Fixes and changes to BQE finally announced

After years of discussion and studies, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finally announced a comprehensive plan to repair and modify the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
The four-part plan is particularly focused on reducing truck traffic and pollution, and is designed to preserve and improve elevated sections of the roadway for at least another 20 years.
“We have the technology, the ideas, and the expertise to save the BQE, and we’re excited to execute this plan, but that’s just the start,” de Blasio said in a statement last week. “New York City can do more than patch up a highway in need of repair, we can use this opportunity to rethink how people, goods, and services move around our city.”
Calls for a new BQE master plan have been in circulation for decades now. In 2019, a group of politicians led by Comptroller Scott Stringer penned an open letter to the Mayor demanding more action on the issue.
“Today’s announcement to scale back the BQE, as I have long advocated, is a positive first step toward ending the harmful legacy of this roadway and finally creating the flexibility and space to comprehensively reimagine a pedestrian-friendly transit and infrastructure network for the future,” said Comptroller Scott Stringer.
In early 2020, the city organized a special panel to research potential solutions, during which transportation experts suggested measures to lessen the weight of vehicles, specifically trucks, travelling on the BQE.
The panel focused primarily on preserving crumbling sections in Downtown Brooklyn and South Brooklyn.
The mayor’s announcement last week finally made these suggestions a reality. Starting this year, the city will implement “weigh-in-motion” technology that will monitor the weight of trucks travelling on the decaying expressway.
Additionally, the NYPD will increase weight enforcement to further protect vulnerable sections of the BQE cantilever.
On a specifically problematic half-mile of road between Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge, DOT plans on shifting lane markers down from three to two in both directions to alleviate weight. Work on these lane changes will commence on August 30.
Along the entire stretch of the BQE, the DOT will implement new water filtration systems to avoid further water damage.
In addition to changes on the BQE itself, the mayor urged the city to invest in alternative forms of freight transportation to lessen the burden placed on the elevated roadway. De Blasio has instructed city agencies to research supply chain solutions, including incentivised off-hour deliveries, freight consolidation, rail and boat transportation, and cargo bike deliveries.
For longtime advocates of a BQE redesign, last week’s news was cause for celebration.
“Extending the useful life of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, while ensuring the safety of drivers and passengers of vehicles that use the roadway, will allow time for the city, state, and federal governments to develop a long-term approach to this critical route that reflects New York’s evolving transportation needs and better serves the communities along the BQE corridor,” said State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, who has been pushing for BQE renovations for close to a decade.
The Cobble Hill Association has pushed for changes to the roadway for years, thanks in part to memories of the area’s partial destruction in the mid-20th century to make way for the roadway. Neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn were torn asunder to facilitate the construction of the BQE, displacing large numbers of Norwegian and Italian immigrants in Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, and beyond.
“Across the nation, the destructive effects of urban highways are being recognized and addressed,” a spokesperson from the Cobble Hill Association said. “The transformation of the BQE, one of New York City’s most decrepit and polluting transportation corridors, is of critical importance to the future of our city.
“The planning to reverse the negative environmental, economic, and public health impacts of the BQE must begin now, and we will hold the city to its commitment to move forward immediately,” they added. “The mayor’s announcement is an important step in the right direction.”

City’s precincts host National Night Out events

The 76 police precincts in New York City celebrated National Night Out Against Crime on August 3. The nationwide program is meant to help police departments forge relationships with the communities they serve.
Sixteen precincts in Queens organized events in parks and public spaces throughout the borough, including an event in Sunnyside’s Lou Lodati Park organized by the 108th Precinct.
“This is a great way to show our care for the community,” said Colin Hicks, a volunteer from the Queens District Attorney’s office. “I think [Queens District Attorney] Melinda Katz says it really well. She doesn’t want your first interaction with her to be when you are in trouble.”
“It’s nice for everyone to see the police officers,” said Joanna Carbona, a volunteer with the 108th Precinct. “Officers also give out their numbers so people can access them more easily. Not all of the information is online, so it’s easier to just grab numbers right now.”
Maspeth and Middle Village Councilman Robert Holden attended multiple Night Out events in Queens. He spoke about the importance of police work and community engagement.
“This is very important, now more than ever with crime on the rise,” Holden said. “It’s good to remind people that police are a partner to the community.”
Precincts in Northern Brooklyn also held events, including a Night Out Against Crime in Domino Park organized by the 90th Precinct.

