Editor's Note: This letter has been updated with a response from RIRA's Cherry Blossom Festival Committee following Williams' letter
I wanted to let you know that last weekend's disaster caused immense distress to me and my family, in particular to some of my elderly and disabled relatives who needed to be dropped to my apartment by car to celebrate my mother's 65th birthday, a private family event.
After being assured that Main Street would remain open (as per information circulated by RIOC), people were turned away at the bridge by security with appalling disregard for their physical condition. 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.
This is not an acceptable response from security. I am still unclear if the bridge was being managed by private security engaged by the festival organizers or by PSD, but I feel the responsibility ultimately lies with RIOC regardless.
I was told to contact Cherry Blossom Festival directly by email, which I did. I have received no response, no acknowledgement and no apology from either the festival organizers, RIOC or RIRA.
RIOC's failure to take responsibility for their negligence with regard to operations and security is extremely distressing.
I have a number of questions. I would like answers from the responsible parties.
1. Who is responsible for this event? The poster indicates RIOC, RIRA and FDR Four Freedoms Park were all participants in the organization. Based on this I am astonished to see the Festival disclaim responsibility for transit and operations. The Festival organizers blame the MTA and disclaim responsibility for transit and operations.
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?
screenshot from Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival Facebook page
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 below.
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.
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.
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.
Dear Mr. Williams,
On behalf of the Cherry Blossom Festival Committee, we were saddened to learn that the special family gathering you had planned on April 13, the day of the Cherry Blossom Festival, turned out so disappointingly for you and your visiting family members.
We apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the activities that the Committee planned that interfered with or disrupted your celebration.
In addition, we are sorry about the delay in responding to your detailed letter of complaint, which was relayed to us on April 14. Preparations for our own family celebrations of Easter impeded an earlier reply.
As you may be aware, our committee was solely responsible for the performances held at FDR Four Freedoms Park and activities held at Gallery RIVAA and Southpoint Park. We also coordinated with other community groups and merchants.
To the best of our knowledge, RIOC communicated with the MTA regarding transportation arrangements and with the Public Safety Department regarding local traffic.
Improvements in communication and anticipation of difficult scenarios, however unlikely, will certainly be part of the planning for future events.
Thank you for calling these issues to our attention.
Lynne Shinozaki and Lydia Tang, Cherry Blossom Committee, RIRA