On Friday March 5, 2010 six politicians gathered at the fork of Grand & Flushing Avenues in Maspeth for a grand photo op. The event was organized by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who was just starting her 14th month in office. She was acting on a request from the Juniper Park Civic Association to address the problem of "Through Truck Routes" in our community. With her were State Senator Joe Addabbo, who took over from Serf Maltese last year, and Jimmy Van Bramer, the newly elected councilman from Sunnyside. These three relatively new leaders were joined by three veterans, Congressmen Joseph Crowley & Anthony Weiner and Assemblywoman Marge Markey. As 18-wheel tractor trailers rumbled past them, drowning out their words of "outrage," they called upon the Department of Transportation to eliminate the through truck routes that allow truckers to use our community as a doormat to Brooklyn's industrial areas.
However, just a few weeks earlier the Department of Transportation announced that they were studying ways to reduce truck traffic on Grand Avenue. Assemblywoman Markey was quoted in the Queens Ledger as saying that she was confident "a decade of pressure and lobbying by elected officials for reduced truck traffic through residential Maspeth is finally paying off. At long last, there is a successful end in sight to a decade of frustration about the city's failure to implement a solution to the long-standing concerns about truck traffic through residential and retail areas of Maspeth," said Markey.
A decade of pressure? What pressure did Markey, or any other elected official, apply?
The Truck Invasion and Politicians
Maspeth, especially Grand Avenue, has been inundated with horrific and constant truck traffic for over a decade. In 1998 when Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that the Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill would close numerous waste transfer stations opened in Brooklyn. Almost immediately Maspeth became overrun with noxious, noisy and dangerous trucks. The cost to our health and the Maspeth community has been immeasurable.
At about the same time, Democrat Margaret Markey was selected to replace Assemblyman Joseph Crowley, who was also selected to fill Tom Manton's seat in the U.S. Congress. Manton had resigned his post conveniently after the deadline for candidate petitions so there could be no challengers to Crowley. Welcome to the wonderful world of Queens politics.
The Maspeth Bypass Plan
In 2000, volunteer civic leaders Frank Principe and Tony Nunziato started working on a plan deemed the Maspeth Bypass that would essentially re-route trucks away from Grand Avenue. The plan would require trucks to exit the LIE at Maurice Avenue and 58th Street westbound and eastbound to enter the LIE at Maurice Avenue. This would prevent through truck traffic from using Maspeth's commercial and residential streets as a shortcut to Brooklyn. The plan was wholeheartedly approved by Community Board 5 in June, 2001.
In 2003 the Department of Transportation praised the Maspeth Bypass plan saying it was a creative solution developed by the community and it should be implemented. That same year the Juniper Park Civic Association received a grant from Transportation Alternatives to study a problem section of road in the neighborhood. The JPCA chose Grand Avenue and 69th Street where five pedestrians had been killed and many injured over the decade.
A committee of traffic planners, engineers and civic leaders worked for months and presented their findings and recommendations in September 2003. It was a comprehensive study that utilized proven traffic calming techniques. The first recommendation made from the study was that Grand Avenue should be converted from a through truck route to a local truck route.
The study and recommendations were then sent to Congressman Weiner, Congressman Joe Crowley, Assemblywoman Marge Markey and then Councilman Dennis Gallagher. The JPCA was particularly hopeful that Weiner could secure federal funding to implement some or all of the recommendations since he sat on the congressional transportation committee. Shockingly, no elected official mentioned above even had the courtesy to respond to the study. Instead Weiner secured $15 million in federal funds to establish a ferry service between Rockaway and Manhattan. The ferry service was cancelled this year due to lack of ridership. Surely Congressman Joe Crowley, who just happens to serve as the Queens County Democratic leader, in his 10 years in office could have used his clout and picked up the phone to call the speaker of the city council and plead Maspeth's case. Apparently, like Marge Markey, it wasn't even on his radar.
Pardon me if it turns my stomach just a bit that three of these officials still in office, Weiner, Joe Crowley and Markey attended the March 2010 press conference smiling for cameras minutes after showing their "outrage" at Maspeth's plight.
Protest on Grand Avenue
In June 2005 the Juniper Park Civic Association organized a protest with hundreds of residents marching and carrying signs about DOT's inaction to deal with the trucks. Some carried anti-Weiner placards. No elected officials were present. Marge Markey, who never attends community meetings, didn't bother to join the protest even though her office was a block away.
Mayor Bloomberg, running for re-election that year, had an aide call me to say that the Department of Transportation would meet with the Juniper Park Civic Association. Bloomberg sent DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall to meet with us on September 27 2005. Weinshall promised that the Maspeth Bypass plan, developed by Nunziato and Principe back in 2001, would be implemented in 2006 with signs alerting truckers to the change to be erected by December 2005. She said that any improvements on the intersection of Maspeth and Maurice Avenues would have to be completed before the plan could be implemented. After Bloomberg won re-election, Weinshall, who is married to Senator Chuck Schumer, resigned her post with the DOT to take a position at CUNY. However Weinshall's Senior Policy Advisor, David Woloch, promised to follow through on the plan but only after a citywide truck route management study was completed in 2007. When the study was released, unbelievably the private firm hired to complete the study recommended that Grand Avenue remain a through truck route for eastbound traffic. Woloch promised the JPCA that that mistake would be corrected.
Stall With More Studies
So fast forward to 2010, when the NYC Department of Transportation announces that they have hired consultants and a private firm to study the feasibility of the Maspeth Bypass Plan. More studies, more taxpayer money, much more time needed. DOT's January exhibit at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth featured diagrams, maps and the scope of their study. Their diagrams featured a proposed local truck route going westbound on Grand Avenue. What about eastbound? That stays the same, a through truck route.
So to sum things up, volunteer civic leaders recognized a problem, found a solution, organized protests, lobbied the mayor, wrote grants for traffic studies, served on committees, attended countless meetings and so on to solve the Maspeth truck problem.
Bow and Kiss the Ring
And what did all of our paid elected officials who served during the last 10 years do on the issue while collecting tens of millions of dollars in salary and campaign contributions? They held press conferences and smiled for the cameras.
It's time to demand more of our elected officials. According to Lydon Sleeper, chief of staff to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, we should thank the elected officials for calling a press conference. Mr. Sleeper, who, not surprisingly, worked for Congressman Weiner while all of this was going on, needs a civics lesson. Elected officials work for the people.
We don't thank anyone for promises or photos ops; results are how elected officials should be measured.