The RIRA Column

June 6, 2015

Jeffrey Escobar, President
Roosevelt Island Residents Association
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Many of you are aware of, and some of you attended, the Town Hall meeting in the Good Shepherd Center on Thursday, May 21, hosted by our State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and co-hosted by our Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Jose Serrano, and City Council Member Ben Kallos. Also present were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Chairman Jim Clynes and other members of Community Board 8 Manhattan, representatives from Cornell Tech, Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, and Con Ed, Deputy State Housing Commissioner Ted Houghton, RIOC President Charlene Indelicato, RIOC Board members, and RIRA Common Council members (including myself).

The event was well attended, and several items of good news were announced: restoration for this year of the Public Purpose Funds, and introduction in the State legislature of legislation that would codify and protect the distribution of such funds in future years; introduction of the NYPD Youth Explorers program directly to the Island; and the future initiation of ferry service to/from the Island, using the old oil dock at the eastern base of the Queensboro Bridge, near the Tram and subway.

Many tough questions were asked directly by the audience. Because not all of the community issues could be addressed in the available time, the remaining items are being compiled for written responses from the four co-sponsoring elected officials. The Common Council thanks them and the various other representatives for hearing from us concerning life on the Island, and we will continue to work with RIOC, the City, and the State to further our programs and address our needs. Many thanks to the members of the Common Council’s Government Relations Committee, and Chair Joyce Short, for facilitating and coordinating the event, as well as for keeping the Island’s issues alive in the elected officials’ agendas.

Island Services Committee

From Island Services Committee (ISC) Chair Aaron Hamburger and ISC member Eva Bosbach (also Coordinator of the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network, RIPN), here is a report of the things that ISC has worked on recently, and their initiatives for the upcoming term:

The ISC mission is to supervise the delivery of services to Roosevelt Island residents from governmental agencies (RIOC, MTA, U.S. Post Office, NYC Department of Bridges, etc.). We assist residents and organizations who experience problems in obtaining the services due to them.

In recent years, ISC has successfully accomplished the following:

• Working with Cy Opperman, RIOC’s Director of Transportation, ISC adjusted the Red Bus schedule to make times at bus stops reliable and predictable. We also got RIOC to extend the Red Bus route to Southpoint Park during the Daylight Saving Time portion of the year. Finally, to improve the efficiency of Red Bus operation, we jointly initiated the idea of eliminating its fares. Two years later, RIOC took this action, and Red Buses are now free.

• ISC, together with RIPN, presented to RIOC a number of ideas to ease access to the Tram for strollers, bicycles, and the disabled. RIOC now has an attendant at the Tram gates during weekday morning rush hours to open the gate and to give waiting people immediate access to the Tram. Signs on the gates have been changed to eliminate the threat of a summons for anyone opening the gate. Now, if no attendant is present and there’s a need to let strollers, etc., onto the Tram platform after swiping the MetroCard, the gate can be opened to allow access for those waiting.

• Together with RIPN, ISC got RIOC to establish Mommy and Me swimming classes for babies and toddlers at Sportspark. The classes have operated successfully since April 2013, both during the week and on weekends to accommodate parents’ diverse working schedules.

• When RIOC installed a new playground in Blackwell Park, replacing the toddler playground eliminated in the construction of Riverwalk Building 7, the facility was poorly designed and there was only one swing for babies. Subsequently, ISC and RIPN were able to get RIOC to exchange some equipment elements to make the main structure safer for toddlers, add another swing for babies, convert another swing to multi-age use, post signs limiting the playground to children 50 inches tall and under, and add a measuring bar on the main structure for caregivers to refer to.

• ISC got RIOC to add, to the new land lease for the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, a clause that [limits] the awarding of plots to Roosevelt Island residents. In time, this will free up about 15% more plots for Island gardeners.

Issues that ISC is continuing to work on are:

• Problems with the elevators at the Manhattan Tram station are the most important and difficult issue that we currently face. The existing elevator and red lift break down frequently, and can be out of service anywhere from one hour to two weeks. Working with other organizations, ISC was able to get partial improvement by having RIOC post a sign at the Island Tram station whenever one or both are out of service, so that residents can adjust their travel accordingly. Also, whenever both are not running, RIOC has committed to immediately starting a Red Bus shuttle service to and from Manhattan. We also suggested that RIOC order all of the replacements parts and store them, so that the servicing company can use them right away when repairs are needed.

• Regarding the project to replace the elevators, ISC has been pressing RIOC for the past year and a half to expedite the process. RIOC’s current estimate is that the new elevators will be operating in the third quarter of 2016. We will do all that we can to try to get them operating before that winter.