New hospital head seeks to reveal hidden gem

Long Island Jewish (LIG) Forest Hills recently announced that Queens native Lorraine Chambers Lewis has taken the reins as the hospital’s new executive director, a position she says she will leverage to provide quality care to the diverse community while growing the hospital’s profile.
A local hospital that has over the past year become well known for its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s ravaging effects on the community, Chambers Lewis said her current priority is getting the word out to the community that the hospital has a plethora of other services.
“In terms of our vision in what we would like to do and continue to grow is our presence in the community,” she said. “For folks to really see us as that go-to place when they need acute care, but also addressing their chronic needs.
“We’re building our ambulatory presence in the area, and we really want folks to understand what we do here,” Chambers Lewis continued. “I think there are still so many folks who don’t understand the gem that is here in Forest Hills. We have a lot going on that we’re excited about.”
As a leader, Chambers Lewis brings decades of experience in a diverse variety of roles, many of which saw her serving on the front lines of healthcare, having worked in emergency medicine, critical care, internal medicine and occupational health.
Her first role in healthcare started as a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility when she was 18 years old, followed by work as an emergency medical technician on a college campus in an ambulance.
From there she became a physician’s assistant, a role she served in for 28 years.
In 2002, she became a supervising physician assistant for LIG Medical Center, where she oversaw the daily operations of the hospital’s emergency department fast track, before becoming a corporate director of Northwell Health’s Employee Health Services in 2007.
In that role, she helped develop and launch a COVID-19 employee vaccination program that has immunized more than 50,000 staff members, as well as Northwell’s first injury management and prevention program for employee safety.
Chambers Lewis said that having this diversity of experience, including working as a frontline and emergency healthcare worker, has given her a unique perspective on healthcare work, which enables her to view a patient’s perspective with a wider lens.
“I think that in my clinical career, I’ve had the honor of being a part of these different environments that give me a full 360 degree view to the experiences that the patient goes through,” she said.
In her new role, Chambers Lewis succeeds Susan Browning, who led the Queens hospital since 2015, but is now taking on the role of senior vice president of Business Development for Northwell Health.
“Our community has been a strong advocate and partner in all that we have thus accomplished at LIJ Forest Hills,” Browning said. “As we continue to move our many initiatives forward, including the broad expansion of our ambulatory network, this partnership will remain critically important.”
Touching on some of the challenges that she faced as the hospital’s administrative head, Browning noted that “LIJ Forest Hills serves the most diverse patient population in arguably the entire country.
“Add to it that the demographics of Queens is constantly changing and you can imagine the challenge of trying to meet the health care needs of patients coming into our hospital,” she added.
The community’s diverse population is an aspect that Chambers Lewis has a particular sense of connection with. A first-generation American born to Jamaican parents, Chambers Lewis said that she understands the trials that people can face when dealing with health issues in an unfamiliar environment.
“We prioritize being sensitive to what people are feeling and the differences in how everyone addresses healthcare or addresses pain, what they communicate, what they don’t communicate,” she said.
Serving the community is a nearly equally diverse workforce according to Chambers Lewis, which she believes is equal to the task of meeting those challenges.
“We speak hundreds of languages, from every corner of the world there is someone who works here,” she said. “Having a diverse workforce puts us in a really great position to meet the needs of the community best.”
While there are many priorities Chambers Lewis has set for her hospital, tackling the coronavirus pandemic that is seeing a resurgence remains at the top of the list.
After more than a year of hard-earned experience, however, she is convinced that her team is more than up to the task of doing so.
“This community was hit very, very hard and the team here had to learn and adapt in a time where there was no vaccine,” Chambers Lewis said. “We didn’t know where this was going, how contagious it was and the treatment has evolved so much.
“The team feels much more prepared and I think that’s what’s changed,” she added of potentially facing a second wave of COVID. “Even if something changes again, we know how to pivot. We won’t get caught off guard.”
Chambers Lewis said prioritizing the mental wellbeing of staff members is also a priority for her team.
“We have to prioritize and make sure that we are taking care of our team members,” she said. “We are going to get a better outcome and it is going to be better for them.”
COVID is still a top priority at the moment, but Chambers Lewis stresses that there are still other health issues that residents need to prioritize and encourages people avoid using the pandemic as an excuse to not tackle other needs.
“I worry about advanced illness and advanced diseases not being diagnosed, not being addressed,” she said. “We want to make sure that people know there are still things to take care of other than COVID.”
Chambers Lewis can often be seen roaming the halls of her new hospital, saying hello to patients and getting to know her staff members. She can also be spotted at various local events around the area.
“In Queens, I think it’s really important to be a part of the community, for people to see you,” she said. “I would like to learn more about this part of Queens. I think there’s always an opportunity to learn more, so I may ask a lot of questions sometimes and hopefully folks will see value in that.”

