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Queens Chronicle

YEAR IN REVIEW 2013 A year of planes, trains and cars

From the QueensWay to school bus strikes, transportation ruled

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:22 am, Thu Jan 9, 2014.

If it has wheels, it made headlines.

Issues involving bicycles, illegal motor scooters, out-of-control SUVs, striking school bus drivers and pungent trash trains all made their way onto the Chronicle’s pages in 2013.

It was an election year for many of the borough’s leaders as well. As expected, the government heads and the headlines went hand-in-hand.

Whether it was the heated 30th District City Council race between incumbent Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and young newcomer Craig Caruana or politicians standing as one against the proposed Glendale homeless shelter, politics reigned in mid-Queens from January to December.

January

A school bus union went on strike, leaving approximately 150,000 students without a ride to school. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 picketed outside of a Ridgewood bus depot over the city’s plan to bid over 1,000 routes while not including job security provisions in the bid contracts.

The debate over what to do with the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Rail Line began in earnest. Gov. Cuomo allocated $467,000 to The Trust for Public Land in order to conduct a feasibility study on turning it into an elevated park called the QueensWay. Some residents along the line support the reactivation of the rail line, others neither idea.

Community Education Council 24 symbolically approved a resolution calling for armed ex-NYPD officers in every city school in response to the Newtown, Conn. school massacre that claimed the lives of 20 students and six educators a month earlier.

February

After about five weeks on strike, school bus drivers returned to the roads without the provisions they desired from the city, but they vowed to continue to fight for them. Local 1811 President Michael Cordello said he believes a new mayoral administration would be more receptive to the union’s requests for more job security provisions.

The 104th Precinct found its new leader. Capt. Christopher Manson celebrated his 25th year as a member of the NYPD by taking over as the head of the Ridgewood-based command.

March

In Albany, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) was able to secure $3 million in the state budget to replace the engines of pollutant-spewing locomotives that roar through mid-Queens neighborhoods. The funds are to go toward purchasing new, cleaner motors for some high-emissions locomotives owned and leased out by the LIRR.

The Maspeth Industrial Business Association and Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Queens, Brooklyn) met with representatives from the Department of Transportation and the MTA to discuss the addition of more bus lines throughout Maspeth. The MTA promised to look into the issue but a lack of sufficient funds for the project might make it impossible at the current time.

The health and future of the trees at the Ridgewood Reservoir came into question, as ongoing construction along Vermont Place created concerns that the heavy machinery parked on the soil above the trees’ roots would end up killing them.

On the night of March 29, a female jogger was the victim of a frightening attempted rape in Forest Park.

April

Police arrested a man on April 2 in connection with the March attempted rape but, three days later, it was announced that the man in custody was not the suspect they sought. However, he was kept in custody in connection to a sexual assault in Woodhaven the previous weekend.

The Cooper Avenue underpass construction project, which began a year earlier, moved forward, as the DOT rescinded its plan of installing a traffic island after opposition from Community Board 5. The project would finish in late June.

Political newcomer Caruana emerged as the Republican challenger to Crowley in the 30th District City Council race, as he declared his candidacy on April 22.

The brick facade of an Elmhurst video game store collapsed and fell onto a passing pedestrian, seriously injuring him.

May

A deal to buy the vacant Ridgewood Theater was reported to be in the works, as an unnamed prospective buyer made an offer for the venue. Rumors swirled about the building possibly being converted into housing.

Cyclists gathered at Maspeth High School for a city-hosted community forum to discuss the possibility of adding bike lanes to area streets. Upset by the number of accidents involving bicyclists and motorists, the riders claimed that adding such lanes would make the streets safer and the area more environmentally friendly.

The Queens County Democratic Party endorsed Melinda Katz for borough president.

June

Residents and civic leaders expressed their frustration at truck drivers illegally bringing their big rigs onto Maspeth streets at a June 20 rally. The Maspeth Bypass plan went into effect two years prior but citizens remain worried over the dangerous truck traffic and the lack of enforcement of the law banning such vehicles on the streets.

CB 5 held a public hearing regarding the possible redesignation of “SOMA,” the area south of Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood bordered by Irving Avenue, Hancock Street, Cypress Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens border, as a manufacturing-only zone. Area manufacturers supported the idea while artists living in the area opposed it.

