Matters of taste:  Taste of Sunnyside is to be held 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19 under the train viaduct at Queens Boulevard and 46th Street.  For tickets, email tasteofsunnyside.com.  The 10th annual Taste of LIC will be held Tuesday, June 2 at Gantry Plaza State Park on the East River, beginning at 6:30

p.m.  For tickets and information, call 718-482-7069 or check chocolatefactorytheater.org.

The first Sunnyside Post Mile/run/walk, benefiting the Coalition for the Homeless, will occur Sunday, May 31 at 10:00 a.m. at the starting line on 43rd Street between Skillman and Barnett Avenues.  Registration and information:  bit.do/sunnysidepostmile or email leonorwhite@hotmail.com.

A Department of Transportation team led by Inbar Kishoni came to talk about phasing in bicycle lanes, calling it Phase II of the Long Island City plan since it builds on last year’s mapping of bicycle routes on LIC streets.  Kishoni showed several maps of areas from Astoria to Newtown Creek, commenting on the density of bike traffic and the interaction between it and motor vehicle traffic.  In the old industrial district of Long Island City the interaction can be perilous, and Kishani even said it entailed “points of conflict” on Borden and Review Avenues and near Long Island Expressway exit and entrance ramps.  What she called clear lane markings have been laid down there, but some board members looking at the slide show were doubtful.  Sheila Lewandowski called the picture “problematic” and didn’t believe she could vote for the plan.  Kishoni said the routing of the old industrial district was not up for a vote that night.  The transportation committee’s Denise Keehan-Smith said the bike routes in the residential parts were acceptable but in the old industrial district were not.  Within these limits the Phase II map plan was passed.

The Economic Development Corporation team reporting on the next phase of the Hunters Point South Waterfront Park was led by Michael Koontz, an architect with the firm of Thomas Balsey Associates.  The first phase was opened in 2013 to widespread praise and with this phase Koontz said they would be “reclaiming the past,” producing what he called a linear park that should look natural and pre-developmental.  With its completion in 2018 the entire park is expected to reveal all its glory.  The linear park is not expected to require much maintenance, even of its artwork.  The proposed artwork seemed impressive when described by its designer, but it led to trouble. 

The designer, Nobuho Nagasawa, said the artwork, to be set amidst the greenery of the linear park, is a series of discs representing the phases of the moon.  The moon, she said, reflects sunlight and so do her discs.  Board Vice Chairman Steve Cooper, who also heads the arts and cultural affairs committee, might have liked the artwork but certainly didn’t like the process that gave Nagasawa, a professor in the art department at SUNY Stony Brook, her artistic commission.  She was selected by Suzanne Randolph, curator of the HPS park.  Such designs are under the aegis of the city’s Public Design Commission.  Cooper said that it was a decision made from on high with never any consideration for local artists from, say, Long Island City or Sunnyside, where they abound.  His opinion of the locals may not be high—“they’re all terrible”—but he believes the PDC’s unwillingness to look at any of them is objectionable.  As for the EDC, Lisa Ann Deller of the land use committee said it has not shown its face anywhere locally that she could see it since 2009.  The hour grew late, no decisions had to be made, so the EDC contingent departed, to return in time to come, according to Deller.


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