Thursday, October 7, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Major Changes Planned for Liberty Avenue Corridor

By Eric Yun

Traversing down Liberty Avenue is going to be safer for pedestrians and drivers, but it will take some time for the drivers to get used to the changes the City Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin implementing in the coming weeks.

The stretch of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue between 94th and 96th streets includes some of the most dangerous intersections in the borough. A study by the DOT showed an average of 41.4 injuries per year at those streets, which put it in the 99th percentile among Queens intersections.

The DOT has been meeting with the community over the last year, most recently in June, to discuss safety improvements to the area. The multifaceted plan calls for major changes to the confusing stretch of roads and intersections.

These changes include installing a concrete barrier on Cross Bay Boulevard that will prevent traffic from Liberty Avenue to enter the intersection. Liberty Avenue will be converted to a one-way street traveling eastbound between 93rd Street and Cross Bay Boulevard. The northbound left turn lane on Cross Bay Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard will be extended and signal timing will be improved. Also, several medians and crosswalks will be installed or extended to help improve pedestrian safety, and transit-loading zones will be installed between 93rd and 94th Streets, east of 96th Street, and on the north and south sides of Liberty Avenue.

The DOT believes these changes will drasti- cally improve safety conditions at the confusing intersections, but will drivers be able to adapt?

Betty Braton, Chair of CB10, is not sure the DOT’s changes are the best for the area. “Following DOT’s presentation of these proposed changes to us back in June, we prepared and submitted our comments and viewpoint to DOT,” Braton said. While the DOT listened to community, Braton said the DOT is mov- ing forward with many of the same proposed changes offered in June.

“Although we appreciate DOT’s effort to address this very dangerous and problematic area to make it safer, the Board still has reservations from our lay-person perspective,” Braton said. “We will continue to offer suggestions to DOT as these changes move forward if problems arise.”

The DOT is planning a public walkthrough of the changes on October 18th between 3 and 6 p.m. The tour will begin at the south-west corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue and traverse through the 2-mile stretch up to the Van Wyck Expressway. Participants are welcome to join and leave the tour at any time to listen to the planned changes from DOT officials.

Turner Tours Queens in Bid to Unseat Weiner

By Eric Yun

Congressional candidate Bob Turner toured various areas of Queens and Brooklyn on Tuesday to drum up support for the campaign. Turner is running against Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) for the US Congressional 9th District seat.

Organized by the New York GOP, Turner and other Republican candidates stopped at various locations in Queens to talk to concerned residents.

At a stop in Middle Village, Turner spoke about the need for change in Washington. Rallying against cuts and extraneous spending, Turner fought back against Weiner’s remarks that he is out of touch.

Weiner recently challenged many of Turner’s policies. According to Weiner, Turner is in support of privatizing social security, weakening public schools, giving tax breaks to companies that outsource American jobs and against the right for women to choose.

“Bob Turner is completely out of touch with the district,” Weiner’s campaign said in a statement. “Anthony Weiner has spent his career fighting for the middle class people of Brooklyn and Queens on issues that matter, issues that Bob Turner is on the wrong side of.”

Turner fought back against the attack. Citing issues such as Weiner’s refusal to debate and ignoring projects in the district, Turner said Weiner is the one out of touch with con- stituents. “Someone is out of touch, and I don’t think it’s me,” Turner said.

Also at the event were Republican State Assembly candidates Anthony Nunziato and Alex Powietrzynski.

Powietrzynski, who is challenging Democrat incumbent Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, said incumbent New York politicians are taking their positions for granted. “Politicians are treating their jobs as a business and not as a public service,” he said. “You’re here to serve us, and we deserve better.”

Nunziato, who is challenging Marge Markey, gave his full support to Turner. Politics is about “real people who look out for their constituents,” Nunziato said. “The Republican
Party is the party of the American people.”

