The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

dimly lit and illimitable corridors

with 3 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in the part of Long Island City that isn’t shiny, where it stinks of work and sweat and oil and shit and every surface is painted with an iridescent sheen – the colour-  scuttled your unworthy narrator. Perambulation through the apocalyptic wastelands of a post industrial Long Island City is no picnic during the urban season defined by “wind chills”, I assure you. This location will be familiar to longtime readers, this is 51st ave. and what would be 21st street, across the street from the Blanchard Building.

This little pedestrian bridge- officially known as the 51st avenue Bridge, is meant to be replaced fairly soon, according to the City.


However, of these bridges only the 51st Avenue bridge in Long Island City has entered a final design stage, said a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC).

“The existing bridge there will be demolished. The new one will be realigned over the tracks and will have brand new ramps,” said Craig Chin of DDC. Chin confirmed that after final design approval has been received by the New York City Design Commission bidding will start for the project in spring 2010, with a possible completion by winter 2010.

At first glance the 51st Avenue bridge appears not to be in such bad shape. However, a DOT spokesperson said that in an internal rating system, that includes many structural elements that might not be visible to a pedestrian or are only visible from the topside, determined that this bridge at 51st Street was a replacement priority.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the only pedestrian connection between the shiny new Long Island City, Tower Town, and the grimy industrial engine which it is being built on top of. Personal observation reveals that the people who use this bridge are laborers moving back and forth from mass transit centers along Jackson Avenue and the Great Machine at Queens Plaza. Underserved as the area is by mass transit, the city nevertheless anticipates an enormous surge in pedestrian and vehicle traffic once a catastrophically bad idea called Hunters Point South is completed.


More than 5,000 new apartments are anticipated to be constructed in the primary neighborhood character study area by 2017, including completion of the residential development at Queens West and many other mid-size residential buildings throughout the immediate area. Almost 11,000 new residents are expected in the primary study area as a result of this new construction activity.

As the primary study area (and the secondary study area, discussed below) becomes more densely developed, traffic and pedestrian volumes will increase noticeably from the current levels. Intersections throughout the area will be more congested in the morning, midday, and evening peak hours. The intersections that currently experience some congestion on Vernon Boulevard will be noticeably more congested, with some levels of service D and even LOS F, indicating high to unacceptable delays. In addition, other intersections along Vernon Boulevard in the primary study area will also have moderate to high congestion in the peak hours. On the east-west avenues in the area near the project sites (i.e., 48th, 49th, 50th, and 51st Avenues) traffic volumes are expected to increase slightly.

Pedestrian volumes will also increase in the future without the proposed actions, but sidewalks, corners, and crosswalks will generally continue to operate at acceptable levels. The crosswalk across Vernon Boulevard on the north side of 50th Avenue will, however, become noticeably congested during the morning peak hour, as people cross to enter the subway station there. This crosswalk will operate at LOS E, as will the subway stair closest to the corner (Stair S8). Buses serving the primary study area will also be noticeably more crowded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue is the main attraction hereabouts, a loathsome stretch of fortress walled warehouses which passes by the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the LIRR tracks, the Pulaski Bridge– and all the while following the bulkheaded course of a certain body of water. The Newtown Creek is one block away, but you knew that by the smell already. Lately, my headphones have been playing music again, rather than the podcasts and audiobooks normally presented- but even the Dropkick Murphys can’t drown out the sound. There’s an app for that, as the ad slogan goes, and one I like is called “Decibel Meter“.

Here, under the LIE and again- a couple of thousand feet from the Queens Midtown Tunnel and over a rail yard and near the Pulaski- its rough metering reported a sound level 106 db (which is the limit of the iphone microphone). The iphone is hardly a scientific instrument, of course, but all the union guys I see working around here are wearing ear plugs. The non union guys aren’t.

from wikipedia

Louder sounds cause damage in a shorter period of time. Estimation of a “safe” duration of exposure is possible using an exchange rate of 3 dB. As 3 dB represents a doubling of intensity of sound, duration of exposure must be cut in half to maintain the same energy dose. For example, the “safe” daily exposure amount at 85 dB A, known as an exposure action value, is 8 hours, while the “safe” exposure at 91 dB(A) is only 2 hours (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1998). Note that for some people, sound may be damaging at even lower levels than 85 dB A. Exposures to other ototoxins (such as pesticides, some medications including chemotherapy, solvents, etc.) can lead to greater susceptibility to noise damage, as well as causing their own damage. This is called a synergistic interaction.

Some American health and safety agencies (such as OSHA-Occupational Safety and Health Administration and MSHA-Mine Safety and Health Administration), use an exchange rate of 5 dB. While this exchange rate is simpler to use, it drastically underestimates the damage caused by very loud noise. For example, at 115 dB, a 3 dB exchange rate would limit exposure to about half a minute; the 5 dB exchange rate allows 15 minutes.

While OSHA, MSHA, and FRA provide guidelines to limit noise exposure on the job, there is essentially no regulation or enforcement of sound output for recreational sources and environments, such as sports arenas, musical venues, bars, etc. This lack of regulation resulted from the defunding of ONAC, the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control, in the early 1980s. ONAC was established in 1972 by the Noise Control Act and charged with working to assess and reduce environmental noise. Although the Office still exists, it has not been assigned new funding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The afternoon sun is always a pleasure around this little truss bridge, the 21st street truss as Forgotten-NY once called it. It lights the smoggy miasmas, produced by the fuming exhaust of the thousands of vehicles passing overhead as they mix with those unstudied emissions wafting from the Newtown Creek. The same vapors that tattoo the “colour” and dissolve the marbles and bronze of Calvary, a corrosive ether that smells of petrochemical filth and reminds one of rotting pork, hatch up through the loathsome mud found all along the Creek.


Newtown Creek is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary that forms the northernmost border between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City.  More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards.  The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.  In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856.  During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Currently, factories and facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination at Newtown Creek.  Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.

Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the other side of the street from this sign is the Queens Midtown Tunnel, with its signage prominently decrying photography or video operation. Loose lips sink ships and all that, and the front line people “in the know” seem to believe this area to be a prominent target for the Terror Warriors, so we’ll just agree that its there and not show it. Despite the fact that its going to be sitting at the very center of a residential neighborhood by 2020 and the fact that you can park a vehicle here.


1020.8 Compliance with posted signs.  Every motorist and pedestrian using any facility under the jurisdiction and control of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority shall obey and comply with the provisions of any posted sign on any of its facilities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The scion of this residential neighborhood is L Haus, a newly completed building whose non facing side is similarly on 50th avenue, roughly one and a half city blocks from where we started on 51st avenue.


Long Island City’s “Mystery Building,” a condo sitting at the foot of the Pulaski Bridge and sort of functioning as the neighborhoods greeter for people driving over from Brooklyn has been outed. The neighborhood blog LIQCity identifies it today as “The L Haus,” named after its shape and, you know, “house” in German. (It’s the big, green boxy thing in the photo.) Other relevant details/rumors: the offering plan is “about to hit the street” and Elliman will be bringing it to market at prices in the $600-$700 per square foot range.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] to Mt. Zion will clear my head, or a walk over one of our many Newtown bridges or a stroll through Tower Town. Promises of holiday parties and ribald evenings here in centuried Astoria are being discussed by […]

  2. […] check out this Newtown Pentacle posting of February 22, 2009 for a whole lot more on this “dimly lit and illimitable […]

  3. […] For a longer look at the bridge and environs, check out this post from February of 2010, “dimly lit and illimitable corridors.” […]

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