The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Borden Avenue Bridge

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The empty corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue, or at least the section of it pictured in today’s post, was officially designated as such in 1868, after an engineered “plank road” was erected through the swampy low lands surrounding the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It was primarily designed as a commercial corridor, connecting the upland farms and dairies of Maspeth and Woodside with the docks in Hunters Point at the East River. Borden… Borden Milk… Roads were named for where they went back then.

The wetlands of Dutch Kills were filled in at the start of the 20th century, and the railroad took advantage of all the new dry land to hurl spurs out to the various industrial buildings which were erected on the reclaimed flatlands. LIRR still crosses Borden Avenue several times a day at street grade, about a mile west of where these shots were gathered.

The Long Island Expressway truss defines the section of Borden between Greenpoint Avenue and Review Avenue, and the blighted area beneath it is something I refer to as the “Empty Corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills itself was rendered into its current form and course at the start of the 20th century, shortly after NYC consolidation in 1898. A huge land reclamation project was being conducted by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company – the creation of the Sunnyside Yards – was occurring about a half mile to the north and west and a construction magnate named Michael Degnon began buying up the wetlands surrounding Dutch Kills from the estate of a former Governor of New York State. Degnon used excavated fill from another one of his projects – the East River subway tunnel which carries the modern day 7 line train – to create dry land around Dutch Kills. Concurrently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was busy creating industrial bulk heads and “canalizing” the entire Newtown Creek and its tributaries.

That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge pictured, the existing version of which was erected in 1908. It’s not the first Borden Avenue Bridge, but it’s the one that’s stood the test of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all this tumult and “terraforming” was going on, the Long Island Railroad was investing in the LIC area as well. The Lower Montauk trackage, as it’s known today, connects the Fresh Pond Yard with the East River along the northern shore of Newtown Creek. There are two railroad bridges spanning Dutch Kills. One is DB Cabin, a turnstile bridge which is still quite active but cannot turn or open, and it provides a direct track link between the Blissville and Wheelspur Yards on the lower montauk right of way. The other is Cabin M, which leads to the Montauk Cutoff elevated tracks that formerly connected to the LIRR Main Line tracks at the Sunnyside Yards. Before all this end of the world stuff started, MTA indicated it was going to demolish Cabin M. Somehow, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

As I always say, despite the fact that I call it the “empty corridor” there’s quite a lot going on down here and lots of interesting things to see on a walk in LIC.

Also, on this day in NYC history: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred in 1911.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