Two lives ruined at a speed of 92 m.p.h.

This week, a young man’s life was needlessly destroyed. The 29-year-old man, a resident of Ozone Park, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three to ten years in prison.
The sentence was just and could have been (and should have been) much harsher. But nonetheless, his life has been destroyed by the decisions he made on July 25, 2019.
Even in the future, when he has finally finished his sentence, he will need to live with the memories and knowledge of how he took another human being’s life in a colossal act of stupidity.
He may have destroyed and thrown away his own life, but he is not the victim in this story. That tragic honor belongs to Sivananaintha Perumal, a resident of Woodhaven who was on his way to work at Dunkin’ Donuts in Howard Beach when his life was taken away.
Mr. Perumal was crossing Woodhaven Boulevard at 91st Avenue at 5 a.m. to wait for a bus when he was struck by a car that had been clocked traveling 92 miles per hour. The details of the collision are gruesome and heartbreaking.
The driver struck the man so hard — warning, it’s hard to read this — that he dismembered parts of his body. The front of his car was smashed.
Life is a series of choices. Sometimes we make bad choices and, hopefully, we do a course-correction and make a good choice to balance it out. But this young man made a bad choice followed up by another bad choice followed up by another.
He decided to speed on Woodhaven Boulevard. He struck a man and did not stop. And then he said nothing for two weeks until the police found and arrested him.
And just like that, this young man’s life was needlessly destroyed. I say needlessly because what was this young man trying to accomplish by speeding on Woodhaven Boulevard?
He took Sivananaintha Perumal’s life for nothing. And he will have many long nights behind bars to live with the memories of that night echoing in his head.
If you’re out really late or up very early, you’ll see a lot of speeding cars on Woodhaven Boulevard. Maybe not so many topping 90 miles per hour, but you’ll see more than a few cars cruising past the speed limit.
And for what? To beat the next light? To get where you’re going two minutes faster?
If you’re the kind of person who likes to speed, congratulations for reading this far. I know you think this would never happen to you, or you justify it by saying that you only do it when the road is empty.
Or you might convince yourself that you’re just too gifted a driver to ever let that happen.
The young man behind bars for killing Sivananaintha Perumal once thought the same thing.
Then he made a series of bad choices and his life is in ruins, his freedom gone. Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t throw your life away.
Shortly after Mr. Perumal was killed, close to two-dozen residents joined the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association holding homemade signs with simple messages laong Woodhaven Boulevard.
One asked drivers to slow down. Another reminded drivers that a man was killed at this spot by a car going 92 miles per hour. Some drivers acknowledged the message with a wave and a smile. Others, believe it or not, were not so friendly.
After reading the signs while sitting at a red light, some drivers sped off at the first sign of green, exerting a little extra “oomph” on the gas pedal as they drove away.
Seriously, what kind of person sees a sign that a man was killed by a speeding car at that very spot, and then speeds off to make some sort of point?
When it was announced back in May that the speed limit on Woodhaven Boulevard was being reduced from 30 to 25 miles per hour, I read several complaints about this online.
Perhaps one of those speeding drivers or online complainers can explain their need to speed to the family of Sivananaintha Perumal.

JetBlue to remain in LIC

New York City-based airline JetBlue announced that they will renew the lease at their Long Island City headquarters, which was set to expire in 2023.
The announcement confirms that the airline will remain in the Big Apple, despite rumors that the company would move a bulk of its office jobs to a facility in Florida. JetBlue’s headquarters at 27-01 Queens Plaza employs approximately 2,000 people.
“JetBlue is a valuable corporate partner here in Queens, and I am overjoyed they will keep their headquarters in Long Island City,” said Borough President Donovan Richards. “By remaining here in Queens, our borough is connected to one of the world’s largest airlines and entrusted with thousands of jobs that will surely revitalize our economy.”
JetBlue, like all airlines, was skating on thin ice after the COVID-19 pandemic grounded flights. JetBlue received a whopping $935 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act last year to keep the company operational.
Despite these setbacks, the airline is still undertaking a number of large projects. JetBlue is moving ahead with a $2 billion plan to renovate Terminal 6 at JFK Airport.
The renovation is also a top priority of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and is expected to receive upwards of $294 million under the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure plan currently under consideration in the Senate.
“JetBlue’s decision to recommit to Queens is a welcome one for our borough’s entire business community, as we forge ahead together in the wake of the pandemic,” said Queens Chamb er CEO Thomas Grech. “JetBlue has long been known as New York’s ‘hometown airline,’ and we are thrilled that they intend to keep it that way, assuring jobs will remain in Queens and providing a special boost to the Long Island City economy.”

Residents rally against Kew Gardens prison

Opponents of a plan to buid a new jail news to Borough Hall in Kew Gardens protested near the site last week.
This jail is part of a plan to replace Rikers Island Prison with four smaller jails in every borough but Staten Island.
Rikers Island has a notorious reputation of overpopulation and abuse. Stories of corrupt officers and inhumane treatment of inmates compelled Mayor Bill de Blasio to introduce a plan that would close the city’s largest prison.
According to the original 2018 plan, Rikers Island is supposed to close by 2027. Replace the complex are the four jails, which will cost $8.7 billion.
The project was delayed in October of 2020, and now with de Blasio ending his term as mayor, the path forward is becoming increasingly unclear.
Many Queens residents were displeased with the plan even before it was approved, mainly because the jail would be near businesses, homes, and schools.
“It’s not safe because all the kids walk to school,” said Yan Ling, a Middle Village resident and parent. “We already have ten homeless centers in this area. They already harass young kids, imagine you have more inmates here.”
Residents fear the prisons will result in more criminals on the streets.
“Skyscraper jails don’t work,” said Councilman Robert Holden of the current design. “How do you evacuate the population in case of a fire or some other problem? And can you offer enough space to actually have a gym or recreational space?”
Holden argued the jails at Rikers Island should be restored instead of building new ones.
“Instead of closing Rikers, how about rebuilding Rikers?” he said. “Make it a state-of-the-art correctional facility with a mental health facility. And how about a court on the island to actually speed up some of the hearings?”

Grand Avenue Freeze-Out

The BStreetband performed the songs of Bruce Springsteeen at the parking lot of Maspeth Federal Savings at Grand Avenue and 69th Street last week.
“They were really good,” said Kathleen Connell. “I felt like I was actually at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Their saxophone player would have made Clarence Clemons proud.”
The BStreetBand debuted as Backstreets in 1980 in Asbury Park before an audience of over 2,000 Boss fans.
Nearly 6,000 performances later, they still thit the stage, playing over 175 shows per year throughout the country.
Maspeth Federal’s upcoming “Movies Under the Star” program include Guardians of the Galaxy on August 18 and a drive-in movie night featuring The Little Mermaid on August 25. That performance requires registration beforehand.

Redistricting Commission holds hearings in Queens, Brooklyn

To coordinate such a huge task, the New York Independent Redistricting Commission is holding a series of hearings throughout the state to gather input.
The redistricting process traditionally happens every ten years after the Census count, and has long been subject to the whims of partisan policymakers. This has resulted in oddly shaped districts that divide communities, gerrymandered to favor the candidates of a political party.
However, a referendum was passed by New York State voters in 2014 that created a new Independent Redistricting Commission to replace the partisan process. Composed of five Democrats and five Republicans, the commission will take into account the information gathered from hearings and propose new districts that, in theory, will be less politically motivated.
The commission is expected to propose new district maps before the end of the month.
The commission recently held hearings in Queens and Brooklyn. Lasting multiple hours, the hearings were attended by a large number of New Yorkers who highlighted gerrymandered, problematic, and ineffective districting throughout the boroughs.

The Queens hearing received input from residents from Astoria to the Rockaways, however a few areas were mentioned multiple times because of their clearly poor district maps.
The districts that include Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, and other nearby neighborhoods received the most attention for the way the district lines divide communities.
Speakers discussed the ways that Asian, Black, Indian, and Latinx communities are particularly disenfranchised by the current district maps.
“The area from the Van Wyck Expressway all the way down to Nassau County is not just a road, it is the spine of a community,” explained John P. Albert, who testified at the hearing on behalf of the nonprofit organization Taking Our Seat. “It is home to a significant Indian American population that is split among three assembly districts.”
Maria Calfer, a Taiwanese immigrant and mother from Forest Hills, echoed a similar sentiment.
“There is a very active and vibrant civic community in Central Queens, but my neighbors and I have found it hard and at times disenfranchising to engage in politics,” she said. “We are represented by four different state senators, but only one of them has an office in central Queens.”
After the hearing, some Muslim residents expressed anger that the hearing was held during Eid al-Adha, a major holiday that lasts multiple days. The commission will continue to accept testimony from residents online through the middle of August.

Like Queens, the Brooklyn hearing featured testimony from residents throughout the borough but clearly highlighted a few key areas.
Primarily, residents spoke of the need to change districts in the southern half of Brooklyn, an area that at points even shares representation with Staten Island across the Narrows.
For example, the neighborhood of Sunset Park is currently divided among four different state senate districts, dividing the area’s growing Asian population and preventing them from having a cohesive voice in government.
L. Joy Williams, a representative from the Brooklyn branch of the NAACP, explained how similarly poor districting affects Black communities throughout the borough, particularly in and around Flatbush.
“The communities of African descent are diverse in Brooklyn, but well connected,” she said. “Our districts should reflect that.”
Residents testifying during the Brooklyn hearing directly called out partisan gerrymandering as the root of the problem, pointing to obtuse maps that were intended to favor Republican candidates.
“There is a pro-Republican bias in the New York Senate map, especially in Brooklyn,” said Martin Asher, an attorney testifying during the hearing. “This is clear partisan gerrymandering that does not benefit residents.”
State Senator Andrew Gounardes, who represents an oddly drawn southern Brooklyn district that includes parts of Bay Ridge, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach and Flatbush, offered his own comments separate from the hearing.
“With the population density of Brooklyn being what it is, there’s no reason why my district would extend from the Narrows waterfront all the way to Flatbush Avenue, but cut out about half the population that lives in between that span,” he said.

