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The RIRA Column - March 26, 2011

posted Apr 2, 2011, 9:34 AM by Vinicius Fortuna   [ updated Apr 15, 2011, 2:39 PM by Ava Dawson ]
We’ve experienced the first week of spring and not a moment too soon. It seems ironic that the only spring-like day over the past week was actually on the last day of winter. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and I’m watching buds popping all over the Island and with great anticipation.

Vision 2020

For the past year, I’ve been participating in a project to produce a comprehensive waterfront plan, called Vision 2020, under the auspices of the City’s Department of Planning. This has been accomplished through a series of borough-wide and City-wide meetings. This is the first such plan since 1992, and it’s intended to make better use of our waterfronts and waterways over the next decade. The final draft is now completed and the resulting book-length plan is being printed. In the meantime, you can download the plan at www.nyc.gov/waterfront.

My interest was to ensure that Roosevelt Island would be included, specifically for our transportation and recreational needs. It seems that I’ve been only half-successful. The overview on potential ferry service primarily includes the Hudson River and the New York Bight, with East River service only up to 34th Street in Manhattan and Hunter’s Point in Queens. As our island population has expanded, it is clear that our existing public transportation, the F train and Tram, are not adequate for our needs, especially during the morning commute. I hope we can convince “the powers that be” that the future viability of this residential community depends on better City transportation. Currently, given the capacity of the boats and the potential frequency of service, ferries will not solve our problems. However, they will provide some relief and…any port in a storm. You can read about the extent of city planning in the soon-to-be-released Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study and in Goal 6: Enhance the Blue Network to be found in Vision 2020.

The material pertaining to Roosevelt Island is located in Chapter 4: Neighborhood Reach Strategies/Reach 1 – East River North/Roosevelt Island and Roosevelt Island, Southern End. To summarize: It includes an evaluation of our tidal energy potential and river currents, the potential for launching boats, the use of our east channel for recreational boating and limiting shoreline erosion, and “ensuring that the redevelopment of Goldwater Hospital [property]…reflects the proximity of the waterfront.”. An encouraging item for our southern end is the intention to “support an improved Southpoint Park with a waterfront esplanade.”

This plan reflects the City’s best intentions, and only that. What actually is built or implemented will depend on funding and the “squeaky-wheel syndrome.” Which means that RIRA must continue to encourage our elected representatives to support our waterfront enhancement and to advocate for the people-moving needs of this island community.

A Visit from the Beep

Several months ago, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer contacted me to offer a meeting with a small group of Island activists. That meeting took place Wednesday morning. My goal was to produce a small group of resident volunteers, representative of the community’s diversity and of the various building complexes, and that was accomplished. I intended to bring together veterans of the RIRA Common Council, and they were me, Council Secretary Sherie Helstien, and Government Relations Committee Chair, Joyce Mincheff. I wanted to include some newer delegates and first-termers (the future of RIRA) as well, and they were Barbara Allen, Dave Evans and Denise Shull. RIRA alumni, and current RIOC Board Members Jon Kalkin and Margie Smith rounded out the group, along with Dick Lutz and Rick O’Conor, representing Island media.

This proved to be a group particularly well versed in Island issues and the City and State politics that impact those issues, as I knew they would be. The discussion was far-ranging but focused on those topics where a City official could make a difference. I got the ball rolling, asking for a copy of the 2010 census highlighting changes in Roosevelt Island demographics. Smith discussed the problems, when calling 311 and 911, of responders not knowing where Roosevelt Island is or that it is part of Manhattan. Shull noted the poor signage to our island from the Queensboro Bridge. There was considerable interest in the future of Goldwater Hospital, slated for abandonment by 2014, and the potential for a science and engineering center, perhaps affiliated with Stanford University, that might utilize the site.

I’ve discussed the plans to enhance the City’s waterfronts earlier in this column, and we discussed the possibility of renovating the oil dock on the east channel for use as a ferry station. Smith mentioned that we must have water access, if only for emergency evacuation. Scott noted that the current administration would not be in office, given term limits, when this plan might bear fruit ten years from now, but suggested working on a “greenway grant” to develop our waterfront. He made it clear that he recognizes Roosevelt Island as an intrinsic part of Manhattan.

Allen asked the Beep to investigate poor sidewalk access for the wheelchair-bound disabled throughout the City. O’Conor cited the running water on the Manhattan-side subway platform, hidden by a door but audible to riders, as well as the broken station doors, and Helstien pointed out the ongoing problem with pigeons that has never been adequately addressed. Scott promised to follow up with the MTA. Mincheff noted that the Manhattan-side Tram Plaza has become a collecting point for the homeless and suggested that a commercial presence there might make the plaza more attractive and welcoming.

Evans asked the 64-dollar question about Stringer’s plans for the 2013 mayoral election, and the Borough President said he was “looking into it,” noting that New York needs a “more collaborative form of government.” I reminded Scott that he is invited to Roosevelt Island Day in June, noting that I could arrange his-and-hers gurneys at the RIRA blood drive for the Beep and his new bride. You can’t turn down an offer like that!

Kudos to the Kiosk

Last week, I attended an awards ceremony for a long-time colleague, neighbor and friend, Judy Berdy. She was honored by the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts as one of six honorees to “recognize fine restoration, renovation, and advocacy work on the Upper East Side, both in and out of the historic districts.” While our island is not exactly on the Upper East Side, we are certainly an historic district, so I’ll stop splitting hairs. The actual recipient of the award was the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, but that’s just Judy’s other name. RIHS received the Restoration Award for the Roosevelt Island Visitor Center Kiosk, and it was to be presented by our Council Member, Jessica Lappin. Unfortunately, she was under the weather, and so her Chief of Staff, Jane Swanson, read Jessica’s speech. Those of you who, like me, have witnessed the years of difficulty arranging for the transportation, foundation preparation and restoration of that iconic kiosk know what incredible patience, endurance and fortitude it took to bring this project to its conclusion. What ever your undertaking, you want Judy on your side.

Did You Know…

Roosevelt Islanders take advantage of an old-fashioned method of communication by posting signs on our Main Street kiosks. There was a time when our posters might stay up for weeks or disappear overnight; one never knew. However, and as I reported last November, we arranged with RIOC to regularize the removal of old signage on the first and 15th of each month. Should these dates fall on a weekend, then material will come down the next business day.

A word on kiosk etiquette: Never cover up someone else’s signage; not even a little bit, unless it is dated material and has expired. A little courtesy goes a long way and there’s plenty of room for everyone’s notices. You will find the agendas for each month’s RIRA Common Council posted several days before each meeting.

Contact Us

Often, there is a question as to how to contact the appropriate committee chair or officer of RIRA. Well, we’ve solved that. While you are welcome to continue emailing me directly at the email address directly under my (incredibly handsome) photo, the RIRA Communications Committee has created a new address, contact@riraonline.com that will direct your comments and queries to the RIRA councillor most likely to get you answers. Why not try it and see?

Music & Memory

Tonight (Saturday), I will be wearing a somewhat different hat than my usual RIRA chapeau. Actually, I’ll be wearing a different head--that of musician and raconteur. I’m performing at Gallery RIVAA, 529 Main Street with my guitars at 4:00 P.M. I hope you’ll stop by for a listen.

Republished by arrangement with the writer and The Main Street WIRE.  Past RIRA Columns and an archive of 15 years of The Main Street WIRE are available on Website NYC10044 at http://nyc10044.com.