City should adequately fund Parks Department in budget

Bob Harris

At a May 18 Queens Civic Congress meeting, co-sponsored by the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces and the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said despite budget cuts, she does not expect cuts in beaches and pool staff, although there will be cuts in local parks and playgrounds.

About $25 million was cut from the city Parks Department in the past two years, about 8 percent of the Parks budget. Some residents expressed concern about the cuts.

There was a discussion of the tree plantings by Parks in the Rockaways using city money and federal stimulus money. They are using long-lasting, recycled plastics on the boardwalks. There were complaints it is taking too long to repair damaged boards, but there was praise for the flower beds along the boardwalk.

There was some unhappiness over a lack of lifeguards in June, but there was the feeling there would be adequate lifeguard coverage for the rest of the summer. It was explained lifeguards are first placed opposite where there are concession stands, toilets, changing rooms and bus stops, then stationed at more distant locations.

Another topic discussed was the money allocated to stop the erosion at the baseball diamonds in the western part of Cunningham Park near 193rd Street. It is hoped contractors can do a better job than in the past. I think the fields were repaired about 15 or 20 years ago, but the erosion continues.

A question was asked about fixing the slabs of cement where tree roots lift them up. The city has a program to fix these slabs. It is advantageous because if someone falls and is injured, the cost of a court settlement is more than just repairing these slabs.

Homeowners should call 311 and an inspector will be sent to evaluate the raised slab. The rating is from 1 to 100, with 100 the worst rating. There are about 20,000 complaints. The city repaired about 5,000 dangerous sidewalks and will probably do another 6,000. They are repairing ratings in the 70s. The problem is that a 70 sidewalk two years ago may now be an 80.

During the evening, there was a comment that the Queens Botanical Garden has the first green roof building in the city. This is good, but then there was a question about the construction of this new green building. It seems during the construction a couple of years ago, Carsten Glaeser, the Kissena Park Civic Association and QCC arborist, criticized the city for permitting the contractor to use dump trucks close around the trees in that location.

It seems root systems can extend 25 feet out beyond the trunk and compression by heavy dump trucks can kill them. Glaeser commented that an oak tree next to the building has already died.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Many people are happy there was a small fare increase to use mass transit, but many are concerned basic Metropolitan Transportation Authority problems have not been fixed. When fares rise, people get angry and figure out ways to beat them. I have noticed people walking onto the subway platform as people walk out of the swinging doors at Union Turnpike.

Once in a while, there are plainclothes police officers who arrest such fare beaters, but not often. I have been told people walk on buses without paying. Some bus drivers will challenge them, but many do not want to get attacked, so they ignore this petty crime. The city is losing money and it will only get worse unless a way can be figured out to stop it.

The city wants to save money by eliminating token booth workers, but stations have two entrances. This leaves people with no one to watch out for them. It seems some of these token booth protectors sometimes do not help. A young lady was attacked outside a station booth and dragged onto a stairway, screaming. The rules said the token booth operator had to call a dispatcher for help. There were no sirens to set off, whistles to blow or cameras to scare away the attacker.

The person in the booth was not required to leave the booth, but make the call. A motorman on a train saw what was happening and made a call, too. The police arrived after the attacker had run away. Now they want to cut back on the number of eyes watching out for us in the subway system.

The ability of people to move around in our mass transit system is an engine for providing workers for businesses and making it easy for people to shop or party, thus moving the economy. If people are afraid to ride mass transit, the economy suffers.