By Mark Hallum
South Queens attorney Mike Scala is challenging City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and hopes to fight for better public transportation.
Known as a transit activist, Scala has been active in the district fighting for the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road and against implementation of Select Bus Service on Cross Bay Boulevard — deemed unsafe by many.
“If reactivated, [the Rockaway Beach line] could reduce our commutes from south Queens to Manhattan by up to 45 minutes, so it’s a very big priority,” Scala said.
A feasibility study is currently underway to explore the cost and safety of reactivating the all but abandoned elevated train tracks, which were deactivated in the early 1960s because of low ridership. Transit and park advocates have been playing tug-of-war with the rusted right-of-way with many hoping for a greenspace similar to the Highline in Manhattan.
Scala serves as the first vice president of the Queens Public Transit Committee and during his time with the organization, they have pushed for the return of ferry service in the Rockaways, which was piloted after Hurricane Sandy to bring relief to commuters going to Manhattan. It was discontinued because the program hit the end of the road with funding.
Now that the ferry is back, Scala is advocating for more vessels to make more frequent trips and carry more people.
In August 2016, Scala spoke at a protest against the city’s SBS plan along Cross Bay Boulevard, which reconfigured lanes and eliminated left turns at major intersections as well as installing bus stops in the median of Woodhaven Boulevard. Opponents fear the stops will create unsafe conditions along the corridor and interrupt the flow of traffic.
“It’s now causing more traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard as we predicted during the construction and it’s not going to stop any time soon or until this is undone,” Scala said, looking back on the battle to prevent implementation of the plan. “Taking lanes away from one of the busiest north-south thoroughfares in our area is not smart. It’s a dumb and dangerous idea. We’re committed to fighting it.”
Construction is still underway and is scheduled to launch in the coming weeks despite the federal funding the DOT counted on being frozen.
Scala expects to continue fighting the SBS plan by negotiating with City Hall and using data as it goes into effect to turn back the changes the city has made to the road layout.
He wants more local bus lines in the transit desert of south Queens and express service to Manhattan. The A train is a “logistical nightmare,” according to Scala, who said the fact that it splits off in two directions in the Rockaways can cause debacles for straphangers.
As an attorney, Scala has experience in the public and private sector. He has worked as a legislative director and counsel for the state Senate on the state budget and has specialized in civil litigation in the private sector.
Scala, who has called for the elimination of tolls on bridges across the city, is staunchly against the expansion of cashless tolling and congestion pricing, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopes to implement to fund the MTA.
Scala also hopes to bear down on issues still affecting homeowners struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy who have applied for assistance through the Build It Back program, but have never received relief.
He plans to use his office if elected to fund after-school programs which give children experience in coding and other 21st century job market needs.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall