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Ticket blitz burning Bell Blvd. biz: Shop owners

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Bayside business owners and community leaders blame a lack of parking spaces and aggressive ticketing by traffic agents for discouraging borough residents from patronizing Bell Boulevard’s international smorgasbord of restaurants and its unique stores.

Store owners along the street have long contended that parking spots on the roadway or side streets are often difficult to find. But some of them say traffic agents have become relentless in handing out parking tickets on the street, scaring away customers who do not want to risk paying a fine.

“It’s the worst it’s ever been,” said Harry Rutgers, owner of Bell Family Jewelers, which has been at 40-21 Bell Blvd. for 22 years. “On top of bad economic times, we have to suffer through this. People refuse to come to Bell Boulevard because it’s almost guaranteed they’ll get a ticket. If you’re over by one second, they will not give you the chance to feed the meter.”

Gregg Rossi, who owns Queens Beauty Supply on 41st Avenue off Bell Boulevard, said trucks delivering to his store are frequently slapped with tickets.

“I have a lot of customers who come in for a $5 item and find a $35 ticket on their car,” he said. “The meter maids seem to pop up from the sidewalks. People will pass by if they don’t see easy parking. Who wants to park six blocks away?”

Both Rutgers and Rossi also complained that some local merchants park their vehicles at one meter and feed it quarters throughout the day, leaving no spaces for potential customers.

“There’s no parking and the reason is that merchants park in the same spot all day long,” said Rutgers, who is circulating a parking petition that would enforce two-hour limits on parking and give drivers a five-minute window in which to get change for the meter.

Bayside is not the only Queens community to be plagued by parking and ticketing problems. Residents of Long Island City, parts of Astoria, Forest Hills and Flushing have also complained about a lack of available parking spots and heavy ticketing.

The municipal lot on 41st Avenue near Bell Boulevard does not provide relief because it is primarily used by drivers from Long Island who leave their vehicles parked for the day and take the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, said CB 11 member Frank Skala, who is also president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association. Some meters at the lot have four-hour time limits, while others allow drivers to park for as long as 15 hours.

A project to add an upper level to the lot never materialized.

Community Board 11 members and elected officials representing the neighborhood said it has been an ongoing battle to promote Bell Boulevard as a northeast Queens shopping district and a destination for a diverse array of dining options, including Turkish, Thai, Italian and Irish eateries, because drivers are consistently ticketed.

“It’s economic discrimination because we’re an affluent area,” said CB 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece, who is running for City Councilman Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) seat this fall. “They know people are more likely to pay their tickets. It’s another form of taxation. It’s an outrage.”

Iannece said the number of tickets has also gone up in recent months because meters along Bell Boulevard have been changed from 30- to 20-minute time limits.

Enforcement figures sent to CB 11 by the 111th Precinct earlier this year show 2,005 summonses were given in the neighborhood in March, while 1,933 were handed out in April. Tickets include parking in no-standing zones, bus stops, double-parked cars, parking in traffic lanes and other violations.

The summonses were given out on Bell Boulevard, Francis Lewis Boulevard, Horace Harding Expressway and Northern Boulevard. Figures reveal that 1,239 of the 1,933 tickets given in April were on Bell Boulevard.

CB 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said the number of tickets given out has gone up in the past year. In August 2008, only 1,177 summonses were issued, she said.

But Daniel Heffernan, special operations lieutenant for the 111th, said the precinct only tickets vehicles based on complaints from residents or from officers seeing cars parked in spots that are either inconvenient for homeowners or dangerous for pedestrians. Typical complaints include vehicles blocking driveways or double-parked cars, he said.

Traffic agents who patrol meters in the community are sent out through Flushing’s Queens Patrol North.

“We get complaints from prominent civic leaders that we are not doing enough ticketing,” he said.

Heffernan said the number of complaints about double parking or blocked driveways has declined in the past year. From April through June in 2008, the precinct received 765 complaints, while it only had 619 complaints during that same period of time this year.

“I think the city is generating revenue, not enforcing parking regulations,” Avella said. “I think it’s overzealous in many cases. If someone is egregiously violating parking rules, then they should be given a ticket. But if someone is a little close to the sidewalk or if they are just a minute over the time limit, it’s nonsense.”

Avella said some constituents have complained of being given tickets while sitting in their cars rather than being told to move.

But community leaders said the lack of an adequate municipal lot has also contributed to the neighborhood’s parking problems.

Several years ago, Iannece had pushed for the expansion of the lot on a piece of adjacent property that sloped down to a retaining wall. He said an estimated 40 to 60 additional parking spots could have been created on the site.

The LIRR had agreed to the expansion, which would have been partially on its property. But the city Department of Transportation prevented the project from moving forward.

“The DOT has been against proposals to expand, which goes in line with their philosophy of getting rid of parking,” Avella said. “I think part of it is to generate revenue. But these lots feed mass transit, which we want people to use, and help mom-and-pop strips, which need people to be able to park to visit them.”

John Liu, chairman of the Council Transportation Committee, said he believed the city needs to rethink the selling off of municipal lots.

“The DOT has been blindly following this approach and not addressing the needs of people,” he said. “Queens suffers from a lack of transit services, which is why people rely on cars so much.”

The DOT could not be reached for comment after repeated requests for information.

Iannece said he hopes to revive plans to expand the lot in the future, while Seinfeld believes Bell Boulevard’s best hope is the Bayside Village Business Improvement District, which will be working with the DOT in the future on streetscape improvements and will collaborate with the city on traffic improvement measures.

In the meantime, Avella said he hopes to convince the DOT to switch meters on Bell Boulevard to two-hour time limits.

“How can anyone have lunch?” he said. “People have to go out and feed the meter every 20 minutes.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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