Tag Archives: LIRR

American Pharoah goes for the Triple Crown at Belmont Park tomorrow


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy New York Racing Association/Adam Coglianese

Having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah already proved himself a champion thoroughbred; the only question left is whether he is a racing legend.

It will be answered tomorrow at Belmont Park, when American Pharoah goes to the post in the Belmont Stakes as the 14th horse since 1979 with a chance to sweep all three legs of the Triple Crown.

American Pharoah comes to Belmont on a six-race winning streak and off a Preakness win in which he went wire-to-wire amid a torrential rainstorm. Standing between him and the Triple Crown is a trip around the daunting 12-furlong circuit of Belmont’s main track and seven challengers, each of whom did not race in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Pharoah’s jockey and trainer have been in this spot before: Victor Espinoza and Bob Baffert brought War Emblem to Belmont in 2012 with a chance at a Triple Crown, only to see the colt stumble badly out of the gate and finish eighth. Last year, Espinoza rode California Chrome to a Triple Crown bid, but the colt finished fourth in the Belmont. Baffert came up short in two previous Triple Crown chances with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 — the latter of which lost the Belmont by a nose.

As with any Triple Crown berth, a huge crowd is expected at Belmont Park on June 6. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) capped the maximum attendance at 90,000; last year’s Belmont Stakes drew over 100,000 but the cap aims to make patrons more comfortable and reduce overcrowding issues.

No general admission tickets will be sold at the gate tomorrow; all tickets must be purchased in advance online.

Last year’s event also ended on a sour note off-track due to problems with departing trains at the Belmont Park Long Island Rail Road station that left some patrons waiting hours after the final race to leave. The LIRR and NYRA spent $5 million to build two new concrete platforms and make other improvements to the station to better accommodate the thousands expected to travel to and from Belmont by rail Saturday.

Additionally, the NYRA scheduled a post-race Goo Goo Dolls concert to ease the crowd’s departure and reduce train and road congestion.

The $1.5 million Belmont Stakes highlights a championship 13-race card that includes nine other stakes races including the $1.25 million Metropolitan Mile for older horses, the $1 million Manhattan Stakes for older turf horses and the $1 million Ogden Phipps Handicap for older fillies and mares. The first post is 11:30 a.m.; the Belmont Stakes will go off at 6:52 p.m.

The Belmont Stakes field. Graphic courtesy NYRA.com

The Belmont Stakes field. (Graphic courtesy NYRA.com)

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MTA Memorial Day weekend service changes


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by MTA / Patrick Cashin

The MTA will make the following service changes for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to the transit agency.

New York City Subway

On Monday, May 25, the city’s subway system will operate on a Sunday schedule. Customers are reminded to use the A, C, D or Q instead of the B and the J instead of the Z. Express service is not available on the 6 and 7. In addition, on Sundays, some subway routes are shortened. The following diversions are in effect on Memorial Day through 5:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 26:

• Manhattan-bound 1 trains run express from 14 St to Chambers St. Bronx-bound 1 trains run express from Times Sq-42 St to 72 St.
• Brooklyn-bound 2 trains run express from 14 St to Chambers St. Bronx-bound 2 trains run express from Times Sq-42 St to 72 St.
• 34 trains skip Rockaway Av and Van Siclen Av in both directions.
• Brooklyn-bound 46 trains skip 103 St.
• Bronx-bound 4 trains run local from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St.
• 5 trains are suspended between E 180 St and Bowling Green in both directions. 6 service is extended to Bowling Green.
• Far Rockaway/Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd bound, A trains skip Rockaway Blvd.
• Manhattan-bound AC trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.
• Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St.
• Brooklyn-bound D trains are rerouted on the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.
• E trains run local in both directions between Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills-71 Av in Queens.
• Brooklyn-bound F trains are rerouted via the E line from Roosevelt Av to W 4 St-Wash Sq, and then via the A to Jay St-MetroTech. F trains run local in both directions from Roosevelt Av to Forest Hills-71 Av.
• Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains stop at 45 St and 53 St.
• Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Hwy.
• Brooklyn-bound R trains stop at 53 St and 45 St. R service is extended to the Jamaica-179 St F station.

Long Island Rail Road

The Long Island Rail Road will provide 10 additional early-afternoon train trains from Penn Station on Friday, May 22. The LIRR will operate on a regular weekend schedule on Saturday and Sunday and on a holiday schedule on Memorial Day.

For more details, click here.

Metro-North Railroad

On Friday, May 22, Metro-North will provide 17 extra trains departing Grand Central between 1 and 4 p.m., and one extra departure from Hoboken Terminal on Metro-North’s Port Jervis Line. On Monday, May 25, Memorial Day, a Sunday schedule will be in effect on the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven Lines, and a weekend schedule will be in effect on the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines.

For more details, click here.

Staten Island Railway

MTA Staten Island Railway will operate its Early Departure Get Away schedule on Friday, May 22. This schedule means extra SIR trains will be added earlier in the afternoon beginning at 2:30 p.m. from the St. George Ferry Terminal. There will be one express train and one local train awaiting every boat until 7:50 p.m. The Early Departure Get Away service plan on SIR is also available on Wednesday, July 3.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels

MTA Bridges and Tunnels will suspend all scheduled maintenance work beginning 1 p.m. on Friday, May 22, through the end of the morning rush on Tuesday, May 26.

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LIRR train fatally strikes woman near Bayside station


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

A 41-year-old woman was struck and killed by a Long Island Rail Road train just west of the Bayside station Wednesday night, according to the MTA.

The woman, who wasn’t immediately identified, was hit by an eastbound train at about 11:30 p.m. as it was about to pull into the stop near Bell Boulevard, an LIRR spokesman said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what she was doing on the tracks.

The incident suspended service on the Port Washington line until 1:45 a.m.

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Ridgewood civic focuses on bike lanes and local businesses


| editorial@ridgewoodtimes.com

TIMES NEWSWEEKLY/Photo by Kelly Marie Mancuso

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

Transit, tenants and trees took center stage during a three-part presentation hosted by the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association (RPOCA) on Thursday at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center.

Community Board 5 Public Transit Committee Co-Chair John Maier explained plans for new bike routes connecting Ridgewood and Glendale with other parts of Queens, including Rego Park. The RPOCA first requested the bicycle routes back in 2011. The Department of Transportation and Community Board 5 created a forum in 2013 to gather community input and feedback regarding preferred routes.

The first option for the proposed bike route plan would connect Ridgewood to Rego Park via various roadways in Middle Village. According to Maier, special road markings would be installed along Metropolitan Avenue and 69th Street. Eliot Avenue, however, is slated to receive actual designated bike lanes.

Option two would connect Glendale to Rego Park via 80th Street. Maier voiced safety concerns over the use of Dry Harbor Road for part of the proposed route and cited the narrowness of the roadway as being potentially problematic.

New pedestrian and bike passageways are also part of the Kosciusko Bridge Project, which began in 2014. Improvements also include the installation of a double suspension bridge aimed at increasing traffic flow.

Maier also announced that work may begin within the next one and a half years on long-awaited progress on the reconstruction of the bridge carrying Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road over Long Island Rail Road tracks on the Ridgewood/Middle Village border. Originally planned in 2005 but delayed repeatedly, he told residents the project has been fully funded and is in the final design phase.

Maier also pleaded for help from the community in getting the stalled Wyckoff Avenue reconstruction moving. The project would implement much-needed street repairs and sewer/water line replacement along Wyckoff Avenue between Flushing and Cooper Avenues.  He asked community members to act as advocates for the project and request sponsorship from local elected officials.

Ted Renz, Community Board 5 member and executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), also spoke about changes and initiatives in Ridgewood’s busiest commercial district. According to Renz, the BID is experiencing an influx of new tenants and residential construction.

Renz cited ongoing residential development, including the 135-unit building slated for St. Nicholas Avenue, as well as two fully occupied 45-unit buildings on Putnam and Myrtle Avenues, as evidence of the commercial district’s popularity among a new wave of younger tenants.

“We want a balanced community,” he said. “If you don’t have young people, then you’re a dying community. Living over a store, which nobody wanted years ago, is now becoming chic and popular.”

In addition to attracting new residents to the BID, Renz also hopes to apply for a grant from the New York Main Street Program, a state-sponsored revitalization effort, in the future. Renz hopes to pursue the program once he receives a strong commitment from local retail owners.

Finally, RPOCA Director Maryellen Borello sounded the call for volunteers to help with the Parks Department tree count in a 200-block radius in Ridgewood. According to Borello, the Ridgewood tree count will take place from June through August. Those interested in volunteering can visit www.rpoca.org for details.

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More funding secured to upgrade outdated freight locomotives


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Train.tif

Extra funds are coming down the track from Albany to clean up some of the state’s dirtiest diesel locomotives.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, along with other elected officials, civic organizations and the New York League of Conservative Voters, announced that $3 million was secured in the 2015 state budget to continue a program to overhaul old, state-owned freight locomotives.

This funding comes after Hevesi previously secured $6 million in the 2013 and 2014 state budgets. That money has already been put into retrofitting two locomotives of the 11-car fleet at Glendale’s Fresh Pond Railyard, which are set to roll out this December.

According to a source close to the situation, the first two locomotives, which received funding for upgrades during the last two years, were delayed getting their enhancements due to contract disputes with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which owns the railyard but leases it to the New York and Atlantic Railway. The two train cars went in for their scheduled upgrades this past summer and will be set to go by the end of the year.

