Focus On: Costa Constantinides (Council District 22: Queens)

This is the second installment in our spotlight series on StreetsPAC endorsed candidates.

Constantinides, running to replace term-limited Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., is a Democratic District Leader and experienced City Council aide with a strong record of community organizing, who believes that “safe streets are the lifelines of every thriving neighborhood." He’d like to see traffic-calming measures implemented on main thoroughfares such as Astoria Boulevard and 21st Street, and wants to see the city’s nascent bike-share system expanded soon to western Queens.

StreetsPAC: What is the biggest transportation issue facing your district?
Costa Constantinides: Western Queens suffered a number of cuts during the MTA’s budget crisis several years ago, including the loss of the W train and the QM22 express bus. Although this loss has been partially offset by supplementing the N with the Q, this is little consolation to people who are not within walking distance of the N/Q line. Astoria as a whole is growing, with new major developments proposed at Hallet’s Cove and elsewhere along the shoreline. These areas are underserved by public transit. If we’re going to be able to accommodate the people looking to move to the city over the next several decades, we need to have a plan for a robust, multi-modal transit system in place now. That means not only restoring the services that were cut, but looking at new ones, like BRT service or ferry access.

SP: How do you make the case to residents, community board members, and business owners that livable streets are good for the district?

CC: I think that one of the generally successful initiatives that the Bloomberg Administration has had over the last few years (and that’s not something I say very often!) is its approach to streets, and showing by example how, in the right circumstances, letting pedestrians and bikes have greater access to the street can be better for business. I want to make sure that all voices are heard, so I understand the concerns of the business owners in the city who worry about losing customers due to fewer parking spaces. That said, I also think that livable streets that balance all the needs of the community and don’t merely focus on any one mode of transit will offer increased opportunity for commerce going into the future, especially as Astorians who rely on alternate forms of transit continue to invest in the community and its businesses.

SP: What do you think New York City streets will look like four years from now? What about twenty years from now?

CC: The trend toward mixing modes of transportation will likely continue, especially as we make sustainability a more central part of our public policy. I’m looking forward to seeing the beginnings of a more extensive BRT network in place in four years, with the hope that, in 20 years, it will be able to make up for many of the transit options that New York lost in the mid-20th century. I’m also hoping that 20 years down the road our streets will be used primarily by carbon-neutral forms of transit, be it bike sharing or mass transit powered entirely by renewable sources or offsets.

SP: What are some of the best places to visit by bike in your neighborhood?

CC: Astoria Park and Shore Boulevard. Passing under some of New York’s landmark bridges with the Manhattan skyline in the distance is a real treat, and I would recommend it to anyone.

SP: What street in your neighborhood/district do you think is a model for what you'd like to see elsewhere?

CC: This is a hard question to answer in Astoria, since we’ve got a number of great choices. I think, however, that 30th Avenue has all the elements that make a neighborhood hub great. It has multiple transit options, including the Q10 bus for people traveling within the neighborhood, and the N/Q train station for people coming to enjoy the Astoria scene. It offers something for everyone in the neighborhood, with stores, clubs, bars, restaurants, schools, and a hospital all within a short walking distance. Finally, with the hustle and bustle that can be seen every day and night, 30th Avenue has the “eyes on the streets” that Jane Jacobs found to be so important in streetlife. With a new focus on true multi-modal options like bike sharing, BRT, and ferry service to bolster our connectivity, 30th Avenue could be a model not just for New York, but for urban streetscapes across America.

SP: Everyone has a memorable story to tell about being on the subway.  What's yours?

CC: The first time I took my son to the American Museum of Natural History by subway. When we boarded the train, he immediately took charge, saying “OK daddy, now we’re on the N train, but soon we gotta take the letter A train!” During the train ride, he kept approaching other passengers, telling them all about our plans to go to the museum and see all the great dinosaur exhibits. At one point, he spoke to a lady from the neighborhood who was so charmed that, when she found out I was a City Council candidate, she immediately pledged to vote for me!

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StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.