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Fast Drivers Soon To Be Curbed on Macombs Road

April 21, 2011

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Two recent accidents are leading to changes on Macombs Road (F.G. Pinto)

By FAUSTO GIOVANNY PINTO

The city will begin work this month on making significant changes to Macombs Road as part of a “Traffic Calming Project” designed to resolve pedestrian safety issues on the wide, snake-like street that city officials say is a haven for speeders.

The project comes in the wake of two recent pedestrian deaths nearby and a fatality on Macombs Road in 2008.
The project will run up Macombs Road from Jerome Avenue to University Avenue, targeting key intersections along the way where residents say crossing the street can be frightening.

“Although you have the light, you don’t have the right of way,” said Kay Butler as she nearly got hit by a cab crossing near one of the key intersections of Nelson Avenue, which is located near two schools and a playground. “It’s scary and there’s a school here.”

The problems stem from wide streets and low traffic levels, which lead to vehicles speeding along the winding road, according to Constance Moran, the Bronx Borough Commissioner for the Department of Transportation (DOT), who showed a presentation to Community Board 5 during a February meeting.

Crash data collected for the dangerous corridor between 2005 and 2009 shows there have been 26 pedestrian, seven bicyclist, and 69 motor vehicle injuries during that time frame, including one fatality in 2008 at Goble Place.

Under the proposed plan, the streets would be narrowed to one lane in each direction by increasing parking lane space and adding turn bays and cement islands in the center at points along the road.

The project also calls for adding pavement markings, new signage, and additioanl concrete islands, as well as other improvements.

At Featherbed Lane, a key intersection being targeted, new stop signs and crosswalks will be added to protect pedestrians from right turning vehicles.

Near Nelson Avenue and Macombs Road, the plan calls for yellow-painted stripes on the road, a safety island, and a painted neckdown — a curb extension at the intersection that will reduce the roadway width from curb to curb — to crack down on the easy turn for vehicles on the long crosswalk.

Flyers were recently distributed to the community notifying them that implementation of the project is scheduled to begin, said a DOT spokesperson.

Editor’s Note: The full presentation can be seen on the DOT’s website at www.nyc.gov/dot under Community Presentations.

Young Father Killed; Hit-and-Run Driver Charged

April 21, 2011

By FAUSTO GIOVANNY PINTO

Thomas Riley, a young father who lived in Mt. Hope was struck and killed last month by a drunk driver as he attempted to hail a cab along East Fordham Road, police and witnesses said. He was 23 years old.

Riley’s tragic death happened just a month after an 11-year-old was killed crossing the Grand Concourse, raising alarm among local residents about pedestrian safety.

Police say Riley, who lived on the Grand Concourse, was struck by a vehicle traveling at a high speed, at the intersection of East Fordham Road and Bathgate Avenue, just after 4 a.m., on Sunday, March 20. The young man who dreamed of opening up his own barber shop died a short time later at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Riley’s grandmother, Adeline Riley, flew in for the March 25 funeral at Ortiz Funeral Home.

“I feel like I lost a son more than a grandson,” she said in a telephone interview days after the funeral. “I raised him from when he was a year old and when he got older, he moved in with his mother. I brought him up in the church. He did not smoke or drink. He was saving up to buy a barbershop.”

David Williams, Riley’s uncle and a member of Community Board 5, said everyone called his nephew “T.J.” and that he would be sorely missed.

“We lost someone who could have made a difference in the community,” said Williams, the co-chair of Board 5’s youth committee. Williams said he is going to address pedestrian safety issues with the help of the board and reach out to elected officials to see if there’s something that can be done about what is becoming an increasing problem in the area.

Witnesses at the scene provided police a detailed description of the black, 1998 Chrysler Town and Country minivan with significant front-end and windshield damage. Police quickly stopped the vehicle on Third Avenue, near the Cross Bronx Expressway.  

Police later announced the arrest of Seth Johnson, 35, of Manhattan, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident.

Johnson reportedly registered a .105 on a sobriety test and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The vehicle Johnson was riding in was promoting a “Mambo Sundays” event at the, “Sofa Lounge,” formerly, “The X-Bar,” on Cedar Avenue, near Fordham Road and the Major Deegan.

One of the event’s co-promoters, Walter Tfon said, “It’s hard to give your opinion when the life of people changes in seconds, but [Johnson] always did his job and I have never seen him do anything wrong.”

Tfon said Johnson was not at the club and did not know where he had been drinking the night before the crash.
Riley is survived by his 4-year-old son.

