Opinion: Quality of life issues need to be addressed

Bus stop construction site on First Avenue and 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Bus stop construction site on First Avenue and 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By William Oddo
I know we are supposed to feel grateful for only a $50 a month rent increase for “maintenance improvements.” Some might suggest common sense and that these maintenance items should be paid from our monthly rent. In any case, there are some significant day-to-day issues that most residents would like improved but few seem to have addressed.
One is unsafe, substandard and hazardous pedestrian intersection ramp condition at intersections and crosswalks. The other is the loss of significant resident parking due to constant “temporary construction” of one sort or another and lack of government attention and repairs.

Sidewalk pedestrian ramp conditions
Throughout our community at sidewalk intersection ramps poorly designed, unsafe physical conditions, and steep ramp angles create conditions for large water “ponding” to form (think ice skating in winter).
This both blocks passage in warm weather rain and creates slipping conditions after practically every cold rain event. The “ponding” condition is worsened by the placement of Citi Bike stations that block drainage along street curbs.

Worse yet, the steep pedestrian ramp angles lack adequate level and safe sidewalk refuge areas (particularly all along the 1st Ave. west sidewalk area – 15th to 22nd St.), and tripping hazards at pavement and curb intersection.
Even in dry weather the most able of us have to be aware of these and other obstacles like phone/billboard obstructions, newspaper stanchions, and other street furniture that block and impede the 13 access nodes/locations surrounding our community.

Fourteen intersection improvements for 25,000+ people shouldn’t be too difficult for our electeds. Here’s the list if they need: 14th St. at Ave. A, B and C; 1st Ave. at 14th, 16th, 18th, 20th and 23rd St.; 20th St. at Ave. A, B and C, and Ave. C at 23rd, 18th and 16th St.
The fact is these pedestrian street crossing ramps do not assure disabled and aging community residents of a safe crossing let alone meet current engineering design standards (plus substandard federal, state, NYC DOT requirements).

Street crosswalk conditions
Once entering the street crosswalk one is presented with more dangerous crossing conditions; don’t even think of tripping here. The worst conditions exist at 1st Ave. at 14th and 20th Streets. Here it’s due to poor pavement conditions, utility manhole location hazards, the abrupt change in crosswalk elevations (urban hill and dale tripping hazards) and constant construction (destroying just finished improvements).
These conditions are of course beyond the usual post winter pothole repairs.

Bus stop construction
The forever bus stop construction project (over a year in the works) surrounding the busiest transit intersection at 14th St. and 1st. Ave has created more pedestrian safety issues and obstacles and further loss of resident parking.This particular project begins along 14th Street (in front of our closest and one of busiest MTA community bus stops) and extends along First Ave to 16th Street.
So if you need to transfer from a 14th St. bus to 1st Ave. bus or from 14th St. “L” train stop, just hike on over to 16th Street. It’s comical if not a pathetic situation.

Neighborhood parking search
Apparently, pedestrian walking hazards and residents driving in circles after work (yes there are jobs that are not near public transit or require private vehicles) in search for a parking space have escaped the attention of our local elected officials.
Recently, we have lost significant parking along the entire First Ave. Loop road and created pedestrian obstacles with little or no mitigation. We have lost almost 200 parking spaces all 14th and 15th Street due to Con Ed. They said this was a terrorist hazard but only at this power pant.

If you live in a public housing residence on 14th Street there is a good chance private, onsite parking is available for about $100 a month. Better yet for free on the non-terrorist side of the 14th Street power plant.

Some possible solutions
So here’s what our elected officials can do to get to work to help everyday conditions for all our residents:
1. Improve all 14 intersections surrounding our community free of “ponding” and designed to meet NYC/S and federal pedestrian design standards.

2. Identify and create permanent and robust intersection crosswalks at major crossings in our community. Once completed, no major deconstruction work is allowed unless in extreme emergencies. This can be accomplished by building adequately sized utility access conduits (mini-tunnels) for future needs under these crosswalks.
This would require an inter-department and public /private property coordination to establish future design and construction requirements and standards for access. Just think what we did in Times Square – we can do this here. Let’s start with 1st Ave. at 14th and 20th Street as a pilot.

3. Relocate all Citi Bike on street parking to city owned islands and wide sidewalk areas surrounding our community. That effort alone would regain about 30 to 40 permanent parking space for our community and improve drainage and intersection “ponding.” There are plenty of examples of this suggestion all around our community and city. (Hint, photos examples sent to our local officials).

4. Redesign and reopen hundreds of safe parking spaces along 14th and 15th Streets and still keep us safe from terrorists. An added benefit is pedestrian safety adjacent to our schools, parks, churches, and synagogues will be significantly improved and vehicular traffic reduced. Why? Because vehicles to and from the FDR Drive will have access to highway ramps that have been closed.

5. Contact our local electeds and Community Board 6 officers (some even live in our community) to act on your behalf to improve a few everyday community safety conditions.

William Oddo is a Stuyvesant Town resident and founder of Stuyvesant Town Quiet Oval.

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Sanitation garage, homelessness addressed at Gramercy forum

Council Member Rosie Mendez, LaToneya Burwell, director of Community Affairs at the Department of Homeless Services, DSNY community affairs liaison Julian Sepulveda, Lieutenant Vincent Collins, Police officer John Considine and Assistant District Attorney Kaitrin Roberts (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Council Member Rosie Mendez, LaToneya Burwell, director of Community Affairs at the Department of Homeless Services, DSNY community affairs liaison Julian Sepulveda, Lieutenant Vincent Collins, Police officer John Considine and Assistant District Attorney Kaitrin Roberts (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez moderated a quality of life forum at School of the Future on East 22nd Street this past Tuesday evening and answered questions from the community with the help of representatives from various city agencies. The event was co-hosted by Gramercy Neighborhood Associates and Community Board 6 and there were representatives from the various city agencies in attendance to answer questions.

District Manager Dan Miner noted that turnout seemed low because of the ongoing thunderstorms and the middle of the forum was interrupted by a flash flood warning alarm blast from an attendee’s cell phone. The Parks Department, Department of Transportation and the Department of Health did not have representatives at the forum, making it a smaller affair than a similar quality of life forum that was held for the Kips Bay community in the spring.
Mendez noted that this forum was meant to build on the event at Kips Bay and the representatives present at the forum included Lieutenant Vincent Collins and Police officer John Considine of the 13th Precinct, LaToneya Burwell, director of Community Affairs at the Department of Homeless Services, Julian Sepulveda, the community affairs liaison at the Department of Sanitation and Kaitrin Roberts, Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney Crime Strategy Unit.

Alan Krevis, president of the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Alan Krevis, president of the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

One of the topics discussed, albeit briefly, was the sanitation garage that is planned for the Brookdale campus. Councilwoman Mendez said that the garage was a plan that was submitted under the previous administration but the current administration has yet to announce a stance on it. Mendez and her fellow City Councilmember Dan Garodnick have been called to a meeting about the garage that will take place in the next week or so, she added, and more updated information should hopefully be forthcoming after that.

Other questions addressed at the forum had to do with cleanliness. Mendez noted that a number of the questions sent in had to do with dog waste. Sepulveda of the DSNY noted that issuing a summons to someone for not cleaning up after their dog is tricky because it is something that police have to witness occurring. He encouraged residents to submit complaints to 311 so the city is aware of problem areas and the DSNY has been working with Business Improvement Districts throughout the city on sanitation-related issues to make sure that areas are clean, but beyond that, it’s a difficult rule to enforce. Mendez added that a new initiative was proposed and passed in the last city budget this June which allots between $90-$100 thousand per council district for city clean-up.

Burwell, a representative for the Department of Homeless Services, addressed questions about what to do about homeless people on the street. She emphasized that it isn’t illegal to be homeless but residents can contact 311 and DHS will send their street outreach team to engage with the person.

Many of the representatives for city agencies at the previous Kips Bay forum emphasized that 311 was the perfect catch-all for complaints on just about anything and some of the attendees at this most recent forum expressed frustration about the bureaucracy that sometimes seems involved in getting problems solved after reporting them to 311.

Sepulveda acknowledged that calling 311 can seem frustrating but assured the residents that the complaints were being heard.
“Our office deals with 311 requests all day,” he said. “It’s not just a black hole. They are getting somewhere. We do have to abide by certain rules and regulations so sometimes the issue is just out of the agency’s hands.”

Lieutenant Collins of the 13th Precinct also made the distinction between when to call 911 versus 311.
“If you fear for your safety or their safety, that’s a 911 situation,” he said.
“If someone could get injured, that’s always a 911 call. Sometimes if it’s a grey area; they may redirect the call to 311, but if there’s a chance of injury, it’s always better to call 911.”

Community Board 6 will be hosting other forums in the future and Miner said that the next meeting on the radar will be a senior issues panel on September 15. More information about the panelists and topics to be discussed will be available closer to the event’s date.