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Posts from the Jamaica Category


State’s Top Court: Low-Cost Parking Is Not a Tax-Free Charity

The owner of five Queens cut-rate parking facilities will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court has ruled. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the city’s decision to take back a tax exemption it had previously granted the politically-connected non-profit that operates 2,000 parking spaces in downtown Jamaica.

Photo: Google Street View

The politically connected non-profit operator of discount parking garages in Jamaica will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court ruled. Photo: Google Street View

Over the course of a decade starting in 1996, Jamaica First Parking LLC, a subsidiary of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), purchased parking garages and lots in downtown Jamaica from the city. The GJDC board, which includes former Congressman Rev. Floyd Flake, is well connected to much of the political establishment in southeast Queens.

In 2007, the city’s Finance Department said Jamaica First’s parking garages would be exempt from property taxes because they serve a “charitable” purpose under the law. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez smelled something fishy in late 2010, and the city reversed its property tax exemption just months later.

GJDC then sued the city for taking back the property tax giveaway. The case ultimately went to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which on July 1 ruled 5-2 that the non-profit will have to pay property taxes for its public parking lots [PDF].

While the court didn’t question the wisdom of below-market parking garage construction as an economic development strategy, it was clear that the court didn’t buy the argument that operating public parking is related to non-profit charitable work.

“We disagree with petitioners’ assertion that the parking facilities are charitable in and of themselves because they fulfill the primary purpose of economic development,” wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. “While these goals may be laudable, they are not charitable.”

“We’re waiting for the lawyers to review the decision so we can figure out how to move ahead,” GJDC spokesman Bob Liff told the Press of Southeast Queens. “If this means they have to pay property tax, it is our job to figure out how much that is.”

GJDC now owes at least $2.7 million in back taxes, a de Blasio administration spokesperson told the paper.


Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.


Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

Read more…


Lancman and Simanowitz: Let’s Keep Queens Bus Riders Stuck in Traffic

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Tonight, DOT and the MTA will hold an open house to solicit input for proposed Select Bus Service routes linking Flushing and Jamaica. The plan to reduce travel times for tens of thousands of Queens bus riders has broad support from advocates and local electeds, including Assembly Member Nily Rozic. But the Times Ledger reports that Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who purport to be in favor of the project, oppose dedicating new street space to buses.

Bus service could be upgraded along Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, and/or 164th Street, according to a DOT map of proposed SBS routes. The Times Ledger notes that these routes were chosen for SBS after studies found current trips to be “long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders.”

A key component of bus rapid transit is, of course, dedicated bus lanes, but Lancman and Simanowitz would rather keep riders mired in traffic.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

Lancman opposed congestion pricing and once blasted a DOT proposal to improve a deadly intersection outside a school. That he considers a dedicated transit lane “closed” says something about what Lancman thinks of people who use transit. Beyond that, it seems Lancman and Simanowitz simply don’t want to take the necessary steps to make BRT work well.

But other electeds do. “BRT is good news for drivers as well,” wrote Rozic in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Dedicated bus lanes reduce interaction between buses and other vehicles. This will reduce traffic jams and minimize the risk for traffic crashes.”

Eleven Queens lawmakers signed on to a letter this month in support of the plan, the Times Ledger reported.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” said John Raskin of Riders Alliance.

Tonight’s open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:00 at the Townsend Harris High School Library at 149-11 Melbourne Avenue.


Fixes Set for Dangerous Jamaica Hills Intersection

A rendering shows expanded pedestrian space on Homelawn and 169th Streets at Hillside Avenue Image: DOT

A rendering shows expanded pedestrian space on Homelawn and 169th Streets at Hillside Avenue. Image: DOT

The intersections surrounding Hillside Avenue, Homelawn Street, and 169th Street in Jamaica Hills are on track for pedestrian safety upgrades this spring after NYC DOT’s plan [PDF] received the support of Queens Community Board 8 last week.

