Queens Borough Board is Briefed on Interborough Express; Discuss Price and Feasibility

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

The Interborough Express plan keeps chugging along, as the Metropolitan Transit Authority moves forward in their plans of converting 14 miles of freight tracks into a functional commute way for Brooklyn and Queens residents. On Monday, Sept. 18, the Queens Borough Board met with Borough President Donovan Richards and MTA representatives in Borough Hall to discuss the specifics.

Sean Fitzgerald, Deputy Chief of Staff for the MTA, led with a presentation to update the community on the MTA’s findings on how much the railway would cost, plans for construction and preliminary findings of their study. According to Fitzpatrick’s presentation, the rail would be incredibly useful for people traveling in Queens and Brooklyn, a notorious subway desert.

“There’s increasing demand for travel within Queens, and between Brooklyn and Queens directly. We think that within this study area, there are more people who commute within Brooklyn and Queens than go into Manhattan,” Fitzpatrick said. “We anticipate, with forecast modeling, something like 115,000 weekday riders, which would be a substantial addition to the MTA portfolio.”

The express is set to run from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Jackson Heights in Queens. According to Fitzpatrick, the subway line would connect to 17 other subway lines, as well as the Long Island Railroad, and save commuters almost half an hour spent traveling. The MTA has decided to move forward with light rail, which would be both cheaper and faster than traditional subway tracks, though the project is still expected to cost roughly $5.5 billion. A light rail would entail smaller, lighter vehicles and an above-ground rail through Brooklyn and Queens.

Some board members balked at the multi-billion dollar price tag. Frank Taylor, chairperson for Queens Community Board District 3, said he would like to see the MTA conduct proper maintenance before spending more money on a new project, and addressed his concerns to Fitzpatrick. In 2019, a piece of wood struck and damaged a car underneath the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens during renovation efforts.

“You’re doing a 7 train renovation now, the 7 line, and the train actually fell and hit people’s cars and other things. It had been all over the news before you guys did anything. Maintenance is not something you guys do,” Taylor said during the meeting. “What I see in areas of which I reside, black and brown areas, you’re putting band-aids on these structures that are here instead of redoing [them].”

Other community board members worried about the possibility of relocating individuals near the railway, and how it would impact community members living near the train track. Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, chairperson for Community Board 6, asked what the MTA was doing in order to prevent people’s homes from being demolished during the construction.

“You talk about not wanting to disrupt cemeteries, which I get, but I’m also wondering about the people who are living,” Beers-Dimitriadis said to Fitzpatrick. “Are you looking at the possibility of having to eliminate a house here, a house there, in order to make this line work, or building here, a building there, in order to accommodate this?”

Other community members at the meeting voiced similar concerns, including Davita Brown, who said she wanted to come to the meeting because she was worried it would disrupt her own neighborhood. After the meeting, Brown said she agreed that Queens needed more transportation, but thought that all new construction would come at the expense of community members’ quality of life. She also said she was concerned with the maintenance of existing railway lines, much like Taylor.

“The quality of life will change no matter what you do. We have to make up our mind on community members’ quality of life to have more transportation. You cannot advance without some sort of change,” Brown said. “We already have problems with maintaining the stuff they already have. There’s no intervention, there’s no prevention, they just wait for it to blow up.”

Fitzgerald fielded all questions from community members and said that the plan was just in the preliminary stages of development. In response to Taylor’s concerns, Fitzgerald said he appreciated the feedback from community members and stressed that there was new leadership within the agency that wanted to prioritize underserved populations and to keep community voices at the forefront when developing new railways.

“The MTA is looking to change that,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot more work to do, and sort of get us to a place that you’d like us to be, and that we would like to be, but I think that this MTA has made a lot of steps to move us in that direction and hold our feet to the fire as we keep trying to get stuff done.”

Queens Chamber of Commerce Hosts New Member Introduction

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

In a packed conference room in the Queens Chamber of Commerce Office, business owners passed their business cards around the room. The monthly event is organized by the Chamber of Commerce for new members to help introduce them to the organization and meet other people in the borough. Jef Gross, Manager of Media Relations for the Chamber, introduced the members to the website, how to post events online and how to submit stories for the monthly Queensborough Magazine. 

According to Gross, benefits of being a member of the Chamber include connecting with other business owners and helping individuals begin the process of growing their business. Gross said other commerce chambers in New York City do not get the same level of benefits as they do in Queens, and that the new members orientation is just one example of that. 

