Councilmember calls for NYC ferry from West Harlem to New Jersey

By Ameena Walker

Councilmember Mark Levine is calling for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to consider a feasibility study to establish a ferry service between West Harlem and New Jersey.

The EDC is in the process of finalizing its 2018 NYC Ferry feasibility study and in a letter penned to the corporation’s president, James Patchett, Levine argues that a landing at West 125th Street would “give uptown residents access to jobs in Bergen County and bring New Jersey customers to Northern Manhattan businesses. He also adds that commuters from New Jersey who drive across the George Washington Bridge, adding to traffic congestion, could opt to leave leave their vehicles at home if the ferry was an option.

“A ferry landing on the edge of West 125th Street could also provide for routes heading south as far as Wall Street through the newly developed West 39th Street Hudson Yards terminal, and north towards Inwood’s Dyckman Marina and Yonkers, NY,” said Levine in his letter.

Levine concludes his letter by stating that with Columbia University’s rapid expansion of its Manhattanville campus, investing in a new ferry landing now would be “the most sensible thing to do before the neighborhood’s 1 and A trains are stressed any further.”

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Town Hall to Cover Transportation, from Car-Sharing to Safer Amsterdam Avenue…to a West Side Ferry?

By West Sider

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents sections of the Upper West Side, West Harlem and Washington Heights, is holding a town hall meeting on Monday night covering transportation issues.

“Have questions about the new car sharing programs on our streets? Tired of long waits for packed subways and slow buses? Want to see a safer Amsterdam Avenue? My office is holding a Transportation Town Hall to talk about these issues and more with an incredible panel that includes New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, in addition to representatives from Riders Alliance, Transit Center, and Transportation Alternatives. The Town Hall will take place on Monday, October 15th at 6:30 pm at the Manhattan School of Music, 120 Claremont Avenue.”

Levine has also started advocating for a ferry on the West Side that could dock at 125th Street and offer service to and from New Jersey. “We’ve already built the pier — this is a $30 million investment to build a wonderful, modern West Harlem pier,” he told Metro NY.

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Harlem Day Care Center Playground In 'Disrepair': Councilman

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — City officials are calling on the New York City Housing Authority to make repairs at a playground that services a day care center and pre-k facility.

Conditions at the playground next to the Grant Day Care Center, located within the General Grant Houses development on West 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, are so bad that some of the play structures are held together by tape, day care parent Natasha Hemmingway told Patch.

"These are two-to-five-year-old kids who use that playground," Hemmingway said. "Some of the structures are falling apart, the paint is peeling, it's just very abysmal and does not look like a children's playground."

In addition to a slide held together by tape, current conditions at the playground include cracked rubber protective tiles, stone fixtures with chipping paint and grass and weeds growing through the concrete.

Hemmingway decided to send her 3-year-old daughter to pre-k at the Grant Day Care Center in September because she liked the curriculum and could tell that the teachers were invested in the students. The playground wasn't on Hemmingway's mind when she made the decision, but now that her daughter uses the facility every day it prompted her to demand improvements from NYCHA.

"In my opinion I just don't think that's an appropriate playground for kids," Hemmingway said. "Really for anyone."

Hemmingway told Patch that she received a response from NYCHA saying that the playground's slide would be fixed, but that there was "no budget" for long-term upgrades at the facility.

City Councilman Mark Levine called for repairs at the neglected playground in a letter sent this week to NYCHA Chairman Stanley Brezenoff. The councilman described conditions at the playground as a "hazardous state of disrepair," and urged the NYCHA chairman to commit "substantial resources" for long-term improvements.

"Beyond simply fixing the current conditions, I ask that NYCHA commit substantial resources towards remodeling and improving the playground, which is one of the few accessible outdoor play spaces in our community," Levine wrote in the letter.

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CM Levine makes a pitch for NYC Ferry route in Harlem

The last day to give input on the next NYC Ferry route is Monday and “125th Street is crying out for ferry service,” CM Mark Levine said.

Monday is the last day for New Yorkers to give their input on where the next NYC Ferry route should be, and one elected official is making a case for West Harlem.

“125th Street is crying out for ferry service,” 7th District Council Member Mark Levine told Metro Friday. “We’ve already built the pier — this is a $30 million investment to build a wonderful, modern West Harlem pier.”

From the early 1800s until it was demolished in 1965, the West Harlem pier was a hotbed of transportation activity, including a regular ferry that crossed the Hudson River to Palisades Amusement Park in Edgewater, New Jersey. The pier reopened in 2009 as part of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and “included infrastructure for a new ferry landing — making this site an ideal location for NYC Ferry service,” Levine wrote in a letter to the NYC Economic Development Corporation Friday, which he shared exclusively with Metro.

In addition to providing shortened commutes and more transit options for New Yorkers as it’s done along the East River from Soundview, Bronx, and to Rockaway, a Harlem NYC Ferry route would also reconnect Manhattan and New Jersey via a seven-minute commute across the Hudson, Levine said.

“New Jersey commuters who now drive across the George Washington Bridge and add to our already congested streets, would be able to commute by ferry and leave their cars at home,” he wrote.

