The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Long Island Expressway’ Category

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It’s National Salami Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, in 70 AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem. In 1776, the very first submarine attack on a warship occurred in New York Harbor when the Turtle attached a time bomb to the hull of HMS Eagle. In 1860, Garibaldi entered Naples and began the process of creating the modern day Nation of Italy. In 1921, the first Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Over in San Francisco back in 1927, inventor Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first television signal. Benjamin, the last of the thylacines, died alone in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. In 1940, the Nazis began the London Blitz, and in 1978 Rock and Roll drummer Keith Moon kicked the bucket.

The cool car pictured above was spotted in Greenpoint, incidentally. I was out one night conducting a walking tour of Newtown Creek and happened across it. The graffiti is what drew me in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conducting the walking tour, one set upon his path back towards the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, but had to pass through the concrete devastations of Hunters Point and Queens Plaza in order to do so. It was a nice night, and I decided upon walking home. On my way, I passed by the Queens Midtown Tunnel and captured this shot.

The funny bit – to me at least – about the current efforts by the State of New York to elimate toll booths in favor of electronic tolling is that no one thought about what happens on the Manhattan side of the tunnel. I’ve been noticing massive traffic backups on the Long Island Expressway since they instituted the new system, which was meant to ease traffic and smooth the commute for the 80,000 or so daily vehicle trips through the tunnel. The toll booths had the effect of causing traffic to pulse through the toll plaza four or five at a time, but now the traffic just snakes into it. The head of the snake emerges into the City and is met by traffic lights on second avenue. Those traffic lights are now the de facto governors of how fast traffic can flow through the tunnel, and on the 71 miles of the Long Island Expressway found to the east of it.

The military guys and gals have a word for this sort of thing – it’s “FUBAR.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in Astoria, it was preternaturally dark when I arrived home, but this sort of thing doesn’t bother my little dog Zuzu. She operates by smell and sound, my dog, and as we engaged in her evening saunter and as she performed her investigative sniffing, I was growing increasingly apprehensive for some reason.

My pineal gland was twitching with latent horror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As we swung back around onto Broadway and made our way back towards HQ, a large group of teenaged men were riding their bicycles down the block in a pack. According to a report I saw on the local CBS TV news, events such as this are to be viewed in a menacing light and feared. I found it menacing simply because they’re all teenagers. Darned kids, with their bicycles and the hip hop, engaging in group activities without first obtaining police permits or parental approval. Chaos!

There should be a curfew for anyone under the age of thirty, I tell ya. Damn kids.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bicycles such as the ones pictured above are a fairly modern invention, but some scholars attribute the first bike design to a sketch by one of DaVinci’s students in 1534. The first verified appearance of bicycles was in the 19th century, specifically in 1817 Germany with the “dandy horse.” These were “running machines” which were operated sans pedals or chains. The velocipede era saw the addition of pedals to the front wheel, but it wasn’t until 1863 that a french engineer came up with what we’d recognize instantly as a bike – with pedals and a chain driven rotary crank. What you’re looking at in the shot above are 21st century variants of what was introduced as the “safety bicycle” back in 1885. John Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tire in 1888. In 1889, the diamond shaped frame of the modern bike was introduced, in a model that also folded. The modern multi geared bike, which included a “Derailleur” mechanism on the chain, came on the scene at the start of the 20th century. Everything since has simply been refinement of the design.

Teenagers, however, have always been dangerous and unpredictable. Curfew!


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2017 at 1:00 pm

beaten man

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It’s National Coffee Ice Cream Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering around Long Island City with the camera is kind of “my thing.” Ordinarily, I’ve got one of my H.P. Lovecraft audiobooks blaring away in my headphones. More often than not, there’s some destination at Newtown Creek I’m heading for, as I was when these shots were gathered. On this particular day, I front loaded some “wander” time into the equation which allowed me to take a rather circuitous route to my eventual destination over in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section.

I also wanted to “check in” on an area which I’ve not visited in the last few months to see if anything novel was happening. This area would be best described as the “angle” between Sunnyside and Blissville along Van Dam Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s three moments in the history of LIC’s Van Dam Street to take note of. One occurred in 1909 when the Queensboro Bridge began to feed vehicular traffic into “Queens Plaza,” another was in 1914 when the newly consolidated City of Greater New York funded a project to raise the grade of Van Dam street several feet in elevation, and the other was in 1940 when the Long Island Expressway opened. The 1917 appearance of the IRT Flushing Line subway service on what was Thomson Venue but was soon renamed “Queens Blvd.,” is also kind of important (this was about 1921, I’m told).

Van Dam is angled against the street grid of the Blissville section of LIC, but its generally north/south path leads to Greenpoint and North Brooklyn from its start at Queens Blvd. Apparently, there used to be trolley service on Van Dam, which was a part of the Steinway Line. The street is named for the Van Dam family, which was quite prominent in both City and the future State back in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of them, Rip Van Dam, was the governor of the British owned New York colony from 1731-2.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses didn’t start the Queens Midtown Tunnel or Long Island Expressway projects, but by the time they both opened for business in August of 1940 they were firmly a part of his empire. It took four years to build the tunnel itself, and the high speed road that snakes into it runs eastwards for some seventy one miles. As you can see from the shots above and below, not much thought was paid into what would happen to the runoff from the highway.

It just splatters down onto LIC and into the sewer grate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is nothing unusual, and I’ve been informed by the powers that be that not one of NYC’s many bridges, tunnels, or highways is directly connected to a sewer plant – even the brand new Koscisuzcko. Rather, they all just feed into storm sewers, which then release into area waterways. The world is a joyful place, for one such as myself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of the Long Island Expressway, officially known as the Queens Midtown Expressway, carries an average of 80,000 vehicle trips a day to and from the Queens Midtown Tunnel. That’s 29.2 million vehicle trips annually.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

indelibly inked

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It’s National Rotisserie Chicken Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new green roof at Broadway Stages’ 520 Kingsland Avenue building was recently made available to me for a couple of hours by the folks who installed and created the place – Alive Structures – in pursuance of creating a portfolio of photographs for brochure and website purposes. This is also a Newtown Creek Alliance project btw, and I packed up the “full kit,” including tripod and cable shutter release, in anticipation of getting both “artsy” and “fartsy.” It ain’t that often that I get to do the full set up for “proper” landscape style shots.

As always, I went well beyond my shot list, and figured that I’d show off a little bit in today’s post. That’s the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in the shot above, with the camera looking through the invisible methane flames that the DEP is burning off towards lower Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking across Newtown Creek towards Long Island City – you can see the Long Island Expressway truss bridge rising some 106 feet above its tributary, Dutch Kills, but it’s been completely overshadowed by the titan slabs of mirror glass rising along Jackson Avenue between Court Square and Queens Plaza.

The truss dates back to Robert Moses and 1939, btw, and its height was dictated by the needs of the maritime and industrial powers who used to rule the roost in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, towards the two Koscisuzcko Bridges (1939 and 2017 models), and over the petroleum tanks of Metro Fuel. The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is just on the other side of these tanks, but occluded by them in this shot. At the extreme left of the photo is the tree line of Calvary Cemetery in Queens’ Blissville section.

Nothing like getting high along Newtown Creek, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who saw me looking particularly sun burnt in middle May, these shots are the reason why. I spent something like two and change hours up on the roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue, mainly waiting for the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself to dip behind the Shining City and make the shot above possible.

If you’d like to take a look at 520 Kinsgland for yourself, NCA and Riverkeeper will be conducting a “community visioning” project there tomorrow between one and four, and then between five and seven I’ll be offering a history lecture and green roof tour of the space… come with? It’s all free, and the RSVP details are in the links below.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper Visioning, June 3rd, 1-4 p.m..

Imagine the future of Newtown Creek with Riverkeeper and NCA at the Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) details here.

Newtown Creek Alliance History lecture with NCA historian Mitch Waxman, June 3rd, 5:00- 7:30 p.m.

An free hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) followed by a walk around the roof and a Q&A – details here.

Green Drinks Queens LIC, June 5th, 6:00- 9:00 p.m.

Come celebrate UN World Environment Day with Green Drinks: Queens on the LIC Waterfront! This year’s theme is “Connecting People With Nature.”details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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It’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, it seems to me that for most of the 20th century New York City waged an unyielding war against the natural environment. The process of city building, of course, has always been a tale of harnessing and controlling nature – but the 20th century in NYC saw something tantamount to a military campaign waged against clean water and air. The highways were driven through wetlands (called waste meadows at the time), and anything that could be plated over in concrete received a few inches of the stuff. Sewage and industrial runoff was channeled directly into waterways like my beloved Newtown Creek, garbage was burned in municipal incinerators or dumped into the ocean, and there doesn’t seem to have been any regard given to the natural world at all other than in the name of conquering it.

What can you do about it, though? This is the world as we received it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of hair pulling and teeth gnashing these days, in government circles, about how to rectify this inheritance. Partially its because the government people have to worry about fiscal responsibility, as related to flooding and storm resilience. It’s also about the fact that scientific opinion now points at the efficacy and effect which a healthy biome has on the welfare and earning potential of the citizenry, and the effect that environmental factors have on the economic prosperity of urban areas. Here, at your Newtown Pentacle – and on my many walking tours of the creeklands – I’ve been known to rattle on about storm water, green roofs, the Maspeth heat island effect, bioswales, and all other the other types of so called “Green Infrastructure” which officialdom has been experimenting with in the attempt to get a handle on this inheritance from earlier generations.

“Gray Infrastructure” is defined as sewer plants, retention tanks, various sorts of concrete structural devices which are found deep below the street – that sort of thing. “Gray” is incredibly expensive, and disruptive to the day to day lives of the citizenry as it disturbs the flow of traffic during construction and also generates noise and dust. “Green” is far cheaper, and uses the mechanisms of nature itself to accomplish the same goal as gray. The corollary of using the “green” approach is that you also get the aesthetic and practical benefits of having vegetation in your neighborhood – trees which shade both buildings and pavement for instance, meaning that summer heatwaves are theoretically less severe in terms of energy costs. Green is a win, win – essentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s one of the literally hundreds of outfall pipes you will observe in Long Island City which descend from the elevated highways – in this case an onramp to the Long Island Expressway on Borden Avenue. To my knowledge – there is not a single bridge, elevated highway, or subway in the City of New York which doesn’t ultimately drain into the combined sewer system or – in fact – directly into area waterways. Even the brand spanking new Kosciuszko Bridge that the NYS DOT is building over my beloved Newtown Creek right now will drain into the creek via a system called a “vortex drain.”

This post is not meant as a chide, however, rather it’s meant to point out to anybody in the world of officialdom who might be reading this that there’s a huge opportunity to do something curative around these outfall pipes using the “Green Infrastructure” approach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That overpass, spillway, and pipe – in this case – are the property of the State government. The drain, sewer, and sidewalk are likely owned by the City government. What if the spillway contained a small rain garden designed to drink up water and catch the trash coming down from the highway? The City wins in not paying fines to the State for clean water violations, and the State solves a problem it caused, and all for the price of a bit of gardening.

These hundreds of outfall pipes and their spillways would make for a brilliant spot to install some of that “Green Infrastructure” mentioned above. As far as maintenance of the installation, local community boards could “adopt” these outfalls and parcel out the care and maintenance duties (trash removal mainly) to their constituent businesses and community organizations (Boy Scouts, Kiwanis clubs, etc.) in the same manner as upstate communities do with the “adopt a highway” program. Win?

What if?


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm

last straw

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It’s National Cinnamon Crescent Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is a crispy critter today, after yesterday’s Newtown Creekathon. About halfway through, I was wishing that I had a car waiting to whisk me away at the end of it all. Then again, given what traffic is like…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m always spotting cool cars around the neighborhoods, though. Check out that Rolls Royce limo above. It had a bride in it and everything.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This neato Jeep was encountered along Northern Blvd. It looked like a giant matchbox car to me.

Back tomorrow with something a bit more profound, after I’ve rested up a bit.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

minor detail

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It’s National Cordon Bleu day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Totemic exemplars of existential horror are everywhere you look in the Newtown Pentacle. To wit, at the border of Sunnyside and Blissville, you’ll find the Long Island Expressway, which was sited along it back in the 1930’s. Pictured above is the overpass which carries Greenpoint Avenue across the expressway, where a “ghost bike” has been encountered for several years. Ghost Bikes, for those of you not in the know, signify the spot where a bicyclist died after being struck by a motor vehicle. Post facto the installation of this Ghost Bike, the NYC DOT has since installed a bicycle lane, which is a badly placed one given that heavy trucks and thousands of automobiles routinely execute turns on this traffic choked overpass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ghost bike, as originally encountered a few years ago, and before the bike lane was striped in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking over to Greenpoint from Astoria the other night, for a meeting between the DEP and the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, the scenario above was witnessed. It appeared that a vehicle of some sort had taken out not just the ghost bike, but had also snapped the steel signpost it was affixed to. The thing I’d like to point out is that the driver of this vehicle had to have been “busting a move” through the bike lane, which proves a point I’ve been talking about for awhile.

You’re not even safe on the freaking sidewalk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bike lanes area a fairly decisive issue amongst some Queensicans. More often than not, the argument against these things involves people protecting their street parking or something. I see bicyclists completely ignoring the street markings for these bike lanes and doing whatever the hell they want to – sidewalks, wrong way, running lights, all kinds of stuff. Everybody has probably ridden a bike at one time or another, everyone has also done something stupid on their bikes – that’s not the point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I see some truly tragic implementations of this bike lane thing, which were clearly drawn out in an ideological fashion by people who are staring at maps of remote places they’ve never visited. The bike lanes on, and leading to, the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge are ludicrous and actually cause a constant traffic jam mid bridge – it was and is far safer for the bikes to ride on the sidewalk of the bridge than to try and navigate the gravel and debris which litters the GP Ave. Bridge lanes. The ones here at Greenpoint Avenue and the LIE are also a disaster. Again, it’s better for – and is the observed custom of – bicyclists to use the sidewalk to cross the overpass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s what 5:41 p.m. looks like on a weekday at this intersection. That white SUV in the foreground is the head of a vehicular snake of east bound stop and go traffic which coils all the way back to Midtown Manhattan. It’s so busy that NYPD has permanently stationed traffic control officers here during the rush hours. If there has to be a bike lane on Greenpoint Avenue, lets widen the sidewalk and line it with those concrete jersey barriers to protect both scuttling narrator and the riders of those mechanical contraptions called bicycles. That would be smart.

If this spot can kill a ghost bike… the mind boggles over the implications for one such as myself.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 4, 2017 at 1:05 pm

utterly devoid

with 5 comments

It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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