“With this additional state funding, and the first two overhauled freight locomotives expected to come on-line later this year, it is encouraging that great strides are being made to fight for, and protect, the health of countless families in the boroughs of New York and on Long Island,” Hevesi said.

Retrofitting diesel freight engines was a top transportation and environmental priority in the Fiscal Year 2013, 2014 and 2015 Assembly budgets. The request was supported and signed by over 60 members of the Assembly, and received bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.

“I am very pleased that the new state budget includes an additional $3 million that will be used to continue a program to upgrade the engines of antiquated LIRR freight locomotives,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said. “This program will improve the lives of Queens residents by reducing the unhealthy nitrogen oxide emissions and curbing the unpleasant noise pollution generated by the locomotives’ existing diesel engines.”

The train cars are currently equipped with antiquated engines which are up to the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 1970s locomotives and give off toxic emissions. These outdated trains operate throughout Brooklyn, Long Island and Queens, and specifically at the Fresh Pond Railyard.

“This funding gives us greater ammunition in the fight for our constituents’ quality of life and I am thrilled we can continue to see the progress in overhauling the antiquated freight locomotives,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said. “This benefits people near and far to the rail tracks — allowing those close to be less disturbed by train rumblings and those all around to allow more fresh, clean air into their lungs.”

The continued funding of this program will allow for a third freight locomotive to be upgraded to meet the current EPA Tier 4 emissions standards. The EPA Tier 4 standards are some of the highest in the country since the EPA changed their emission standards in 2000.

The enhancements to this third train car is expected to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions — a known byproduct of diesel engines linked to respiratory diseases — by up to 76 percent per year, or the equivalent of 120 tons of emissions over 10 years.

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MTA fare and toll hikes take effect Sunday


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ File Photo

MTA commuters will need to pay more to ride trains and buses beginning this Sunday, as the transit agency implements the 4 percent fare and toll hikes it approved in January.

The base fare for all New York City subway and local bus rides along with Paratransit/Access-a-Ride trips will go up a quarter, from $2.50 to $2.75. Express bus fares will climb 50 cents from $6 to $6.50 per trip.

Unlimited MetroCards will also cost more, with 30-day cards climbing from $112 to $116.50 and 7-day cards rising from $30 to $31. Transit riders who use Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards will receive an 11 percent bonus when they purchase or add at least $5.50 to their cards. The MTA will also continue its $1 surcharge for all new MetroCard purchases.

Meanwhile, Long Island Rail Road tickets will also increase by an average of about 4 percent. One-way off-peak trips between Penn Station and points in Zone 3 in Queens will rise from $7 to $7.25; one-way peak tickets will cost $10. CityTicket fares for one-way weekend travel within the city will climb to $4.25.

Additionally, the LIRR is eliminating “stop-overs,” in which customers who purchase one-way or round-trip tickets can exit the train at another stop, then re-board later in the day using a single ticket.

Drivers will also feel the pinch of higher tolls at the MTA’s bridges and tunnels taking effect this Sunday. One-way car trips across the Robert F. Kennedy, Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges and the Queens-Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels will cost $8 cash or $5.54 for E-ZPass holders.

Car tolls to cross the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial or Cross Bay Veterans Memorial bridges will also increase to $3.25 cash or $1.73 for E-ZPass holders. Discounts continue to be available for residents in Broad Channel and the Rockaways.

It will also become more expensive to cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, as the one-way toll for cars will jump to $16 cash or $11.08 for E-ZPass holders; tolls are only collected from westbound traffic.

For further details, visit the MTA’s website.

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CB 5 committees pan Cross Harbor Tunnel plans


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

File photo

Building a Cross Harbor Tunnel would shift the tri-state area’s traffic problems into Brooklyn and Queens, members of the Community Board 5 (CB 5) Transportation and Public Transit committees declared during a meeting Tuesday night in Glendale.

Panelists panned options in the Port Authority’s Cross Harbor Freight Program that call for a train tunnel or a combined train/truck tube through the harbor between rail yards in New Jersey and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The options include increased activity on the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge line and the connecting Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Glendale — the only freight rail terminal linking geographic Long Island and the rest of the country.

Though the Port Authority claims the tunnel plans would help reduce tractor-trailer traffic on its existing Hudson River and harbor crossings, CB 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri charged, the proposal wouldn’t remedy congestion, but rather move it elsewhere in the city.

According to Arcuri, the tunnel plans included the creation or expansion of intermodal shipping facilities and warehouses near the Fresh Pond Rail Yard as well as Maspeth and East New York. At these sites, goods would be loaded and off-loaded between train cars and small trucks. Citing analysis performed by the Glendale-based Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions (CURES), Arcuri said, the tunnels would effectively add hundreds of truck trips each day onto local streets.

