Astoria passes on a proposed pedestrian plaza

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Opposition by Astoria merchants pushed Community Board 1 to pass on a proposed pedestrian plaza.
Opposition by Astoria merchants pushed Community Board 1 to pass on a proposed pedestrian plaza.

Opposition by Astoria merchants pushed Community Board 1 to pass on a proposed pedestrian plaza, to the dismay of many local residents.

During the group’s monthly meeting, Community Board 1 members voted 25 to 7 against the Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated venture, which would have installed a pedestrian plaza at the intersection of Newtown and 30th Avenues.

According to Community Board 1 district manager Lucille Hartmann, the group rejected the proposal predominantly after concerns arose about nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital and traffic patterns for emergency vehicles. She claimed the hospital’s new cancer facility also factored into the board’s negative vote.

Hartmann said the board suggested adding safety sidewalks to make the notoriously perilous intersection less dangerous.

“I think pedestrian plazas are nice in the right area,” said Hartmann. “Hopefully another site can be picked where there is more agreement on it.”

On Saturday, August 25, the DOT set up a temporary pedestrian plaza, outfitted with tables, chairs and umbrellas, allowing residents to sample their neighborhood with the additional outdoor space. During the trial-run, the plaza garnered mixed reviews from residents. Some enjoyed having an open area to relax and enjoy coffee with friends while others feared the closed street could cause traffic backups in an already congested area.

Frank Arcabascio, owner of the Redken Salon on 30th Avenue and president of the 30th Avenue Merchants Association, said his group was largely against closing the street. The business owner also believes the plaza could threaten emergency vehicle access to Mt. Sinai Hospital. According to Arcabascio, the DOT only presented the options of a pedestrian plaza or no changes at all, adding that DOT representatives were unwilling to take input from locals.

“We can keep the street open and have a beautification going on, which we feel should be the third alternative,” said Arcabascio. “They were only offering to close it or leave it open.”

Arcabascio suggested spreading the “Green” concept along the 14-block radius his group oversees, benefiting a larger section of the neighborhood rather than just a small patch. He hopes the DOT will sit down with the merchants to discuss the future of the plaza and consider merchants’ suggestions.

Eddie Hernandez, a local resident and member of pro-plaza group Friends of Newtown Plaza, thought the proposed plan was a great way to convert a dangerous intersection into a beneficial aspect of the community. Friends of Newtown Plaza collected 630 signatures from locals in favor of the plaza.

“This was a great location,” said Hernandez. “It was a location where hundreds if not thousands of people walk every day. There’s clearly a desire in the community to have somewhere to sit where you don’t have to pay.”

Hernandez claimed there was a rigid line between merchants and residents during the Community Board meeting, during which, according to Hernandez, several merchants expressed animosity towards locals.

“The merchants were against [the plaza],” said Hernandez. “I guess they have the Community Board’s ear.”