“We provide opportunities in Queens that other boroughs do not provide.” Gross said. “Individuals will join organizations and there isn’t even an orientation. This gives them a little footing, a sense of direction.” 

According to Brendan Leavy, Business Development Manager for the Chamber, Queens has a strong potential for growth in technology, infrastructure and real estate expansion as well as healthcare services. Leavy said that due to the aging population in Queens, a lot of healthcare providers see opportunities to grow their practices. Two business representatives at the event were based in the healthcare sector, Praxis Health Technology and Northwell Health. 

“When you have 2.3 million people, aging, also aging in place and not going to Florida, that has tremendous impacts on the healthcare system,” Leavy said. “In the room was Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in the state, they have over 80,000 employees…That’s bringing new jobs to Queens.” 

Henk Guitjens, Director of Marketing at Corporate Loss Prevention Associates Inc., and attendee of the new member introduction event, said that he appreciated the efforts of the Queens Chamber of Commerce in order to connect businesses in the borough. 

“I found it very well prepared, and I was impressed with the 20 plus people in the room. They covered everything in an hour, and I say, I was impressed, better than the experiences at some other chambers,” Guitjens said. “The opportunity to work with other members, their willingness to make introductions, which of course other chambers have…but [the Queens Chambers] also have a substantial staff.” 

According to Shahriar Hossain, Business Recovery Specialist for the Chamber, Queens is unique because it has a large economic hub while still keeping a calmer, more family-oriented feel that other boroughs do not have. Hossain said he thinks that the technology sector in Queens has the potential to blossom in coming years, and that the Chamber is trying to facilitate that growth via business incubators in order to attract more tech companies. 

“I think tech is going to be huge in terms of development,” Hossian said. “The Chamber actually has five tech incubators that we’ve opened throughout the borough in Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Jackson Heights, and one in Queens College.” 

 

*Editors Note: BQE Media is the publishing partner of This is Queensborough Magazine

New Legislation Introduces Speed Limiting Device Proposal in Brooklyn

By Oona Milliken[email protected]

At the Brooklyn Heights intersection where Katherine Harris was hit and killed by a speeding driver in April of this year, Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher introduced legislation that would impose hindrances on drivers going more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. According to a press release, the bill would mimic the model of drunk driving legislation where convicted drivers must prove that they are sober by blowing into a device before they can start their car. Similarly, the legislation would only impact driver’s with six or more speeding tickets in one year. 

In a statement, Assemblymember Gallagher said the bill is important to take precautionary measures to ensure that people like Katherine Harris do not have to die. 

“As more Americans continue to die from motor vehicle crashes than in any other country in the world, we need to take proactive and common sense measures to reduce traffic violence,” Gallagher said. “Cars and trucks can act as weapons when used recklessly, and people who have repeatedly demonstrated they will endanger lives while operating vehicles should be limited in how fast they can drive.” 

According to Kate Brockwehl, the survivor of a near fatal car crash and an advocate for the organization Families for Safe Streets, the legislation is a big step in reducing serious car accidents and deaths. Brockwehl said that many people in the United States think of traffic fatalities as just an unfortunate part of life, something unpreventable, and said she wants people to understand that serious car crashes can be avoided by infrastructure like this bill. According to Brockwehl, she was hit by a speeding car as a pedestrian in 2017, and spent a year and a half in recovery from the incident. 

‘I’m a huge fan of the bill,” Brockwehl said. “To me, this bill is incredibly straightforward. It doesn’t remove your keys, it doesn’t affect your ability to drive, you can go all the places you need to. It says you can’t go more than ten [sic] miles over the speed limit. You don’t get a ticket until that point.” 

According to Brockwehl, bills such as the one that Gounardes and Gallagher are putting forward were nonexistent in the United States until recently because the technology to safely slow down cars did not exist in American markets, though some form of speed reduction technology has been used in the European Union on all new cars since 2022, according to Autoweek Magazine. 

Under the new legislation put forward by Gounardes and Gallagher, offending drivers that try to go more than five miles will have their speed reduced by intelligent speed assistance . The bill has a precedent in an ISA pilot program installed on New York City fleet vehicles, in which 99 percent of vehicles successfully remained within the speed limit parameters. 

Brockwehl said that the legislation is just one step in fighting traffic violence, and said that Families for Safe Streets is also pushing to introduce alternative street configurations that would slow down drivers, including something called a “road diet” which would add more room for bicycle paths and turning lanes. Brockwehl said that her ultimate goal is for fatal and near fatal traffic incidents to be a thing of the past. 

