Tag Archives: State Senator Michael Gianaris

Community feedback leads to permanent bus service expansion along Vernon Boulevard


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

As they say, ask and you shall receive. Due to an immense amount of support from community members, it will now be easier to access the western Queens waterfront.

The MTA announced on Friday that weekend and increased weeknight service on the Q103 route, which runs down Vernon Boulevard between Astoria and Long Island City, will be permanently added after a successful pilot program started last June.

The service additions made during the experimental program include extending weeknight hours from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and adding service on Saturdays and Sundays from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

During a public hearing in December on the increased service, community support was unanimous, according to the MTA.

Local leaders and business owners saw the need to expand the Q103’s service as crucial to the growing neighborhoods, which have seen a rise in new residential developments and expanded cultural attractions.

Some of the cultural spots that the bus serves include the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park.

“I am thrilled the MTA heeded my call to make Q103 service expansion permanent. Western Queens has long needed better bus service, so it is gratifying that the MTA responded to our concerns,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “There is so much happening throughout western Queens that our need for better methods of traveling between our neighborhoods has never been more pressing. This service expansion represents a hard-fought victory, but I will never stop fighting for improved transit service in our community.”

The Q103 bus line also serves as the public’s only option to connect areas to subway stations such as the F line at 21 St–Queensbridge and the 7 line at Vernon Blvd–Jackson Av.

During the pilot program, ridership levels increased by 6.8 percent on weekdays compared to the five-month period before the trial, and by 30 percent compared to average weekday use in 2012, the MTA said. Currently weekday ridership is 1,100 customers, the average Saturday ridership is about 300, and on Sundays it is about 250.

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Pols continue push for law change after another Queens hit-and-run


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO

Local elected officials are hoping a change in the law will prevent unlicensed drivers from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and avoid yet another death.

In response to a fatal hit-and-run in Elmhurst on Sunday, which took the life of a 26-year-old woman, state Senator Michael Gianaris gathered with local officials and advocacy groups on Tuesday morning at the site of the crash to reintroduce legislation he put forth more than a year ago.

The change in law would make it a felony if drivers with suspended licenses either seriously injure or kill someone with their vehicle. The proposal, included in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero agenda, would also include immediate impoundment of a vehicle involved in such accidents.

“Unfortunately we’re here for something that should have been done a while ago but has yet to be done,” Gianaris said. “We’re now for the third time in little over a year in western Queens alone dealing with an incident where someone who did not have a proper license to drive has hit and killed someone.”

According to the NYPD, the victim was struck at about 10:40 p.m. on Sunday at the intersection of 76th Street and Woodside Avenue as she attempted to cross the intersection.

A Mitsubishi box truck was traveling southbound on 76th Street and was making a left turn onto Woodside Avenue when it hit the woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

The driver fled after striking the woman, but an eyewitness reportedly chased down the truck. The driver, 27-year-old Valentine Gonzalez, was nabbed just blocks away, at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue, and taken into custody, cops said.

Under the current law, Gonzalez has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and driving without a license.

“After yet another hit-and-run by an unlicensed driver, it’s time that New Yorkers stood up and said that enough is enough,” Assemblyman Francisco Moya said. “Current laws are not tough enough if reckless drivers, like Valentine Gonzalez, are still able to drive on our streets. How many more fatalities will there be before we say the laws must be changed?”

The proposed bill, which is co-sponsored by state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, was initially introduced following the 2013 fatal accident in Woodside where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck on his way to school at P.S. 152.

“It’s time for the punishment to fit the crime. If you get behind the wheel when you’re not authorized to do so and you kill somebody or you injure somebody you should go to jail. That way we will keep it from happening again in the future,” Gianaris said.

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City collecting proposals for Sunnyside Yards feasibility study


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYCEDC Sunnyside Yards Feasibility Study RFP

Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving full steam ahead with his plan to create 11,250 housing units over Sunnyside Yards, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has voiced opposition to it.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC)  announced Friday a request for proposals for a yearlong comprehensive feasibility study for building over the rail yards. The agency is collecting proposals until March 20.

The study will examine the prospect of decking the enormous rail yard, and building homes, schools, open spaces and community facilities for the neighborhood as well as improving public transportation and infrastructure, while not interfering with train operations in the yards.

“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it could contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to deliver on our vision of a more affordable city and smart development that responds to the needs of surrounding neighborhoods.”

De Blasio first announced his plan for the yards during his second State of the City address in January, but hours later Cuomo disagreed with using the yards because of long-term plans for it.

But Cuomo is not the only politician to oppose developing Sunnyside Yards. When an idea to build a new Jacob Javits Center over the rail yards surfaced last year, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan didn’t immediately respond favorably to that plan.

Both shared concerns of major development in the area without first addressing issues current residents are facing, including lack of sufficient public services. State Sen. Michael Gianaris addressed Community Board 2 earlier this month about the proposal as well, and stated similar concerns.

“Any talk of thousands of new housing units at Sunnyside Yards should be secondary to meeting our significant existing infrastructure needs,” Senator Gianaris said. “Western Queens is already in need of many more schools, parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line. As this process unfolds, I look forward to working with the community to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear when it comes to Sunnyside Yards.”

Building over the yards is a key part to de Blasio’s goal of building and preserving 200,000 affordable housing units — 80,000 of which will be new construction — in the next 10 years.

There are nearly 200 acres of land at the site, 113 acres that are owned by Amtrak, 66 by the MTA and the remainder by private owners, according to the EDC’s request for proposals.

The EDC is working with Amtrak, which is in favor of development over its section of the yards.

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George Onorato, former Queens state senator, dies


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File Photo

Updated 5:00 p.m.

Lifelong Queens resident and former state Senator George Onorato, who served the 12th Senate District in western Queens for over two decades, died on Saturday. He was 86.

Onorato began serving the district, which encompasses Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside and Maspeth, in 1983 until he announced his retirement in 2010. He was succeeded by state Senator Michael Gianaris, who currently holds the position.

“George Onorato will always be part of the fabric of western Queens,” Gianaris said. “He dedicated his long and happy life to serving others and making the communities he represented better places to live. George Onorato served our country, our state and our neighborhoods in a way that made a positive difference in people’s lives. I will miss him. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. May his memory be eternal.”

Onorato graduated from Long Island City High School and served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1952.

Former state Senator Serphin Maltese, who served with Onorato in the state senate for many years, remembered him as a ” true man of the people.”

“He gave a special view on things,” Maltese said. “I’m sorry to lose him.”

Onorato was married to Athena Georgakakos and had three children, Joanne, George and Janice.

Visitation is scheduled at the Joseph Farenga & Sons Funeral Home at 38-08 Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria on Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

A funeral mass is scheduled to be held on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church at 22-17 45th St., followed by burial at St. Michael’s Cemetery at 72-02 Astoria Blvd. in East Elmhurst.

With additional reporting by Robert Pozarycki

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DHS removes sex offender living at Westway motel homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The cries of an East Elmhurst community have been heard, as a convicted sex offender has been removed from the homeless shelter at the Westway Motor Inn.

James Bryant, 49, who in 2004 was convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in 2003 and faced 10 years in prison, was living at the hotel located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd.

After hearing the news that the 49-year-old was living in the same facility that is home to over 100 homeless families, local elected officials and community leaders voiced their outrage.

“We are totally outraged, not only as a community, but we are saddened for those people who have children and now have among their group a pedophile who certainly should not have been selected to go into any shelter that has any children,” Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, previously told The Courier.

By Thursday, the city’s Department of Homeless Services announced that Bryant had been removed from the shelter.

“After we applied pressure, convicted sex offender removed from Westway Hotel,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris via Twitter. “We will continue to work on other issues surrounding Westway.”

Last July, the city’s Department of Homeless Services approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn into a shelter that would be managed by social services provider Women in Need.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood, local elected officials and community leaders were outraged they were not told or asked in advance about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“I have learned that the convicted sex offender has been removed from the premises at the Westway housing facility,” state Senator Jose Peralta said. “While I am pleased to hear this news, I remain extremely concerned by the lack of adequate policies and procedures in place at the Department of Homeless Services that would have prevented this dangerous circumstance from occurring.”

According to Councilman Costa Constantinides, the DHS has assured him they will be more sensitive when relocating individuals in the future and will be “considerate to the needs of the residential neighborhoods.”

“We will keep working to ensure that our neighborhood’s concerns are addressed in this process,” Constantinides added.

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Local pols criticize DHS decision to place sex offender at Westway motel homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated Thursday, Feb. 5 10:55 a.m.  

The East Elmhurst community is expressing its outrage after finding out that a registered sex offender has been moved to the homeless shelter at the Westway Motor Inn, which houses families that include young children.

James Bryant, 49, is a sexually violent offender who in 2004 was convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl the year prior and faced up to ten years in state prison, according to records from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

According to the same records, Bryant has since been moved to the hotel located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd., which has served as a shelter for over 100 homeless families since last year.

“I am alarmed at the recent news that a convicted child molester has been placed at the Westway facility after we were assured that location was meant to house families with children,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “The continuing lack of information and transparency surrounding the Westway is extremely troubling and validates the community’s concerns about this location from the start.”

Photo courtesy of New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services

James Bryant (Photo courtesy of New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services)

Last July, the city’s Department of Homeless Services approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn into a shelter that would be managed by social services provider Women in Need.

“We are totally outraged, not only as a community but we are saddened for those people who have children and now have among their group a pedophile who certainly should not have been selected to go into any shelter that have any children,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association.

Initially, community members were outraged they weren’t told or asked about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“Since the shelter opened last year, the community and local elected officials have had no voice in the process. We have lacked adequate access to the shelter facilities and its management, so it came to me as a complete surprise that a violent sex offender has been permitted to live in this facility,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “The families in need who are living at the Westway deserve more than just a roof over their head – they deserve a safe place to live.”

In regards to the community concerns the DHS said in a statement: “DHS takes safety concerns very seriously and, within its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need, is currently reviewing policies with regard to sex offenders in the families with children system.”

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Construction set to start on Hunters Point Community Library


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of the Queens Library

The Long Island City community celebrated Thursday morning the beginning of construction of a new waterfront library set to have the best view in Queens.

Local elected officials, community leaders, students from P.S./I.S. 78 and residents of the western Queens neighborhood came together for the start of the construction phase for the Hunters Point Community Library, which will be located at Center Boulevard and 48th Avenue, right next to Gantry Plaza State Park.

“This is an amazing historic day for Hunters Point, Long Island City,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who helped secure $30 million to begin construction of the new branch. “For so many folks here who may have thought, ‘Is it really ever going to happen?’ today we are here to say it is, it’s happening, it’s real, this is a huge victory.”

The state-of-the-art library, set to break ground in the spring and be completed in 2017, was designed by architect Steven Holl.

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

“The great struggle of a neighborhood like this which has buildings going up by the day and thousands of people moving in, is making sure the infrastructure keeps up,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris, who provided $500,000 in state funding for the library. “To be able to say…we are going to have this landmark that people will look at from Manhattan and be jealous of is a testament to all the hard work that everyone has been doing.”

The 21,500-square-foot facility will feature a reading garden, rooftop terrace, reading rooms for all ages, a gallery, a performance space and a children’s area. It will overlook the Manhattan skyline across the East River.

“It will absolutely be the best view of any library in Queens. We are excited to see that start to rise and to know that we are providing a new library for this community that so desperately wants and needs it,” said Bridget Quinn-Carey, interim president and CEO of the Queens Library. “The library is in a great place for 2015 and beyond and projects like this really show how we can come together with our communities to provide what you need in a library.”

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MTA to begin weekend bus trial expanding service along Vernon Boulevard


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

DSC_11092

Starting this weekend, residents and visitors will have better access to the western Queens waterfront.

The Q103 bus line, which connects Astoria and Long Island City via Vernon Boulevard, will offer service to riders on weekends, starting Sunday and operate later on weekday evenings, according to the MTA.

In April, the transit agency said the schedule update would serve as a trial program, and it would receive comments from the community at an MTA public hearing to be scheduled at a later date. After the public hearing, a decision will be made to keep the service or not. It has not been determined how long the trial program will run.

“This announcement is a milestone for all of us who fought for years to get proper bus service for the growing communities of Astoria and Long Island City,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been calling for the extra service on the bus line since 2011. “I am thrilled the MTA is finally realizing western Queens’ need for increased mass transit is real and pressing.”

Gianaris is also urging the MTA to make the Q103 expansion changes permanent.

The weekend service will run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and, in addition, the Q103 will also extend its weekday service hours until 9 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m. The travel path and bus stops will not be affected, the MTA previously said.

“These enhancements were all a result of listening to our customers and keeping close watch on changing ridership trends,” said MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco.

Local leaders and business owners see the need to expand the Q103’s service as crucial to the growing neighborhoods.

“It is a positive step in improving transportation options in our neighborhood,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “The Vernon Boulevard corridor has been one of the more under-served transit thoroughfares in western Queens. Increasing bus service would be a vital resource to commuters traveling to Manhattan and to residents connecting from Astoria to Long Island City.”

According to officials, the Q103 ridership has been increasing in the past years, rising from 558 riders per day in 2011 to about 790 in 2014.

The MTA has also announced that this Sunday the Q19 will extend its western last stop from Astoria Boulevard and 21st Street to the East River waterfront at 27th Avenue and 2nd Street.

The Q102 will then also remain on 30th Avenue between Crescent Street and 8th Street, according to the MTA, with the stops on Crescent Street, Newtown Avenue and Astoria Boulevard to be relocated to 30th Avenue. All bus stops along Astoria Boulevard will instead be served by the Q19.

For more information visit www.mta.info.

 

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State Senate passes Queens Library reform bill


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

A bill to bring reform to the Queens Library has gotten the thumbs up from the state Senate and will now make its way to the governor’s office where it is expected to be signed into law, officials said.

The Senate voted Thursday on the bill which calls for a number of “best practice” reforms including creating an audit committee to oversee the Library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits and establishing a labor relations committee to address labor issues.

“Once enacted, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bill.

The bill would also require executive staff of the Queens Library to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to limitations on any outside employment that could be a conflict of interest with their library responsibilities. The bill would also call for the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of key Queens Library staff.

“This bill has generated grave concerns and raised red flags with statewide and national groups. The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence, and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation,’” said Gabriel Taussig, chair of Queens Library’s Board of Trustees, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the rest of the board.

 

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Off-duty NYPD officer killed after car hits storefront near Queensboro Bridge


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

Updated 4:30 p.m.

An off-duty NYPD office was killed when her car smashed into an exit ramp of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge before striking a storefront in an accident-prone area of Long Island City.

Elisa Toro, 36, 10-year NYPD veteran who was assigned to Manhattan’s 17th Precinct, was heading off the bridge’s exit ramp around 1:50 a.m. Tuesday when she struck a guardrail, followed by a cement barrier, said police. The car then flipped onto its passenger side, hitting a vacant storefront on Queens Plaza South at Crescent Street.

Toro, a Bronx resident, was pronounced dead at the scene.

No one else was injured in the accident, said police.

The investigation is ongoing.

Kristina Shrestha said she saw the smashed up car when she came into work Tuesday morning at Panini Tozt Cafe located at 25-02 Queens Plaza South next door to the accident site.

“It was two years ago that the same thing happened in the same spot,” said Shrestha, who works as a cashier at the cafe. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the road.”

Following Tuesday’s accident, State Senator Michael Gianaris is calling for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make greater traffic safety efforts at Queens Plaza South.

Gianaris asked the DOT to improve traffic safety in the area and redesign the bridge’s exit ramp after a series of accidents in 2011. But a redesign of the exit ramp was “ignored” and only “additional signage and minimal barriers” were added, according to Gianaris. The barrier, which was destroyed in a 2011 crash was never replaced, he said, and could have protected the storefront in Tuesday’s accident.

“How many more people have to die before the DOT understands that the Queensboro Bridge exit ramp must be redesigned? The city has known that this area is in dire need of traffic safety improvements for years, and the DOT has simply not done enough. I renew my call for a complete redesign of the bridge off-ramp, and implore the city to take swift action before another tragedy occurs,” said Gianaris.

According to Seth Solomonow, DOT spokesperson, as of 2011, the ramp has been equipped with a large variety of traffic management devices, including three 20 mph word messages and “sharks teeth” markings on the roadway, 14 yellow and 12 white 36”-by-8” aluminum-backed reflectors, plus another 150 yellow and white prismatic reflectors on the bridge rail uprights, four sets of rumble strips to warn drivers that they are approaching a reduced speed zone and an electronic sign that displays the speed of passing motorists using radar technology.

Additional reporting by Angy Altamirano

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DOT begins process to bring Citi Bike to Astoria


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola

Citi Bike is slowly pedaling its way into western Queens.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has begun the process of bringing the Citi Bike Share Program into Long Island City, Sunnyside and now Astoria, by getting community input from Community Boards (CB) 1 and 2.

On Tuesday, the DOT began the first step of a long planning process of bringing Citi Bike to Astoria by introducing the plan to residents and board members during CB 1’s monthly meeting. Officials said this is only the beginning of a process that will take months and various community feedback meetings.

In August, State Senator Michael Gianaris announced he was working with the DOT to include Astoria in the future plans, which initially only included Long Island City and Sunnyside as Queens Citi Bike locations.

“I think it’s a great program that would provide unique benefits to western Queens,” said Gianaris. “I’m anxious to see a good program to include Queens as opposed to just Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

Gianaris said his push for the Citi Bike in western Queens arose after receiving a lot of input from residents and businesses. He also said it would work better for this area because although there are mass transit options available, some residents live a distance away from train stations. People from outside the area would be able to get to local restaurants, museums and other western Queens attractions.

The DOT will now conduct public discussions, collecting resident feedback and suggesting possible station locations in Astoria.

The senator said the only big community concern is fear that the DOT could remove parking spaces when they install the Citi Bike stations.

“We have to do the work to get it done now,” said Gianaris.

After the planning process is completed, the DOT will then have to find the funding for the stations.

The DOT has completed the planning process and station location selection with CB 2 for the neighborhoods of Sunnyside and Long Island City. Working together with the community, 11 locations have been selected and the DOT is waiting for resources to become available to install those stations.

The 11 locations are either in no-parking areas, sidewalks, public parks and plazas, or private property. A map of the planned stations can be found at http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/bikeshare/station-map.

Long Island City was supposed to be part of the Citi Bike’s initial phase, which debuted in May, but was pushed back after equipment damages from Superstorm Sandy caused a delay.

 

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Astoria welcomes affordable senior housing


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Some Astoria seniors now have a safe, comfortable and affordable place to call home.

City and state Housing representatives and local elected officials gathered with the community on November 15 for the grand opening of the affordable Hellenic-American Neighborhood Action Committee (HANAC) – Presbyterian Church of Astoria (PCA) Senior Residence, located at 31-34 33rd Street.

The six-story, $24 million project was built on the site of the former Presbyterian Church of Astoria, which had reached out to the nonprofit HANAC organization and Enterprise Community Partners after facing financial difficulties.

“HANAC-PCA Senior Residence is a critical example of how underutilized, faith-based sites can be used to create new housing in a city where land is scarce and the need for affordable housing is great,” said John Kaiteri, HANAC executive director and CEO.

Since last October, 90 tenants have moved into the affordable housing development, which targets low-income seniors. The building includes 56 one-bedroom units, nine studio apartments and a superintendent’s unit. The development also includes a community room with a full kitchen, vegetable garden, bocce ball court, social service offices, an on-site service coordinator and large balconies, where seniors can step out and lounge.

The building was designed to meet all guidelines for people with disabilities. Since the facility worked with green design partners, it includes a high efficiency heating system, water conserving fixtures and landscaped gardens with native trees and plants that minimize water usage. Residents’ exclusive use of Energy Star label appliances will decrease energy use by 20 percent.

Tenants and visitors can also enjoy a small exhibit in the main lobby that features items dating back to the 1920s, photos of the church and pieces of the altar.

“HANAC has a long history of serving those in need in our community, and this public dedication continues that tradition by expanding quality, affordable housing for seniors,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

The development was primarily funded through the city, state and Borough President Helen Marshall.

 

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Pol introduces bill to keep Astoria clean


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Assemblymember Aravella Simotas

Residents and local officials want to take out the trash in Astoria.

“We all want a clean living environment for our growing community and to help our small businesses thrive,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas at a rally on September 24 at the corner of 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard.

Her office has heard from an increasing number of residents in the recent months about how dirty the streets have become, she said.