Recent Incidents Create Push for Cyberbullying Legislation

By Eric Yun

Despite the popular saying, words can cause significant amount of pain. While most people can shrug off an insult shouted on the street, can they shrug off thousands of messages from anonymous people on the Internet?

Ryan Halligan couldn’t. The 13-year-old boy was teased at school about his learning disorder and accusations about being gay. To make matters worse, Halligan was bombarded with messages online, and eventually, he took his own life.

The Internet allows people to do amazing things, but it can be misused to disrupt the privacy and peace of innocent victims. Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old student starting his first year at Rutgers University. After his roommate and a friend broadcast Clementi’s private sexual life over the Internet, he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Clementi’s tragic death has New York State and City officials examining cyberbullying and possible legislation to prevent it. At a memorial service held at Washington Square Park, Governor David Paterson pledged he would enact legislation against cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying, as the name suggests, is bullying done through the Internet. There are no shortage of ways to harass someone online: instant messages, chat rooms and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are all used. In a study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, which was founded by Dr. Sameer Hinduja from Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Justin Patchin from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, 20 percent of kids aged 11 to 18 had experienced some form of cyberbullying.

Currently, more than 40 states—including New York—has legislation to address bully- ing. Of those, about 30 states include a mention of bullying done electronically. New York recently passed the Dignity for All Students Act, which prohibits harassment or discrimination against students on school grounds on the basis of race, gender, reli- gion or sexuality. There was no electronic component to the bill.

Senator Thomas Duane (D- Manhattan), the chief sponsor of the Dignity for All Students bill, has reportedly considered adding an amendment to address cyberbullying.

It would be a welcome addition for Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “We certainly have to be aware of the increased nature of cyberbullying,” he said. Addabbo said he hopes that parents begin to realize the dangers of cyberbullying, and he hopes young students “understand
the severity of cyberbullying.”

In the State Assembly, bill A05544 was introduced that would require the commissioner of education to enforce rules that prohibit harassment and bullying of students, including harassment carried out electronically.

“I support all proposals or measures that would increase the awareness and prevention of cyberbullying and other forms of harassment,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) who sponsors the bill.

On the federal level, HR1966, the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Act, was proposed to make cyberbullying a crime, but it has stalled over fears that it would impinge on people’s First Amendment rights.

Meier, a 13-year-old from Missouri, was one of the first major cases that brought cyberbullying into the nation’s consciousness. Her neighbor and former friend’s mother Lori Drew created a fake MySpace account to befriend and later torment Meier. She hung herself weeks before her 14th birthday.

Meier’s death prompted the state of Missouri to reactively enact some of the toughest laws against cyberbullying in the nation. Now, after Clementi’s death, New York politicians are looking to prevent a similar tragedy in New York schools.

Queens Awaits Federal Disaster Assistance

Life is returning to normal for Queens residents after tornados knocked down thousands of trees in Middle Village, Forest Hills, Flushing and Bayside. The majority of debris is cleared, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

On Friday, Governor David Paterson asked President Obama for federal disaster assistance to help offset the costs of cleaning up the city. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) have been touring the city to assess the damage.

“The September 16 storm struck New York City with a vengeance, cutting off electric power in thousands of homes and businesses, disrupting travel for thousands, and causing extensive property damage and, tragically, the loss of one life,” Paterson said. “New Yorkers need help from Washington in recovering from this storm.”

A federal disaster designation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would give the city money in the Public Assistance plan. The money from Public Assistance would help offset the costs for initial response, debris removal and repairs to public property.

Paterson would also like to have the Individual Assistance program implemented. Individual Assistance allows for residents to apply for Small Business Administration low-interest loans and provides assistance for items such as clothing and household items.

For some, the fact that Queens is a disaster area is evident. “Anyone who has seen the damage firsthand knows that we experienced a disaster – now we just need FEMA to make it official so we can get the federal funding we desperately need to repair our neighborhoods, roads and parks,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Timeline for Opening Maspeth HS Discussed, Push Continues for Local Zone

By Eric Yun

A community meeting to discuss the opening of the new 1,000-seat high school currently under construction at the former Restaurant Depot site in Maspeth turned testy as parents and civic groups demanded the school be locally zoned.