April 21, 2011


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Members of the tenant rights group CASA at a Bronx rent reform rally (Jeanmarie Evelly)

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

A group of Bronx residents, tenant organizers and local elected officials are leading a campaign for stronger rent regulation, seeking the renewal and strengthening of the state’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act, a set of laws that expire this June that set guidelines for hundreds of thousands of rent-regulated apartments in the Bronx, and about a million units across the city.

“Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living in their apartments are in jeopardy because the laws that currently protect them as tenants are up for renewal and are not being seriously considered by some people,” said Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera, who spoke at a March 24 housing rally at the Bronx Library Center on Kingsbridge Road.

Rivera and nearly every other Bronx state legislator had been pushing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to include rent regulation reforms in his budget negotiations this month, which they saw as the best chance of getting stronger, pro-tenant legislation passed this year through a Republican-controlled State Senate.

Cuomo said he was open to including rent regulation in his budget, but his tentative budget deal, announced on March 27, conspicuously left out any provisions relating to the state’s rent laws.

“It is simply wrong for Governor Cuomo to wave the white flag on this critical issue and to give the first major concession of his tenure to the Senate Republicans and their deep-pocketed allies in the real estate industry,” Michael McKee, a tenant advocate with the Real Rent Reform Campaign, said in a statement.

At the Bronx housing rally, residents from across the borough shared horror stories of skyrocketing rents forcing them from their homes, or pressure from landlords who they say want them out.

Ahleezah Sims, a schoolteacher, said the owners of her Grand Concourse apartment let conditions there deteriorate to unlivable conditions — a tactic to get the rent-regulated tenants to move so they could hike up rent prices for new tenants.

“They saw our rent-stabilized apartments as opportunities,” Sims said, “and they saw us, blacks and Latinos, as tiny little pawns.”

Housing advocates and most Democratic elected officials have long been pushing for the repeal of vacancy decontrol — the rule that lets landlords raise rents at regulated apartments once the tenant there vacates — or to at least raise the minimum rent at which those apartments can be deregulated, which is currently $2,000 a month.

“Over time, $2,000 just ain’t what it used to be,” Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said. “It’s affecting every area of the city.”

Supporters of rent regulation say about 300,000 New York apartments have been taken out of rent stabilization because of vacancy decontrol.

At last week’s rally, several speakers made reference to Jimmy McMillan — the colorful, glove-wearing candidate who ran against Cuomo last fall as a member of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party.
“Maybe we should have voted for that guy,” joked Assemblyman Nelson Castro.

Local Council Members Accused In Daily News Probe

April 21, 2011

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

A series of New York Daily News articles published last month highlighted the alleged misdeeds of a number of New York City Council members, including several local Bronx representatives.

Councilmen Fernando Cabrera, Joel Rivera and Oliver Koppell were among those mentioned in the series of stories, which the paper called “Above the Law.”

According to the report, Cabrera claimed a home he owns in Westchester County as his “primary residence” on tax forms, a move that scored him a $1,513 tax break. Although Cabrera himself would not comment about the finding, his office confirmed its accuracy.

Cabrera’s camp said the listing of the Westchester property was an “honest oversight” and that Cabrera did not know the tax relief credit would be automatically renewed each year. The councilman is in the process of paying the money back and does, indeed, live in his Bronx district, as required by law, his office said.

Cabrera’s residency was a hot-button issue in 2009 when he ran for City Council against then-incumbent Maria Baez, and his opponents sought to portray him as an outsider. He moved into his Bronx home, on Sedgwick Avenue near 197th Street, in July 2008, a few months before he announced his intentions to run for Baez’ seat.
Rivera was mentioned in the News series for “not paying enough taxes” with the state, the paper alleged, despite the fact that he runs a tax preparation service on the side.

“It was $128 that was owed personally and was subsequently paid,” the councilman said in an e-mail. “It was resolved relatively quickly. Some people get refunds, some people owe. I owed and I paid.”

Koppell was featured along a blurb saying he owes $165,000 on three credit cards while, professionally, he’s rallied to pass laws that crack down on credit card companies. The councilman denounced the article as unfairly equating his finances to more serious wrongdoing (another representative featured in the story owes $100,000 in property taxes, while yet another has two outstanding arrest warrants).

“It’s totally unfair to lump me together with people who, at least it would appear, have done something improper or even illegal when I did nothing improper or illegal,” Koppell said, explaining that he took advantage of several low- or zero-interest rate credit card offers to finance his law practice.