“Working together and with the support of our friends and neighbors, I am confident we can keep Astoria beautiful,” she said.

In order to bring some ease to the problem of overflowing trash cans and large amounts of litter on the streets, Simotas will introduce a bill in the state legislature that will offer tax incentives to carting garbage removal companies who can work together with local business and business improvement districts in order to keep the neighborhood clean.

“It is an outrage that the streets of Astoria and the outer boroughs have been trashed by the city,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who has worked on the problem in the City Council. “While the population has increased, trash can pickups have decreased, which has resulted in overflowing cans and garbage on our streets. The city needs to immediately return to two pickups per week.”

Along with Vallone, Simotas will also receive support from State Senator Michael Gianaris who will lead the push for the bill in the State Senate.

“I have lived in western Queens my entire life and I have always taken pride in the beauty of our neighborhood,” said Gianaris. “As our community continues to grow it is vital that we preserve our quality of life, and the Astoria I know and love does not have streets covered with litter and overflowing garbage cans on every corner. As more and more people live and raise their families here, we need to work together to keep our community beautiful.”

 

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LIC welcomes better bus service


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

The Astoria and Long Island City waterfront is getting better bus service.

Improvements to the Q103 bus line, which runs along Vernon Boulevard between Hunters Point and Astoria, began on Monday, September 9. Instead of 25 runs a day, the Q103 will now have 30. It will run every 15 minutes during the morning rush-hour. The line will also start earlier, at 5:40 a.m., instead of 6:10 a.m., and end later, at 7:50 p.m., instead of 7:18 p.m.

The bus service changes are in response to months of State Senator Michael Gianaris and community group Riders Alliance pushing the MTA for better waterfront bus service, along with other MTA improvements.

“As western Queens continues to include our city’s fastest growing neighborhoods, we need to make sure public transportation keeps up,” said Gianaris. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Riders Alliance and members of our community to improve mass transit in western Queens.”

The MTA will also fix the schedule of the Q102 bus in order for the posted times to be closer to when the bus actually arrives at the stops.

“Knowing that my bus will come more often and according to schedule is a welcome change,” said Bobby Preti, Riders Alliance member. “It’s clear that our petitioning worked, the MTA heard us, and we thank them.”

 

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Sunnyside street named in honor of Sandy Hook victim


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Sandy Hook victim Benjamin Wheeler’s name will live on forever next to the No. 7 train he loved to ride and the Sunnyside street where the world got its first look at him.

Ben, 6, originally from Sunnyside, was one of the 20 children who were killed in the gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. On September 7, he was honored and celebrated during a ceremony to co-name the intersection of 41st Street and Queens Boulevard “Benjamin Wheeler Place.” Ben’s older brother, Nate, unveiled the sign.

“It’s really special that we rename this street ‘Benjamin Wheeler Place’ and the No. 7 train will go back and forth, back and forth and it will be a very beautiful thing,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “They moved to Connecticut but the love they left behind still is so incredibly strong in the community.”

Family, friends and local officials gathered wearing green, Ben’s favorite color, at the corner of 41st Street, where he lived with his parents and brother. His parents, Francine and David, lived in Sunnyside until Ben was seven months old when they decided to move to Newtown.

“We are so incredibly grateful for the chance to thank our former Sunnyside neighbors whom we are very, very lucky enough to still call friends for their love and for their support in the months immediately following last December,” said David. “You quite literally have kept us standing.”

In honor of Ben’s love for The Beatles, Congressmember Joseph Crowley sang “Here Comes the Sun” to the family.

“Nothing more fitting that we can do [today], than honor Benjamin and the entire Wheeler family by naming the street on which he spent his first day and first months, so that we will always remember the valuable contribution that they have made and their love for Sunnyside,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Francine was one of the founding member of Sunnymoms, a collective of local parents who share recipes, baby sitter recommendations and parenting tips. In February, Sunnymoms organized a fundraiser and concert for the Wheeler family to honor Ben’s memory and raise money for the family.

“Ben was six, he had just learned how to tie his shoes, that was his major accomplishment but frankly he hadn’t really perfected that either,” said David. “The sign will show us where we can eventually go as people. It is up to us to make our schools, our malls, our offices, our parks, our street corners safer for children everywhere.”

 

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