• ISC is committed to re-establishing the Boy Scouts on Roosevelt Island. For a variety of reasons, progress has been slow. However, we remain hopeful that the troop will be in place by the fall of this year.

• Conditions of the facilities and programs at Sportspark are unsatisfactory. Of particular concern is that facilities for the handicapped are inadequate or non-existent, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. ISC has sent RIOC a comprehensive report on Sportspark’s conditions. We want to work with RIOC to bring Sportspark up to a satisfactory level. Many of the problems can be easily fixed. Others will require minor or major projects. We haven’t yet received a response from RIOC.

• This past winter was especially hard on our sidewalks and paths. In order to help RIOC make timely repairs, ISC has identified all broken and dangerous places on the sidewalks, taken a photo of each, and sent the photos to RIOC.

• The commercial trash yard in Southtown has been a mess and attracted scores of rats. ISC obtained cooperation from the owners of the three restaurants, Starbucks, and Related. Now trash bins are being tightly closed, the grounds are cleaned three times a week, and sealed black rat-poison boxes have been placed around the site. These actions have improved the area, but it is still not at an acceptable level, as some of the restaurants’ personnel don’t always close the tops of the bins, and some of the bins are frequently overloaded, causing trash bags to fall to the ground. ISC will monitor this situation until the trash yard reaches a satisfactory level.

• ISC is monitoring the new Public Library project at 504 Main Street. We are establishing key contacts in the New York Public Library system, and met with the local library manager for an initial overview. We will routinely check with these contacts to be up-to-date about the project, and to convey any suggestions and concerns of Island residents. The current estimate is that the library project will be completed in mid-2018.

ISC has been able to deal successfully with so many issues thanks to very dedicated committee members.

Many thanks to the Island Services Committee Chair Aaron Hamburger and to the members for their tireless work. If you’re interested in joining the committee or have an issue that you would like them to address, contact Aaron at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Annual Blood Drive

Pre-registration for RIRA’s 14th Annual Blood Drive continues today (Saturday, June 6, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) at the Farmer’s Market, where you can schedule an appointment to donate on Roosevelt Island Day, next Saturday, June 13. You can also make your appointment at the Farmer’s Market that Saturday, or you can just drop in to donate (10:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) at the Senior Center, 546 Main Street. Your donation of blood could save the life of another Islander, or even your own.

Roosevelt Island Day

Even if giving blood is not your thing, you can help celebrate and serve the community by coming to the Roosevelt Island Day festivities at the Good Shepherd Center on the morning of Saturday, June 13, and signing up to help beautify our Island. During this day of family fun, games, rides, and more, there will be opportunities to plant new flowers and seedlings, and to otherwise help improve the environs. Just show up and raise your hand, and you’ll be given a t‑shirt and a task that needs attention. Catch up with old friends and meet new neighbors as we all come together to better our home. And be sure to come by the RIRA Hospitality Table, hosted by our Social, Cultural and Educational Services Committee, for coffee, bagels, and juice.

Relay for Life

Donations and team members are still being accepted in support of the RIRA-sponsored team of walkers for this year’s Relay for Life event on Roosevelt Island. On Saturday, June 20, from 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. at the Octagon Field, across from the Fire Station, join RIRA and the other 13 registered teams of walkers, and the volunteers, as we take strides against cancer and raise money for the American Cancer Society in its mission to fund research for a cure. Go to and click “Sign Up.” From there, choose “RIRA 4 Relay 4 Life” and join. We look forward to seeing you on Octagon Field!

Cornell and PS/IS 217

On Monday, June 8, at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of PS/IS 217, there will be a close-up meeting with Principal Mandana Beckman of PS/IS 217 and Diane Levitt, Cornell Tech’s Director of K-12 Education, hosted jointly by Community Board 8’s Roosevelt Island Committee and its Youth and Education Committee. If you’re a current or future parent of children at PS/IS 217, you’re encouraged to attend to see what this partnership will hold for future generations on Roosevelt Island.

Summer Hiatus

During July and August, the Common Council suspends its monthly meetings. However, the Council continues to work for you during the summer hiatus. This is is an important time for individual members and committees to look back on the past year’s activities, reflect on successes and failures, and strategize for the beginning of the fall term on September 9. We wish all of you a safe and wonderful summer. Make sure to spend these coming months recharging your lives, as well as those of your family, friends, and neighbors. And please take this time to reach out to your RIRA building representatives, to ask questions or to voice concerns or goals that you want them to address in the coming year. The success of the Common Council depends very much on each of you letting the building representatives know what they can do to better serve you and the community. If you’re interested in being on the Common Council in a building that doesn’t have a full delegation, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Aaron Hamburger, Chair of the Nominations Committee, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Happy Summer!

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