Held at P.S. 58 by the City Department of Education’s Office of Portfolio and Planning, the meeting included a discussion of the timeline of the school opening and the type of school parents wanted for their children.

Earlier this year, a survey was conducted to determine what type of school parents wanted to see at the new site. The overwhelming response was for a regular high school without any special pilot programs. The school should have strong college and job prep courses and state of the art technology. One parent spoke about the need for a “normal” high school. This school would be competitive academically and feature various sports and clubs.

Alex Shub from Portfolio said he understand parents want a competitive school that sets kids up for future success, and he “guarantees we can build a school that can do just that.”

There is a complicated timeline for the opening of the new school. Currently, proposals from prospective principals are being evaluated to see if there are any that match the community needs. If a leader is found before mid-December, the school can be fast-tracked to open in 2011. Under this scenario the school would be incubated at the recently opened Metro High School, meaning extra space there would be used until the Maspeth site opens in 2012.

If a suitable principal is not found by mid-December, the city will not rush to open the school. Instead, it will wait to select a principal’s proposal until the spring or fall and open the school in 2012.

The issue most parents wanted to discuss, however, was the idea of zoning the school locally. The DOE generally likes to provide all city students a choice when it comes to attending a high school. After months of debate and community input, the city has decided to give School District 24 priority. This means that any student from District 24 that puts the new high school first in their application will have the first priority of entering the school. Afterwards, the school would be filled with anybody throughout the city.

The biggest fear from parents is their children who live just blocks away will lose a chance to attend the new school because another District 24 student from areas such as Ridgewood or Corona are admitted. In the unlikely event all Dis- trict 24 eighth graders apply for the new school a random lottery will be held to see who is admitted.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Mid- dle Village) stressed the importance of being calm. “We have to work together to make the most out of this new school,” she said. It is important to understand the admission process, and Crowley believes kids who truly want to go to this school will be able to be admitted.

There were some who believed settling for a District 24 school instead of a locally zoned school is despicable. Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, bickered with Crowley over the decision. “We want our kids to walk to school. We demand a locally zoned school,” Holden said. Holden believes Crowley, who voted against the project in the City Council, has now completely given up the fight to have the school locally zoned.

Republican candidate for the State Senate Anthony Como also promised to fight for a locally zoned school. “The fight is never over until we win,” he said. “Until we win for a locally zoned school, the fight never ends.”

Homeless Man Charged with Forest Hills Stabbing

The peace and quiet Forest Hills residents have come to expect was interrupted this week when a knife wielding homeless man went on a stabbing spree, according to police.

Steven Jackson, a 48-year-old homeless man, was charged with assault after he allegedly attacked Siew Khuen Luh with a knife at the 71st Street and Continental Avenue subway station Saturday night.

According to an eyewitness, Jackson approached the victim from behind and put his hands on the victim’s shoulder. After Jackson walked away, the eyewitness noticed the victim was bleeding from the neck. Luh was taken to the hospital and received 15 to 20 stitches in the neck.

Police suspect Jackson might also be responsible for two other stabbings that occurred near the area Saturday night. A man was stabbed at Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike and another man on Austin Street and 72nd Road. Both men were treated and released at local hospitals.

Police officers apprehended Jackson and allegedly recovered a blood stained knife. He has been charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

“The defendant in this case is alleged to have set upon an innocent victim who was merely waiting for a subway train,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The victim was struck from behind, without warning or provocation, and never had a chance to defend himself. He is fortunate, indeed, that he was not more severely injured.”

If convicted, Jackson faces up to 25 years in prison. According to a published report, Jackson was previously charged for stabbing a man sleeping inside the Grand Avenue subway stop.