Costa Constantinides: Break the Car Culture of Queens — With Better Transit and More Biking!

Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides is running for Borough President with an ambitious transit and safe streets platform. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides is running for Borough President with an ambitious transit and safe streets platform. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Fresh from his ringing endorsement from StreetsPAC, Queens Borough President candidate Costa Constantinides is calling for massive improvements in transit across the borough to break the car culture and reduce the city’s increasing production of toxic greenhouse gas emissions.

Constantinides, a Council Member representing Astoria, is battling five rivals in the March 24 special election for the vacant Queens Beep seat, including fellow Council Member Donovan Richards and former Council Member Liz Crowley, both of whom have championed transit and livable streets issues.

But to date, no one has put out as broad a policy proposal as Constantinides.

“Queens is governed by a transit system haunted by the ghost of Robert Moses that’s turned many of our communities into transit deserts, created unprecedented traffic, and fueled the climate crisis as more people opt to drive,” he said. “Our borough is long overdue for a holistic transit plan that provides reliable bus and subway service to get people out of their cars.”

He blamed “unreliable MTA service” for the rise in app-based cabs — which is a trend in other boroughs, as well — and the resulting 15-percent annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years. He also linked ongoing road carnage — at least 26 pedestrians so far this year citywide — to the increase in car travel.

Constantinides’s plan calls for:

  • Busways: Constantinides would start with two car-free routes modeled on the success of the 14th Street bus priority route in Manhattan: one crossing the borough on the east-west plane and the other crossing north-south.
  • Even More Protected Bike Lanes: The mayor will build 30 miles of protected bike lane this year. Council Speaker Corey Johnson pushed through a law requiring 50 miles starting next year. Constantinides is calling for 75 miles of protected bike lanes — in Queens alone! — in 2021. “Bike lanes must be able to get commuters to work as well as from one neighborhood to another,” he said.
  • Create Safe Streets with New Zoning Rules: Thanks to city rules, even buildings next to subway stations must provide parking. Constantinides says he would “study opportunities to reduce those requirements in areas heavily served by buses and trains.”
  • Reopen the Elmhurst LIRR Station and Expand the Atlantic Ticket: Elmhurst residents lost their LIRR station 35 years ago, but ridership numbers would be far better now, the Council member said — especially if the LIRR expands its Atlantic ticket program, a pilot that currently offers $5 one-way tickets between 10 LIRR stations in southeast Queens and Brooklyn.

The platform also includes an idea Constantinides has already discussed: Giving Borough Presidents an appointee on the MTA board. Currently, the mayor gets four appointees on the 17-member board, which includes what Constantinides believes is a disproportionate number of suburban members. The current “inequitable system” means that upstate counties with half the population of Queens have more of a say on the transit board.

Streetsblog reached out to Richards and Crowley to see if they have their own transit and safe streets programs to unveil, but have not heard back.

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City Council Candidates on the Issues: Costa Constantinides, District 22

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Streetsblog continues our series on City Council candidates with a look at the race for District 22 in Queens, which covers Astoria, Ditmars-Steinway, and northern Jackson Heights. The seat has been held by Peter Vallone, Jr. since 2002; he is now running for Queens Borough President. Two Democratic primary candidates — Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides and anti-crime activist Antonio […]