“There’s nothing preventing my being killed next time, or like someone I love, unless I never go outside again in my life,” Brockwehl said. “I think we’re just so incredibly used to [traffic deaths] in the United States to the point that it affects so many more people than people who are involved in Families for Safe Streets, but I think people don’t realize it yet.” 

In a statement, Councilmember Lincoln Restler said that, if passed, the legislation will ultimately lead to safer and more habitable streets. 

“Too many New Yorkers are victims of traffic violence due to reckless drivers,” said Restler. “I’m excited to support Senator Gounardes’ and Assembly Member Gallagher’s common sense legislation that will increase accountability on the most dangerous drivers, make our neighborhoods safer, and ultimately save lives.”

Private Health Clinic in South Williamsburg Steps Up Amidst Migrant Crisis Overflow

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

On any given Sunday on the outskirts of the Orthodox Hasidic community in South Williamsburg, passerby might turn the street to see hundreds of migrants gathered outside of Parcare, an unassuming private health clinic on Park Avenue, speaking animatedly in languages like French, Bengali, Arabic and Spanish. 

The migrants are there for a drive that Parcare operates in order to help people who have recently arrived in the United States navigate the asylum seeking process, which includes information on how to obtain health insurance, registering for an IDNYC card and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, getting in contact with immigrant lawyers or finding permanent housing. Gary Schlesinger, founder and chief executive officer of Parcare, said the drive emerged when patients who spoke little English started turning up at Parcare around Nov. 2022 without insurance, identification or long-term housing. 

“It started affecting us because all of a sudden, we started seeing people coming to our front desk asking for help,“ Schlesinger said. “So we jumped in, trying to help. I felt, ‘This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do.’” 

Levi Jurkowiz, community liaison for Parcare, said that Parcare runs three drives a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for anyone that might need assistance, but migrants are the primary visitors. Jurkowiz said Parcare is trying to help with the migrant crisis as much as they can, but he said he feels frustrated that there is no broader plan of action from the city and federal government.

“There is no plan, there’s an immigrant crisis. The people here are really, all of them, just looking to work, pay taxes and get their papers. We should help them get that,” Jurkowitz said. “I think there’s an issue with the federal government, they have to figure out what to do.” 

According to Jurkowitz, the people who come into Parcare often live in shelters and speak little English, which makes it difficult to obtain health insurance, bank accounts, or a job as you need a permanent address to register, and it is difficult to find work if you do not speak the language. Jurkowiz said the system is incredibly difficult to navigate, and many newcomers arrive after long and arduous journeys with debt from cartels and other predatory lenders who make enormous profit off of smuggling migrants across the border. 

“It costs them thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to come here,” Jurkowiz said. “And the people who lend them the money aren’t the nicest people in the world.” 

Ibrahim, 23, said he had traveled through five countries and several American states to come to New York from his home in Mauritania, a country located in Western Africa. We are only using Ibrahim’s first name to protect his identity. Ibrahim speaks French and Arabic but minimal English, and communicated via a mix of spoken word and Google Translate. According to Ibrahim, life in Mauritania was extremely difficult, and he felt confined by government constraints, social and family pressures as well as a lack of opportunities. 

“I have a lot of problems with Mauritania. You can’t be free,” Ibrahim said. “I want to be free in my decisions, I want to do what I like to do.” 

Ibrahim said he studied computer science and business in Tunisia before coming to the United States, and hopes to continue his studies. However, he said he has had trouble finding work and resources in the U.S. due to his uncertain legal status in the country. Ibrahim said that immigration services cater to people from Spanish speaking countries, and that many under-the-table job opportunities available to Spanish migrants are not given to African migrants. According to Ibrahim, it has also been hard adjusting to living in the shelters where there is a lack of showers and personal space, and that theft is a big issue. 

“It’s very hard to live where I live,” Ibrahim said. “[In the shelter] we live 70 in one room, eight floors. The big problem for me for now is stealing. You have phone? Steal. You have bag? Steal. I have papers, they steal that.” 

Schlesinger, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, said he feels an obligation to help the asylum seekers after hearing stories from his parents who escaped the Holocaust from Hungary. 

“My father used to always tell me how grateful he was for anyone that used to help them because they came here with nothing. He was talking the immigrant language, you know, he was an immigrant,” Schlesinger said. “So, when I started looking into this, I thought, ‘You know, this is a crisis, let’s do something.’” 

As of July 19, there are 54,800 migrants under New York City’s care with hundreds of people arriving in the city each day. In a press conference, Mayor Eric Adams said the crisis has reached its breaking point as news broke that newcomers have been turned away from overflowing shelters and forced to sleep on the streets; Adams urged President Joe Biden to give aid to the city in order to alleviate the issue.

According to Jurkowiz, squabbles between Republican and Democratic politicians have caused the situation, and that the migrants have been caught in the middle. Since April 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abott has been sending busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities like New York and Washington D.C. in order to protest the Biden administration’s border policy. Since last spring, New York City has seen an influx of 90,000 migrants and asylum-seekers. Schlesinger said that the work Parcare does is not enough to help all the people arriving into the city, and that there needs to be more money and infrastructure to deal with the issue. 

“Let’s face it, the money really comes from the federal government, that’s where the billions are,” Schlesinger said. “And if they don’t recognize this as a crisis, there’s a big issue here because there’s thousands of people and if the money isn’t going to come from Washington, God knows where this is going to end. Private people like us can only do so much.” 

Notorious B.I.G Statue Unveiled in Downtown Brooklyn

Celebrations At The Opening Of The Statue In Cadman Plaza

By Oona Milliken[email protected]

On Cadman Plaza, nestled amongst a cluster of institutional buildings like the Brooklyn Borough Hall, the County Clerk’s office and various other courthouses criminal and otherwise, stands an institution in its own right: Brooklyn’s own Biggie Smalls. A nine-foot tall interactive sculpture of the late rapper was unveiled on Wed. Aug 2 and was celebrated with speeches from Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and other community leaders, a dance performance by Victory Music & Dance Company as well as a marching band concert. 

Sherwin Banfield, the artist who created the sculpture, said he was inspired to make the piece because of his connection to Biggie’s creativity and artistry. 

“I was exposed to Biggie my first year of Parsons School of Design, my next door neighbor, he invited me over and said ‘You’ve got to hear this, this album just dropped,’ this was in 94, it was ‘Ready to Die,’” Banfield said. “When I listened and I heard it, I was completely blown away. It was completely unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was cinema, cinema as music.” 

The sculpture, dubbed “Sky’s the Limit in the county of Kings,” is cast with Biggie’s face in bronze, complemented with a variety of different materials such as resin, stone and stainless steels and also includes an audio component powered by solar panels that run alongside Big’s back. Hip-hop is not just being honored in Cadman Plaza: there is a world-wide movement to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music, with multiple events happening in New York City this summer. Banfield said he was heavily inspired by hip-hop music, and that he wanted to mix different artistic mediums to mimic the genre’s amalgamating of different sounds and musical styles. In an interview, he also said he wanted the statute to inspire young people. 

“This sculpture is not for everyone, but for kids that find themselves in unusual circumstances that are hurtful, or they might feel like the world is against them,” Banfield said. “You know, they can look towards this sculpture as an achievement for someone that took their talents, that took their God-given talents, and ran with it. Biggie said, ‘If you find something that’s in you, just develop it.’” 

Biggie Smalls, who also went by the Notorious B.I.G, Biggie or just Big, was born 1972 as Christopher George Latore Wallace in Clinton Hill. He is often named by critics and other musicians as one of the best rappers of all time. Biggie was multi-faceted, and touched upon deeper subjects like struggle, depression, compassion, love, and suicide in a way that other hip-artists at the time would not speak about publicly. Oftentimes, he was also vulgar, rapping bluntly about sex, violence and drugs, and was controversial for the darkness of his lyrics. Overall, his rumbling voice, melodic lyricism and gritty storytelling came to represent East Coast hip-hop alongside peers such as Nas and Jay-Z. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that hip-hop was incredibly important to young people growing in the city, and it was heartwarming to be celebrating such an influential artist in his birthplace. 

Celebrations At The Opening Of The Statue In Cadman Plaza

“Hip-hop was, and is, the soundtrack of our lives,” Williams said. “To see the impact hip-hop has is amazing. To be celebrating 50 years [of hip-hop], to be able to unveil a Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G bust and statue in front of Borough Hall…who would have thought that it going to be what it was when we were bumping our heads on the train, on the bus, listening to “Ready to Die,” listening to Biggie. It’s just amazing.” 

An attendee of the event who goes by K.C., short for King Crust, went to the same school as Biggie, and said that watching someone from Brooklyn become such a big name in the music industry inspired others from the neighborhood to follow their own passions. According to King Crust, Biggie represents the essence of Brooklyn. 

“Hip-hip is life, hip-hop is everything. The rhythm of how you carry your everyday is hip-hop,” King Crust said. “Biggie Smalls is the illest. That should be known all across the world. He was the illest to ever do it.” 

The statue will be available for viewing on Cadman Plaza until November. 

Queens Variety Boys and Girls Club Announces New Rooftop Farm Partnership

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

An entire acre of peppers, kale and okra sits six stories above the busy trafficways in Astoria. The vegetables are a part of a rooftop garden project recently acquired by the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens

All crop produce, alongside honey farmed from a beehive located on the lot, is intended for harvest and will either be sold to the community or given to children of the Boys and Girls Club, according to Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Boys and Girls Club, Costa Constantinides. Constantinides said the project is intended to help children in underserved areas of Queens provide access to nature and educate young people about where their food comes from. 

The opening of the event included speeches from Constantinides, Variety Boys and Girls Club Board President Walter Sanchez,* Congresswoman Nydia M. Velásquez, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, New York State Assemblymembers Zohran Mamdani and Kristen Gonzalez, as well as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Brooklyn Grange, Ben Flanner. 

“We’re hoping to have kids up here on school trips, really make this a neighborhood space, make this something that can be exciting for everyone,” Constantinides said. “This is an acre of paradise, an oasis in the urban jungle. We want this to be a green space where our kids can come up and be like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’” 

The VBGCG is planning to utilize the space to help build education programming surrounding agriculture, including the growing of organic vegetables and honey, as well as being a space for mental wellness. 

The plot of land was developed by Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farming and green roofing business that is intent on increasing locally grown produce in the city, as well as using urban green spaces to mitigate environmental phenomena such as rainwater overflow. According to their website, the business produces over 100,000 pounds of vegetables each year across their three rooftop farms in Brooklyn and in Queens.

Michelle Cashen, Director of Design and Build at Brooklyn Grange, said that rooftop gardens are an underutilized area for greenspace in a city. 

“There’s not a lot of ground space for greenery, parks or green space in general [in New York City],” Cashen said. “On rooftops, there’s a lot of bare empty spaces. It just kind of makes sense that if you’re going to add any type of greenery into New York, that’s where you’re looking.” 

Constantinides said the Boys and Girls Club serves 4,000 children a year, 77 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Many of these kids live in areas of Queens that lack access to healthy food or are affected by environmental pollution, Constantinides emphasized. He said that the garden could be a step for the community in order to mitigate these issues. 

 

*Editors Note: Walter Sanchez is the Publisher of BQE Media.

19-year-old fatally shot on Metropolitan Ave.

 

This car belongs to a witness. Photo: Anthony Deluca

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

A 19-year old male was shot dead on 79-45 Metropolitan Ave. in the Middle Village on Sunday, July 23 at around 3:30 a.m.

The man, who suffered a gunshot wound to the torso, was found by emergency medical services in a vehicle on the property and was later pronounced deceased at Elmhurst Hospital. A 21-year old who was also involved in the incident was transported to the Brookdale University Hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm but remains in stable condition.

Anthony Deluca, a resident in a building near where the incident took place and a witness to the shooting, said he heard two rounds of shots as he was dozing off on Sunday morning, and looked out the window to see a car pulling away from the scene and a car parked in the middle of the street with the driver side door open.

“I heard boom boom boom boom, and then another burst of gunfire. I went down on my kitchen floor and then I called 911,” Deluca said. “I could see that a little bit of the driver side door was open, and I told the 911 operator, ‘The door’s open, there’s no movement,’ I said, ‘He’s got to be hurt.’”

The crime scene on Metropolitan Ave. Photo: Anthony Deluca

According to Deluca, there were 50 rounds of ammunition collected by police officers from the scene of the crime on Sunday, several of which hit his own personal vehicle. Deluca said his car has bullet holes through his back windshield that shattered a side window and hit the front steering wheel.

A Middle Village business owner who did not want their name to be shared said the incident is unfortunate but thinks that the neighborhood still remains safe.

“It’s not great for the area, I can tell you that much. It’s just a shame. I think that these were people not from this area, and they created a really bad environment for people,” the business owner said. “I think the neighborhood is still safe, you know, this has never happened before.”

No arrests have been made and the investigation remains ongoing, according to spokespeople from the NYPD.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing