Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bottleneck on the Boulevard of Death

Where I live, the main artery is Queens Boulevard. If you're not familiar with "The Boulevard of Death," it's a cute little 12 lane highway (may be a couple more or less, depending on intersection) that cuts across Queens from the slow-down-you-move-too-fast 59th Street Bridge (formerly formally known as the Queensboro, now officially called the Ed Koch—and we wonder why cabs can't find their way around??) all the way to Jamaica Avenue.

Right now, this artery is suffering a blockage. What makes it hurt most is that, when the blockage finally clears, other than the lack of pain, there will be no benefit to the community. We're going through all of this for nothing—and that's what's making me angry.

The Boulevard of Death

Queens Boulevard and Continental (71st) Avenue
There has always been a fascinating dichotomy between the people who drive the Boulevard and the people who live along it. To drivers, it's part of a highway system (technically, Queens Boulevard is a section of NY State Route 25). They often drive it as if they were still on the GCP, the BQE or the Van Wyck—never mind those pesky traffic lights and those obviously misplaced pedestrians. To us pedestrians, the Boulevard is something of a Main Street; whether you live North or South, you spend a lot of time crossing to the other side. Bear in mind that we wacky pedestrians some in all ages and are often pushing baby carriages or shopping carts, holding the hands of small children and/or walking dogs. Combine the village population with the thwarted expressway drivers and you can easily understand the "Boulevard of Death" moniker. Railings and cameras may have reduced the annual number of fatal incidents, but it's still one of the most dangerous streets in NYC.

Blockage in a Major Artery

Currently, a major construction project is causing bottlenecks on a the North side of the Boulevard, on the block that stretches between (71st) Continental Avenue and 71st Road. Note that this is entirely separate from the half-completed two-year (estimated) project to add an elevator to the subway station, which cuts off half a block and a subway entrance on the South side, as well as large portions of subway platform inside.

The preparatory phase gradually forced out five businesses, only one of which I know to have successfully relocated (to a significantly less-trafficked spot). Since the serious construction on the new residential tower began a few months ago, development has closed off half the sidewalk, diverted people away from and ultimately shut down a thriving sidewalk newsstand, and closed off a lane of traffic from the Queens Boulevard West-bound service road.

To understand the impact of the vehicular traffic bottleneck, note that this site is at one major intersection (where Queen's Boulevard intersects both 71st/Continental Avenue and 108th Street) and is only two blocks from another (where Queen's Boulevard, at one of its wider points, crosses Yellowstone Boulevard). This has been making the phrase "morning rush" highly ironic for anyone driving East-to-West. It also means that, at the height of the recent heat wave, a truck delivering dairy products had to park a block away from the grocery store—where it stood open to the heat, for what I thought was an uncomfortable length of time, while the goods were gradually unloaded and lugged to the delivery entrance.

Apart from being a pain in the ass for everyone who lives in or passes through this area, this construction site has made life more dangerous. The only thing that makes Queens Boulevard work at all is practice: the majority of pedestrians who cross it do so often, and at familiar intersections. You can imagine the consternation when the delicate ecology of this route is disrupted.

What "Walkway"??

Once the rat-killing was done and digging began, the construction crew for this tower began erecting various temporary plastic-barricaded "walkways," slowing encroaching deeper into the road. Occasionally I've seen a neon-vested human with a flag, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

What walkway? The "street" you have to cross is Queens Boulevard
This weekend, the "Walkway" was Queens Boulevard
This weekend, there were men with flags, which meant I got to speak to someone when I found, without any prior notice, that the entire block was closed to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

For the length of this critical block, no traffic could pass along the Queens Boulevard service road. And for pedestrians coming from the East, it meant that we had to cross Queens Boulevard just to access the subway.

It's clear why this was done on a weekend.

A representative of Gilbane later assured me that this complete lack of access was only for this weekend. That doesn't excuse the lack of safe provision for subway access nor the lack of prior notification; nor does this heightened short-term inconvenience mitigate the impact of the longer-term disturbance.

Yes, the disturbance related to the subway station project is also a pain, and only the MTA could take two years to put in an elevator, but at least the station at Continental Avenue will end up better serving our community. I can't, on the other hand, think of a single thing this residential tower is going to do for us.  We're getting all the disruption and absolutely none of the gain. What do we get—okay, more selfishly, what do I get—when this building is finally finished?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

As a member of New York's downward spiraling middle-class, I'm not exaggerating when I say that the cool disregard this project shows to my neighborhood is making me feel even more downtrodden and disenfranchised than I usually do. This weekend's little detour was the final straw.

I got stuck at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. And after finding out the details of this little detour, I said to the guy with the flag, "This is ridiculous! You mean I have to cross Queens Boulevard just to get on a subway?"
  • The Flag Guy shrugged and said "If you have a problem with that, talk to the guy from the Department of Buildings."
  • Me: Where is he?
  • Flag Guy: Over there somewhere. (points to far end of barricaded area)
  • Me: Could you call him over? (he shakes his head and shrugs) So you  mean I have to cross Queens Boulevard, go to the corner, and cross Queens Boulevard again, just to talk to him?
  • Flag Guy grins. He's absolutely certain he's gotten rid of me.

Let's just say that I was born under the sign of Mary Mary Quite Contrary. Rather than discouraging me, this only egged me on. So yes, I crossed the Boulevard twice to get to the other end of the same block. And the fact of having to do so upped my anger from mild irritation to absolutely fuming.
  • I yelled out to the team on that end "I was told someone is here from the Department of Buildings?! Where is he?!"
  • Another flag guy, a very young man who's been told far too often that he's adorable, grinned at me. "Hey, what's the matter?"
  • I explained the reason for my now-simmering anger. "What is the community getting for all this pain?" I asked.
  • He grinned again. "A really nice apartment building."
  • "That none of us can afford to live in."
  • "Hey, I can't afford it either."
The grin was getting to me. I asked for the representative of the DoB. The guy at the first intersection had thought to get rid of me off by telling me a rep was there; this one thought he could make me leave by saying the man couldn't be found; he asked me to move to the corner and wait. When I didn't, he pointed at some heavy machinery and advised me, with yet another grin, that they had a truck to move. I was blocking the way. This time it was my turn to grin; I told him that I wasn't going to leave that spot until the man from the DoB was found.

At this point, the site supervisor noticed the fuss and made his way over. He was very polite and professional as I aired my grievance, then asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to speak with someone who was not employed by the contractors, and that I had been told by one of his men that a rep from the DoB was on site.  Again, I was asked to move to make way for the equipment. Again, I stood my ground. It was all very 1969.

By this time, I was hot as well as angry. The rep from the DoB, another polite man, finally made his way to my corner. What I said to him can be summarized here:
I've lived in this neighborhood all my life. I've watched a number of luxury residential towers rise along Queens Boulevard (and take years to fill up; see sidebar below). I have never seen any one of them block off lanes of Queens Boulevard for weeks at a time. 
We have a lot of elderly people in this neighborhood, disabled people, families with small. I don't care if it's only for two days: you are forcing all of them to cross a 12-lane highway in order to access the subway.
This isn't a hospital, for a neighborhood which once boasted proximity to several and now has none. It doesn't include an office building that might bring in long-term employment. Did the developers donate $2 million directly to our schools or to our struggling library? If our neighborhood is being disrupted to this extent for the creation of private wealth, we should have some recompense.
A new luxury apartment building will serve no one other than the developers and the people who decide they can afford to live here—or, perhaps more accurately, the people who can just about afford to and think its overpriced, but have been priced out of apartments in neighborhood that have the amenities that ought to go along with these prices.
[Sidebarmy personal note to developers of Queens luxury dwellings: Watch how they do it in Brooklyn! First the neighborhood has to develop a thriving sense of community, including places to gather, and stores and restaurants with local personality. Maybe then you won't be stuck for years with empty apartments. People are only willing to shell out big bucks to move someplace after it's become a 'destination.' How come you smart millionaires and billionaires don't know this and I do??]
He listened to me and said "you have a couple of good points there." He also said "I'm only here to supervise the construction. If you have a complaint, talk to the community board; they approved it. Or talk to Mr. Bloomberg."

I wrote this blog entry instead. 

1 comment:

  1. I will do everything to get this to the right person's attention I spent years working for a man who demanded "find that person in charge," I did and always solved his problems. This is so important and I will try my best and for once for something I believe in.