correlated causeways

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Eleven bridges, one creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pulaski Bridge is the first span you encounter, when you’ve left the East River and embarked on a journey down the fabulous Newtown Creek. A double bascule drawbridge, and electrically powered, the Pulaski Bridge connects 11th street in Long Island City with McGuinness Blvd. to the south in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Built in 1954, the Pulaski Bridge is owned and operated by the New York City Department of Transportation or “NYC DOT.” The Pulaski Bridge carries five lanes of traffic, plus a dedicated bicycle lane and a separate pedestrian pathway. It overflies the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Long Island Expressway, as well as active railroad tracks found on Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DB Cabin acts as a gatekeeper to the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It’s a railroad swing bridge owned by the Long Island Railroad, and connects two rail yards – the Wheelspur Yard (to the west, or left in the shot above) and the Blissville Yard – across the water. Both rail yards and the bridge itself are part of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks. DB Cabin dates back to the 1890’s and is in a terrible state of repair. The swing bridge’s motors are nonfunctional, which isolates the Dutch Kills tributary from maritime traffic, and from the rest of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cabin M is just to the north of DB Cabin on Dutch Kills, and the single bascule drawbridge connects the Montauk Cutoff with the Blissville Yard mentioned above. The Montauk Cutoff is an elevated track which used to provide a connection between the LIRR’s Main Line tracks at the nearby Sunnyside Yards with the Lower Montauk tracks along the north (or Queens side) shoreline of Newtown Creek. The 2020 Capital Plan just released by the Long Island Railroad’s owner – The MTA – includes funding to demolish Cabin M.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue Bridge is owned by the NYC DOT, and is one of just two retractile bridges in NYC (the other being the Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal). Built in 1908 to replace an earlier wooden drawbridge (1868) at the intersection of Borden Avenue and Dutch Kills, Borden Avenue Bridge received extensive upgrades and structural repairs in 2010 and 2011, and had its electronic components destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Another round of repairs and upgrades began in 2019, which included asbestos abatement work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway is 71 miles long, and is operationally managed in three sections. The Queens Midtown Expressway is how it’s owners, the New York State Department of Transportation, refer to the section found between the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island City. This section is elevated, rising to 106 feet above the waters of Dutch Kills. The LIE truss pictured above handles some 87.7 thousand daily vehicle trips, or 32 million annually, to and from Manhattan,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunters Point Avenue Bridge is due north west of Borden Avenue Bridge and the LIE truss. It’s a single bascule drawbridge, owned by the NYC DOT. Replacing an earlier wooden draw bridge that was opened and closed by a donkey walking on a wheel, the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was built in 1910. Back then, it was a double bascule bridge, but a rebuild in the 1980’s simplified the mechanism to a single bascule. The masonry of the bridge is original to the 1910 design.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is found some 1.37 miles from Newtown Creek’s intersection with the East River, and roughly a half mile from the mouth of Dutch Kills. It’s a double bascule bridge, built in 1987, and owned and operated by the NYC DOT. There have been many Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, dating back to the first one built by Greenpoint’s town father Neziah Bliss back in 1850, but that one was called the “Blissville Bridge.” The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is a traffic machine, carrying 28.3 thousand vehicle trips a day, or about ten million a year. Most of that traffic takes the form of heavy trucking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The brand new Kosciuszko Bridge(s) replaced a 1939 vintage truss bridge that carried the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek and are found some 2.1 miles from the East River. The NYS DOT is busy putting the finishing touches on the new cable stay bridge’s construction. In addition to the… ahem… high speed traffic lanes of the BQE, there is also a pedestrian and bicycle pathway found on the new Kosciuszko Bridge which connects 43rd street in Queens’s Sunnyside section with Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Grand Street Bridge is a swing bridge connecting Maspeth’s Grand Avenue in Queens with East Williamsburg/Bushwick’s Grand Street in Brooklyn. 3.1 miles back from the East River, in a section of Newtown Creek once called “White’s Dock,” the NYC DOT have recently announced plans to replace this 1909 beauty – which is actually the third bridge to occupy this spot. Damage from Hurricane Sandy, and the narrow roadways with height restrictions that the bridge offers, have pretty much sealed its fate. It will be missed.

This is where the main spur of Newtown Creek ends, as a note. Directly east is a truncated tributary called the East Branch, and another tributary called English Kills makes a hard turn to the south just before you encounter Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double bascule drawbridge that crosses the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and is owned by the NYC DOT. Metropolitan Avenue was originally built as a private toll road in 1813, and the first bridge here was a part of the “Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike.” The current Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in 1931, although it has received significant alterations in 1976, 1992, 2006, and again in 2015. The 2015 alterations?

You guessed it, Hurricane Sandy strikes again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge is the final crossing found over the waters of Newtown Creek and its tributaries. Some 3.7 miles back from the East River, it’s the property of the Long Island Railroad and used for freight service on their Bushwick Branch tracks. A truss bridge, or trestle if you must, my understanding of things are that whereas the trackway and parts of the rail bridge date back to approximately 1924… there has been quite a lot of work done on the thing which I have not been able to fully document so rather than fill in blanks with assumptions – I’m just going to say that I don’t know everything… yet.

It’s an active track, it should be mentioned.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

quainter levels

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It’s Anosmia Awareness Day, in these United States and the United Kingdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the curious – Anosmia is a loss of the sense of smell, which is apparently quite debilitating. One of my old buddies has always wondered about what smell “blindness” is called, and he’s been using “smeaf” for many years so I’m glad to report that there is – in fact – an actual term for it. Seriously though, imagine not being to taste your food or discern a gas leak or smoke – Anosmia is no joke and as serious as blindness or deafness. Of course, given the amount of time I spend at a certain superfund site which defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, Anosmia might be something of a boon. The loss of sensory data I’m currently experiencing is actually centered around touch, and a general numbness seems to be spreading across my skinvelope and ballooning out between my ears.

Pictured above is the fabulous Borden Avenue Bridge, a retractile wonder that the children of Queens would marvel at, would they elect to visit the Dutch Kills Tributary of the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Retractile means, incidentally, that the movable section of the roadway retreats away from its foundational piers, opening a spot for maritime traffic to pass through. In the shot above, you can see the spot which accepts the retractile section. There’s locomotive style rails running across the spot, which carry the truss. Famously, there’s only two retractile bridges in NYC, with the other one (which is decidedly smaller in scale and older in design) spanning the Gowanus Canal at Caroll Street. I guess that today is vocabulary day, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of the Long Island Expressway seen above is referred to as the Queens Midtown Expressway by officialdom, and it’s some 106 feet up from the street to its road deck. It opened in 1939, and feeds it’s traffic flow into the nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel (also 1939) leading to Manhattan. A conceit often I’ve often used at spots like this, all around NYC, is to call this “The House of Moses” for NYC’s master builder Robert Moses. The tunnel and QME weren’t projects he started, but they are projects that Moses bullied his way into and took over – as a note. Robert Caro didn’t call Moses the “Power Broker” just to be snarky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the reasons that I hate all of you equally is exemplified by this all too common site at the littoral edge of Dutch Kills. I’m the guy who wads up personally produced garbage in his pockets and carries it until encountering a proper trash receptacle, so realize that this is a pet peeve of mine – but what the hell is wrong with all of you? You don’t just discard things like cups and food wrappers or plastic bags out of your car window as you move along, do you? Quite obviously, many do. I see this every where I go in NY harbor.

How about you? Shame on all of us for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seems to be some signs of life at this long vacant property along Dutch Kills – the former Irving Iron Works factory. Part of their site has had a cinder block wall erected. Notice that it was built from another installation of blocks which had been literally graffiti’d and that now it’s just a hodge podge of random colors. That’s kind of cool actually.

I’ll keep an eye out. 


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grim facade

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More on the dock delivery dilemma at Dutch Kills with HarborLab, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once we passed under the derelict railroad swing bridge – DB Cabin – at the mouth of Dutch Kills, it was pretty much smooth sailing for the crew from HarborLab to steer the new dock designated for the usage of faculty and students from LaGuardia Community College to its destination. Dutch Kills is about a mile long, and flows back towards Sunnyside Yards in direction of Queens Plaza. In its primeval incarnation, this tributary of Newtown Creek once had several tributaries of its own, and fed a swampy wetland that was nearly 40 square acres in size. It terminated its navigable path at about 29th to 30th street and 40th avenue in the neighborhood of Dutch Kills.

That’s across the street from St. Patrick’s Romanc Catholic Church and around a block from where Jackson Avenue becomes Northern Blvd., if you need a landmark. The waterway was truncated to its current bulkheads in the first decades of the 20th century during the construction of the Sunnyside Yards, Queensborough Bridge/Queens Plaza, and the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second movable bridge over Dutch Kills is a single bascule rail bridge called Cabin M.

Before you ask, and I’m talking to you – George the Atheist – I have no idea where the naming convention on these bridges originates from, and would suggest that there is an enormous community of rail fans out there on the interwebs who could likely fill you in on every detail about the LIRR’s Montauk and Montauk Cutoff tracks.

Also, and this goes to GtA as well, check out that rusty patina.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back at DB Cabin, for a view unavailable from the landward side. You can check both of these bridges out from Borden Avenue, but the view of DB Cabin is occluded by Cabin M.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As with all things LIC involving maritime industrial water, there is an advanced state of decay present here in the infrastructure. Rotting piles, remnants of an earlier time when clear eyed Mariners plyed these waters, abound.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passing under Cabin M, the redoubtable Borden Avenue Bridge and the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway come into view. Borden Avenue, or at least this section of it, was constructed in the late 1860’s as a plank road for horse and donkey carts through the “sunken meadows” and was built to connect coastal Hunters Point (which was virtually an island back then) with upland properties in Blissville and Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accounts of the sorry condition of pack animals who crossed this plank road are found in historic anecdote. 

Horses, oxen, and donkeys were described as emerging from the low lying path – beginning their climb towards the Maspeth Plateau at Greenpoint Avenue – covered in a wriggling gray coat of mosquitoes and other biting insects. When the pests were brushed away from the pack animals, the critters were covered in a sheen of blood.

