From the General to the Specific

Cherry Blossom Festival Collateral Damage Worsened by Disrespect

Updated 17 weeks ago David Stone
Festival goers confronted transportation delays and congestion, but things were worse for residents and visitors who wanted to go about their business.
Festival goers confronted transportation delays and congestion, but things were worse for residents and visitors who wanted to go about their business.
File photo

We've seen how grossly inadequate planning and callous event day management soured the Cherry Blossom Festival for so many attending or hoping to. But what about our neighbors who had other plans and found their lives rudely disrupted, even endangered? Would you be surprised to learn that the organizers treated them, during and after, with arguably even less respect and consideration?

After five days in which he "received no response, no acknowledgement and no apology from either the festival organizers, RIOC or RIRA," Roosevelt Island community member Joseph Williams shared his frustration with The Daily."

"RIOC's failure to take responsibility for their negligence with regard to operations and security is extremely distressing," he wrote. "I am hoping as the public platforms for community affairs you will continue to push for accountability and prevent future dangerous events like last weekend going forward."

Williams, just like the rest of us, had been assured that Main Street traffic north of the Tram Plaza would be open and arranged for friends and relatives to attend his mother's 65th birthday party on festival day.

Without warning, they were forced to endure the festival's downside, including reckless disregard for public safety and the frightening results of inadequate advance or contingency planning.

The Cherry Blossom Festival Committee, a group formed within the Residents Association Common Council and led by its President, made matters worse, seasoning dissatisfaction with disregard for pains inflicted by incompetence.

In stark terms, Williams laid out the miserable experience to which his family was exposed while struggling to visit Roosevelt Island for a family event.

"After being told that Main Street would remain open, people were turned away at the bridge by security with appalling disregard for their physical condition," he writes.

"My mother's cousin -- a stroke victim with limited mobility -- waited over two hours in a car trying to access the island. My 89 year old grandfather was told he should walk from Astoria."

None of this (and more) phased RIOC or the Cherry Blossom Festival Committee when Williams detailed everything in an email. Neither responded, not even with the most cursory of apologies or even a "We'll get back to you."

The Cherry Blossom Festival posted a cheery note on Facebook.
The Cherry Blossom Festival posted a cheery note on Facebook.

Williams, we think, tells it best. Following is the full text of his email to the organizers:

To whom it may concern,

I have been asked to email you directly as you are rightfully embarrassed by the negative publicity around this event and the terrifying ordeal it incurred for residents and attendees.

I was hosting a party for my mother's 65th birthday in my apartment. The overcrowding, transit and security failures caused immense distress to me and my family, in particular to my elderly and disabled relatives, several of whom spent hours attempting to get here and either failed or suffered as a result.

I have a number of questions. I would like answers from the responsible parties.

Although they were the seminal cause for all the pain, the Committee threw the MTA under the bus, disregarding their earlier thank you.
Although they were the seminal cause for all the pain, the Committee threw the MTA under the bus, disregarding their earlier thank you.

1. Who is responsible for this event? The poster indicates RIOC, RIRA and Four Freedoms were all participants in the organization. Based on this I am astonished to see the Festival disclaim responsibility for transit and operations (see RICBF Comment 2, attached).

2. The security checkpoint at the bridge. This was extremely disruptive and poorly organized and managed. My understanding was that Main Street would be open to traffic north of the tram. Cars were being stopped -- causing massive delays -- and turned away for no reason. There was a callous disregard for the needs of the elderly and disabled: my 89 year old grandfather, his wife and my uncle were instructed to abandon their car in Astoria and walk across the bridge rather than being permitted to drop my grandfather at my building. My mother's cousin who is paralyzed on his left side by stroke waited two hours at the checkpoint and ultimately had to go home after being turned away by security. This is not acceptable.

2. What is the intention for future events, and in particular the even larger Cherry Blossom Festival planned for 2020 described in RICBF Comment 1, attached? I would like to discuss this with the responsible parties and please see point 4 below. Comment to RIOC -- I will be phoning your office tomorrow during business hours to discuss this further.

3. The situation in the subway was appalling. My cousin brought her eight month old baby and was on the escalator that stopped with no warning and suffered in the crush to get out. She arrived visibly shaken and afraid that she was going to be injured, trampled or suffocated. She chose to leave almost immediately by ferry and waited three hours.

Cherry Blossom Festival Committee's attempts to placate residents rang hollow as time passed.
Cherry Blossom Festival Committee's attempts to placate residents rang hollow as time passed.

This volume of people was totally mismanaged. You are lucky you narrowly avoided the absolute catastrophe of a human crush. Please educate yourselves about the dangers of overcrowding in confined spaces -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_disaster.

Comment to RIOC -- The Festival organizers blame the MTA and disclaim responsibility for transit and operations (see RICBF Comment 2, attached). The MTA doesn't operate the tram or the bridge or the ferry. As far as I can tell, the MTA had to twice divert the entire New York City subway system to accommodate your failures. I need to know who is ultimately in charge of operations and security for the island, if not your organization. Should I be contacting our representatives in Albany?

4. With regard to future events:
There should be no future unticketed events on Roosevelt Island. Attendees should be required to register for any event.

Residents and workers must have access and priority with regard to transit. We are tired of suffering the long delays with tourists clogging our ailing infrastructure and getting trapped in our own homes or turned away trying to gain access.

Accommodations must be made for disabled and elderly people to ensure they can access the island when needed, regardless of what events you intend to have here.

This is our home. Roosevelt Island is a quiet, close-knit, residential community with a high proportion of families, elderly and disabled residents. It is not like the uninhabited Randalls or Governors Island that you can use as you wish. Future intentions to treat it as such will be met with intense resistance from those of us who have made this our home. All of the organizations listed have failed the residents of this island.

I look forward to a public apology to residents from the responsible parties, and to discussing a constructive solution for the future.

Kind regards,

Joseph Williams

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