With entrances to the F train on all four corners and bus stops served by 17 routes, the busy commercial area is a magnet for people on foot. But Hillside and Homelawn is also one of the most dangerous intersections in Queens, ranking among the worst one percent in terms of crash frequency. From 2007 to 2011, there were 47 motor vehicle driver and passenger injuries, 34 pedestrian injuries, and two bicyclist injuries at this intersection and the four adjacent ones, according to DOT. A 19-year-old pedestrian was killed in May 2010 at Cedarcroft Road and Homelawn Street, according to data compiled by the Tri-State Transportation campaign.


Current conditions at the intersection of Hillside, 169th Street, and Homelawn. Image: Google Maps

DOT’s plan adds a concrete pedestrian island and striped crosswalk at Cedarcroft and Homelawn, and will also add concrete pedestrian islands to the existing painted median on Hillside at 169th Place and 170th Street. Crosswalks on Hillside Avenue will be upgraded to high-visibility “zebra” markings. Excess pavement where Homelawn and 169th Street meet Hillside will be converted to curb extensions and an expanded pedestrian triangle, which will now extend to form a median refuge on the north side of Hillside.

Read more…


Hit-and-Run Driver Not Charged in Death of Queens Pedestrian Mosa Khatun

A hit-and-run driver who fatally struck a woman in Jamaica last night will not be charged with a crime, according to NYPD.

Police say the driver who killed Mosa Khatun returned after leaving the scene, but did not know she had hit someone. No charges were filed. Photo: Daily News

NYPD says the driver who killed Mosa Khatun returned after leaving the scene, but did not know she had hit someone. No charges were filed. Photo: Daily News

Mosa Khatun, 38, was struck by the driver of a Nissan SUV at the corner of Highland Avenue and 169th Street at around 10:20 p.m., according to NYPD and the Daily News:

Emergency responders rushed to the scene and found the woman on the pavement with traumatic injuries to her body, officials said.

She was taken to Queens General Hospital in critical condition, but died there a short time later, officials said.

The News reported that the driver left the scene and “returned about an hour later to talk with police.” An NYPD spokesperson confirmed this account, and said the motorist, whose name is being withheld by the department, “Wasn’t aware she’d hit someone.”

It is not clear why the driver returned to the crash site if she did not know a crash occurred. Nevertheless, while NYPD issued summonses for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian, police filed no charges for leaving the scene. As of this morning, approximately 12 hours after Mosa Khatun was killed, NYPD had concluded its investigation.

Leaving the scene of an injury crash is a class D felony in New York State, punishable by up to seven years in jail. Yet drivers in New York City routinely escape penalty simply by claiming they “didn’t see” their deceased victims. As in this case, rather than allowing the justice system to determine innocence or guilt, police and prosecutors often decline to pursue charges.

According to Transportation Alternatives, of some 300 investigations conducted by the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers, and just 15 of those investigations resulted in arrest. In December the City Council passed legislation requiring NYPD to post quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes that result in “critical” injury.

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No Charges Filed for Pedestrian Deaths in Jamaica and East New York

NYPD says the department doesn't know who had the right of way when Sheila Rivera was fatally struck by a driver on Pennsylvania Avenue at Glenmore Avenue in East New York. Image: Google Maps

Editor’s note: As we were finishing up this story, Gothamist reported that a 36-year-old cyclist was killed this morning in Claremont, and that another cyclist struck by a truck driver in Downtown Brooklyn earlier this month has died from his injuries. We will have more on these fatalities in a future post.

Two pedestrians were killed by motorists in Brooklyn and Queens Monday. No charges were filed by NYPD in either case, and as usual, other than a routine bit of victim-blaming, details on these deadly acts of vehicular violence are scarce.

At approximately 7:20 p.m., 50-year-old Sheila Rivera was hit by the driver of a Honda SUV as she crossed Pennsylvania Avenue at Glenmore Avenue in East New York, according to Gothamist and the Daily News. Gothamist reported that Rivera lived seven blocks from the scene. She died at Brookdale Hospital.