These insects were a plague even to the riders of the Long Island Railroad, who described what they perceived as smoke rising from hundreds of camp fires on evening trips along the tracks. The “smoke” was actually multitudes of insects rising into the air from watery nests. 19th century Queens was notorious for waterborne diseases like Cholera, Malaria, and Typhus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a succession of wooden structures that were called Borden Avenue Bridge, an iron swing bridge which carried trolley traffic was built in the late 19th century and removed in 1906. The modern bridge was opened in 1908, and it’s a retractile bridge. Retractile means that the roadway pulls back from the waterway, and the only other bridge of this type found in NYC is at Caroll Street, spanning the Gowanus Canal. Retractile Bridges are actually quite common in Chicago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Opened in November of 1940, the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway is some 106 feet over the water, and it is the “high speed” road that feeds traffic into the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In tomorrow’s post, we get to cross under the last movable bridge on Dutch Kills and enter the loathsome waters of the Turning Basin.

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Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015 – TONIGHT
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

open place

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s posting, an effort was made to get out and survey the various parts of the Newtown Creek and her tributaries which are normally focused upon at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Luckily, a friend- Hank the Elevator Guy– offered to drive me around. This simplified my life immensely and allowed me to cover several of the rather further flung sections which one would normally have to walk to.

Pictured above, for instance, are workers pumping out the Queens Midtown Tunnel on the corner of Vernon and Borden.

from jimmyvanbramer.com

Along both Center and Vernon Boulevards I visited businesses that experienced significant flooding damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy. In an effort to help them recover and reopen. I will be delivering FEMA Disaster Assistance forms to businesses. This information will help those affected on their way toward a full recovery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post will concern what was witnessed along Borden Avenue, and subsequent postings for the next few days will highlight other sections of the Newtown Creek. All along Borden, a flurry of activity was underway, and nearly every street level door was opened and featured a flexible pipe carrying water out to the curb. The good news is that Long Island City seems to have rolled up its sleeves and is getting back to work, something which will act as a “force multiplier” for those sections of the City which weren’t so lucky.

from dnainfo.com

A storm surge that flooded “hundreds of properties” with Newtown Creek’s water carries intense economic and environmental repercussions, advocates warned.

“All waterfront properties took water, hundreds of properties,” said the Newtown Creek Alliance’s director Kate Zidar after surveying the scene by the highly polluted creek Tuesday. “The standing water and residue that came from the creek should not be considered clean.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Borden Avenue Bridge, as you’d imagine, survived the hurricane in apparently fine fettle, although the lots surrounding it showed signs of flooding and wash outs. WCBS, today, reported that Newtown Creek breached its bulkheads in LIC flooding the surrounding area- including the Midtown Tunnel.

Based on what I’ve seen and heard here though, the surge was as severe in LIC as it was over in residential Greenpoint over in Brooklyn.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Sandy Flooding Impacts Waterfront Properties on Newtown Creek

During the peak of the storm, Newtown Creek flooded throughout Zones A, B and C, and some waterfront areas experienced several feet of water. Luckily, waters receded quickly for the most part. Check out our photos from the storm, and our brief recap from Wednesday. If you are looking to volunteer with cleanup, send us an email at info@newtowncreekalliance.org.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately there was quite a bit of petroleum in the water, as evinced by not just olfactory evidence, but the presence of a rainbow sheen on the water. Instruction offered by officials of the DEC in the past has opined that the presence of such multicolored refraction indicates a fresh spill of “product”. Quite obviously, however, the sheer number of submerged automobiles and home heating oil tanks in the greater New York area means that there are literally tens of thousands of “non point” sources for such pollution.

from huffingtonpost.com

According to the Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard had requested scientific support from NOAA’s Emergency Response Division for three separate oil spills in Arthur Kill, as well as “reports of several orphan containers, and many potential hazmat targets.”

The so-called “products of concern” include 8,300 barrels — or about 349,000 gallons — of diesel, bio-diesel and slop oil, according to NOAA.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the smell, the ineffable odor of raw sewage was omnipresent, also an expected consequence of the disaster. As mentioned in prior postings, your humble narrator has grown quite inured to the smell over the years, and it was pointed out by Hank the Elevator Guy as his eyes began to water. Such inability to perceive environmental factors is known as “adaptation”, which is something I think we are all going to be getting familiar with in the coming months and years.

from petervallone.com

·Tap water is safe to drink.

·Do not use generators or grills indoors. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat when these devices are used indoors. They should only be used outside and kept away from windows and vents. Everyone should possess and use battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms. Test the batteries if possible.

·If someone experiences sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, confusion, weakness, or if the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, they should immediately seek fresh air and call the poison control center at 212–POISONS (212-764-7667). They can also call 911, since poisoning is life threatening.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water in Dutch Kills was actually quite active, but it was still fairly windy when these shots were taken. Under normal circumstance, this tributary of Newtown Creek is an unbroken mirror- surreal. There were tons of “floatables” in the water, flotsam and jetsam and wind blown trash and debris. I didn’t witness many birds, other than a seagull (a bird which is not commonly observed at the Creek, they like Astoria Park on Hell Gate, don’t ask me why) which was loudly announcing itself.

The chemistry in the air, which as mentioned was tainted by sewage, smelled not unlike the shop floor of any mid sized automobile mechanic.

from facebook.com/joelentol

SAVE THE DATE! Assemblyman Joe Lentol and District Dog will be partnering for a hurricane relief event on Sunday November 11th to collect goods for Brooklyn residents and animal rescue organizations that have suffered as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Under emergency conditions such as those which have shattered New York City, unthinkable things are now essential to recovery. Under normal circumstances, visible “product” floating around in any amount- let alone the enormous volume in these shots- would engender an enormous response from environmental watchdogs inside and outside of government.  What you see here is unimportant right now, from a big picture pov.

There are kids out there- in the dark and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, it will be a long haul to “get back to normal”, or it was so called eleven years ago – the “new normal”. Also, I cannot imagine how tired the same folks who always take it on the chin for the rest of us – cops, firemen, ambulance emt- must be. I’m sure it’s no joke for all the other services, who must have been “on” non stop for the last week with no end in sight.

For the rest of us, NYC will soon be operating under an entirely new rule book.

from greenpointers.com

At this point, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to prevent the Newtown Creek from overflowing.  I was down there at noon today and the bulkhead at GMDC was already under water, and the water was a couple of feet short of overflowing onto Manhattan Ave.  We are expecting a high tide tonight to coincide with the storm surge and that could mean a storm surge of 8-11 feet at Newtown Creek, which would obviously put Manhattan Ave under water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blue Crow’s shack, a homeless shanty which been encamped on the Borden Avenue Bridge for several years that has withstood blizzards and storms, is smashed. I called out to him in English and Spanish, but there was no answer. Hopefully, the fellow found some sort of alternative shelter before the winds took his home.

from observer.com

“As long as you stay indoors, you’re probably safe,” Mayor Bloomberg told the reporters at this evening’s latest press conference. But what about the people for whom it isn’t that simple? The Observer is getting reports that even as Sandy roars our way, some of the city’s most vulnerable–the homeless–are still outside.

As late as this evening, an Observer source found a group of people at Eighth Street and Second Avenue with no plans to leave for a drop-in or emergency center. ”We got shelter right here,” one man told her.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m sort of worried about the situation of the various homeless camps around the Newtown Creek. There are a substantial number of people who exist in the cracks and narrow spaces here, sleeping along fence lines and along industrial sidewalls. One cannot imagine their lives during normal circumstance, let alone Hurricane Sandy.

from housingworks.org

With the mess of Hurricane Sandy in New York City over the last few days, we have been hearing a lot about mandatory evacuations for people in Zone A: areas in Staten Island, lower Manhattan, and eastern Brooklyn (Red Hook and Greenpoint especially). To meet the needs of these Sandy evacuees, Bloomberg opened 65 additional shelters across the five boroughs, stocking these makeshift shelters—high schools, middle schools, etc.—with food, water, blankets, and pet food.

