As part of his week in Queens, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a town hall in Astoria where he held a Q&A session and announced several improvement projects for the neighborhood.
The mayor answered questions on a variety of topics during the three-hour session on June 19 at P.S. 70. He also revealed that the city will take on several initiatives to improve streets and public spaces like libraries.
Steinway Street, a major thoroughfare and shopping hub in the neighborhood, will get a makeover to make the street more pedestrian friendly.
“I know there’s been a lot of concerns about Steinway Street and making it a better environment for pedestrians,” he said. “The DOT will be creating a new design to make the Steinway Street corridor more pedestrian friendly and safe and that plan will be brought to the community board next year.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides, who moderated the town hall, included improvements to the street in his State of the District speech in January.
The thoroughfare has been the scene of 249 traffic-related injuries and 95 pedestrian injuries in the past five years. Part of the problem, Constantinides argued, is the configuration of the crosswalks. The blocks along the street are long, and many times pedestrians will cross in the middle of the street to reach a store instead of walking to the end of a block to reach a crosswalk.
Though the DOT plan is still months away from being presented to the community, Constantinides’ plan calls for mid-block crosswalks, leading pedestrian intervals to give pedestrians more time to cross the street and a plan to make the corridor “the next great meeting space in western Queens.”
He cited Union and Madison Squares as examples that Astoria could imitate and wants to include the community in any ongoing discussion about the space.
De Blasio also acknowledged that renovations for Steinway Library were taking too long, calling the delay “unacceptable.”
“I know there are some things that the government has not done so well and some things that have taken too long and have been frustrating, and one is the Steinway Library,” he said.
The renovation, he said, will officially start in spring 2018. It includes a new elevator, new entrance ramp, renovated children’s room, a new self-checkout unit, a new roof and cleaning the exterior walls. According to the Queens Library website, the $2.92 million project will be completed in August 2019.
The plans also include renovations to the children’s bathrooms, meeting rooms and staff rooms, which will cost $250,000. It is not clear when those renovations will be complete.
The Parks Department also announced that they will resolve the flooding issue at Woodtree Park at 20th Avenue and 37th Street, where residents have complained that after rainfall, the basketball courts become inundated with water.
Housing was also a discussion at the town hall, where residents were concerned about the over-development in Astoria and neighboring Long Island City. One resident asked about Astoria Cove, a development on the waterfront that has been delayed because of disputes about the 421-a program, a tax incentive that rewards developers for adding some affordable housing to their projects.
According to Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the development is still stalled. But it is the first development to be zoned under the mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing text amendment, which was passed in the City Council last year.
This means that once the developers begin work again, 25 percent of the 1,700 units must be affordable and stay affordable.
“They haven’t made a a lot of progress in terms of moving forward with the project but the bottom line is when it does happen it will at least have 25 percent affordable housing,” she said.
To view the full town hall, a live-stream is available on the mayor’s YouTube account: