Page 5

By BRENDAN McHUGH Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Department of Transportation like to tout the “success” of the Times Square plaza, saying it has cleaned the air, improved traffic in surrounding streets and increased commercial business. Whether or not that is true, City Councilman Jimmy Vacca has a simple message to the mayor: if a community doesn’t ask for a plaza, don’t put one in. This comes after a City Council hearing between the DOT and Vacca’s transportation committee, where DOT said they hope to have a plaza in every community board district. To Vacca, that meant even if the community doesn’t want one, it won’t matter. A plaza must be at least 2,000 square feet, usually with permanent or removable seats and tables and sometimes grassy areas or small trees. The city has constructed or is in the process of constructing 14 plazas. The DOT is currently accepting applications for plazas, which are built using taxpayer money but are maintained entirely by local nonprofits. One of Vacca’s fears is that nonprofits will be left footing the bill for a plaza they never requested. “Every community is different,” he said. “If communities want pedestrian plazas and they want to work with DOT, that’s one thing. But I would not want the DOT to say we are going ahead with our plan to have all 59 districts to have a plaza.” He also noted the vast difference between Times Square and the outer boroughs. “These plazas are 24 hours a day,” he said. “If you live in Riverdale, you are

surrounded by residential strips. Do we want 24-hour large areas to be open to pedestrians loitering, talking, whatever? The Bronx is not Manhattan. People want peace and quiet.” He went on to explain a problem that affects not many people but is important nonetheless. “There are issues related to the disabled,” he said. “If we reconfigure the roads, what are the blind going to do?” The DOT said they don’t like to close down streets to construct a plaza, but it is not out of the question. Recently, a plaza considered by a Riverdale merchants association would not only have shut down a small stretch of 236th Street that leads to the one-way Fieldston Road, but it would also have eliminated about a dozen parking spaces. Instead of a plaza at the location, City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell is planning to fund a greenstreet, which will give the area a makeover without eliminating roads or parking. Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich, who attended the hearing, saw the entire plaza program as a misuse of taxpayer money. “As I was driving to the hearing today, I couldn’t help but think that we’re living in the Twilight Zone, because as I’m driving on the BQE, and the roads are in horrendous condition, I’m driving to a hearing talking about pedestrian plazas,” he said, referring to potholes. “I just say to myself all the time—this is a constant criticism that I’m always applying to the department—why can’t we just get back to basics and worry more about paving the streets than we are about installing bike lanes and putting in pedestrian plazas even if people don’t want them.”

5 The RIVERDALE REVIEW • Thursday, May 12, 2011

‘Plazas’ panned at public hearing

Riverdale Review, May 12, 2011  

Weekly newspaper published in Riverdale, NY 10471