The LIRR agreed to conduct a survey regarding a possible reopening of the Elmhurst station that was abandoned in 1985. Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) and Community Board 4 spoke in favor of bringing the depot back.

July

At a special public meeting of CB 5, three possible plans for the Ridgewood Reservoir were laid out by the Parks Department, even though it was announced at the meeting that there was no funding for any of them. Plans to add walking trails, a visitors center or a water-themed playground were met with groans from the public when cost estimations could not be given.

The DEP began a program of probing area streets, looking for the best places to add curbside gardens known as bioswales aimed at absorbing storm water and reducing overflow into Flushing Bay. Community boards 5 and 6 received complaints from residents over the unannounced construction of the plantings.

A portion of 60th Drive in Maspeth was named for George Gibbons, a community leader and activist who lived on that street and was killed in a 2011 car accident.

August

The snowball known as the proposed 125-family Glendale homeless shelter began rolling downhill. Samaritan Village, the Briarwood-based human services agency, penned a letter to CB 5, informing members that the group wanted to meet with the board over the shelter. Elected officials, board members and citizens attended a rally later that month in opposition to a homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

The Mattone Group presented its plan of bringing three restaurants to an empty lot between the Queens Center mall and the Long Island Expressway to the Newtown Civic Association, but some members were not pleased. They opined that a better use for the lot would be a new police station for the 110th Precinct.

Elected officials voiced their support for the Maspeth Firehouse, which lost 19 first responders on 9/11, as an application for landmark status was sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Two women were raped at the end of the month. A 52-year old woman was attacked in Rego Park on Aug. 23, while a 69-year-old woman was assaulted in Forest Park on Aug. 26.

September

The 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks arrived, as residents remembered the approximately 280 Queens victims who perished that day. Hundreds gathered at Juniper Valley Park to observe the beams of light emanating from Lower Manhattan and sing patriotic songs.

A man attempting to park his SUV in Maspeth accidentally ran over five students on their way to school on Sept. 12, leaving two children in critical condition. One of the lesser-injured students, 13-year-old Michael Gomez, died a few days later of an asthma attack.

A five-alarm fire in Middle Village tore through several homes on the night of Sept. 9, injuring 13 firefighters and displacing 41 residents.

October

The campaign season geared up for the final push to Election Day, and Crowley and Caruana squared off in a fiery debate on Oct. 28. The duo traded barbs while the pro-Caruana crowd antagonized and heckled Crowley.

Rego Park teenager Avonte Oquendo went missing on Oct. 4 after he sprinted out of his Long Island City school. A massive, sprawling search of the city in the following days and weeks turned up nothing, and the family of the autistic nonverbal 14-year-old filed a lawsuit against the city.

CB 5 battled with the Knockdown Center, an arts venue in Maspeth, over its attempt to garner a liquor license for 600-plus people. The board voted against the proposition, but supported the Maspeth Firehouse’s appeal of the ruling by the Landmarks Preservation Commission denying the firehouse’s request for landmark status.

November

Crowley won a second term as the 30th District’s representative in the City Council, as she handily defeated Caruana. Melinda Katz also claimed victory, as she won the borough presidency, defeating Tony Arcabascio.

Christ the King Regional High School was sued by the Diocese of Brooklyn for allegedly failing to honor long-standing financial agreements dating back to the school’s opening in 1976.

Port Authority and MTA officials were on hand at a forum in Maspeth with disgruntled residents to discuss the disruptive roars of airplanes flying low overhead on their way to and from the city’s airports.

December

The Glendale homeless shelter received a bode of support from the Department of Homeless Services. Electeds and civic leaders made their displeasure known at a public hearing hosted by the DHS, days after the agency sent a letter to the Mayor’s Office in support of the shelter.

The Knockdown Center received a plan exam approval for renovations, opening the door for the venue to acquire a place of assembly permit and potentially a liquor license, much to the chagrin of the venue’s detractors like CB 5.

The Environmental Protection Agency nominated the radioactive site of a former chemical plant in Ridgewood to be added to the federal Superfund list.

CB 5 voted to support the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line’s reactivation instead of the rival QueensWay project, which would turn the tracks into elevated parkland much like the popular High Line in Manhattan.

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