Thursday, August 19, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

City DOT Unveils Study on Pedestrian Fatalities

Officials Aim to Cut Number in Half

By Eric Yun

Walking across city streets can be a deadly experience. In 2009, there were 256 traffic fatalities in the five boroughs. In response, the Department of Transportation (DOT) this week unveiled the results of recently completed a landmark study examining pedestrian accidents.

Introducing the study, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan notes New York City is one of the safest cities in the world for pedestrians. “New York’s streets are far safer than any other big city in this country. Our traffic fatality rates are more on par with world class cities such as London, Paris or Berlin,” she said.

Mayor Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan held a press conference announcing the results of the study on Monday at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and 108th Street.

The DOT study, which examined data from 2005 to 2009, found that pedestrians account for 52% of traffic fatalities. The highest incidence of pedestrian crashes involve vehicles that fail to yield: the study found many instances of pedestrians who have a green light and are struck by vehicles making left turns.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board 5, has seen these problems firsthand. He believes one of the best ways to prevent crashes is “to give pedestrians the right of way.” Giordano is tired of seeing cars cut in front of pedestrians trying to cross streets.

Other highlights of the study include the fact that 80% of the crashes that kill or seriously injure a pedestrian involve male drivers, and driver inattention was the reason for 36% of crashes resulting in pedestrian death or serious injury.

In Queens, pedestrian safety has been a major issue for residents. Queens Boulevard has long been known as the Boulevard of Death, with fatal accidents continuing to occur along the busy stretch, despite safety improvement over the past decade.

In a study released earlier this month, the New York Daily News found crossing times were too short for slower walkers such as senior citizens or parents crossing with children. The report found the crossing time at Queens Boulevard and 51st Avenue was 43 seconds, but approximately 96 seconds are needed. Similarly, Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue has a crossing time of 35 seconds, but 53 seconds are needed to safety cross.

One way the city is attempting to make crossing streets safer is the installation of 1,500 countdown clocks at busy intersections. Areas where these countdown clocks will appear include along Queens Boulevard at both 71st Avenue and 108th Street, Woodhaven Boulevard from Queens Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue from 157th Street to 168 Place.

Increasing pedestrian safety has been a major issue for local communities, and the news of countdown clocks were met with enthusiasm. “I could go back 15 years and pull letters asking for something to be done,” said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9. She believes installing these clocks is an “excellent idea.”

“Anything to make conditions safer for pedestrians, I’m all for,” Giordano said about the countdown clocks. However, he feels much more should be done. “Pedestrians are less safe than ever,” he said. One of the biggest issues, according to Giordano is people do not realize the city speed limit is 30 miles per hour. Educating city drivers on the speed limit was discussed in the DOT study.

Another major way the city plans to curb pedestrian deaths include safety modifications along 60 miles of streets per year. These modifications will include installing pedestrian refuge islands, lane reconfigurations and signal timing modifications.

Pols Push for Banking Reforms to Stem Foreclosures

By Eric Yun

With foreclosures still on the rise—-the Associated Press reported last week that 1 in 400 homes are in foreclosure nationwide—New York City Comptroller John Liu and other city politicians are urging banks to reform the loan modification process.

In July, Liu and leaders of city unions sent a letter to Bank of America, Citibank, HSBC Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo urging the financial institutions to take better care of their customers. “When the interests of lenders and borrowers are not properly aligned, there is a lack of incentives to take action, leading to a climate of inferior customer service,” they wrote.

Now, other local elected officials are making sure the banks received the message. Last
week a letter signed by 24 Council Members, 33 Assembly Members and 12 State Senators was sent to the banks demanding change.

Foreclosures are up 16.3% in New York City from last year, and the city’s elected officials believe banks are not doing all they can to bring those numbers down.

“Unfortunately, many New Yorkers can’t get the help they need. A number of them have voiced their frustration and disillusionment with your current modification process,” they wrote. “They have complained about unreturned phone calls, lost paper work and seemingly endless bureaucratic runarounds. Such practices are unfair and unacceptable.”

Liu believes this is an important issue that can help thousands of New Yorkers at risk
for foreclosures. “Reforming the loan modification process means that more families may be able to stay in their homes,” said Liu. “It is in everyone’s best interest to stem the tide of foreclosures. That’s why we have called on the City’s largest banks to report back to my office by September 1 with specific details about what they are doing to combat the high foreclosure rate in New York City.”

The letter sent to the bank included many local elected officials. Some of the local politicians who signed the letter include As- semblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Wood- haven), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and State Sena- tor Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

Addabbo noted that there are many foreclosure victims in his district, and he is doing everything he can to help. “I intend to do whatever I can to assist and protect my constituents from falling prey to this unfortu- nate financial situation,” he said.

“It is vital that the loan modification process to avoid foreclosures is accessible to New Yorkers,” Pheffer said in a statement. “It should be the first priority for all those involved, including the banking industry, to help people keep their homes.”

Koslowitz offered similar comments: “Often times, at no fault of their own, homeowners have been hurt by the policies of financial institutions that only care about their own bottom line. I firmly believe that we in government must do all that we can to support struggling homeowners as we slowly emerge from these hard times.”

Man Found Dead in Ozone Park

By Patricia Adams

A homicide investigation is underway into the death of 58-year-old Brooklyn man whose lifeless body was found in front of 89-12 Arion Road in Ozone Park early Tuesday morning.

The last time Ramnarin Matadin, a naturalized citizen from Guyana, was seen alive was when he left the Golden Arrow Sports Bar at 107-14 101st Avenue after a bartender called a livery cab for him late Monday evening.

Police from the 106th Precinct say the victim was found unconscious after 1 a.m. following a 911 call reporting a man lying on the ground. Emergency Medical Services took him to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He had been bludgeoned about the head and face and had multiple lacerations on his hands and arms.

Matadin’s daughter and other family members paid a visit to the scene where three candles had been placed on the bloody pavement where he was found. They spoke of him as a good man with no enemies. Most voiced their opinions that he had been robbed.

Neighbors who gathered outside their homes say that although this is a quiet, good neighborhood they all have concerns with the shadowy and dark dead end at Arion Road. Joe L. has lived on the block for the last 24 years. “Many people call the cops about the kids hanging out on the street. It’s so dark there anything could happen,” he said, “look what’s happened now.”

Another neighbor, Carmela Strika, echoed the same concerns. “This is very scary. I was in my house with the A/C on so you can’t hear anything. The other problem is that it is so dark there -- very, very dark.”

Police are unsure yet as to whether Matadin was killed at the scene or if his body was dumped there. They are hoping to get more definitive information from videotape surveillance from neighbor’s cameras. One motive being considered is robbery--his family says the dead man’s jewelry and wallet were stolen.

On Wednesday a police source confirmed that two men have been charged in the murder. A published report identified the suspects as 21-year-old Deevan Jagnarine and 19-year-old Alex Gobardhan.

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stopper Hotline at 1.800.577.TIPS or visit nypd-

Korean War Memorial and Flagpole Unveiled

Dozens of Howard Beach residents attended a dedication ceremony at Frank Charles Memorial Park on Saturday evening to unveil the new Korean War Memorial honoring those lost from Howard Beach and the long-awaited Community Flag Pole.

The ceremony was conducted by the American Legion Post 1404, the Friends of Charles Park Committee and the National Park Service.

Community activists and residents have anticipated the installation of the both the flagpole and the memorial. In addition to residents on hand, both Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer were on hand to present proclamations to the families of those honored at the memorial and to organizers of the project.

The occasion was punctuated by the return from Afghanistan of Sgt. Sean McCabe of the United States Army, from his second tour.

All are encouraged to visit the new memorial at the park located at 165th Avenue and 98th Street.

Push to Landmark Tennis Stadium as Vote on Sale Nears

By Eric Yun

As West Side Tennis Club officials move forward with a proposed plan to sell the historic West Side Tennis Stadium, local politicians, residents and club members are fighting to preserve the iconic venue.

The West Side Tennis Stadium hosted the U.S. Open from 1923 to 1977. The 15,000-seat stadium was deemed too small to continue hosting the event, which was moved to Flushing Meadow. The stadium also hosted several famous concerts including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and The Who.

The stadium is owned by the West Side Tennis Club, which also operates 38 tennis adjacent courts. In an effort to revitalize the area, club officials entered an agreement with Cord Meyer Corporation to build approximately 70 condominium units on the site. The sale of the property would reportedly give the West Side Tennis Club between $9 and $10 million. Club members are expected to vote on the proposal on September 23.

Cord Meyer’s tentative plans include renovating the exterior walls of the tennis stadium and building the apartment complex within the walls. This type of development is not unprecedented: old coliseums in Rome were used in this way, according to Anthony Colletti, Chief Operating Officer of Cord Meyer. Furthermore, the chief architect of the project stud- ied in Rome and understands how to build these types of structures.