The driver was reportedly traveling north on Pennsylvania Avenue at the time of the crash. It is not known how fast the driver was going, or who had the right of way. The NYPD public information office had no specifics on how the crash occurred. No summonses were issued and no charges were filed.

Sheila Rivera was killed in the 75th Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by Erik Martin Dilan.

At approximately 7:50 p.m., a man reported to be in his 40s was struck by the driver of a Honda SUV on Jamaica Avenue near 180th Street. Police told Gothamist and the Daily News that the victim was crossing mid-block. He was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital. As of this morning his name had not been released by police. NYPD said no summonses were issued and no charges were filed.

This unidentified pedestrian victim was killed in the 103rd Precinct, and in the council district represented by Leroy Comrie.

Note that despite department policy that purportedly prohibits the release of information on traffic crashes, NYPD again offered details that point to the culpability of one of the dead victims, and nothing more. While police readily leak to the media that a pedestrian was struck by a motorist outside a crosswalk, driver speed is virtually never disclosed. If the pedestrian was struck while walking in a crosswalk, information on right of way is nearly impossible to extract.

A 2012 study by Transportation Alternatives found that 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws. A 2010 DOT pedestrian safety report revealed that for serious crashes to which contributing factors were assigned, only 21.5 percent placed primary responsibility on “pedestrian error/confusion,” with the vast majority caused by driver inattention, failure to yield, and excessive speed.

Regardless of data showing that most pedestrians and cyclists struck by motorists were following traffic laws, those who read and watch daily coverage of NYC traffic crashes are left with the impression that most incidents are either blameless acts of nature or are precipitated by irresponsible behavior on the part of the injured or deceased victim.


Five Killed in Four Days: Holiday Season Marked by Pedestrian Deaths

Maria Beria, Aileen Martinez, Sheena Mathew, Ronald Sinvil, Miguel Torres

In separate crashes in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, city motorists killed five pedestrians between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Four of the crashes, which took the lives of a child and three young mothers, were hit-and-runs.

At approximately 8:45 a.m. on December 28, 11-year-old Miguel Torres of Jackson Heights was crossing at Northern Boulevard and 80th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light, when he was hit by the driver of a dump truck.

Miguel was on his way to participate in a school field trip to Grand Central Terminal when he was killed. Olga Gonzalez, who witnessed the aftermath of the crash, told the Post: “It was so bad, when the ambulance guy came, he was crying … The car hit [Miguel] so hard his shoes came off. I just saw a little kid in the middle of the street, and I just started crying.”

The driver, who did not stop, was later located by police. To the dismay of Miguel’s grieving family, no criminal charges were filed. From DNAinfo:

“They’re just giving him summonses,” [Miguel’s aunt Yolanda] Ardezzone said. “I think he should get more than summonses — jail time, so this won’t happen to another child.”

A spokeswoman for the NYPD said that although the police originally stated the child was involved in a hit-and-run, police were actually able to track down the driver at the scene.

“It appeared the driver was unaware they struck someone,” said the spokeswoman. No criminal charges had been filed by Sunday, but she said the case was still under investigation.

In New York State, a driver must know or have reason to know that he or she has caused injury in order to be charged for leaving the scene of a fatal crash. Even when police and prosecutors muster the will to bring charges — no sure thing by any means — an admission that the motorist “didn’t see” the victim serves as a reliable defense. From the Daily News:

A few hours after the incident, police found the driver of the 1988 truck in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He told police he didn’t know he had hit someone, tested negative for alcohol and had a valid driver’s license. Police said no criminal charges will be filed.

No charges, though according to the same Daily News story: “A police source said the truck’s rear wheels struck the boy, though a second source said the boy may have first been struck from the front end of the truck.”

If Queens District Attorney Richard Brown does indeed pursue a criminal case against Miguel Torres’s killer, it is a virtual lock that leaving the scene would be the top charge. Minus evidence of intoxication, a city motorist who kills a pedestrian or cyclist is practically guaranteed to escape charges for taking a life.

