Tag Archives: new york city

Bayside residents oppose school in place of Keil Bros Garden Center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Build a school, say Bayside residents, just not in our backyards.

Community Board (CB) 11 voted against a controversial proposal to build an elementary school in the place of a popular garden center after enraged residents who live near the 210-11 48th Avenue site vehemently opposed it.

“This area is saturated with schools, and we can’t stand it anymore,” said resident Mandingo Tshaka. “Hell, no. That’s all I’m going to say.”

The owners of Keil Bros Garden Center and Nursery have struck a deal with the city to sell their entire Bayside property, including a home next to the store, for an undisclosed amount.

Ronald Keil, vice president of the family-run business, cited “the changing nature of the retail world” and “increasing costs of doing business” as reasons for the sale.

“Basically, it’s an uncertain economy,” he said.

Residents said the 416-seat school would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

“It’s really a disaster in the making,” said Toby Pagano, 64, of Bayside. “I would be horrified, but not surprised, if there was an accident.”

There are 21 elementary schools in the district and 12 within CB 11’s jurisdiction, according to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11.

Local educators said the majority of them are heavily congested, with registration growing every year.

At least three schools have had to put classrooms in space originally meant for libraries or music, Seinfeld said.

“There’s an opportunity for a school to be built,” P.S. 41 Principal Sari Latto said. “We’re hoping that will alleviate some of that overcrowding.”

No designs for a new school have been laid out yet, according to School Construction Authority officials. The site selection process began in 2008 and honed in on the disputed site last month.

According to Keil, the city approached his 83-year-old business within the last two years. He said he and his brother are exploring options to continue the store in another part of Queens.

The garden center will be open for regular business for the rest of the year.

CB 11’s advisory vote now heads to the City Council for a final ruling.

“I do get the need for new schools,” said resident Carol Shriver, 55. “I understand that. But this is wrong. This is just the wrong place to build a school. They’re just asking for trouble.”

 

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Queens least improved in subway delays: report


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of MTA Flickr/ Marc Hermann

Queens straphangers will have to hold on for a little longer.

The borough suffered a 17 percent spike in subway delays from 2011 to 2012, according to a new Straphangers Campaign report by the New York Public Interest research Group (NYPIRG).

Queens was the least improved in the city when it came to decreasing subway delays last year, the report said. The number of delay alerts jumped from 392 to 458.

Manhattan, which accounted for almost half of all citywide alerts, saw a 16 percent increase in delays over last year. The Bronx saw 17 percent fewer alerts over the same period.

An analysis by the Straphangers Campaign also found the F line had the most delays out of 20 citywide subway lines reviewed. The L worsened the most, with a 60 percent increase in delays.

The G, with 19 percent fewer alerts, had the fewest delays. It was also the most improved line, the report said.

“Thousands of New Yorkers rely on prompt subway service to get around the city on a daily basis,” said Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. “Delayed trains are an ongoing issue citywide, and it becomes a major burden on straphangers who depend on reliable trains to get to work, school and other places throughout the city.”

Data from the survey were gathered before Sandy, during the first 10 months of 2012. The findings attributed most of the delays to unspecified mechanical problems.

“They swear the services are getting better, but it never does,” said commuter Julio Castillo, 23, of College Point. “I take the 7, F and E and occasionally the N or R from the city, and they all have their fair share of problems.”

Gonzalo Rojas, 65, of Fresh Meadows said traveling during rush hour on the weekdays is not a problem. But he said he’s brought to a halt on weekends.

“I work on Saturdays, and there are always problems with the trains being delayed with lines being changed or just stopped for some reason,” he said.

The analysis was based on the MTA’s free Email and Text Message Alert System, which informs users of incidents that will result in an at least eight-minute delay, NYPIRG said.

However, MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said using the system “as a barometer of individual subway line performance does not paint a full picture of service issues.”

But he touted the mobile alert system, which launched in 2008, as an informative tool to get up-to-the-minute notifications.

 

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Dozens compete in Jamaica High School cardboard boat race


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos and videos by Melissa Chan

Dozens of students sat in boats made of cardboard and duct tape and waited to sink or swim.

Spaceships, pirate ships and even Pokemon were among 30 vessels trying their luck in Jamaica High School’s eighth annual cardboard boat race on April 19.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Saudia Hashally, a sophomore at Hillside Arts and Letters Academy.

Hashally said her boat managed to avoid sinking last year­. It just went around in circles, instead.

CHECK OUT MORE PHOTOS FROM THE RACE

“We perfected our paddling. We’re going to go in a straight line this year,” she said, standing by her team’s fish-themed cruiser. “Even if we don’t win, we had fun building the boat together.”

