Mixed Signals On Transit Hearing
By Brian Magoolaghan
They came, they complained, they made light of a trying situation - they definitely made an impression. And in the end, Rockaway's highest-ranking elected official on hand said they sent a "strong message" to City Hall but only took "a possible baby step forward."
Those are some of the words City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who requested Tuesday night's City Council Transportation Committee hearing in Broad Channel, used to describe the event to The Wave afterwards.
More than 200 people packed the hearing, which was held at American Legion Post 1404. About 70 people signed up for two minutes of public speaking, although only about half stayed late enough to be called. The hall was standing room only by the time things got underway, but there were plenty of empty seats when the meeting wrapped up about three hours later.
Quinn began by saying the hearing was organized at Addabbo's insistence, so that the Transportation Committee could "have a direct conversation with residents, and to have the agencies also hear directly from residents." And she was impressed by the turnout.
"That there are so many people here tonight really sends a message about how strongly everyone feels about the transportation problems in this part of Queens," Quinn said.
First to testify were Maura McCarthy, Department of Transportation Queens Commissioner, and David Woloch, the agency's Deputy Commissioner of External Affairs, who made a tantalizing comment regarding ferry service.
"We want to get it done. We want to pilot a Rockaway ferry service," Woloch said.
"I'm so happy to hear that," responded Transportation Committee Chairperson John Liu. But when Quinn asked DOT if they could come up with funding estimates by the July 1 deadline for fiscal year 2008 to make ferry service "real" and to avoid allocating funds that would not be spent, Woloch said he couldn't commit. Quinn would later tell The Wave that she was prepared to do battle to make it happen.
Next up, Catherine Sweeney, Vice President of Staff Services for the MTA, all but dismissed Addabbo's proposal to eliminate tolls on the Cross Bay Bridge, said A Train ridership in Rockaway doesn't warrant additional service and that reactivating the old Rockaway Beach line of the Long Island Rail Road isn't feasible. That cause was heavily promoted by Democratic District Leader Lew M. Simon, who brought a busload of supporters and was Rockaway's only other elected representative at the hearing.
When Liu took the MTA to task on the subject of buses, Norman Silverman, Senior Director of Planning and Development, countered by saying the agency was making fast progress since taking over the private bus lines.
Then, after the DOT and MTA officials testified and left, it was the people's turn.
Dolores Orr, Chairperson of Community Board 14 and president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, shocked Speaker Quinn when she said 5,000 additional housing units would be built in Rockaway and Broad Channel over the next five years.
"There is not a bus, subway or road in Broad Channel or Rockaway that can handle that additional usage," she said drawing support from the audience.
Belle Harbor resident Vivian Carter made Quinn wince with her account of a 2-hour odyssey to Manhattan on various subway trains, which she contrasted with a 30-minute train ride from Manhattan to Newark, New Jersey.
Vincent Castellano, a member of CB14, said succinctly, "Transportation is the biggest thing in Rockaway."
After the meeting, Quinn reiterated that the turnout "speaks volumes about the severity of this problem.
"It was clear, person after person, that transportation in this part of the borough is severely, severely lacking," Quinn said.
Addabbo would also say after the meeting that the size and diversity of the crowd "sends a very strong message to both sides of City Hall" but he lamented that "there's so much more work to do."