Villager photo by Clayton Patterson
The run-down sidewalks outside the Columbia St. Key Food have caused many injuries, residents say.
Masaryk Towers sidewalks are unsafe, residents say
By Cynthia Romero
About 40 Lower East Side residents gathered outside
the Key Food on Columbia St. on July 12 to protest the shoddy sidewalks around the supermarket. Leading the demonstration was Samuel Vasquez, a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side. It was on this same sidewalk where Vasquez, who wears leg braces on both legs, took a fall during the winter two years ago and sustained injuries to his head.
“I was walking home when I slipped on this icy sidewalk. People went by, and somehow I fell. I laid there for a while,” Vasquez said. “After the weather cleared, I came back to inspect how bad the conditions were and they were really bad.”
Vasquez opted not to file a lawsuit and instead decided to petition the city for safer sidewalks. The cracked pavement borders a retail strip — including a grocery store and several bodegas — which is part of Masaryk Towers, a Mitchell-Lama development. The sight of the towers brought Vasquez to a standstill.
“Look at this, look at all the people who have to go around these big holes, yet these businesses remain open and they bring in money,” he said. “So then why have they not been fixed? Why?”
After his accident, Vasquez spoke to the manager of the Masaryk Towers Housing Development Corporation, Edward Kozlowski, to see how the problem could be resolved.
“Mr. Kozlowski told me that they were well aware of the problem and that they were waiting for some kind of funding from the city to make the necessary reparations,” Vasquez said. “I later found out that the money they had applied for had been released to them, and none of it had been applied to these sidewalks.”
The money Vasquez referred to is $8 million in federal funds awarded to Masaryk Towers by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to improve the conditions inside and outside of the development.
“These sidewalks are very bad — and it’s just not these two obviously big holes — but along this whole strip, there are cracks,” he said. “These are all just accidents waiting to happen.”
Among the protesters were elderly residents who have also fallen on the dilapidated sidewalks and sustained injuries. One by one, they spoke angrily about the pavement’s poor condition and showed off marks and bruises from their injuries.
“We are vulnerable and fragile,” said Maria Martinez. “We can’t go very far, and it’s sad that we have these stores available to us and yet we have to struggle to get into them.”
Vasquez stressed that he would continue to rally the community until a resolution is reached.
“The bottom line is, they got the money,” he said. “Why haven’t they used it? And if they’re not going to do the job, then do a temporary fix for the time being. This is going to get fixed.”