Judged on originality, speed and the appearance of their boats, pairs of sailors from seven area schools competed for trophies and bragging rights. They were not allowed to test their vessels until the race began.

Crafts capsized. Sailboats sank. Yet some voyaged to victory across Jamaica High School’s 75-foot-long pool.

In the end, first place went to the Bulldogs from the Humanities and the Arts High school in Cambria Heights. The team said they learned their lesson from last year’s loss and implemented key changes. The five students, two of whom piloted the boat, made their vessel narrower, ditched their paddles and added air chambers for extra buoyancy.

Fifteen rolls of duct tape and three days later, under the guidance of two teachers, they nailed the winning formula.

“I feel great,” said Harry Silva, 15. “We really changed the boat.”

Others left without trophies, but not completely empty-handed.

Jamaica High School’s Hurricanes turned the competition into a science project.

After educator Jeanne Quarto’s Brooklyn home was devastated by Sandy, her students designed their boat with violent storms in mind. They spent four days building a solid ship and hours conducting research on what to do before and after a hurricane, they said.

“It’s very special [to me] that they came up with the idea,” said Quarto, 51, a special education and earth science teacher. “They put so much work and effort on this boat.”

The Queens Courier asked the first place victors what their secret was to keeping their paper boats afloat.

“Pray,” said team leader Adam Abrego. “We just pray.”

 

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Outrage over teacher’s alleged sex romp with student


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News

The Queens middle school teacher charged with statutory rape was a popular, fun educator who shared details about his personal life with his class, students said.

“He was actually a really cool teacher,” said a former student. “He was funny. He joked around with us a lot.”

Daniel Reilly, a sixth grade English teacher at I.S. 237, is accused of having sex multiple times since last November with a 14-year-old girl he used to teach, authorities said.

The 36-year-old married father from Forest Hills was charged with rape, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse at his arraignment on Tuesday, April 9, according to the district attorney.

“This case is particularly disturbing,” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “Schools should be safe havens for children. Instead, this defendant is accused of sexually preying upon one of his former students and rendezvousing with her at his residence.”

A criminal complaint details several incidents in which Reilly and the victim lay naked in bed together and engaged in sexual activities in his home.

I.S. 237 in Flushing where Reilly is a sixth grade English teacher. (THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan)

The relationship, which allegedly continued for more than nine months, surfaced when the victim’s sister found sexually explicit text messages on her phone, Brown said.

Reilly was arrested on April 8 at 8 p.m. in Forest Hills, said cops.

The educator, who makes close to $62,000 a year, has taught at the Flushing school for six years, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education said. He was immediately reassigned out of the school, and there were no prior investigations.

Reilly posted bail for $30,000, according to the district attorney. The educator is ordered to return to court on May 6. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Students said Reilly was open with his personal life, telling his class how “goofy” he was in high school as well as his time in the U.S. Navy.

Reilly is also a new father, according to teens who knew him, and welcomed a baby daughter to the world last year.

“That’s pretty unacceptable,” said Mike Chen, whose 14-year-old son attends the school. “Something like that is every parent’s nightmare.”

Reilly’s wife and mother-in-law leave court with his lawyer. (Photo: NY Daily News)

 

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Storm update: 3 to 5 inches of snow expected in NYC


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

A significant winter storm that will begin Wednesday afternoon and last through Friday will bring up to five inches of snow, as well as rain and strong winds to New York City.

According to the latest forecast from the National Weather Service (NWS), daytime rain will turn to snow around 7 p.m. Wednesday and winds will gust as high as 39 mph.

Tomorrow the windy conditions and snow will continue, but, with a high of 39, should turn to rain during the day, and later turn back to snow as temperatures drop overnight.

The following day, winds will die down, but the rain and snow will persist until about 1 am. on Saturday.

In addition to a winter weather and wind advisory, the NWS has issued a flood warning for northern areas of Queens and Nassau County until 8 p.m. Wednesday.

There is also currently a flood advisory in effect for southern Queens until 6 p.m. and a flood watch until later tonight, according to the NWS.

 

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Audit finds Department of Buildings is ‘incapable of improving itself’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is falling down on the job.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said Comptroller John Liu. “Its inability to perform basic tasks … bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”

A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found the DOB is slow in responding to complaints, and has not improved or resolved problems found in earlier audits.

A 2009 audit found DOB inspectors failed to gain access to nearly 40 percent of properties they received complaints about in 2008. The department also sought warrants for less than one percent of inaccessible properties and did not follow up on vacate orders.

Since then, the rate of failed inspection attempts has more than doubled, according to a new audit. The department also only partially implemented a handful of 14 recommendations made in the last audit, Liu said.

But a DOB spokesperson said many recommendations in the report have already been implemented. The department has also launched citywide safety campaigns, a task force to inspect illegal dwellings and “undercover investigations” to target illegal apartments for rent.

“The department is doing more than ever to combat the dangers of illegal conversions,” the spokesperson said. “The department has aggressively targeted illegal apartments most at-risk for fire — with a vacate rate nearly five times greater than before.”

Roughly 20,000 complaints, mostly from Queens, regarding illegal conversions get fielded through the department annually, the DOB said.

But grievances about illegal conversions garner a B rating on the DOB’s priority-arranged scale of complaints — the same level earned by improper fencing, exposed elevator shafts and malfunctioning boilers.

Illegal conversions have been the root of many fire-related deaths at home, including a 2011 blaze that killed one and injured five in Woodside.

 

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DOE: Students can transfer out of failing schools


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

Students in failing city schools will be allowed to transfer, the Department of Education said.

The city is in the process of phasing out 39 struggling schools. The Panel for Educational Policy will vote in March on whether to phase out another 22, including three in Queens.

The transfer option will give students a chance to succeed at better schools. This is the first year all students at phase-out schools have been given the choice.

“We believe in providing good school choices for all students and families, and this new transfer option will enable families in low performing schools to gain access to higher performing ones across the city,” said DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia.

Transfer applications with a list of high-ranking schools will be sent to about 16,000 eligible students in March, the department said. Priority will be given to students with the lowest scores and “greatest need.”

Students who are granted the transfer would be able to start at their new school in September.

The three Queens schools proposed for phase out this year are P.S. 140 in Jamaica; Law, Government and Community Service High School in Jamaica; and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship High School in St. Albans.

P.S. 156 in Laurelton faces a possible truncation, which will eliminate its middle school.

One grade would be eliminated at a time from the troubled schools under the phase-out process.

 

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Quinn focuses on middle class in State of the City address


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Official NYC City Council photo by William Alatriste

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in her final State of the City address, promised it would become more affordable to live and work in New York in the years to come.

Quinn, who will be term limited out of the Council at the end of this year, is a heavy favorite on the Democratic side as a mayoral candidate.

“Every day, as I travel the five boroughs, I talk to people with those same hopes for the future, with the same incredible work ethic, and the same belief that there is no better place to be than New York City,” Quinn said. “I’m incredibly proud that in the last seven years, this City Council has built a record, not of words and criticisms, but of actions and results.”

In her hour-plus speech, Quinn promised to ensure the working middle class be able to stay and prosper in the city — and will do so through a number of current and future programs.

“Our top priority must be to keep our middle class here, attract new middle class families, and give every New Yorker the opportunity to enter the middle class,” she said. “Simply put, we face an affordability crisis in our city and it cuts right at the fabric of New York. We need to make sure that the people who want to stay in our great city can afford to stay here.”

On a related note, Quinn announced an incentive for residential building owners to convert a certain number of units into affordable housing. In return, the city will cap property taxes on the building based on rental intake.

“It’s a win for them, a win for middle class renters, and a win for the city,” Quinn said. “This is how we retain economic diversity in neighborhoods that have become harder to reach for the middle class.”

 

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Shadows are no-shows, groundhogs predict early spring


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Twitter/@ChrisCQuinn

Spring is coming early if the city’s most famous marmot has predicted correctly.

Groundhog Chuck in Staten Island and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania did not see their shadows this morning.

City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn celebrated at the city’s Groundhog Day festivities in Staten Island after the tiny rodent predicted the end of winter.

Shadows were not the only shy ones Saturday morning. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also absent.

City plans to put new schools inside Flushing, Newtown high schools


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

Students in two overcrowded Queens schools could soon learn a lesson in sharing.

The city plans to place two new schools inside a scaled-down Flushing High School and an international school in Newtown High School, education officials said.

The existing Flushing High School building would house a small district high school and another Chinese bilingual school. A school to serve English language learners, preparing recently arrived immigrant students for college, would be added to Newtown in Elmhurst.

“Our goal is to create a system of great schools that prepare all students for college,” said Devon Puglia, spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE). “Designed to meet the needs of individual communities, our new, small schools have delivered resounding results.”

Enrollment is expected to fall in both congested schools by 2016, education officials said, as fewer incoming ninth graders are taken in. Under the plan, Flushing High School students will drop from 3,000 to 2,150 and Newtown High School will see a decline from 2,250 to 1,910.

The proposals will not affect current students, according to the DOE, but State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said the struggling schools need time to improve. The change could also reduce the amount of financial aid each institution receives, she said.

“In this case, more is not better,” Stavisky said. “I think Flushing High School desperately needs the proper resources. Reducing the enrollment is not going to help because then fewer resources will be available.”

The senator said the schools would get 13 percent less “Fair Student Funding” from the city.

“Money isn’t everything, but the absence of money hurts,” she said. “They have to be given the opportunity to succeed.”
Flushing and Newtown were among seven high schools in Queens the city tried to close last year before the attempts were blocked by a court order.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposals on March 11. Panel members supported the city’s plans to shutter the schools last April.

Newtown improved from a “C” to a “B” on its last DOE progress report. Flushing received a “D” in the last two years, recently failing both student progress and performance.

 

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Family of Sandy’s first victim to sue city


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan/Laino photo courtesy of Facebook

The family of the Flushing man tragically killed by a felled tree during Sandy plans to sue the city after they said they fought in vain for at least a decade to get the towering threat removed, legal sources said.

A notice of claim has been filed on behalf of Tony Laino, 29, who was pinned under a tremendous tree that ripped through his bedroom in the upper left portion of his two-story home at 47-34 166th Street on October 29.

Laino, considered the storm’s first New York City victim, was pronounced dead at approximately 7 p.m., police said.

“Tony Laino was unnecessarily killed by a tree that didn’t belong there,” said the family’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold. “It shouldn’t have been planted there to begin with. It was overgrown, rotten and improperly pruned.”

Arnold said these fatal factors caused the tree to fall when it was confronted by predicted 80 miles per hour hurricane winds.

“The city knew about everything years before it happened,” she said.

The victim’s parents, Carol and Robert Laino, and one of his two brothers, Nicholas Laino, are gearing up to sue the city for emotional, mental distress and monetary damages, including funeral and burial expenses, according to the notice of claim obtained by The Queens Courier.

New York City and its Parks Department were “grossly negligent, wanton, reckless, purposeful and/or breached their duties,” which led to Laino’s “wrongful and untimely death,” the claim said.

Family and neighbors said the disaster could have been averted if the city listened to their numerous complaints made over a decade about the enormous tree looming over the Lainos’ home.

“I’ve been telling them to take this tree down for 20 years,” said Bobby Laino, Tony’s other brother, who lived apart from his family and who is not listed as a claimant.

According to Arnold, the Lainos’ house deed shows the tree was on city, not private, property.

The Parks Department directed comment to the city’s Law Department, which said officials would evaluate the new claim.

“We recognize that this incident involves a loss of life, which is tragic,” department spokesperson, Elizabeth Thomas, said in a statement.

The amount the family plans to sue for was not yet determined, Arnold said.

Laino was the youngest of three brothers and a worked as a driver for Ace Party & Tent Rental, his friends said.

“[The family is] heartbroken,” Arnold said. “They’re beyond heartbroken.”

 

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Claims against NYPD up during 2011 fiscal year


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Claims filed against New York’s finest spiked 35 percent in the last fiscal year, leading the city to shell out nearly $186 million in settlement costs, according to a report issued by Comptroller John Liu.

The NYPD was responsible for more claims during the 2011 fiscal year than any other city agency.

“The surge [in claims] against the NYPD is an alarm bell for the city,” Liu said. “The trend can and must be stemmed and reversed with better risk management including training, clearer accountability and the convening of a multi-disciplinary task force.”

The 114th Precinct in Astoria topped the list in Queens with 53 claims, the comptroller’s report showed, while the 113th Precinct in Jamaica had the highest number of crime complaints in the borough with 2,370.

But Councilmember Peter Vallone, chair of the Public Safety Committee, defended the NYPD. Vallone said claims against cops surge when the Corporation Counsel of the city’s Law Department settles too many “nuisance” cases regardless of merit.

“The Corporation Counsel settles everything, and they settle for reasons that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence,” he said. “When you settle cases when the police are not doing anything wrong, it’s going to lead to more and more cases and more tax money being wasted.”

Vallone said few cases involving false arrest and police brutality are justifiable, with the majority stemming from “sleazy” lawyers looking for a payout.

“Sometimes good cops are targeted by dirt bags, and then there are legitimate cases,” he said. “Drug dealers are making more money suing cops than selling drugs. It’s amazing. The only people who lose are the taxpayers.”

The city doled out over $550 million — a 5 percent jump from the year before — in total personal injury and property damage settlements in 2011, according to report findings.

Queens had the largest number of property damage claims in the city with 3,425 but the second lowest number of personal injury claims with 2,550.

Personal injury claims include medical malpractice, police action, civil rights violations, motor vehicle accidents and injuries that occur in schools or from defective sidewalks.

