The proposed controversial Newtown Avenue pedestrian plaza was voted down by Community Board 1 in a raucous meeting on Tuesday, leaving supporters in the packed room disappointed. The Department of Transportation could still decide to go against the board.
“You should be ashamed,” yelled a resident during the voting proceedings.
The vote was 7 to 25 opposed.
“That’s the recommendation of the board — against pedestrian plaza proposal,” said Vinicio Donato, CB1 chairman.
If approved, the DOT’s plan was to shut down traffic at the busy intersection of Newtown and 30th avenues, which local business owners opposed because of traffic concerns, the loss of four parking spaces and the need for emergency vehicles to gain easy entry to the area.
Those against the street closure also cited the use of Newtown Avenue as an artery to go to nearby Mount Sinai Queens Hospital, located on 30th Avenue.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) vowed to work with the DOT, but opposed the street closing plan.
The pedestrian plaza would have provided seating, tables with umbrellas, greenery, bike racks and public art for residents and had the support of advocacy group, the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition. The coalition had committed to help with funding for the proposed plaza and work as a partner with the DOT.
The DOT held an all-day test run of the pedestrian plaza on Aug. 25, which closed Saturday traffic on NewtownAvenueuntil midnight.
“This crosswalk is very long and uncontrolled,” Vaidila Kungys, NYC Plaza program director said of the danger for pedestrians crossing at the intersection of Newtown and 30th avenues. Kungys added that an elderly woman was killed trying to cross the street last year.
The DOT received a letter from CB 1 asking for the street’s closure in 2001, due to a high volume of accidents.The agency has since monitored travel speeds, vehicle accidents and duration of street crossings.
In 2006, the department started studying schools adjacent to streets with many accidents. PS 17, located a quarter mile from the proposed plaza site, was one of 135 city schools that reported accidents in nearby intersections, including the plaza’s intended location, according to DOT traffic accident data.The agency also conducted interviews with the school’s teachers and principal.
“These responses are neither scientific nor complete,” CB 1 member Frances Luhmann-McDonald said to loud applause, referring to information in documents presented by the DOT to the board prior to the meeting.
Luhmann-McDonald additionally asked for members of CB 1 who are also on the executive board of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition to recuse themselves from voting on this proposal — due to a conflict of interest.
“[We’ve] endured bike lanes where we are not suppose to drive,” Luhmann-McDonald said, adding, “this is all part of the anti-automobile attitude of this administration.”
Outside Astoria World Manor where the meeting was held, supporters of the Newtown Avenue pedestrian plaza converged to speak.
The younger board members of CB 1 voted for the pedestrian plaza, while a majority of those who opposed it were significantly older.
“It’s a disgrace. The people on the board are not representative of the community,” said Jerry Kann, an Astoria resident who spoke before the board.
According to Kann, if community board members were elected, they could be a better reflection of their community.
“It might have something to do with the fact that so many of these folks are very old people. I have nothing against old people but if they’re basically appointed for life, they have no incentive whatsoever to be accountable to the people,” he added.
George Spyropoulos, new co-owner of Sweet Athens Cafe, didn’t know how the plaza would affect his business. The cafe is adjacent to where the pedestrian proposal would have been built.
“However, when [the DOT] did the pilot a few weeks ago, people were getting food from all over and sitting there, so I can see both sides. People took out food from us too,” Spyropoulos added.
Sweet Athens Cafe’s request for unenclosed sidewalk seating was approved at the meeting; 23 tables with 92 seats, reduced from their proposed 116 seats.
“[The pedestrian plaza] is going to bring traffic jams and more undesirables. As far as we know, we’ve seen it already with the jam-ups,” said Astoria resident Cindy Moll who was very vocal while sitting in the audience. She was referring to the pedestrian plaza pilot program held in late August.
“Everyone knows who the undesirables are,” Moll added, saying “derelicts” hang in the area, causing residents to make frequent calls to the police.
“I’m really totally opposed to it; in a perfect world, beautiful, but this is Astoria, it’s the hustle-bustle. If you want to sit and relax, go into Dunkin’ Donuts or a cafe,”Ronnie Schalk said, after addressing the board.