While Levine does not have exact numbers of how many uptown residents commute to New Jersey, “I do know the new GWB bus terminal is a 50-50 commuting pattern with as many people going to New Jersey as is coming in due to job growth in Bergen County,” he said.

Levine’s proposed West Harlem NYC Ferry route is near the 125th Street stop on the 1 train and several Citi Bike docking stations with the 125th Street ABCD station a 15-minute walk away.

“Given the rapid expansion of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus, there will very soon be a massive influx of students, staff and traffic to the area,” he added. “Investing in ferry service now would be the most sensible thing to do before the neighborhood’s already overcrowded 1 and A trains are stressed any further. As New York City continues to make the dream of a truly citywide ferry network a reality, I strongly urge you not to leave Northern Manhattan behind.”

Constituents have been “universally positive,” Levine said, and “local business owners think it would bring new customers and employers think it would be important to their workforce.”

Carin Sarafian of Delmonico’s in the Financial District knows first-hand how impactful an NYC Ferry route can be.

“We’ve seen a very big uptick with the new routes — it’s opened up a demographic that may not have dined with us,” she told Metro recently. “And I think that’s going to continue with the new routes.”

The EDC told Metro Friday it’s received nearly 3,000 suggestions for the next NYC Ferry route. 

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1 Dead In Washington Heights Legionnaires' Outbreak

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- One person has died in the latest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Washington Heights.

The person’s name has not been released.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said the outbreak has made a total of 16 people sick, and seven of them are still hospitalized.

Legionnaires’ outbreaks have often been associated with cooling towers. The Health Department emphasized that New York City has the strongest enforcement on cooling towers in the nation and is working to prevent more people from getting sick.

“The Health Department has investigated every cooling tower in the area, ordering landlords to remediate where necessary and has provided information to residents,” Barbot said in a statement. “The risk to residents of contracting Legionnaire’s disease remains very low; however, adults with flu-like symptoms, like fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek immediate medical attention so a doctor can determine whether Legionella testing is needed.”

Legionnaires' disease is contracted by breathing in water droplets contaminated with the bacterium Legionella. Symptoms can include fever, chills and muscle aches.

Councilmember Mark Levine (D-7th) says those who have spent time in the neighborhood and have symptoms should go to a doctor.

More than 20 people were also infected with Legionnaires’ in Washington Heights in July.

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Officials: Amtrak 'Catastrophically' Damaged Harlem Garden

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — Elected officials are calling on Amtrak to meet with a Harlem community garden that claims the transit company has poisoned its crops and caused thousands of dollars in property damage.

City Councilman Mark Levine and Borough President Gale Brewer accused Amtrak of spreading "toxic chemicals in our community, catastrophically damaging at least one community garden and potentially affecting the health of the surrounding neighborhood," in a letter addressed to the company's President and CEO Richard H. Anderson.

Volunteer gardeners at the Riverside Valley Community Garden — located on West 138th Street and Riverside Drive near the Amtrak tracks — reported the contamination of peach, pear, apple, and fig trees, fruit-bearing plants, multiple flowerbeds and vegetables ready for harvest, according to the letter. The contamination occurred after Amtrak sprayed a "highly toxic, broad-spectrum herbicide" on a railroad right-of-way near the garden — which is also known as "Jenny's Garden."

Replacements for the damaged trees may take years to bear fruit, the elected officials said.

"Residents and garden members are rightly furious, and fearful of a repeat incident," Levine and Brewer's joint letter reads.

Volunteers told AM New York in September that many of the contaminated crops were meant to be donated to the Broadway Presbyterian Church.

"The majority of the stuff we were going to donate — eggplant, okra, beans, collards, tomatoes, Swiss chard, cucumbers — is all contaminated," volunteer Laurie Brown Kindred told the newspaper.

A composting program in the garden's greenhouse may have also been compromised by the herbicide, elected officials said.

An Amtrak spokesman said that company officials toured the garden with a landscaping contractor after receiving notice of the claims.

"Amtrak assured Jenny's Garden and the Parks and Recreation Department that Amtrak will work with its contractor to take care of the garden and leaf damage to some of the plants. The contractor turned over the documents to the Parks and Recreation Department on the types of chemicals it used and would further asses any damage to the garden. We will continue to work with Jenny's Garden and other partners to investigate the claim and work on a resolution," an Amtrak spokesman said in a statement.

Levine and Brewer called on Amtrak to provide the community 30 days notice before the next spraying and to work with the Riverside Valley Community Garden to discuss compensation for damages.

The elected officials also urged Amtrak and community members affected by the herbicide spraying to establish an agreement that would allow community members and groups to be responsible for manually maintaining their own properties and eliminating the need for Amtrak to spray herbicides.

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A Large Community Garden in West Harlem is Seriously Damaged — and Residents Blame Amtrak

By Philip Klint

Jenny Benítez is beside herself that the community garden she has lovingly tended for more than 40 years is now seriously damaged.

"The peach trees are gone, the pear trees are gone, the plum trees are gone," she said. "Everything is gone."