The NYPD did not immediately comment.

New York City bracing for snow this weekend


| brennison@queenscourier.com

File photo

After avoiding accumulation in Wednesday’s nor’easter, New York City is bracing for several inches of snow to coat the area this weekend.

Two to four inches of snow is expected in the city, according to the National Weather Service, with the snowfall to begin after 9 a.m. before tapering off later in the day.

In preparation for the storm, the DSNY has issued a snow alert and plows and salt spreaders are ready for tomorrow morning if needed.

The storm is moving north and is expected to drop several inches of snow on Philadelphia before making its way to the city.

Over the Christmas holiday, a nor’easter struck the Midwest, killing more than a dozen residents and dumping almost two feet of snow some places. New York City avoided snow and only experienced high winds and rain.

Comptroller Liu delivers State of the City


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Raising the minimum wage, providing free college tuition and ending corporate welfare were among the myriad of topics touched on during Comptroller John Liu’s State of the City speech last week.

After a pre-speech show featuring a children’s choir, interpretive dancers and violinists, the presumptive mayoral hopeful delivered his second State of the City speech this year which focused heavily on ways to aid the city’s working and middle classes to a packed room at John Jay College on Thursday, December 20.

“If we are serious about narrowing the wealth gap we need to have the courage to pay all people a livable minimum wage,” Liu said.

The comptroller said due to the city’s high cost of living, the effective minimum wage in the five boroughs was less than $4, the lowest in the country. Liu called for the current $7.25 an hour rate to be raised over five years to $11.50.

Ensuring more residents graduate from high school and college is one way for more residents to earn a decent living, the comptroller said.

Currently, four out of five high school students in the city do not graduate from college, according to the comptroller. Skyrocketing tuition costs is one reason behind the high number of students without a bachelor’s degree. Liu suggested offering the top 10 percent of students at public schools free tuition at any CUNY school.

“The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize,” said Liu. “It would also be a lifesaver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college.”

Madison Square Garden also found itself in Liu’s crosshairs during the talk.

“Why has Madison Square Garden been awarded a $15 million a year real-property tax exemption?” Liu asked.

Eliminating tax breaks and corporate welfare handed out to big companies would raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the city, Liu said. More than $250 million was handed out last year to a handful “of lucky and well-connected businesses,” he said.

While big businesses enjoy tax breaks, many smaller businesses struggle under the weight of taxes and fines. Liu unveiled a series of proposals to reduce taxes and fines by $500 million for small businesses. Fines doubled over the past decade, Liu said.

“While fines are sometimes a necessary evil to protect public safety and health, they should not be used just to generate revenue for the city,” he said.

Sandy’s surge delays bike share yet again


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

PHOTO BY MICHAEL PANTELIDIS

The city’s previously stalled bike share program is again slamming on the breaks after Sandy.

The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and bike share operator New York City Bike Share (NYCBS) announced that its hotly-anticipated Citi Bike will be postponed for a second time to May of 2013 because of damage incurred by the Superstorm.

Sandy’s surge flooded NYCBS’s facility located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which sits along the East River and housed roughly two-thirds of the system’s equipment. According to the DOT, while portions of the equipment were not significantly damaged, including bike frames and hardware, several integral electrical components require repairs or replacing.

“DOT has worked around the clock to restore vital transportation links following the storm and that includes putting Citi Bike on the road to recovery,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “Despite the damage, New York will have the nation’s largest bike share system up and running this spring.”

The initiative was originally supposed to unveil 7,000 bicycles in March of 2013 after being delayed from the fall because of faulty equipment. The DOT said they intend to increase the number of bikes in the program to 10,000 eventually, but do not presently have a timeline on when that will occur.

According to the DOT, 5,500 bikes will be implemented at 293 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Long Island City – initially slated to receive bikes in the first phase of the program – will not be included in the May 2013 debut. Western Queens cyclists can expect to see the shiny cobalt cruisers on their blocks sometime towards the end of 2013.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who has long been in support of the bike share program, said the delay is a major disappointment. Regardless of Long Island City’s exclusion from phase one, the councilmember said he would continue to advocate for the active neighborhood to increase its ability to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.

“I understand the Department of Transportation is doing its best to get the nation’s largest bike share program up and running but leaving Western Queens out of the mix does not seem logical when so many residents here rely on alternate transportation options,” said Van Bramer.

Initially, 10 docking stations were expected to be placed strategically to provide riders access to premier locations in LIC, including waterfront parks, the business district and LaGuardia Community College.

The delay will not impact the program’s $41 million price tag, funded privately by Citi.