Dick Dadey, of the public watchdog group Citizens Union, said that while some items featured in the stories may have been minor, the paper was making a bigger point.

“I think the Daily News was trying to give a sense of the depth of the problem that council members are having with complying with the law,” he said.

Davidson Offers Gateway To Health Industry

April 21, 2011

By FAUSTO GIOVANNY PINTO

The Davidson Community Center is launching a new affordable in-house job-training program that looks to help community residents land jobs in the growing medical field.

The Learning Curve Career Center will offer students training in the healthcare field to become nationally certified medical assistants, medical billers and coders through a 12-week program.

“It is a pleasure for me to see programs like this come into my district especially during tough economic times,” said local Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who spoke at the ceremony. “The Learning Curve Center has the potential to prepare hundreds of our residents for job placement.”

Learning Curve was founded by Leslie Class-Hernandez, a former teacher and administrator, who wanted to offer a cheaper alternative to underprivileged New Yorkers than some similar medical certification programs that can run upwards of $13,000. At Learning Curve the whole program costs approximately $2,000.

Still, Class-Hernandez says that amount is a lot for some people in the area to afford and they have partnered with the city’s job-training program, Workforce1, to offer funding for those who qualify. She is looking to offer additional funding for students by teaming-up with other organizations such as the Robin Hood Foundation, JobCorp and SoBro.

“There is a marketable demand for these kind of jobs,” said Class-Hernandez “It’s a growing field.”

Students in the program will be provided with career services such as job placement, interview skills and resume writing help. Class-Hernandez is also in talks with New York Life to offer financial services to students.

Classes are slated to begin on April 18 and are open to anyone 16 years of age and older, with parental consent. While a high school diploma is not required to enroll in the program, it is required to obtain the national certification. The folks over at Davidson said they would help anyone in the program looking to obtain a diploma.

Aida Martinez, the board chairperson at Davidson, said the program would be helpful to those who are apprehensive about stepping into a large college campus setting and would be a great resource for the community.

“We love our people and our community and we want to give them a better life,” Martinez said. “The timing, location, and pricing of this program is all fit to give them that opportunity.”

Census Numbers Show Bronx Growth; Mt. Hope Loses 842 Residents

April 21, 2011

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

The Bronx gained more new residents than the other four boroughs over the last decade, and had the second highest gain in the state, according to recently released data from the 2010 United States Census.

The numbers, released by the Census Bureau on March 24, show that the Bronx gained 52,458 people since the last count in 2000, at a growth rate of 3.9 percent— a rate surpassed in the city only by Staten Island.

A look at the new figures reflect similar trends taking place in other large urban areas, according to William Bosworth, a professor at Lehman College who studies demographics and Census data.

“Generally, just because an area is minority doesn’t mean it’s going to lose population,” he said. “On the contrary — the areas that are losing population are mainly middle class, white areas.”

Indeed, the Bronx’s population boost is due to a spike in its number of Hispanic residents, who now account for 55 percent of the borough, up from 48 percent in 2000. The number of white and African-American residents in the borough have both decreased.

The neighborhoods that saw their populations grow the most over the last 10 years are Morrisania, Melrose, Mott Haven, Longwood and Crotona Park East, according to Census data compiled on the Department of City Planning’s website.

Local neighborhoods like Mount Hope, Morris Heights and University Heights all saw their populations decrease slightly since 2000, by several hundreds of residents. Mount Hope specifically lost 842 people, according to the data.

But while the population of the Bronx and the city overall have both increased, local legislators and Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the Census count comes up short.

There’s a lot at stake, as the amount of federal funding that states and cities receive depends on population numbers drawn from the Census.

“We have schools so overcrowded, they are bursting at the seams. New Yorkers can’t find affordable housing because the demand is huge and our streets are congested with pedestrians and automobiles,” said Bronx Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, in a press release. “It is beyond ridiculous that based on the figures and the reality of life in the city that we have to accept Census numbers that are obviously and critically wrong.

Bloomberg and other elected officials are calling on the Census Bureau to recount their numbers, especially in parts of Brooklyn and Queens that showed especially low numbers.

“I am certain that there was a slight undercount in the Bronx, as there are still many undocumented who are fearful of visits by government officials,” said Congressman Jose Serrano, whose district represents Mt. Hope as well as most of the south Bronx. “That said, the increase in our Bronx community by more than 50,000 people shows that our borough is on the rise and is a desirable place to live and do business.”

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