Blaz hits Flushing for town hall at JHS 189

Mayor reveals investments in nabe for quality-of-life and traffic issues

To much applause, Mayor de Blasio announced at a town hall at JHS 189 in Flushing last Tuesday night that the neighborhood’s downtown area would be receiving twice-daily litter basket collections — starting on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

“Everyone cares about quality of life, and it really is obnoxious when you see a litter basket and you’re happy there’s a litter basket, but if it’s overflowing, it defeats the whole purpose,” de Blasio said at the town hall, which was moderated by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing). Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks and other city agency chiefs answered questions that fell under their purviews.

Translation was provided to the audience in Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

And the collection change wasn’t the only gift de Blasio — who said he lived on Saull Street in Flushing for two years before meeting his wife — came bearing.

“We’ll be adding security lights into [Kissena Corridor Park] to make it safe for everybody,” Hizzoner said. Some in Flushing have expressed concerns over the green space’s safety. Two high-profile sexual assaults took place there last summer, and the corpse of a murdered woman was found there in 2015.

De Blasio also said that Downtown Flushing would receive more traffic enforcement agents, and that the city is going to invest $10 million into improving the Q44 Select Bus Service route “on Main Street from Flushing to Jamaica to make it go even smoother or faster.”

The mayor highlighted some other projects that City Hall has worked on during his term, like the One Flushing affordable housing development and the recently finished expansion of some sidewalks on Main Street. He also got out the word about afterschool programs that middle school students are eligible for.

“Most people at most of the town hall meetings don’t know that our middle school kids have this right,” said the mayor, who urged the audience to tell parents they know about it.

Other issues discussed included small businesses in Flushing, the lack of parking downtown and the city’s specialized high schools.

Kew Gardens Hills resident Benjamin Haber — a plaintiff in the lawsuit that halted the Willets West mega-mall plan for the Citi Field parking lot, which is technically parkland — told the mayor to “tell us now, that parks are not to be touched by private developers.”

The city and the Queens Development Group — the developer for the Willets Point urban renewal plan and the mall — are now at a standstill, because the developers said that the shopping center was necessary to finance the Iron Triangle redevelopment project. That plan had also been changed from its original form to include a much smaller number of affordable housing units. And though the de Blasio administration sided with the developers in court, it has expressed dissatisfaction with the diminished level of affordable housing.

In response, the mayor explained how the situation stands with City Hall.

“I want affordable housing. I obviously believe that parkland should not be alienated unless an equivalent land is created,” he said. “But I want affordable housing … Our message to all the stakeholders is: We’re not going to move on anything unless there’s enough affordable housing. Period.”

Traffic in Downtown Flushing can be a nightmare during rush hour. In response to a question about improving the flow of traffic for cars, Trottenberg discussed what the city is planning for the neighborhood.

By the end of this year, she said, a project called Flushing in Motion will be realized. It uses tools that have already been used in Midtown Manhattan.

“We’re going to work to retime the signals at 15 different very key intersections,” the DOT commissioner explained.

And if another initiative in northwest Queens is successful, she added, Flushing may see some additional changes.

“We’re looking to do a bigger experiment, particularly looking at how we can clear curbs during the rush-hour period,” Trottenberg said. “We’re going to actually start over at Roosevelt Avenue at Jackson Heights and if that works, bring it over here into Flushing.”

The plan bars truck deliveries on the street during rush hour.

Responding to a question from Chinese American Parents Association President Pauline Chu, the mayor reiterated his position that the admissions process for the city’s elite eight specialized high schools — which is a matter of state law for some of the institutions — should consist of more than just an exam.

“I will continue to ask the [state] Legislature to change the law, so I can follow through on this vision of what I think would be a fairer system,” the mayor said.

A representative of the Star Track community cycling program asked de Blasio about the possibility of city government funding to rehabilitate the Kissena Park Velodrome, the city’s only cycling track.

“It will be under discussion in the budget process coming up to the preliminary budget that will come out in January or February,” the mayor said. “It has reached the nomination stage and we are paying attention to it, so we’ll see what we can do in this next budget working with [Koo].”

Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) also spoke at the event.

Early on in the town hall, Koo — who is nowhere near as tall as de Blasio — joked about the height difference between him and his Hizzoner. “We may not see eye to eye on everything because you are tall,” the councilman quipped, shortly before being hugged by the mayor.