The Participatory Budgeting is coming to District 23 today and it needs your support. If you are represented by Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik (here’s a map of his district) you get to decide how city funds gets distributed in our community.
We spoke to Joby Jacob, the originator of the only parks program on the ballot for this year and one of the founders of the Eastern Queens Greenway.
Who are you and why are you interested in improving the Motor Parkway
My name is Joby Jacob, I’m a professor and parks advocate. I live near the Motor Parkway and use the greenway almost every day.
How does the Participatory Budgeting process work?
Each council member is given a certain amount of money in discretionary capital funding and discretionary operating funding. Operating funds allow for organizations to get direct funding to help them run their programs. Capital funding is really concerned with purchase of non-perishable items and capital improvements. Normally, this is decided by each council member on a case by case basis. Participatory budgeting allows the residents in a district to vote on which capital projects should be funded in the community. The idea is that it is a little bit of direct democracy. What I find most exciting about the process is that voting is open to all residents.
Who exactly can vote?
In order to vote, you must be at least 14 years old and live in the district.
Here are the voting locations (for more information contact BGrodenchik@Council.NYC.gov)
What is the specific Participatory Budgeting project are you working on?
The PB project that I am proposing is repaving the Motor Parkway. It is used by hundreds of area residents every day and allows them to walk, run or ride their bike without having to interact with automobiles. It’s really hard to explain to people how wide this path is – it is about 2 car lanes wide and surrounded by trees and greenery. You really feel like you are being transported out of Queens when you are there and that you are upstate or out on Long Island someplace. We call it the Jewel of Queens and it really is.
The pavement of the Motor Parkway in some areas is really broken down and torn up. Currently if you are not careful, it is possible to trip and fall on the pavement as happened one time to a friend of mine -Lynn of the Alley Pond Striders. My understanding is that the parks department intends to do a thorough milling and repaving of the Motor Parkway.
Could you tell us a little history of the Motor Parkway?
The motor parkway was built by William Kissem Vanderbilt II, a wealthy playboy and member of the Vanderbilt family of railroad fame. He loved racing cars and founded the Vanderbilt Cup Races which initially used the streets of Long Island for early car races. But the streets of Long Island weren’t appropriate for this and he realized he needed something else. That got him interested in building a road for the races which could be a toll-road the rest of the year. Eventually (the toll rode) would run from Fresh Meadows to Long Island. It was the first concrete highway in America as we understand the term today – a dedicated right of way with overpasses and underpasses to avoid intersections with on and off ramps to those same streets.
Eventually as the state and federal government built free, government subsidized roads, Vanderbilt’s private enterprise faced financial ruin. It was gifted to the county of Queens in lieu of back taxes and was accepted by the Board of Estimate as a park that would run from Fresh Meadows to the border with Nassau. Over time, little bits and pieces were nipped off and today a 3 mile section still remains as a park between Peck & Horace Harding Expressway and Winchester & Union.
How is the Motor Parkway being used by the neighborhood today?
This section of the Motor Parkway currently serves as part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. Our Eastern Queens section of this greenway connects most of the large parks in what was once the town of Flushing: Flushing Meadows, Queens Botanical Garden, Kissena Corridor Park, Kissena Park, Kissena Golf Course, Peck Park, Cunningham Park, the Motor Parkway, Alley Pond Park, Cross Island Parkway Greenway, and Fort Totten. This means the Motor Parkway is part of the backbone of a network of greenspaces that allows you to travel through out Northeastern Queens without needing a car.
Repaving the Motor Parkway is only one part of a larger plan. What else is being worked on to improve this neighborhood infrastructure?
A connection to Nassau – this is the project we’ve been working on the longest almost 5 years now – to get cyclists and runners safely past the Creedmoor campus. Currently, to get further east to the communities of Bellerose and Glen Oaks you have to ride your bike on Union Turnpike or walk along an incredibly narrow sidewalk and deal with cars coming off/on the cross island parkway. Our goal is to have a path that would connect the current Motor Parkway path in Queens to the Motor Parkway Trail being built by Nassau County. The Nassau plan will use existing portions of the road as well as on-street connections to build a 14-mile long greenway connecting Lake Success to Bethpage. Obviously connecting these two projects is a matter of historical importance, but also one that improves parks access for several communities and beautifies our neighborhood.
We’re also working on an improved connection to the Cross Island Path (Joe Michaels Mile). We are currently seeking support from DOT, Parks, and the community board to build a 2-way protected bike path between the Motor Parkway, Joe Michael’s Mile and Douglaston. This would incredibly improve park access and should result in much longer running and bike trips throughout the community.
Additionally, a 2-way protected bike path and that connects the Motor Parkway to the Cunningham Mountain Biking Trailhead at 67th Avenue and Oceania Avenue was recently approved by the relevant agencies. This relatively short stretch (<1 mile) should reduce speeding on a neighborhood street and provide another safe option for people in our community to get around. We’re really excited about this.
The last thing we’ve been working on is improving the leg of the greenway between Downtown Flushing and the Motor Parkway – this is will be an expensive capital undertaking but we are confident it will greatly improve the lives of everyone in North East Queens.
Is there anything else neighbors can do to support projects like these?
Outside of voting, please sign our petition and if you’d like to volunteer please reach out to me. We meet once a month at the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing. You can get status updates on these projects and details about the next meeting by following EQGW on Facebook, Twitter, or on our e-mail list.