It's one of the city's largest community gardens, created by Benitez and other residents in the 1970s as part of an effort to reclaim Riverside Park in West Harlem from years of neglect. The Parks Department even gave her a lifetime achievement award for her efforts, and two trees in the garden now honor her late sons.

But two weekends ago, Benítez - who lives across from the park at Riverside Drive and 138th St. - noticed the normally green plants were turning brown.

"I was here by myself and I was looking and I cried," she said.

The garden is located next to train tracks maintained by Amtrak. Weed killer was sprayed along the line, and the poison apparently drifted into the garden.

"You can't consume nothing in here," Benítez said. "It's very hard to explain to your volunteers that their produce are not healthy."

According to an email that Benítez's family received, Amtrak acknowledged that a contractor sprayed weed killer on Sept. 15, but the agency said it didn't know exactly what chemicals it used.

"Amtrak has been in contact with Mrs. Benitez and is currently investigating this claim," Amtrak told NY1 in a statement.

Produce grown in the garden normally is donated to local residents and a soup kitchen. But about half of the garden is dead or dying - and there's concern the surviving vegetables might be contaminated.

The local city councilman, Mark Levine, fired off a letter to Amtrak, requesting that the railroad make things right.

"This is one of our most precious community gardens," Levine said. "We are demanding Amtrak come out here, inspect the damage, give us answers to what they sprayed, and compensate this garden for the harm that has been done."

Despite the damage, Benítez is optimistic her garden will eventually bloom once again.

"I know my volunteers are going to be here and they're going to put all their energy to make it better," she said.

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Medallion-winning idea: Council drives at a solution to aid overloaded taxi owners

By Daily News Editorial Board

All hail the City Council for proffering a lifeline to yellow cab drivers whose debts tied to their medallions are putting them on the road to ruin.

We get how creative destruction works in this economy; we work for a newspaper. We know Uber and Lyft outflanked taxicabs for street-hail business, cratering yellow-cab medallion values.

Nor do we weep for many medallion-owners, millionaires who have suddenly lost money on an investment that used to be better than gold.

But there is something we can do for hardworking owner-operators who now find themselves sucked into a vortex they can't control. And it's not Mayor de Blasio's wishful suggestion to just wait for the recent cap on app-hail vehicles to inject value back into medallions.

In June, this Editorial Board first proposed a bailout fund to help individual taxi owners cut their medallion loans down to size. Councilman Mark Levine responded to our waving arm; he's written a bill to have a task force study the best path.

Don't pile yet another fee onto Uber rides, atop a congestion fee the state recently imposed. Instead, slice off a share of those proceeds.

Cabbies are doing their best. Help them hack it.

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Harlem's Amsterdam Avenue In Urgent Need Of Redesign: Advocates

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — With nearly one crash per day on a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, "time is of the essence" for the city Department of Transportation to implement a street redesign, City Councilman Mark Levine said during a Thursday rally with advocates for safe streets.

"What you're looking at here on Amsterdam Avenue is a street designed according to state-of-the-art principals from half a century ago. It's a street that is desparately need in modernization and we have learned a lot in the past half century about how to make our city streets safer and more efficient for everybody," Levine said.

Levine rallied at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 123rd street Thursday with representatives from Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives and Community Board 9 to urge the city to implement fixes on the Avenue between West 110th and 155th Streets.

The city Department of Transportation has been pitching a plan to redesign the stretch since the beginning of 2017 that will add painted bike lanes, left turn bays and pedestrian safety islands to the 45-block street stretch. The redesign will also reduce the number of travel lanes from four to two on the two-way avenue and add loading zones to help businesses receive deliveries, according to the DOT's latest presentation of the plan.

Making the avenue narrower and adding turning bays will discourage speeding and create simpler and safer left turns for cars, according to the DOT.

More than 750 people have been injured and three people have been killed in automobile collisions since 2012 on this stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, Levine said Thursday.

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Expanded Right to Counsel bill introduced, Presentado el proyecto de ley ampliado

By Postmaster

Stronger stuff is needed.

Councilmembers who have introduced new legislation designed to strengthen the city’s “Right to Counsel” law, passed last year that provided legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, argue that the original law needs to be strengthened.

Intro 214-B, passed in August 2017, mandated the New York City Office of Civil Justice to provide renters with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $50,200 annually for a family of four – with free legal representation when facing an eviction.

On September 12, City Councilmembers Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, the lead sponsors of Intro 214-B, unveiled additional legislation to expand the law.

The new bill would increase the program’s income threshold to 400 percent of the federal poverty line, expand Right to Counsel outside of housing court, and connect tenants to attorneys before they arrive at court.

“The passage of our Right to Counsel law last year was a historic step towards justice in NYC’s housing courts, where for generations the vast majority of tenants faced the threat of eviction without the benefit of legal representation,” said Levine. “The stakes for implementation couldn’t be higher, which is why we need to expand and strengthen this law to keep New Yorkers in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system.”

At a City Hall press conference, Levine pointed out that while the majority of tenants in housing court are eligible for the right to counsel under the current 200 percent threshold, a single New Yorker earning a $15 an hour minimum wage is not.

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