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Concrete-less Jungle: medians to get green makeover

The concrete slabs that divide Hillside Avenue in Queens Village will soon be replaced with several new green drainage spaces, better protecting the eastern Queens neighborhood from flooding.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent Sapienza says the seven new greenspaces along Hillside Avenue will capture millions of gallons of stormwater, reducing local flooding and overflows of the sewer system.
In September, an overflowed sewer system was a main culprit behind the damage sustained during Hurricane Ida.
“Pavement is not our friend,” said Sapienza outside Martin Van Buren High School last week. “We want to try and get as many permeable surfaces in the city as we can and let the ground do its work and soak up stormwater rather than have it runoff and cause flooding.”
The project is anticipated to break ground in late 2022 and construction will continue for up to 12 months. The total cost of the project is approximately $2.5 million.
True to its name, the stretch of Hillside Avenue in the northern part of Queens Village is situated at the bottom of a hill, parallel to the Grand Central Parkway. DEP says a minimum of 5 million gallons will be captured in the new green spaces, which will also serve as habitat for pollinators and other threatened species in Jamaica Bay.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik described the current medians as “a sea of concrete.”
“The honey locust trees didn’t do well here” said Grodenchik. “This is going to change the environment here. It’s going to make the area literally cooler, because we won’t have the concrete soaking up all this heat.”
Incoming councilwoman Linda Lee vowed to see the project to its completion.
“Hopefully it can be a space the students and the community can utilize, because one thing that COVID has taught us is that outdoor spaces cannot be taken for granted,” said Lee. “I think this project will be a huge resource and benefit for the community.”
Kirby Lindell, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1958, is thrilled with the planned upgrades.
“I’ve been writing letters since before Barry was the councilman,” said Lindell. “In the summer, the only thing that survived was the weeds.”
Instead, Lindell and his neighbors will soon see the patches of concrete replaced with new trees and native plantings, with the addition of environmentally friendly green infrastructure
“I am so happy,” added Lindell. “I know how difficult it is even for the local council people to get projects like this done with all the bureaucratic stuff that goes with it. It’s going to be so important to people in our neighborhood.”

Concrete-less Jungle: medians to get green makeover

The concrete slabs that divide Hillside Avenue in Queens Village will soon be replaced with several new green drainage spaces, better protecting the eastern Queens neighborhood from flooding.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent Sapienza says the seven new green spaces along Hillside Avenue will capture millions of gallons of stormwater, reducing local flooding and overflows of the sewer system.
In September, an overflowed sewer system was a main culprit behind the damage sustained during Hurricane Ida.
“Pavement is not our friend,” said Sapienza outside Martin Van Buren High School last week. “We want to try and get as many permeable surfaces in the city as we can and let the ground do its work and soak up stormwater rather than have it runoff and cause flooding.”
The project is anticipated to break ground in late 2022 and construction will continue for up to 12 months. The total cost of the project is approximately $2.5 million.
True to its name, the stretch of Hillside Avenue in the northern part of Queens Village is situated at the bottom of a hill, parallel to the Grand Central Parkway. DEP says a minimum of 5 million gallons will be captured in the new green spaces, which will also serve as habitat for pollinators and other threatened species in Jamaica Bay.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik described the current medians as “a sea of concrete.”
“The honey locust trees didn’t do well here” said Grodenchik. “This is going to change the environment here. It’s going to make the area literally cooler, because we won’t have the concrete soaking up all this heat.”
Incoming councilwoman Linda Lee vowed to see the project to its completion.
“Hopefully it can be a space the students and the community can utilize, because one thing that COVID has taught us is that outdoor spaces cannot be taken for granted,” said Lee. “I think this project will be a huge resource and benefit for the community.”
Kirby Lindell, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1958, is thrilled with the planned upgrades.
“I’ve been writing letters since before Barry was the councilman,” said Lindell. “In the summer, the only thing that survived was the weeds.”
Instead, Lindell and his neighbors will soon see the patches of concrete replaced with new trees and native plantings, with the addition of environmentally friendly green infrastructure
“I am so happy,” added Lindell. “I know how difficult it is even for the local council people to get projects like this done with all the bureaucratic stuff that goes with it. It’s going to be so important to people in our neighborhood.”