DOT, NYPD celebrate Queens Blvd. bike lane

Representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT), NYPD, and local government officials gathered Thursday at the intersection of Yellowstone Avenue and Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills to celebrate the installation of a new protected bike lane.
The infrastructure project is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ongoing Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Known locally as the Boulevard of Death, Queens Boulevard has a storied reputation for fatal traffic accidents. The new bike lane is separated from traffic by plastic pylons. Work is ongoing.
In addition to the bike lane, the Queens Boulevard redesign is adding new loading zones and parking spaces along nearby Ascan Avenue and Austin Street in the hopes of easing congestion on the arterial boulevard.
“By combining strong, targeted enforcement with the kind of bold engineering changes that have led to a dramatic drop in fatalities and injuries on Queens Boulevard, we’re protecting cyclists and promoting the sustainable mobility that’s an essential part of New York City’s recovery,” explained Kim Wiley-Schwartz, assistant commissioner of Education and Outreach at DOT.
Thursday’s event in Forest hills also coincided with the beginning of a month-long free helmet giveaway sponsored by DOT. Free helmet fittings will be available during select times at parks throughout the city, includingThomas Green Park in North Brooklyn.
In New York State, helmets are required for all cyclists under the age of 14.
The Forest Hills event also turned its attention to the question of traffic law enforcement, particularly as it pertains to electric scooters. The proliferation of e-bikes and electric scooters has been an issue throughout the city with scooters, many of which are unlicensed, travelling at speeds over 40 miles per hour in bike lanes.
Electric scooters are not permitted in bike lanes, and unlicensed scooters are illegal to operate anywhere in the city.
NYPD officials at the event detailed strategies to combat these issues, including the implementation of more traffic enforcement agents and traffic safety personnel throughout the city.
Additionally, DOT and NYPD are working together to circulate literature that enumerate the differences between bikes and electric scooters.
“Ensuring the safety of cyclists within New York City is at the foundation of the NYPD’s Vision Zero program”, said Chief of Transportation Kim Royster. “As the city continues to reopen, the NYPD will be continuing our bicycle safety citywide initiative aimed at protecting cyclists and pedestrians.
“Education and enforcement action will continue to be aimed at drivers that make the choice to block lanes and fail to yield to our most vulnerable road users,” Royster added.
So far, there have been fewer bike fatalities year to date in 2021 compared to 2020, with ten and 18 fatalities respectively. With the mayor’s office pursuing the goal of 30 miles of new bike lanes citywide by the end of the year, Vision Zero advocates are hopeful that those statistics will continue to decrease.
However, concerns remain regarding how the installation of bike lanes, particularly protected bikes lanes that occupy a full lane of traffic, will affect car traffic, buses, loading zones, and parking.
In Forest Hills, residents have raised concerns about the additional burden the Queens Boulevard renovation project will place on already busy nearby streets.

Guest rooms joins gaming rooms at RWNYC

Resorts World New York City (RWNYC) has officially opened the Hyatt Regency JFK, a new 400-room hotel located next to the casino.
The eight-story hotel features restaurants, fitness center, and conference space next to Aqueduct Racetrack.
Dave Fuego, a spokesperson from Resorts World and the emcee of Friday’s event, spoke about the casino’s long road to opening during the pandemic.
“In just over a year, we were able to transform this lot into what you see before you today,” said Dave Fuego of RWNYC at a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. “New York is not coming back, New York is back.”
Genting American East president Bob DeSalvio, who oversees operation in Queens and as well as a casino in the Catskills, highlighted the 10th anniversary of RWNYC and the recent opening of a new casino in Las Vegas earlier this ummer.
“There is no better way to celebrate Resorts World’s 10th anniversary than with the opening of this world-class hotel,” he said. “While the hotel has always been part of our vision, today’s ribbon cutting takes on additional significance as we celebrate the Queens community and do our part to move New York forward.”
Borough President Donovan Richards said the new jobs – the hotel is expected to create over 1,000 of them – and other opportunities will help the Queens economy recover from the pandemic.
“Queens is back in business,” Richards said, “and what better way to bounce back from the pandemic than bringing new jobs. We are not just looking to get back to normal, but to something better than normal.
“We are not just talking about jobs, we are talking about good jobs that offer people upwards mobility,” he added. “Manhattan is a thing of the past, come spend your money in Queens.”
State Seantor Joseph Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, guaranteed that Resorts World will get a full gaming license from the state to loud applause.
“Resorts World is not just a symbol, they are in the weeds of the community,” Addabbo said. “They are at the street festivals and all the local parades.”

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