“By taking the largest tractor-trailers off the road and putting [their cargo] on the trains, they’re adding thousands of smaller trucks to our area,” he said. “We need to come up with a comprehensive argument against this current plan.”

John Maier, Public Transit Committee co-chair, echoed those sentiments, noting that much of the tunnel program’s concepts are based in “theory.” Municipal waste and construction and demolition debris from the city and Nassau and Suffolk counties make up the bulk of all local freight rail shipments. Other goods, he noted, are largely shipped by truck.

“The tunnel would do more to alleviate traffic outside of New York City than within it,” Maier said. “It’s not creating a lot of jobs because a lot of [shipping] is automated. It’s not a lot of yard jobs. It’s not a lot of anything, really. It would only reduce 6 percent of traffic on the Hudson River crossings while adding much more than 6 percent of traffic to East New York and Maspeth.”

Jean Tanler of the Maspeth Industrial Business Association stated that companies in the neighborhood’s Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) expressed similar concerns about a Cross Harbor Tunnel, but also pressed for easier shipping methods to reduce costs and travel time.

“There’s definitely demand,” she said. “It would save companies a lot of money to shave off a day of transit, either by rail or by barge.”

Local logistics also make a Cross Harbor Tunnel plan unfeasible, according to CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. The plans indicate a tunnel would bring between 16 and 21 trains through the area each day — and current freight rail facilities are already overwhelmed with traffic.

“Right there, it’s physically impossible to pull that off unless the trains just rolled through at all hours of the day,” Giordano said.

Arcuri concluded that “the current plan is unacceptable” and that the board needed to present a resolution not only dismissing the Cross Harbor Tunnel, but also advocating for increased barge shipments and container float operations across the harbor. The chairperson said a resolution will be developed and considered at the committees’ next meeting on Tuesday, March 24.

Meanwhile, Queens residents will have the opportunity to speak out on the Cross Harbor program during a public hearing on Tuesday, March 3, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens.

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Train fatally strikes man at Flushing LIRR station


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the 109 precinct via Twitter

Updated Thursday, Feb. 12, 11:27 a.m.

BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ERIC JANKIEWICZ

A person was struck and killed by an LIRR train at the Flushing–Main Street station on Wednesday, temporarily suspending service on the Port Washington branch during the evening rush, MTA officials said.

The 38-year-old victim, who was from Mahopac in Putnam County, was on the tracks and holding onto the platform, but apparently made no effort to move when the train came toward him, a witness said, according to an MTA spokeswoman.

Service was suspended on the entire branch from about 4:40 p.m. until just after 6 p.m. Delays and cancellations continued as the line operated on a single track for the next hour.

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MTA approves fare hikes  


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_0741

BY ECLEEN CARABALLO

Another year, another fare hike.

The MTA’s board voted to approve fare increases on Thursday, raising the cost of a MetroCard ride from $2.50 to $2.75 beginning on March 22, according to the transit agency.

Single ride tickets will also increase, from $2.75 to $3.00. Monthly MetroCards will go from $112 to $116.50, express bus fare will increase from $6.00 to $6.50, seven-day express bus MetroCards will go from $55 to $57.25, and Access-A-Ride fares will increase from $2.50 to $2.75. But the bonus on Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard will go from 5 to 11 percent and increase the purchase threshold from $5 to $5.50.

Most Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad rider will see fares increase 4.25 percent or less, according to the MTA.

Tolls were also reportedly discussed and board members agreed to keep toll increases lower for E-ZPass users, as opposed to those who use cash. They are expected to increase by about 4 percent for E-ZPass users, and 6 percent for cash paying customers.

When the subway opened in 1904, it took an additional 44 years for the fare to be doubled from 5 cents to a grand total of 10 cents, reports said. Since 1995, when the fare was at $1.50, the MTA has almost doubled the cost of a subway or bus ride within a mere 20 years.

Last March, fare hikes raised the cost of a MetroCard ride by 25 cents. The transit agency also introduced a “New Card Fee,” where riders pay $1 each time they buy a new MetroCard.

“The MTA has been able to limit these fare and toll increases to the equivalent of 2 percent a year thanks to our continued aggressive cost-cutting, while still adding service and improving service quality for our growing number of customers,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast. “Our financial plan assumes modest biennial fare and toll increases, and the board has chosen options with lower increases for our most frequent customers.”

The agency also said it has cut over $1 billion from its annual spending and has plans to make cuts every year to bring its annual savings to $1.6 billion by 2018.

But John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, said in a statement that “the real scandal may be yet to come,” if Albany doesn’t step in to help stop the continuing fare increases. 

“If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature don’t decide on new revenue sources to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan, larger fare increases are lurking around the corner,” he said. “Paying for public transit with fare hikes is a regressive way to fund a public service that the entire region relies on. We urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to act quickly to fund the next MTA Capital Plan, instead of passing on the cost to overburdened riders.”

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Gov. Cuomo unveils proposal to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Getting to LaGuardia Airport could get a whole lot easier.

Gov. Cuomo rolled out a proposal to build an AirTrain from the Willets Point No. 7 train station to LaGuardia Airport, similar to the train line now connecting John F. Kennedy Airport to the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station and the Howard Beach A train station.

“You can’t get to LaGuardia by train today and that really is inexcusable,” Cuomo told several hundred of the city’s top business leaders during a speech before the Association for a Better New York at a Midtown hotel Tuesday morning. “That is going to change over the next several years.”

“We will construct an AirTrain that will connect with the route 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point and will take you into LaGuardia Airport. That is about a mile and a half construction. It will run along the Grand Central Parkway in an area that we believe won’t create an undue burden to any other neighboring structures,” Cuomo said.

The proposed train line is part of an ambitious array of proposals regarding LaGuardia that Cuomo will discuss in his upcoming State of the State speech. He is also calling for a high-speed ferry terminal connecting the airport with Manhattan and a major overhaul of terminals.

He called the rail link “truly long overdue.”

Cuomo downplayed the potential for disruption to neighboring communities, citing the proposed 1.5-mile route through what he described as largely industrial Willets Point and along the Grand Central Parkway. He did not mention the city’s plans to redevelop Willets Point.

The MTA has for more than a decade considered a rail link to LaGuardia. Previous proposals included extending the N and R line from Astoria to create a one-ride trip to the airport.

A LaGuardia AirTrain to the No. 7 line station at Willets Point would also create a connection with the Long Island Rail Road, expanding the potential service area of the project. But it would, like JFK’s rail link, require a transfer to make the trip.

The project would cost an estimated $450 million. But Cuomo  said he would “not venture a guess” about the timing for the project.

The 8-mile JFK AirTrain, built by the Port Authority, cost roughly $2 billion. Construction on that train began in 1998.

The announcement was praised by airport advocates.

“Despite the importance of our airports, key investments into their future have been consistently squeezed into the middle seat,” said Joe Sitt, chairman and founder of the Global Gateway Alliance, a independent advocacy group that is pushing for regional airport improvements.

“GGA has long called for faster mass transit to LaGuardia Airport, and shown how far behind other airports it is in terms of access. Governor Cuomo’s new plan to finally construct a direct rail ride to LaGuardia would be a huge relief for millions of passengers each year and finally put us on par with leading airports around the country and the world, ” Sitt said. “But let’s be clear: we do not need words or speeches; we need action — both on the state and federal level – to provide a budget and timeline quickly,” Sitt said.

Cuomo did not say which agency or public authority would be charged with building the AirTrain to LaGuardia. He shares control of the Port Authority with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and he would need the backing of the Garden’s State’s commissioners on the authority’s board.

Cuomo also controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But the MTA is struggling to fund its current capital projects, including the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access connection for the LIRR at Grand Central Terminal.

The JFK Airtrain was funded in part with a $4.50 passenger facility fee that was charged by the Port Authority to airlines for outbound flights.

Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, both Cuomo appointees, released a joint statement pledging support for the project.

“The Port Authority and the MTA are working closely to establish the scope, schedule and management of the LaGuardia AirTrain, just as they worked closely to create the successful JFK AirTrain.”

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Man of the Year: Carlisle Towery


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp.

Many people say Jamaica wouldn’t be the up-and-coming community it is today without Carlisle Towery.

Over the course of four decades, Towery has watched over Jamaica as the head of the not-for-profit Greater Jamaica Development Corp. (GJDC) and guided its regrowth as an emerging neighborhood.

He witnessed the initial economic decline throughout Jamaica as department stores and anchor stores shut their doors and left for brighter pastures in malls across Long Island and elsewhere as his organization planted the seeds of the future by working to attract various public and private projects to the neighborhood.

In the process he formed important business relationships, which helped to eventually bring back retailers and investors. Now developers around the city have been eyeing Jamaica as the next frontier for opportunity, and massive projects that will spur economic growth are already planned.

After setting the table for Jamaica’s revival, Towery plans to watch the completion of his work from the outside. He recently announced his retirement from the position where he has spent half of his life.

For his many accomplishments that have helped to improve the Jamaica community from all angles, The Courier has selected Towery as its Man of the Year.

“His most extraordinary contributions to Jamaica have been unparalleled in terms of his achievement, persistence, and creating an environment for business to grow,” said Victoria Schneps, publisher of The Courier. “He has focused his life’s work on all aspects of the Jamaica community, and has made it better for his having been there.”

Towery, born and raised in Alabama, received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Auburn University and then moved to New York City to study urban planning at Columbia University in 1961 after earning a full scholarship.

He later went on to use his planning skills, including an assignment as chief urban designer of the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based organization that focuses on improving urban growth across the New York metropolitan region.

Carlisle

While at the RPA he began working on a plan to transform Jamaica and repair the business community it started to lose. He presented the plan to the members of a chamber of commerce that represented Jamaica and impressed its board members.

At the time, the organization was working on establishing a not-for-profit, which would later become the GJDC, to bring economic growth back to a neighborhood that had suffered mightily from the urban decay of the early 1970s. The GJDC was formed and its new leaders picked Towery to be its first president in 1971.

“He is very bright and knowledgeable, conscientious, an excellent speaker and an expert planner,” said Vincent Albanese, a founder of the GJDC and current board member. “We were very impressed with his background, his expertise, and we were fortunate that [the RPA was] prepared to make him available to us.”

When Towery took the role of president of the GJDC he knew that he would be presented with a major challenge in the coming years.

Jamaica was heading into an era he later called the “disinvestment decade,” as downtown Jamaica’s anchoring department store giants, Macy’s, Gertz and Mays were all about to leave the area.

Towery fought to keep the stores, which he knew were the lifeblood of the community, but they all ended up exiting, starting with Macy’s in 1978. And as the bigger retailers left, so did smaller ones. Some banks and The Long Island Daily Press also closed around this time.

Jamaica had gone quickly from one of the city’s major commercial centers — a hub for Long Island shoppers who arrived at the Long Island Rail Road station — to a shell of its former self.

Its row of movie theaters, including the once-majestic Loews Valencia, shut their doors. The Valencia would later be resurrected and renovated as a church.

Towery oversaw city, state and federal partnerships over the next four decades that resulted in a revitalization of the neighborhood into one of the borough’s hottest development areas.

From 1978 to 1996, private investment in Jamaica totaled just $17 million, compared with the $364 million that has been invested in the last three years, according to the GJDC.

“He has had tremendous accomplishments,” Albanese said. “Jamaica was not growing, not serving the best interest of the business or residential communities. There was a tremendous need for a person of his caliber.”

Towery credits a number of strong public initiatives in Jamaica in the past few decades that led to the rebuilding of the downtown. He persistently advocated what he calls “pre-developments” through seven mayors and eight governors, dating back to John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller, and the federal government to attract more private investment.

This includes removing the Jamaica Avenue El and extending the subway to Parsons Boulevard, which started the creation of the transportation hub in the downtown area, and moving York College into the neighborhood instead of alternative sites.

Towery says York College’s move to Jamaica was the greatest development for the neighborhood while he was head of the GJDC because of the jobs it creates and the college’s ability to interact with the community in many ways.

“We worked our tails off to get York College here,” he said in a recent interview.

Today the college, part of the City University, is the only site in the borough selected to be part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY initiative, a much-heralded economic development initiative that will encourage businesses to partner with the school and move to Jamaica, either to a location on the campus or in the surrounding area, in exchange for wide-ranging tax breaks.

York College is now in negotiations with many businesses looking to partner with the school in exchange for being exempt from corporate, sales or property taxes for 10 years. The new businesses would move to a property near the school or build on a portion of 3.5 acres of vacant, government-owned land on campus. The college is slowly becoming the hub for business, opportunity and community that Towery envisioned it could.

York College - Campus and students.

The GJDC also supported building the new regional Jamaica headquarters for the U.S. Social Security Administration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which are two federal agencies that brought jobs into the neighborhood.

The not-for-profit also advocated for the construction of the AirTrain rail line from John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003, which further expanded Jamaica’s transportation hub to new heights.

That transportation hub, which is now comprised of various subway lines, an LIRR station, numerous bus lines and the AirTrain, has become a magnet for development.

After a 368-block rezoning was completed in downtown Jamaica in 2007 near the transit hub to allow more developments with commercial and residential uses, more and more developers have been planning large-scale projects there.

Some local initiatives and projects that have helped shape Jamaica were original ideas the GJDC started under Towery’s leadership, such as the creation of the first business improvement district in the downtown area to focus on the growth of local stores and companies and the first green market in New York City.

“Carlisle has been extremely successful in attracting government resources to the downtown, and has been a leader in urban revitalization and ahead of lots of other people with ideas of how to make things go better in downtowns,” said Andrew Manshel, the GJDC’s executive vice president. “He has integrated arts and culture in economic development way before that got to be a standard practice.”

In 2014, the GJDC was proud to announce the development of a $225 million mixed-use, 29-story residential and commercial tower at the building it owns on 93-01 Sutphin Blvd. just north of the LIRR and AirTrain station. The project led numerous community leaders and politicians to proclaim the return of Jamaica, because it followed the 2013 announcement of a 210-room, 24-story hotel on the south side of the LIRR complex at 93-43 Sutphin Blvd., a plot of land that is partly owned by the GJDC.

Jamaica also saw some sales last year that showed developers were highly interested in purchasing land in the area and building commercial centers or residential properties. A 90,000-square-foot building and parking garage at 163-05 and 163-25 Archer Ave., which has 719,736 square feet of buildable space, was sold for $22 million in October. Additionally, a development site at 147-07 to 147-37 94th Ave., which has 420,000 buildable square feet, was listed for $24 million.

Going forward, Towery believes that Jamaica is in need of more housing developments, since most of the GJDC’s projects and partnerships have been unrelated to housing. New housing in the area should be 50 percent market rate, 30 percent moderate income and 20 percent low income for Jamaica, he said in a published interview.

Towery also said in that interview that his replacement should be a visionary who should pursue productive partnerships.

Towery plans to retire with his wife to their home in Maine. But because he’ll always be interested in what Jamaica will become in the future, he hopes to keep a close eye on the neighborhood as it completes its transformation.

 

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Community demands improvements at Elmhurst LIRR overpass


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

Elmhurst residents and their elected officials are demanding that the city clean and maintain a pedestrian bridge above Long Island Rail Road tracks that they say is deteriorating, dirty and often dangerous.

Local elected officials and community leaders gathered earlier in December to tour the pedestrian bridge that connects two separate sections of 55th Avenue, one of which turns onto 85th Street and the other that becomes a dead end near Haspel Street.

The group toured the overpass with Long Island Rail Road and Sanitation officials to discuss the conditions and demand immediate improvements be made at the site.

According to Christian Cassagnol, district manager of Community Board 4, the problems most residents have voiced concerns about include graffiti, lack of sufficient lighting, safety overnight and dirty conditions.

Residents and members of CB 4’s environmental committee regularly gather to clean up the site, Cassagnol said, but there is only so much that could be done on a local level. He decided to contact Councilman Daniel Dromm’s office in the hopes of finding a better solution.

Rosemarie Daraio, president of the nonprofit Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together Inc. (COMET) Civic Association, added that some other issues include illegal dumping, weeds overtaking the site, and deteriorating and uneven steps.

Days before the Dec. 15 walk-through, the city’s Department of Sanitation showed up and did a cleanup.

“This site must be cleaned and made safe for pedestrians,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who was part of the group that toured the overpass.  “There is no substitute for an on-site visit to see conditions firsthand.”

According to Stavisky, she and Dromm will continue to monitor the issue.

“Quality-of-life issues are vitally important to the growth, strength and happiness of the community,” Dromm said.

Cassagnol plans to work with local leaders on trying to implement the Greenstreets program at the site, also known as the Green Infrastructure Program, which works to transform areas into green spaces.

“It’s an issue we are going to have to constantly monitor,” Daraio said.

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City’s closure of Flushing overpass causes businesses to suffer


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

The city’s extended closure of an overpass bridge in Flushing is set to end by 2016, according to a Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman. But the long wait could continue to hurt local business owners.

LIRR train tracks cut through 149th Street, with an overpass bridge connecting the two sides of the street. The bridge has been closed since 2009, according to residents and business owners in the area.

According to a DOT spokesman, a new bridge was ready to open in 2012, but during a final inspection the department found cracks in the foundation, leading the department to keep the bridge closed.

The lack of a bridge in the area left several businesses on 41st Avenue disconnected from the other side. Traffic withered away as a result, business owners said, and led to a noticeable reduction in customers visiting the stores on 41st Avenue, near the 149th Street overpass bridge.

“I’m lucky if I get half the customers I used to get before the bridge closed,” said Kyung Yoon, who owns a deli on 41st Avenue. “It’s not good for business. We pay taxes, don’t we? So why are they taking so long to open it again?”

Yoon points out that there are other overpass bridges in the area but for most people they’re inconvenient to use.

The city’s spokesman said that the bridge will remain closed for public safety. He said they continue to meet with local stakeholders and they will continue to provide updates to the community as they work to “reopen this important connection.”

The spokesman pointed out that the city opened the bridge to foot traffic in response to the community’s needs.

While pedestrians can still use the bridge, the area has become a hang out spot for people who want to drink alcohol, residents said. And, for this reason, resident Karina Hernandez said she barely ever comes to the deli’s side of the tracks.

Karina Hernandez lives on the other side of the tracks and she often goes to Northern Boulevard instead because if she drives it’s too inconvenient to use one of the working overpass bridges. And if she walks, the people who hang out on the bridge deter her from making the journey.

“It’s so ridiculous that it’s been closed for this long,” she said. “I used to come to these places all the time. But now, I barely ever make it unless it’s during the day and I’m not driving.”

Along with Yoon’s deli, there is also a pharmacy-café, a Chinese restaurant and a Korean restaurant. The workers at the pharmacy-café and the Korean restaurant also noted that business hasn’t been as good over the last five years because of the closed overpass bridge.

The city plans on completing a final design in 2014. And in the fall of 2015 the spokesman expects a construction contract to be hashed out. The new overpass bridge should be completed within six months after that.

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3.5 acres of on-campus land at York College will be home to new companies


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo and map courtesy of York College

Parts of Jamaica may look forlorn with many properties vacant or in need of repair, but its shopping district and its richness in transportation options could turn it into the next big thing for development.

Businesses from around the state and outside New York are vying to enter the neighborhood through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY tax-free program at York College, which school officials are touting as a potential catalyst for a development explosion in downtown Jamaica.

York representatives told The Courier that they are in negotiations with many businesses looking to partner with the school in exchange for no corporate, sales or property taxes for 10 years, and move to a property near the school or build on a portion of 3.5 acres of vacant, government-owned land on campus.

The vacant property, called Site 9, was identified in a plan that school administrators submitted to the governor’s office in July. The site is bounded by Guy Brewer Boulevard, Liberty Avenue, 165th Street and South Road. A parking lot and green space at the Brewer Boulevard side of the block are not part of the development site.

That plan was submitted by CUNY to the state Commissioner for Economic Development and was recently approved.

The plan details the types of businesses York is hoping to attract, based on the school’s academic and research programs.

Although school representatives said they weren’t allowed to discuss the specific businesses that they are considering, those fields include pharmaceutical, medical device research and manufacturing, water resource management and purification, logistics, aviation, wireless technology, solar power companies and food science research and manufacturing.


School administrators said the partnering businesses will benefit not only students but also the neighborhood, which should see increased employment as a diversifying local business landscape becomes a magnet to attract other firms to the area.

“[The program] is moving in the right direction and we are quite excited,” said Earl Simons, director of government and community relations at York. “It provides potential opportunities for our students in terms of internships as well as important opportunities for the surrounding community.”

S- York Map 2

Near York College, the downtown Jamaica area hosts a comprehensive transportation hub. The AirTrain transports passengers to John F. Kennedy Airport in about 10 minutes, while the LIRR takes thousands of people to Manhattan daily in about 20 minutes. There are about 49 bus lines running through and around the area, and the E, J, Z and F subway lines are nearby.

There have been several recent moves to leverage this resource.

A 368-block rezoning was completed in downtown Jamaica in 2007 to allow more developments with commercial and residential uses.

And earlier this year, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a nonprofit that has been working to transform the neighborhood, announced the development of a $225 mixed-use, 29-story residential and commercial tower at the building it owns on 93-01 Sutphin Blvd. at Archer Avenue, just north of the LIRR/AirTrain complex.

Rendering courtesy Greater Jamaica Development Corporation

93-43 Sutphin Blvd. rendering courtesy of Greater Jamaica Development Corporation

That followed the 2013 announcement of a 210-room, 24-story hotel on the south side of the LIRR complex at 93-43 Sutphin Blvd., a plot of land that is partly owned by the nonprofit.

The Development Corp is collaborating with York to help bring businesses to downtown Jamaica through the tax-free zone program, school officials said.

Businesses looking to set up shop in the tax-free zone need to appeal to several selection committees as well as school and state officials. While no immediate announcement of incoming companies is expected, York is confident in the program’s ability to be the push downtown Jamaica needs.

“It’s another tool to really spur development and economic opportunities and job creation,” Simons said. “It can only enhance all of the efforts that are taking place here.”

 

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Real estate roundup: New Rego Park building rendering revealed, controversial luxury building opening in Elmhurst


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of GF55 Partners

Revealed: 65-70 Austin Street, Rego Park

“The building, designed by GF55, will fit in perfectly with the other seven-story buildings that have been erected on the south side of Austin Street over the past decade or two. The structures have been filling in a formerly industrial low-rise strip, set up against the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line, right beside what used to be the Rego Park station, shuttered in 1962.” Read more [New York YIMBY]

Controversial High-End Building Opening as Part of Elmhurst ‘Renaissance’

“A controversial apartment building that was the subject of recent litigation is getting a luxury makeover as part of a hoped-for neighborhood “renaissance,” according to developers.” Read more [DNAinfo]

New program aims to battle the growing graffiti menace in parts of south Queens

“The residents of Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Woodhaven are about to find out as officials kick off a new anti-graffiti program on Wednesday. For the first time, the Queens Economic Development Corp. is heading the program funded by City Councilman Eric Ulrich.” Read more [New York Daily News]