Cyclist killed by truck in Sunnyside

A bicyclist was killed when he was struck by a box truck at the intersection of 47th Street and 47th Avenue in Sunnyside on Wednesday morning.
At about 8:30 in the morning, a truck, operated by a 33-year-old driver with a suspended license, was traveling westbound on 47th Avenue and attempted to make a right-hand turn onto 47th Street when the accident happend, police say.
The 58-year-old Forest Hills man, Qiang Tu, was riding west in a designated bike lane along 47th Avenue. He was transported to Elmhurst Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The operator of the vehicle, Shakai Waye of Newark, New Jersey, remained on scene and was later arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operator.
Juan Restrepo, a senior organizer at Transportation Alternatives, blamed the loss of life on the de Blasio administration.
“Qiang Tu’s life could have been saved if Mayor de Blasio prioritized people over parking,” he said in statement. “Instead, even though he was biking along a so-called ‘designated bike route,’ there is zero physical protection from deadly cars here, only painted sharrows on the road.
Restrepo called on the city to prioritize protected bike lans in the southern section of Sunnyside on routes like 47th Avenue that are popular with bicyclists headed to the Kosciuszko Bridge.
“Paint is not protection,” he said. “Instead of getting closer to Vision Zero, we are getting further away. But let’s be clear, Vision Zero isn’t failing, Mayor de Blasio is failing.”

Sad milestone for old Avenue Diner

Last week, I saw the following message posted by a good friend on Facebook: “Feeling a bit bummed. One year ago yesterday was an end of an era for me. Missing all of my Woodhaven family and friends; wishing you all the best!”
This was written by Paul Vasiliadis, whose Avenue Diner closed one year ago after a long struggle with COVID-19 and New York City.
There were many replies from friends and family and customers and staff. Wanda Flores, longtime waitress at the Avenue Diner, said “I miss you and Mr. Jimmy [Paul’s father] every day. You always gave your best and that is why you are so missed. Love you always.”
Former customer Wilda Melendez said: “It breaks my heart when Nadira and I walk past the diner and there is nothing there. It truly was a family diner. It was a light in our community. You and your family made it that.”
And another customer, Daisy Croke posted: “We miss you too. Woodhaven is not the same without you.”
It’s not easy to watch bad things happen to good people. And Paul and his father Jimmy and the rest of the staff of the Avenue Diner were good people who had become family to many people here in Woodhaven.
I never met a more hardworking man than Paul Vasiliadis. In over 11 years operating the diner, Paul took off a total of 30 days. That’s 30 days off out of 4,150, covering weekends and holidays and snow days.
That covers all the days he woke up, his body sore and tired, and yet he still came in day after day, making Paul Vasiliadis Woodhaven’s Iron Man.
In the early days of COVID-19, when restaurant after restaurant temporarily closed, The Avenue Diner remained open. It was a struggle, but Paul kept at it and the many customers who depended on the diner, particularly seniors, were never disappointed.
But the City of New York was relentless in their harassment of small businesses over signage and other minor issues, hitting essential businesses like the Avenue Diner with onerous fines that made it impossible in many cases to survive.
Their fines and harassment may have not closed all the businesses, but it certainly set them up to perish once COVID-19 came along. And even then, the city was unstoppable when it came to penalizing and punishing small businesses like the Avenue Diner.
Young men can ride bikes and ATVs up and down our streets, terrorizing pedestrians, but they won’t catch a fine from our city. People can defecate on Forest Parkway, and there will be no one coming along to write them tickets.
Our city doesn’t like moving targets. Hardworking people who show up to their businesses day in, day out to serve our communities are easy targets for income by our greedy and heartless city.
And so, I see Paul’s words and I am sad. But I am also angry because it didn’t need to be this way. The Avenue Diner may have been foiled by COVID, but it was the city that weakened them enough to allow that to happen. Never forget that.
On his next to last day in Woodhaven, residents, customers and friends gathered outside the eatery to let Paul and his staff and his family know how sad we were and how much we were going to miss them all.
“You were the first business I engaged with when I came here and you were so supportive. I will never forget the conversations we had, they meant so much to me,” said Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.
Paul’s wife, Alexandra, and their three children Demetra, Andreas and Eva, and his father Jimmy were touched by the gathering of residents, many of whom were there right from the beginning.
My wife and I were blessed to be there that day, in March of 2009, when the Avenue Diner opened. It was filled with hope and optimism, they had already put in so much work just to reach opening day.
I wonder if they would have stuck with it had they known how hard it was going to be, and already I know the answer is yes. People who are successful have a special work ethic, and Paul Vasiliadis embodies that and he will succeed again.
We should have a city that supports and lifts up and rewards people like Paul. I guess this was just a long way of saying that this city stinks and I miss my friend.

Acme smoked Fish will remain in Greenpoint

Acme Smoked Fish, a longtime staple of the Greenpoint community, will stay in the neighborhood as the primary tenant of a new $550 million mixed-use development at 10 Wythe Avenue.
The City Council officially approved the project this past Thursday, securing Acme’s future in North Brooklyn. Acme’s new factory will occupy four stories and 93,500 square feet. The location will contain a fish smoking and packaging plant, as well as retail space on the ground floor.
“Being in Brooklyn has always been central to this company’s success,” said CEO Adam Caslow. “We’re thrilled to now have the opportunity to not only remain here in the borough, but to also expand our operations as we continue to grow with the neighborhood we’ve called home for generations.”
In addition to the factory, the project will include a half-acre public park, as well as office and and commercial space. The project is overseen by Rubenstein Partners, the same firm that previously worked on the mixed-use development at 25 Kent in Williamsburg.
While new developments are typically accompanied by fears of gentrification and displacement, local elected officials have supported the project because of its economic potential.
“Our small business community has been walloped by COVID-19, and though the impacts have been inequitably distributed, few businesses have been spared from the economic fallout,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “Acme Smoked Fish’s expanded facility will help boost local employment, while accommodating growth that is critical to helping Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and New York City thrive.”
The developer estimates the project will create up to 2,000 jobs, many of which will utilize union labor. Construction at the site is set to begin later this year and is expected to last until 2025.
“Acme Smoked Fish has been an integral partner in our community now for four generations,” said Councilman Stephen Levin. “It supports more than 100 good union jobs, and is a great source of pride that Brooklynites share with people all around the world who love their smoked fish products.
“I’m confident that we reached a plan that will help Acme grow their community presence, while ensuring that this space remains a generator of good, middle-class jobs, for long into the future,” he added.

Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims the group is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims thegroup is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

DOT celebrates new bike rack, 34th Ave Open Street

A ceremony to mark the installation of a new bike rack in Jackson Heights turned into a heated debate about the city’s plan to make the Open Street along 34th Avenue permanent.
The rack at the intersection of 34th Avenue and 81st Street is the 1,000th new bike rack installed in the city since the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a plan last year to install 10,000 new bike racks across the five boroughs by the end of 2022.
DOT previously installed bike racks along 34th Avenue at 69th and 77th streets. The agency is seeking suggestions for other locations to install bike racks across the five boroughs.
“We have seen an uptick in cycling during the pandemic,” said DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman last Wednesday afternoon. “Maybe you are just out for a ride, but some people are using their bikes to get places. And when they get there, they need a place to park their bike.”
Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzales-Rojas said her nine-year-old learned to ride a bike on 34th Avenue during the past year.
“My child has a bike and rides it safely on 34th Avenue, and now he has a place to park it,” she said.
A 1.3-mile stretch – or 26 blocks – of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is off-limits to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m except for local and emergency purposes. Cars and trucks using the street are required to drive at 5 MPH.
The Open Streets program was originally set to end on October 31 of last year, but it was extended indefinitely. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the program permanent.
The stretch along 34th Avenue is part of 83 miles of Open Streets across the five boroughs, the largest program of its kind in the United States.
“Open Streets transformed our city and changed the way we came together as communities,” said de Blasio. “Our urban landscape will forever play host to joyful gatherings of families, pedestrians, cyclists, and small businesses.”
At last week’s event, Gutman called 34th Avenue the “gold standard” of the Open Streets program. He said the closure of the street not only provides open space in a neighborhood with a severe shortage of parks, but allows for activities like yoga, performances and games for kids.
Borough President Donovan Richards said it’s a model that should be replicated throughout the city.
“We reimagined what our streets look like coming out of this pandemic,” he said. “This is an opportunity to reshape where we head as a city and a borough.”
But not everyone is in favor of making the 34th Avenue Open Street permanent. A group of residents called 34th Avenue Compromise argues closing the street has affected the quality of life for people who live along the avenue.
At every intersection, there are metal barriers to prevent cars from turning onto the 34th Avenue. Paolo Peguero says whenever she needs to drive down the street to get home, she has to stop her car, get out and move the barrier, and then move it back.
“When we try to move the barriers, we are confronted,” she said.
Peguero said elderly and disabled residents have trouble moving the barriers. She said she has also heard stories of Access-a-Ride drivers, for-hire car services, and delivery workers refusing to pick up or drop off in front of buildings because of the hassle of moving the barriers.
The barriers are put in place every morning by members of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition. That group, along with another called Friends of 34th Avenue Linear Park praised the announcement that the program would become permanent.
But Gabi Bhart of 34th Avenue Compromise contends those groups only represent a small number of Jackson Heights residents.
“The majority of Jackson Heights residents do not support this,” she said.
Both Peguero and Bhart say there was very little outreach to the local community on the part of DOT and the city before it was announced the closure would be permanent.
They would like to see the hours of the closure and the length of the Open Street reduced. The two lanes of traffic on 34th Avenue are separated by a median, and the group would like to keep one side open to vehicular traffic to alleviate congestion on surrounding streets.
Members of 34th Avenue Compromise are planning a march on May 22 to call attention to their concerns.
Gutman addressed some vocal members of the group at last week’s press conference. He promised that all community concerns would be taken into consideration.
“The idea is not to have one plan dictated from City Hall, but do what the community wants,” he said.
As a member of the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Gutman was instrumental in the creation of the waterfront open space that is used by thousands daily.
“Believe it or not, that project was extremely controversial,” he said. “But we worked it out.”

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