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Roosevelt Island's Disabled Community Fights Post Office Closure

By Amy Zimmer | August 19, 2011 8:53am
Jim Bates and Denise Rodriguez said it would be difficult for them if the Roosevelt Island post office closed.
Jim Bates and Denise Rodriguez said it would be difficult for them if the Roosevelt Island post office closed.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

ROOSEVELT ISLAND — Jim Bates — who lived in seven states before settling on Roosevelt Island 10 years ago — appreciates how accessible his neighborhood is for wheelchair users like himself.

There's an accessible swimming pool, a wheelchair basketball game every Saturday and a covered walkway stretching along most of Main Street, which helps wheelchair users who want to go out on rainy, slippery or snowy days.

But if his neighborhood's only post office closes, it would be a big setback for Bates and members of the organization he leads, the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association.

The post office at 694 Main St. is on a list of 3,700 retail offices that the United States Postal Service will study for possible closure. The plan is to move services such as as stamp sales and flat-rate packaging to local pharmacies, groceries or other stores.

"Roosevelt Island is the most accessible place to live for a disabled person," said Bates, known as "Uncle Jim," who likes the ease of the post office's electronic sliding doors and ample room.

On Thursday afternoon, two electric wheelchair users and one woman with a walker had space to move around the post office, something that might not be the case with a busy pharmacy.

"If they moved the post office, in order for me to go to another post office I'd have to give 48 hours notice to be picked up and taken there by Access-A-Ride," Bates said. "The nearest post office I know is in Long Island City on 21st and Broadway. You have to take the Q101 bus for 45 minutes and then it's another 10 blocks, so you have to take another bus, the Q104."

Aside from that post office, the closest one in Manhattan is on York Avenue and 79th Street, according to the USPS website. Both require multiple modes of transportation to get there from Roosevelt Island.

Bates — whose group has raised $100,000 of $600,000 to build a statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting at a desk in his wheelchair in the newly opened Southpoint Park — said that many disabled residents on the island use the post office not only for packages but also for money orders to pay their rent, since it's cheaper to get them there than elsewhere.

"The island was designed to be inhabited by the disabled and the elderly," said Leslie Torres, president of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which oversees the neighborhood's development. "From our perspective closing this post office is an impossibility."

The island also has two hospitals for patients in rehab, many whom have limited mobility.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney is fighting to keep the post office open. She and other East Side elected officials rallied on Thursday with residents in support of keeping the site open, and more than 2,000 people have signed a petition for the cause.

Maureen Marion, a public affairs specialist for the USPS, said she had no data yet on how well used the Roosevelt Island post office is.

The 10 to 12 week study of the site — looking at such factors as foot traffic, PO box occupancy rates and real estate costs — is expected to kick off in September, she said. The USPS will also hold public hearings on the issue and solicit community input.

"The urgency right now for the postal service can not be underestimated," Marion said. "This is a significant time of transition for us. We're looking for a combination of ways, including reducing our footprint, to be the right size and do the right things for the communities we serve."

Other Manhattan post offices that are on the list for possible closure include College Point in Harlem, Port Authority, Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan, 26 Federal Plaza Station and one in Midtown on 47th Street near Fifth Avenue.

As people send less mail, the postal service, which is funded through stamp sales, not taxes, has been hurting, Marion said.

"The cold numbers are part of [the decision to close an outpost]," Marion said, "but the community input is important because it puts the face on the office. We're not walking into any of these studies with a decision already made."

Matthew Katz, of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, didn't think the post office should close on the growing island. He anticipates the neighborhood will have 16,000 residents, up from 12,000, once three sites slated for housing are eventually developed. Plus, the island is hopeful that Cornell, Stanford or another university will develop an engineering and applied science campus there, bringing even more people.

"We feel as an island we are in a unique situation," said Janet Falk, a Roosevelt Islander of three years, who noted the large diplomat community there often send packages overseas. "You can take a subway, bus, train or taxi. Why should you have to pay to go to the post office?"