The strongest part of this evacuation plan is that it’s a piece of a larger puzzle, and that these shelters are only a detour until these people can return to their homes. But for the 50,000 people in New York City who are homeless and need shelter every night, they simply are not given the same thought-out consideration or planning, at least not outside of weather emergencies. Certainly, we must commend those who were on the front line of the storm over the last few nights, reaching out to the homeless across New York City and even into New Jersey (well done, Cory Booker) and encouraging them to seek shelter, but where’s the same outreach and energy on an average NYC night? Where is the long-term solution for the population that is the same as Hempstead, NY?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having thoroughly documented the area around the Borden Avenue Bridge, Hank the Elevator Guy and I got back in his truck and headed off for points east. More tomorrow at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

from riverkeeper.org

In addition to the extraordinary impacts to our homes and public infrastructure, Superstorm Sandy also had an extraordinary impact to our environment. Riverkeeper has sounded the alarm about widespread pollution in the Hudson River and New York Harbor by a variety of toxic chemicals, including petroleum and fluids from cars and boats; contaminants from flooded subways, roads, parking lots and tunnels; and contaminants washed from shoreline industrial sites, as well as commercial and residential buildings. Our message is being heard, as the press reports on widespread pollution, as well as specific waterways, from the Gowanus Canal to the Rondout Creek.

You can do a service for our water by helping Riverkeeper to document this pollution. Where possible, we will take action with environmental agencies to remedy pollution. In all instances, documenting pollution will help us understand the impacts of this extraordinary storm surge, so we can advocate for actions that will lessen or eliminate impacts from the next storm. When you see something, take photos, and note the location, time and conditions, as well as any other necessary information.

endless formulae

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome to DUBABO, Down Under the Borden Avenue Bridge Onramp, along the loathsome Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek. Dutch Kills is an ancestral waterway which once suffused into the swampy tidal flats which the Netherlands colonists stumbled across in the 1640’s, and which are described in the historical record as having been “malarial, and mosquito ridden”. The waterway once ran as far inland as modern day Queens Plaza, but the entire coastline of western Long Island was riddled with shallow waterways back then, which fed a thriving wetland. Sunswick, Jack’s, Wolf’s, English Kills, Maspeth, Bushwick, and the largest- Newtown- Creeks macerated the shoreline and allowed tidal nutrients to suffuse into the soil.

from a 2011 newtownpentacle posting, “uncommented masonry

Borden Avenue is one of the older pathways in New York and particularly so for Queens, as the modern street was designated as Borden Avenue in 1868. It allowed egress from the docks at Hunters Point to the incalculably far Newtown and passed by the thriving village of Maspeth along the way. Originally a plank road set roughly into the swampy lowlands which adjoined the Newtown Creek, what would become Borden Avenue eventually progressed to the point of regular horse drawn (and then electric) street car service by the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th. It became a natural place for heavy industries to gather, and in the 1870′s and 80′s, rail road switches and “rights of way” followed their customers here.

The Long Island Railroad terminal at Hunters Point is and was on Borden Avenue, and rail tracks run parallel to Borden Avenue’s path, along what would have once been known as Creek Street. Critically, these were both freight and passenger tracks.

As of 1908, a retractile vehicle bridge crossed Dutch Kills, which we call the Borden Avenue Bridge (and which replaced the earlier wooden plank road drawbridge).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

No secret, Borden Avenue Bridge is my second favorite of the many movable spans around the Newtown Creek watershed (Grand Street is tops). The entire surface of the structure is designed to physically roll away from its piers, on rails, and retract into a pocket- ostensibly allowing maritime traffic egress to commercial docks. Dutch Kills used to be a well used and quite busy thoroughfare for such traffic, although lately- not so much.

from the NYC DOT site

Borden Avenue is a two-lane local City street in Queens. Borden Avenue runs east-west extending from Second Street at the East River to Greenpoint Avenue. The Borden Avenue Bridge over Dutch Kills is located just south of the Long Island Expressway between 27th Street and Review Avenue in the Sunnyside section of Queens. Borden Avenue Bridge is a retractile type moveable bridge. The general appearance of the bridge remains the same as when it was first opened in 1908. The bridge structure carries a two-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 10.5m and the sidewalks are 2.0 m. The west approach and east approach roadways, which are wider than the bridge roadway, are 15.3m and 13.0m respectively. The bridge provides a horizontal clearance of 14.9m and a vertical clearance in the closed position of 1.2m at MHW and 2.7m at MLW.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water quality at Dutch Kills is fairly nightmarish, with “floatables” and wind blown trash collecting along the bulkheads. The water betrays itself with the odd colors (and colour) it displays, ranging from a reddish brown after rain events to a cadmium green during the heights of summer and depths of winter. Unnaturally still, the only flow of water here is driven by the tepid tidal flow of the larger Newtown Creek or by the expulsion of waste water and storm runoff from the Combined Sewer Outfalls found along its banks.

