Forest Hills resident Stephen Melnick looks along the business corridor of Queens Boulevard and sees dead trees and overgrown brush, broken curbs and sidewalks, and litter accumulating along traffic lanes and islands that need repaving.
“This can be a jewel,” Melnick says.
But Melnick said the boulevard won’t shine without the the city’s commitment and the support of local businesses. He toured some of the more unsightly areas last Thursday morning with Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio and Michael Persaud, deputy chief of staff to Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).
“This corridor can be an engine for economic development,” Melnick said. “It should be warm and welcoming to people who come out here. But it’s not. Ever since they put in parking meters along the islands seven years ago drivers have been using them as a garbage dump. You have broken curbs and sidewalks that are tripping hazards. Imagine what those could cost the city when people sue.”
He said this before something, possibly Hurricane Irene, created a new danger with a sink hole on the roadway near Ascan Avenue [See separate story].
Melnick said some businesses clean their sidewalks but generally do not venture out to the islands that separate the service road from the boulevard proper. He even has come out at night on Fridays to load litter into large garbage bags.
“When you look at some of this it’s hard to believe Forest Hills Gardens is just a block away,” he said.
Melnick and Gulluscio said the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce has attempted to organize the businesses and merchants into similar efforts for things like litter and trash, but that construction is up to the city.
“But there’s no money right now, and that’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Gulluscio said. “And you’re talking about a mile and a half.”
Koslowitz said the city juggles numerous projects each year, such as the ongoing efforts on nearby Woodhaven Boulevard.
She said street beautification projects in other neighborhoods in the last few years have been paid for with discretionary city funding, which is getting tighter every year.
“And do you want us to tax the businesses here extra?” she asked.
Koslowitz said Queens Boulevard has gotten some work in recent years, such as the fencing along the traffic islands which are both decorative and a safety feature.
“They also keep people from running out across the street,” she said. “There were probably 90 people killed in this stretch between 1991 and 2001,” she said.
Melnick said faded crosswalk markings and reflective lane markers that have worked their way above the road’s surface are indications of just how long it has been since the main roadway has been repaved.
Repaving on a portion farther to the east began on Aug. 22.
But Gulluscio said planned future projects likely would preclude any action closer to the Long Island Expressway in the next year or two, as they would not repave the road now only to rip it up in 2013 or 2014 for other projects.
“In the next few years they’ll be installing elevators to the subway station at 71st Avenue,” he said. “They usually like to do everything at once.” Koslowitz did say she can fight for money in next year’s budget cycle and representatives from the city’s Transportation, Sanitation and economic development agencies among others.
“There’s no one department,” the councilwoman said. “Then we need to call a second meeting with business owners.”