We have an update to our series on City Council candidates with questionnaire responses from two additional candidates in District 22, which covers Astoria, Ditmars-Steinway, and northern Jackson Heights. In April, we ran responses from Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides and former New York Young Republican Club President Daniel Peterson.
This week, we add responses from candidates who announced after we sent the initial questionnaire this spring: Green Party candidate Lynne Serpe and Democrat John Ciafone. Antonio Meloni, who responded to Streetsblog’s questionnaire but did not provide answers for publication, has since dropped out of the race. Danielle De Stefano did not respond.
Streetsblog: A proposal for a pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue, 33rd Street and Newtown Avenue was defeated by opposition from Community Board 1 and Council Member Vallone. Do you think public plazas, like the ones installed in other neighborhoods throughout the city, provide a benefit to the community?
Lynne Serpe: When I ran for City Council four years ago, I proposed turning that intersection into a pedestrian plaza. I was active in the recent attempt to convince the community board to support the proposal, and was disappointed by the position of many of the other candidates in District 22. I am a big advocate of using our public spaces for non-traditional use, to create shared and safe places for our community to gather, play and relax. I have a long history on this issue: I volunteer with the Astoria Park Alliance on Shore Fest, the street closure of Shore Boulevard for three Sundays in August, and host Ping Pong in the Park. I volunteered with Transportation Alternatives to improve the pedestrian crossings at Astoria Boulevard and 31st, and have led street cleanups of that area and the sidewalks surrounding Two Coves Community Garden near Astoria Houses. I’ve hosted Make Music New York and have participated in Park(ing) Day numerous times. As councilwoman, I would push for more street furniture along our commercial corridors and work with local businesses and residents to create a “Greenest Block” contest similar to those of the Brooklyn and Manhattan borough president’s offices.
SB: Astoria Boulevard is slated to receive Select Bus Service improvements to speed bus travel. Could other parts of the neighborhood benefit from things like dedicated bus lanes?
LS: I support upgrading the M60 to Select Bus Service, which will improve travel times and mean fewer people driving to the airport. Traffic congestion is an economic, environmental and public health problem. Rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments are on the rise, especially in neighborhoods with heavy truck traffic. Bus Rapid Transit works and is crucial in areas where there is limited access to mass transit, such as many under-served areas in Queens. Dedicated bus lanes for the Q69 and Q100 are needed on 21st Street, along with a range of traffic calming measures and bike lanes. But one of the most significant issues in our district is frequency of bus service! The Q101 and Q104 are far too infrequent, the Q18 is standing room only after three stops during rush hour, while the Q103 along Vernon Boulevard is practically nonexistent during the week and doesn’t run at all on weekends. At a time when New York City is finally recognizing the need to improve waterfront access, this is ridiculous. I also support bike racks on buses, and would advocate for the City and MTA to develop a pilot project for the Q19 along Astoria Boulevard to Flushing.
SB: How can the council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?
LS: Recent tragedies like the killing of Tenzin Drudak (age 16) or the death of Lizardo Aldama (age 89) by a drunk driver have brought these issues to the forefront in District 22. Studies show speeding is the top factor in NYC traffic deaths. Current speeding limits are seldom followed, or posted, and police rarely enforce existing laws. But more signage and enforcement alone are not enough. We need to implement traffic calming measures, especially near the many schools in the district and along 21st and 33rd Streets. We need wider sidewalks and narrower streets, raised medians, pedestrian refuge islands, more speed humps and speed tables — and dedicated bike lanes. Additionally, we need to increase the number of trained personnel investigating ALL serious traffic crashes (not just those immediately resulting in death) and strengthen laws that penalize reckless drivers. The more we investigate crashes, the more we can identify root causes and prevent them from happening again. Finally, the ideal of Safe Streets must include recognition that we need policies that ensure all New Yorkers — regardless of age, ability to travel, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation — can walk or bike our streets without fear of harassment.
SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?
LS: Riders recently faced a fourth fare increase in five years, a significant burden on working New Yorkers who rely on mass transit to get to and from work, and last week another potential fare hike was announced for 2015 and 2017. While much of the blame can be put on Albany, the city must consider increasing its contribution to the MTA during budget deliberations. Tough choices are part of the job. We also need a complete re-haul of our Access-A-Ride system, which is a necessary lifeline of many elderly, sick and mobility-impaired passengers who might otherwise be stranded, unable to make it to doctors’ appointments or run basic errands. The MTA contracts out to private providers rather than use their own fleet, or other alternatives, and the costs for the service are extremely high. The city should phase in laws requiring that yellow cabs, livery cabs, dollar vans and black car services are wheelchair accessible, and work to develop a plan that doesn’t place the entire financial burden for upgrades on drivers. As councilwoman, I would also work to ensure that appointments to the MTA board include more mass transit advocates. Finally, we need greater transparency from the MTA.