BY JAMES FARRELL
City Hall is providing additional funding to improve the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway and Cunningham Park, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a town hall alongside city agencies at Martin Van Buren High School on Nov. 2.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), who hosted the town hall with de Blasio, previously secured $1.25 million to repave and rehabilitate the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, a bike path that hadn’t seen upgrades in 20 years. The mayor announced an additional $4 million investment.
“He needs a lot more money, it turns out,” de Blasio said.
The city will also direct $4.3 million to fund upgrades to the Redwood Playground in Cunningham Park. Improvements would include new basketball courts and exercise equipment.
“It’s been more than 30 years since there’s been an upgrade to the Redwood Playground at Cunningham Park,” de Blasio said.
The officials did not immediately provide any timeline on the projects.
De Blasio provided updates to other projects in Grodenchik’s district: He vowed to repave 100 miles of roads between now and June, and at least three new Select Bus Service routes are on the horizon in the district.
“We will need your help to plan the routes with community leaders to make sure we get it right,” he said.
De Blasio also promised that Martin Van Buren High School and the Business Technology Early College High School would have air conditioning in every classroom before the end of next year.
The mayor’s appearance in eastern Queens comes as the community wrestles over divisive bike lanes, particularly one along Northern Boulevard between the Douglaston Parkway and 223rd Street. Proponents say that the lanes keep cyclists and pedestrians safe, while opponents blame them for several accidents and increased traffic.
Attendees at the town hall approached de Blasio from both sides of the issue. He stood firm on the value of such bike lanes—a key tool in his Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities in New York City—but didn’t rule out making adjustments.
“I believe we’re philosophically in the right place and I believe we have to try them all over the city, but I also always listen because, sometimes, if it doesn’t work, we can make an adjustment,” de Blasio said.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that she would visit Northern Boulevard and another site along Cunningham Park—near the Windsor Oaks Co-Op—that is also being scrutinized by attendees. Trottenberg noted that the bike lane is still in the process of being installed and that, with new projects, “it takes a little while for the patterns to adjust.”
Several accused de Blasio of dragging his feet on backing efforts to overhaul the property tax system—a concern for northeast Queens residents, and particularly co-op owners, who have long argued that the current system overburdens them.
De Blasio acknowledged that the property tax system “is a mess all across the board,” but that reforms must come from a combination of his office, the City Council and the state legislature. He vowed to “put those pieces together,” but cautioned it could take a few years.
“When the smoke clears, the revenue levels have to be overall roughly the same,” he said. “I know you’d like 2,000 more officers on patrol, and I imagine you like kids getting pre-K, and all that costs money.”
Asked to support a bill that would cap property tax assessments on co-ops as a form of temporary relief, de Blasio said that he was hesitant. Moving forward with relief for one class of taxpayers would be unfair to other struggling groups, he argued.
When asked about the city’s use of hotels as homeless shelters, de Blasio reaffirmed the city’s commitment to halt the practice and find more permanent solutions.
“We do not believe in the long-term use of the hotels as they’re being done now,” he said. “Everything we’re going to do, bluntly, will take five to seven years at least, but the goal is, over that time frame, to get out of hotels entirely and not go back.”
He said that the city is attempting to learn the needs of each community to handle its own homeless population, and touted initiatives to keep people in their homes—including free legal services for tenants facing eviction and rent freezes for seniors.
Regarding public safety, de Blasio said that he was “very aware” of issues that Queens Village residents have faced with patients from the local Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. NYPD Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, commanding officer of the 105th Precinct, said that the precinct holds meetings once a quarter with residents, Creedmoor management and other stakeholders to discuss the issues.
Grodenchik had a recent meeting with civic leaders regarding the issue, and the group intends to meet with Creedmoor’s executive director.
“The problem has cropped up over the last few months, and if it cropped up over a few months, I believe that we can take care of it quickly,” he said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.