Read more…


Queens Pedestrian Maleka Begum, 54, Killed by Bus Driver Making a Turn

A 54-year-old woman was killed by a bus driver in Jamaica Saturday night.

Maleka Begum was crossing the street at Hillside Avenue and Merrick Boulevard at around 8 p.m. when she was struck by the driver of a Nassau Inter-County Express bus, according to the Daily News.

Maleka Begum. Photo via Daily News

“She was crossing with my sister and the bus just hit her and drove through her body,” said the victim’s tearful son, Motiur Chowdhury, 31. “He shouldn’t drive the bus. He shouldn’t drive at all.”

Police have ruled out criminality on the part of the bus driver, a 52-year-old man, who was turning off Hillside onto Merrick when he hit Begum. Cops were investigating the accident Saturday night.

Witness Mohammed Sarwar, 51, of Rockaway Beach, said Begum had the walk signal and the accident was “100 percent the bus’s fault.”

The driver would have been making a left turn from Hillside onto Merrick, according to a NICE route map. If the driver had a green light and Begum had a walk signal, as the witness indicated, the bus driver killed Begum while violating at least one traffic law. Yet NYPD “ruled out criminality” within hours.

NICE is operated by Veolia Transportation, which replaced Long Island Bus after Nassau County execs decided they didn’t want to pay for MTA bus service. With Veolia routes extending into the city, this crash raises the question of whether the private company’s drivers are as safe mile-per-mile as MTA drivers.

Begum was at least the second city pedestrian this month to be killed by a motorist making a turn. On October 3, Staten Island senior Margaret King, walking in a crosswalk in broad daylight, was fatally struck by a driver who was turning left from a fast food parking lot. As we wrote last week, such deaths are commonplace. But among city pols, notably council transportation chair James Vacca and speaker Christine Quinn, the mounting human toll has yet to arouse a sense of urgency comparable to that elicited by, say, sidewalk bicycling, which normally results in zero fatalities per year.

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DOT Proposes Five Ped Refuges For Hillside Avenue in Queens

One of the most dangerous streets in Queens is slated for a safety upgrade, with the Department of Transportation proposing five new pedestrian refuge islands along Hillside Avenue [PDF]. The intervention is a relatively modest one, however, with no narrowing of the roadway and fewer pedestrian refuges than a previous proposal for the corridor.

Hillside Avenue at 197th Street in Queens. DOT has proposed replacing the painted median with a solid pedestrian refuge. Image: NYC DOT

Hillside Avenue badly needs the safety improvements. On the 1.5 mile stretch between 172nd and 199th streets, an average of 84 people have been injured in traffic crashes every year, putting Hillside in the top five percent of most dangerous roads in Queens, according to DOT.

Image: NYC DOT

The five pedestrian islands, proposed for the intersections of 172nd, 175th, 187th, 197th, and 199th Streets, should make it easier for pedestrians to safely make it across the wide street. Hillside has two traffic lanes in each direction. During rush hour, the parking lane in the peak direction is converted into a moving lane as well.

While the upgrade will make walking safer — DOT projects as much as a 46 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes — the impact of these islands may be smaller than in other locations. At each of the proposed locations, Hillside already has a striped median where the refuge island would be installed. The islands won’t narrow the roadway.

Hillside Avenue was previously targeted for safety improvements under DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors program. In January 2010, DOT presented Queens CB 8 with a proposal to install eight pedestrian refuges at an overlapping but not identical set of intersections. Those refuges were not built, according to a DOT spokesperson, though a leading pedestrian interval was installed at two intersections under the Safe Streets for Seniors program. Seemingly, these five refuge islands are an alternate proposal to the larger number put forward two years ago.

Queens civic activist Pat Dolan, herself an advocate for improved transportation options for senior citizens, was killed by a driver while crossing Hillside at 198th Street last November.