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Barricades in, dollar vans out

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Barriers erected to thwart dollar van traffic by Kings Plaza must stand until the root of the problem is eradicated, a city lawmaker urged this week. For now, at least, it seems the precinct’s top cop—who holds the power to authorize or remove the barriers—agrees with that sentiment, and will soon get tough with illegal vans. City Councilmember Lew Fidler said the “fundamental difference of opinion” has been that barricade supporters “wanted the vans gone before the barricades [are lifted].” But the 63rd Precinct’s newly-minted commanding officer, Captain Frank Cangiarella, didn’t necessarily share that view. “He wanted to get rid of the barriers before the vans,” the city lawmaker said. Meetings and conversations over the last month have yielded what Fidler described as a positive result. “We have all now decided that the vans have to go before the barriers,” Fidler said. The barriers were set up on East 52nd Street, East 53rd Place and East 54th Street, after frustrated residents were unable to find any other solution to the relentless armada of vans cruising down their blocks. Cangiarella said he has had several meetings so far, but no plan is in effect just yet. “I’m still doing research,” he said. “When we attack this, it’s going to be 110 percent,” he added. As this paper has reported, it was thought that the barriers might come down after New Year’s, following a changing of the guard, and perhaps a change in ideology, at the 63rd Precinct. The former commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Kevin McGinn, supported the barriers. Cangiarella said he would study the issue. But Dorothy Turano, the district manager of Community Board 18, said last month that based on conversations with Cangiarella, she was led to believe the barriers would be coming down after the holidays. Cangiarella has said that the barriers are not solving the problem. “I am looking at the bigger picture,” he said last month. “My concern is illegal vans. I have to address these vans,” he said. State Senator Carl Kruger has been resolutely opposed to the barricades. “No matter how much you talk about a bad idea, it doesn’t make it a good idea,” he said. Kruger agreed that getting rid of the vans is the “ultimate prize.” But closing down public streets is wrong-headed, he said, and could be dangerous. “When we talk about emergency response times, we talk about it in seconds. What if it takes an extra four or five seconds to jump out of an ambulance and move the barrier?” “Who wants to assume the responsibility for those extra five seconds?” Kruger wondered. “I believe it’s an outrage that they are allowed to stay,” he said of the barricades. The closing of the streets could initiate a public review, as per a law passed by the City Council which requires hearings when streets are closed for an extended period of time. Fidler said it is unclear whether these streets are technically closed, as block residents and others are able to move the barricades to pass. The legislation stemmed from the extended closing of blocks in Manhattan’s Chinatown, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The hearing gives those affected an opportunity to express their opinions about the particular street closing, as well as for whichever agency closed the street, to explain its rationale “Basically, it is a formalization of the expression of concern and intent,” Fidler said. “Ultimately, the discretion still lies with the agency doing the closing,” he noted. Cangiarella has indicated that in the future, vans could be seized for a longer period of time, Fidler said. Vans that are seized are typically redeemed later that day. Fidler said that the top cop could invoke a section of law that “could take the vans away three to four months at a time.” Fidler applauded Cangiarella’s vow to step up enforcement. “He is devising a strategy, that is not yet complete, that will make enforcement a great deal more aggressive,” Fidler said. “We are all in favor of that.” “During that first phase of enforcement, the barriers will remain,” he added. Fidler said the dollar van issue should not be underestimated. “Do I think he [Cangiarella] made a misstep or two, understanding the depth of feeling and the history? Clearly, I think he did,” Fidler said. “But he has shown a willingness to work with us and not against us. This is a huge issue in his command, and he has recognized it.” Cangiarella said he never underestimated the issue. “This is the biggest quality of life issue in the 63rd precinct,” he stated.

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