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Councilman Liu pushes bill to clear Flushing sidewalks

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Liu said the proposed legislation, which he introduced in the fall, expired at the end of the calendar year because it was not brought up for a vote in 2003 and will be reintroduced when the Council resumes in January.

A public hearing on the bill was held last fall by the Transportation Committee, which Liu chairs.

In a letter to his members, West Flushing Civic Association President Richard Jannaccio said the initiative, which would reduce sidewalk congestion along some of Flushing's most crowded streets, was "being held hostage by the committee's failure to approve the measure and advance it to full council."

The target area - Main Street, Roosevelt Avenue and Kissena Boulevard - is a noticeably crowded area which sits between the city's fourth-busiest subway station and a Long Island Railroad station.

"The biggest problems come about when the weather gets warmer, so we have a few months of leeway to work within," Liu said. Store owners put out tables with merchandise such as jewelry and produce within the business district of downtown Flushing. In some area, salespeople set up independent street stands to sell books and cell phone accessories.

The bill was introduced in the fall and the Council's Transportation Committee held the first of two planned public hearings on the issue. The second public hearing was postponed in the late fall because a series of more pressing issues came up, including the elimination of subway elevator operators and contract talks involving Queens' private bus companies.

Liu's priority is to see the bill passed by the time the weather is warmer. He said he was surprised by the amount of support he heard from local business owners in the two public meetings he held in Flushing in the fall. But he said there was some opposition as well.

"There is a fair amount of resistance from business owners," he said. "It is not my intent to put businesses out of business. The intent of the legislation is to reclaim sidewalks for the original purpose, which is so pedestrians can walk safely."

The main safety issue is that large collections of merchandise sold on the sidewalk force pedestrians into the streets.

"There is no right for a business to use public space," Liu said.

There are 24 other areas in the city that ban businesses from using sidewalk merchandise displays. In Queens, Liu said there are similar regulations enforced in Astoria, Forest Hills and Ridgewood.

He said that if the bill passes, there will be a penalty scale established that would be enforced by the police, the Department of Sanitation, Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs. Penalties would increase with repeat offenses.

"The penalties will go into the thousands," Liu said. "It's my hope that no businesses will receive any fines or penalties because they will understand the need to keep public space for pedestrians."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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