Facing a small but influential opposition to a permanent plaza in Astoria, DOT installed a one-day demonstration on Saturday to give neighborhood residents a sneak peak of how the street could be transformed. The demo, a first for DOT, was installed before Queens Community Board 1 votes on the proposal on September 11.
Throughout the day, people were taking breaks in the moveable chairs, kids were playing hopscotch, and residents were giving feedback to DOT.
Freida Raemer, 80, lives nearby and was walking down 30th Avenue when she came upon the demo plaza. She said that she would use the plaza if it’s installed. “Sometimes you want to take a little rest.”
DOT has put forth two options for the intersection: three curb extensions at a cost of $400,000, or the plaza at a cost of $75,000. If the plaza is built, DOT would work with the Central Astoria Local Development Corporation to maintain the space. Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., siding with some businesses who don’t want to see the plaza get built, has said he opposes the plaza option.
Opponents were also out collecting signatures against the plaza on Saturday. Kat Valiotis, who lives on Newtown Avenue and works for Alma Realty, which is one of the businesses that opposes the plaza, said that she supports plazas, but that a plaza on her street would create unbearable traffic congestion. Valiotis also noted that the neighborhood has a park, Athens Square, a few blocks away at 30th Street.
But Antigone Babalas, carrying her 6-month-old girl down the street, said the neighborhood could use more public space. “The other park is always crowded,” said Babalas, who also has a 4-year-old boy. The Parks Department has identified Astoria as one of the 10 neighborhoods with the least amount of open space in New York. Looking at Newtown Avenue, Babalas said it might make a nice plaza. “It’s not a very busy block,” she said.
During the demo on Saturday, DOT was conducting travel time studies to see how the plaza affected vehicle flow on surrounding streets. Opponents wanted to see a trial with traffic data from rush hour. “They picked the quietest Saturday of the year,” said Valiotis. “Do it for a week.” (The planters, tables, chairs and umbrellas used for the event were basically in transit on Saturday: Previously, the street furniture was in use at a multi-week demonstration plaza DOT installed on a service road along Second Avenue in Kips Bay; now it is headed to the new plaza in Corona.)
Gus Panteliodis, one of the owners of Sweet Athens Café, hasn’t made up his mind about the plaza yet. Although he is concerned that the plaza might result in a bit more traffic congestion, he thinks it might ultimately be good for business. He has spoken with other business owners, who he said are taking a similarly cautious approach, but has not been in contact with the plaza opponents. Panteliodis said that he’s scheduled to speak with someone from DOT about the plaza on Wednesday.
Businesses would seem to have a lot to gain from increasing sidewalk appeal. In the Census tract surrounding the proposed plaza, 67.5 percent of residents don’t own cars. And at a June 5 community meeting about the plaza, DOT shared the results a shopper survey at the adjacent Key Food, which found that 90 percent or customers walked or took transit.