from wikipedia

Dutch Kills is a sub-division of the larger neighborhood of Long Island City in the New York City borough of Queens. It was a hamlet, named for its navigable tributary of Newtown Creek, that occupied what today is centrally Queensboro Plaza. Dutch Kills was an important road hub during the American Revolutionary War, and the site of a British Army garrison from 1776 to 1783. The area supported farms during the 19th Century, and finally consolidated in 1870 with the villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point, Middletown, Sunnyside and Bowery Bay to form Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scientific analysis of the water, offered in now decades old reports by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the far ranging Hydroqual studies of the watershed in the 1990’s, describe the presence of a millimeter thick layer of fats and lipids overlying the water. This medium allows bacterial specie to survive in the open water, and such sewage borne pathogens are abundant. Typhus, cholera, and gonorrhea- for instance- are all mentioned. Additionally, like all the waters of NY Harbor, but especially concentrated at Dutch Kills (and all around the larger Creek) due to the abundance of CSO’s- one can expect to find elevated levels of prescription drug residue carried in by sewer discharge.

from nysdot.gov

About 1900, most of the Newtown Creek was bulkheaded and occupied by about fifty industrial properties. Undeveloped or less developed sections without bulkheads included Dutch Kills, about 2,000 feet of shoreline in Queens just above Dutch Kills with two LIRR lighterage piers, about 1,000 feet of shoreline in Queens near the Penny Bridge, and about 3,500 feet of shoreline downstream of Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn.15 Dutch Kills, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek, just upstream of Dutch Kills, were developed circa 1905-1912, largely through the efforts of the Degnon Terminal & Realty Company. The Degnon firm created an industrial park with rail and marine access around Dutch Kills between about Hunters Point and 47th Avenue, Dutch Kills subsequently was included within USACE dredging projects. Without federal assistance, Degnon created a 150-foot-wide channel with 2,400 feet of bulkhead, including a turning basin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUBABO was one of the spots recently targeted by the IEC organization during “Shoreline Cleanup day”, and event in which Newtown Creek Alliance participated. IEC musters crews of volunteers who literally pick up the trash. Other harbor groups participated in the cleanup in Queens, and efforts were made literally all along the east river coast of the borough, from Astoria Park all the way to Hunters Point. Arrangements were made with a carting firm, in our case Waste Management, to dispose of the collected materials, after it had been weighed and categorized. NCA’s mission is to “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” the Newtown Creek, after all, and “a great starting point for any project is picking the crap up off the floor first”, as my dad might have said.

from a 2011 newtownpentacle posting, “ponderous and forbidding

All across Dutch Kills, everything bore that unmistakable colour which typifies the lament and sickness of the Newtown Creek watershed. Iridescent, it is neither black nor white nor any normal color, rather it’s is like something alien coating everything in rotten decay. Metal corrodes, wood molders, stone and cement simply crumble away.

The swampy wetlands which existed here in aboriginal times were known as the Waste Meadows in the 19th century, and perhaps this is still the appropriate terminology for them.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 25, 2012 at 11:39 am

ethereal character

with 5 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The launch we were in had been referred to as the “tin boat” by the Riverkeeper folks, but it was more a smallish rowboat with an outboard engine than anything else. This is the second post of this adventure, click here for the first one.

We had just passed beneath the two rail bridges which vouchsafe and isolate Dutch Kills from the main body of the Newtown Creek, and were heading in the general direction of Queens Plaza when we approached the Borden Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, this century old structure has recently undergone a radical schedule of repairs when it was discovered that one of its abutments had begun to shift, and no small amount of complaint arose at the inconvenience from the legions of truckers and ordinary drivers who mourned its unavailability.

Down on the water however, things were pretty intense, from a purely existential point of view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those bubbles of gas mentioned in yesterday’s post, which were erupting even when the water was unmolested by our passing, delivered a slightly petrochemical smell when they burst. Another member of the Newtown Creek Alliance who was sitting next to me in the boat began muttering “Oh my god” over and over at this point in time.