Some club members are not thrilled with the proposed project, which was depicted in renderings issued by Cord Meyer. “It’s quite modern,” said Christine Schott. “It’s not in keeping with traditional Forest Hills Garden guidelines.” Schott added that the proposed condo development looks more like something in Fort Lauderdale than Forest Hills.

The Forest Hills Garden Association, which has jurisdiction over some of the land the stadium covers, has strict guidelines on what can be done on its property. Schott explained that even repainting a house can be cumbersome because the exact same color must be used.
Colletti contends Cord Meyer met with the Forest Hills Garden Association, and they accepted their tentative plans.

Members were also displeased with how this entire situation arose. One club member questioned the decision to enter an agreement to sell the stadium to Cord Meyer before asking members if they wanted to sell. There were also concerns over how the Tennis Club board negotiated their agreement with Cord Meyer.

Colletti understands if club members may have felt “kept in the dark” during their negotiations with the West Side Tennis Club, but he points out that everything is still in the tentative stages. “There’s nothing to even talk about without approval,” he said. “We didn’t want to waste [anyone’s] time.”

Colletti feels there has been a lot of “misinformation” about the sale of the stadium and Cord Meyer’s plans for the apartment complex. “We feel if people know all the facts, the vast majority of people will favor it.”

Still, with such a historic stadium facing extinction, there are many who are looking for ways to preserve it. One possible way to save the stadium is to have it landmarked. Last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Kew Gardens), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D- Forest Hills) and Senator Toby Ann Stravinsky (D- Flushing) urged the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to study whether the stadium should receive landmark status.

“The West Side Tennis Stadium has been a longtime fixture in the Forest Hills community,” said Koslowitz. “We need to make sure that we explore all possible avenues in relation to landmarking, as we owe it the residents of the community.”

Weiner questioned why club members are the only people who have a say in what happens to the stadium. “The future of this historic stadium should be decided by the whole community,” Weiner said. “That is why we’re making sure that all possible options are explored.”

Colletti questioned whether the Landmarks Commission would grant landmark status to an old deteriorating building. He doesn’t believe the stadium could support many other options, arguing that it is too small to hold large-scale events and too big to operate as a small-scale venue.

Cord Meyer officials say they understand the stadium is an iconic structure in Queens, and wants to preserve as much of the stadium’s history as possible. A museum within the apartment complex to celebrate the tennis and concerts that were held at the stadium was proposed.

West Side Tennis Club members would also receive many benefits from the new complex. Cord Meyer intends to build a state of the art spa, health club and indoor pool that will be available for use to members.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Colletti said.

Aqueduct Could Feature Video Table Games

Aqueduct Race Track is creeping closer to receiving video lottery terminals, and perhaps, electronic table games. The state Senate and Assembly both agreed last week to approve Genting New York’s proposal to revitalize the Ozone Park venue.

The proposal, which included an upfront $380 million payment to the state, was well received by local leaders and community members. Genting’s original plans include more than 4,500 slot machines, but it now appears that electronic table games may enter the mix.

“The Lottery believes the inclusion of elec- tronic table games will allow our casinos to be more competitive with other casinos in Pennsylvania, Atlantic City and Connecticut,” said Jennifer Givner, spokeswoman for New York Lottery. Electronic versions of table games such as roulette and baccarat are expected to be installed at Saratoga Springs. If successful there, the games will be installed in other New York racinos including Aqueduct.

The New York Constitution prohibits casino table games, but New York Lottery contends electronic versions of some games constitute games of chance, which are legal.

Last year, New York Lottery unveiled its plans to include electronic table games without the approval from the state. At that time, Senator Frank Padavan, a fierce critic of gambling, wrote to Gordon Medenica, Director of New York Lottery, “It is clear to me not only would such a decision be ill conceived and certainly unconstitutional but evidence of a total disregard of prior court decisions.”

Medenica replied that New York Courts specify that electronic table games are legal as long as the game is predominantly decided by chance. In Dalton v. Pataki in 2005, the courts ruled a versions of casino games can be a video lottery if it obeyed five rules: “(1) a player must give a consideration to enter the game; (2) winning outcomes must be determined by chance; (3) a prize must be awarded for winning plays; (4) tickets must be used to represent the players’ wages; and (5) the game must be designed for multiple players.”

With this decision, Medenica believes New York Lottery can install table games without approval from the state, and it would be perfectly legal. Medenica asserted that an electronic version of roulette would be no different than lotto: “All bets are based on guesses of where a ball tumbling over a wheel will land, no different than balls tumbling in a drum in a Lotto game drawing.”