BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) tackled everything from public transportation to safety during a town hall last week in Long Island City aimed at addressing the concerns of Queens residents.
The gymnasium of Queens Vocational and Technical High School was filled with residents and the presidents, chancellors and commissioners of numerous city agencies.
Although one of the biggest borough concerns regarded overcrowding on public transportation, de Blasio and Van Bramer reiterated that the state—and not the city—controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“We know that, with so many people, there is the fundamental question of ‘how do we get around?’” de Blasio said. “We have to do a lot more in City Hall and we also have to push Albany because Albany controls the MTA.”
However, the mayor said that the city, for the first time in a decade, would have citywide ferry service, which—at $2.75—will cost the same as riding the train or bus.
Melissa Orlando, executive director of Access Queens, questioned what the city is doing for Queens residents who need to travel back and forth between Manhattan, given the overdevelopment in Long Island City that has resulted in the overcapacity on E, N and 7 trains.
De Blasio said that the “real-world answers” to the public transportation issue are ferry service, increased bus service and select bus service.
An employee at LaGuardia Community College who referred to herself as Helen raised safety concerns regarding an intersection at Van Dam Street, Thomson Avenue and Queens Boulevard. She referenced the death of a high school student at the intersection in 2013 in an accident that injured three additional students.
De Blasio said that he and the DOT are aware of the intersection and would fund $17 million in safety measures on Thomson Avenue.
Hunters Point resident Evan O’Neil also requested safety street measures for his neighborhood.
“This is a growing area, so a lot is happening in terms of traffic due to population and development,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “When we look at where to put in signals and signs, we use engineering tests to make sure we are going to put them in places where we are actually going to make it safer. Sometimes when those don’t work, we’ll [add] enhanced crosswalks or speed bumps or other things. But we also want to keep coming back because we do recognize that this neighborhood is changing.”
Amadeo Plaza, president of the Court Square Civic Association, asked if public space, such as Court Square, is being preserved during the rezoning of Long Island City. He said that he was also concerned about affordability and livability.
“We understand the value of public space,” de Blasio said. “There’s always a way to achieve that in rezoning. Resources come into a neighborhood through rezoning that would never come any other time. It’s a chance to figure out what we need to fix, what we need to address and to get a whole lot of money to do it. If [open space] is a central concern of the rezoning, then there’s a real opportunity to attach real dollars.”
One senior in the audience raised the issue of improving Access-A-Ride in the borough.
“They treat the people with disrespect by telling them to be outside five minutes before pick-up time and allow the driver 30 minutes for traffic—and also do not call you upon arrival,” he said. “They also expect you to be outside regardless of your condition.”
After de Blasio agreed that the system wasn’t working, the senior mentioned that the mayor had allocated $2 million to the MTA in 2015 and should be able to provide specific details on how the money was being used.
“We don’t run Access-A-Ride, but we think we can fix it,” de Blasio said.
Trottenberg then discussed ideas for a new Access-A-Ride system that she said would bear similarity to Uber, allowing riders to track their drivers.
Several other residents at the town hall posed questions regarding initiatives to help women and homeless shelters. A young attendee named Hailey—from the all-homeless Girl Scout Troop 6000—asked the mayor about his plans to “advocate for girls in New York City.”
De Blasio said that when he set up his administration, he ensured that a significant number of leadership positions on his staff were filled by women.
One resident named Candice, who currently lives in the Metro Motel, which was converted into a homeless shelter, held up her hand for nearly two hours before finally being called upon.
“We have no housing specialist,” Candice said. “I am a Section 8 recipient and I’ve been on Section 8 for two years with a voucher and I’ve been at the shelter for two years and I am stuck there. I am not getting the proper help that I need and that’s my issue.”
Candice, who held up her two-bedroom voucher, said that she has had no one to help her learn how to use her voucher.
“We will work with you and if you’ve encountered any landlords who did not work with you. We are going to stand with you and address who those landlords are because they are required to take a Section 8 federal voucher,” said Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks.
Banks added that the city’s current shelter system is projected to change and that approximately 360 shelters, including commercial hotels and clusters, would be closed and replaced by 90 dedicated shelters.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org