Tony Avella Goes Berserk Over Community-Backed Flushing Plaza
State Senator Tony Avella held a press conference this week to denounce a pedestrian plaza proposed for the Murray Hill section of Flushing. He’s afraid it will lead to unbearable traffic congestion. Too bad he’s conjuring nightmare scenarios about something that’s not even in his district: State Senator Toby Stavisky, who actually represents the plaza site and the blocks surrounding it, backs the plan. So do local council members.
The plaza was first proposed by the Korean American Association in Queens (KAAQ), which would maintain the plaza space. According to the Queens Courier, the group approached DOT last year about converting a block of Roosevelt Avenue, which is one-way between Northern Boulevard and 155th Street, into a pedestrian space.
The plaza would connect with Leonard Square, a small triangle park bounded by the three streets, and would be next to a branch of the Queens Library. To showcase the potential for a permanent plaza, KAAQ worked with DOT to host two one-day demonstration plazas, on April 18 and August 7. Up to 200 people attended the April event, DOT said.
Local homeowners associations then complained that they hadn’t been notified and didn’t like the plaza idea. The groups claimed it would cause congestion, be unsafe, and would even be too unpleasant in summer and winter weather.
“From mid-November to April it’s winter and it’s cold and on days like today it’s too hot,” Station Road Civic Association vice president Chrissy Voskerichian told the Queens Chronicle. “You’re not going to have people out here.”
Avella amplified the opposition with this week’s press conference. Instead of making an angled left turn from Northern directly onto Roosevelt, westbound drivers would turn onto 155th Street after the plaza is completed. That was too much for Avella to bear.
“My first reaction was, ‘What idiot came up with this?’” Avella said, reported the Queens Chronicle. “You close this street off, you then require people to go farther down Northern Boulevard and make a left off the oncoming traffic on Northern Boulevard. You can sit there for several lights before you can ever make that left.”
“Toby Stavisky should be ashamed of herself. Absolutely ashamed of herself for supporting something that’s going to add significant traffic congestion,” Avella said. “That’s asinine. Absolutely asinine.”
There were no reports of traffic congestion from the one-day demonstration plaza, which Stavisky’s office says lasted until 6 p.m. during a Friday rush hour.
An Avella spokesperson said it was inappropriate to put on a one-day demonstration plaza without sufficient notification of all community members. (I asked whether Avella also opposes one-day block parties. He does not.)
Avella doesn’t seem to think pedestrian space will function in his borough. “Queens is not Manhattan. Nor do we want to make it Manhattan,” he told the Chronicle. “It doesn’t work here.”
Stavisky backs the Roosevelt Avenue plaza, as do City Council members Peter Koo, who represents the plaza site, and Paul Vallone, whose district is across Northern Boulevard. About 80 people showed up to a workshop about the plaza on April 16, DOT said, and another workshop is being scheduled prior to the next Community Board 7 meeting in September.
“There’s no attempt to smuggle this through. We want this to be the best it can for the area,” said Tess McRae, Stavisky’s communications director. “We’re trying to keep this as transparent as possible.”
Then why the opposition? “People are afraid of something new,” Koo told the Times Ledger. “They live in their comfort zone.”
This post has been updated to reflect Avella’s opposition to one-day plazas. An Avella spokesperson called after publication to say that his opposition to the temporary events stemmed from a perceived lack of community notification, not because it was inappropriate to put on a one-day demonstration plaza before the community had decided whether or not it wanted a permanent plaza.