It wasn’t fear in his eyes, it was disbelief.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My companion was no virgin or first time visitor to the Creek, of course, in fact his experience of the place is broad and far reaching. When all of your senses get involved with the atmosphere of ruination here, however, one tends to become a bit overwhelmed as your brain attempts to interpret and process the impossible data it is presented with.

The canalized bulkheads of Dutch Kills also tower over you from the water level, creating a sense of forced perspective and inevitability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first thing you see when passing the Borden Avenue Bridge is an archaic sewer outfall, and were the brush not at it’s mid summer height, one would observe the shanty home of the Blue Crow above.

For those of you not familiar with this term, Crow is a name assigned in my little section of Astoria to the myriad metal and refuse collectors known to haunt the neighborhood on “Bulk Pickup Day”. Leave something shiny on the sidewalk, a crow will sweep in and grab it.

Metals are collected and sold by the pound in the scrap and recycling markets of Greenpoint and Long Island City, and these guys make their living from hunting and gathering. I assign them color names based on vehicle, or clothing choices.

There’s also a red crow out there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here is a winter shot from road grade level which shows the sewer and the ever expanding hut of this particular crow. There is a photo of him to be in this Newtown Pentacle posting from February of 2010. Don’t be mistaken, I am not insulting either his industriousness or tenacity, if I were in a similar situation things would go far worse for your humble narrator. This man has been surviving in what has to one of the world’s most extreme environments for years now, and rent free.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back toward the Borden Avenue Bridge, the ominous humming which echoed along the bulkheads and emanated from above signaled that we had passed under another of the bridges of Dutch Kills. This bridge was built high, and called an expressway by Robert Moses himself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 106 feet over road grade, the high flying Queens Midtown Expressway leg of the larger Long Island Expressway feeds into the yawning mouth of the Queens Midtown Tunnel less than a mile from here. I call this part of Dutch Kills DULIE, or Down Under the Long Island Expressway.

One of the common complaints heard by eastern bound commuters in the early days of the 20th century was about the horrible smells they encountered when crossing through Long Island City. Moses built his auto bridge as high as engineering and budgetary considerations allowed in response to the plume of industrial outgassing which distinguished a trip through the area in his time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills is a particularly important tributary of the Newtown Creek, from an industrial history point of view. What is today a relict of brown fields, industrial spills, and toxic leave behinds was once the economic and manufacturing heartland of New York City. The heavy infrastructure here is no accident, and the waterway was a critical feature that drew one of the great (and largely forgotten) men of Queens to the Waste Meadows at the start of the early 20th century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of the 19th century, none of this was here. Sure, there was a muddy road made of creosoted wood blocks and riprap bulkheads called Hunters Point Avenue which ran between isolated industrial sites, and a slightly more modern causeway called Borden Avenue which hosted a few large operations, but this was a swampy and pestilential bog. Brackish creeks wound along knolls of marsh grass and the stubby trees held together mud islands.

The place was lousy with all the junk floating down from Blissville and the sewers in Brooklyn and only Mosquitos and ticks found the place hospitable.

Dutch Kills needed to be fixed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sewer outfall is found directly after passing the LIE’s massive footing, which is the sort of improvement that benefited somewhere else rather than Dutch Kills. It was decided by the city fathers in the first years of the 20th century that something had to be done with these swampy wetlands, so close to Manhattan and the gold coast of the Newtown Creek.

Something was needed- a plan with vision, executed by someone who understood the byzantine politics of Tammany Hall and the recently consolidated City of Greater New York. Additionally, it would have to someone with proven “know how” who could “get it done”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the mid 1930’s on, that person would have been Robert Moses. The ultimate political fixer, Moses employed the greatest engineering minds of a generation to shape and design our modern City. While Moses was still in diapers, however, no shortage of great men existed in the City. A plan was presented, and approved, and in both Albany and Washington- strings were pulled by the Tammany men and budgets were approved.

The Army Corps of Engineers were assigned here to canalize, deepen, straighten and erect industrial bulkheads at Dutch Kills in 1914. Land was reclaimed by dumping the fill and spoils produced by the digging of the Belmont Subway Tunnels (leading to to Manhattan) amongst wooden pilings driven deeply into the mud.

The modern shoreline of Queens began to assume it’s current shape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is apparent what happened here, when you see the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge appear before you.

Progress had arrived in Queens, and his name was Michael Degnon.

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