Archive for September, 2010

Tackling City Pests with Bicycle Obsessions

September 26th, 2010 by Ichi Vazquez

New York City has a plethora of cycling routes and activities for bicycling-friendly residents, and offers a much quicker option of getting from point A to point B than the MTA does lately. While riding one’s bicycle seems like the best way to get to work or just enjoy the day, residents should keep their eyes open for a city pest that is known so notoriously to most cyclists, that they barely have time to get off their bikes before they turn around and their tire and handle bars are gone. That’s right – I’m talking about the professional bike thieves who roam the streets of the city possessing some crazy disassembling skills.

So exactly how can a New Yorker protect or prevent their cherished $150 Craigslist bicycle from getting stolen?

When it comes to getting your bike stolen, no one could do it faster or more efficiently than these pro thieves could. But this begs the question – are these guys getting away with stealing bicycle parts because they’re good at it, or is it that no one’s really paying any attention? It seems that residents feel like their bike woes have been going completely unnoticed until recently. But at least some take comfort in the fact that if they get their bicycle stolen, they can always check on Craigslist to see if the thief was dumb enough to re-sell it.

While nothing could beat a resolved thief with a massive pair of bolt cutters,  all you need occasionally is some alertness and a video camera to send out a strong message. More humorously, if the deed has already been done and you are left heartbroken without your bicycle, you can always deal with your emotions by telling your story to the guys over at SomeoneStoleMyBike.com. Or if you find it later on in the streets with a new owner, leaving a passive-aggressive note can make you feel better too.

Otherwise New Yorkers, you can prevent yourselves from going home using the subway by staying up to date on precautionary measures and exercising them meticulously. Because the real deal is, no bike lock is actually secure enough to protect your bikes! As long as you make sure that the place where you purchased your bicycle isn’t actually buying stolen ones and re-selling them, you are already in a place of advantage.

Get A Room

September 26th, 2010 by Brooks Newkirk

by Brooks Newkirk

Love is in the air everywhere in New York City. Public displays of affection (PDA) are seen from the young and the old at street corners, coffee shops, five-star restaurants…everywhere. It’s actually really sweet and just another sign that New York is becoming a friendlier city.

However, when those acts of PDA are elevated from cute pecks on the cheek and simple hand-holding to all out slobfests, especially in confined spaces such as on the subway, it can be a bit of a problem.

Here’s what a few New Yorkers had to say about PDA and why people should keep it to themselves:

The street fair fiasco

September 26th, 2010 by Chase Lindsay Rosen

According to Merriam Webster, ‘fair’ is defined as a gathering of stalls and amusements for public entertainment. New York City is known for is street fairs. And, with summer on its way out and fall on its way in, we are entering ultimate street fair season. This time around, things are changing.

Imagine this: Walking out of your apartment building, pushing past the drunk tourists hanging onto their foot long margaritas that have been loitering on your stoop all afternoon. Then, getting a big whiff of sizzling olive oil, sausage and peppers, opposed to some fresh air. You are forced by the patrolling police to wait for the light to change to run across the street. Once you cross the street, the faint sounds of Italian music, Motley Crue karaoke and carnival games that you thought you were dreaming about last night, really exist.

The vendors that you see from your bathroom window are displaying and selling all the things that you have smelled through your air conditioner unit for the past few days. They are selling the ‘best’ fried Oreos in the country, hand rolled Cuban cigars and homemade cheeses.

And don’t forget about the screaming kids saying “Mom please can I just have another $5 to try and win a goldfish!?!?” And just when you think you’ve escaped the madness, someone drops a piece of his or her blooming onion on your foot.

These notorious fair bring more than interesting aromas, oversized stuffed animals, herds of people and police officers. Street fairs cause traffic disruptions, loss of commerce in other parts of the city, heightened police costs for overtime, sanitation issues, noise complaints and terror threats.

Is the fresh fruit smoothie really worth it? Last year alone NYC held 321 street fairs, generating $1.6 million for the city… But, it cost $2.4 million in police overtime.

So why is NYC continuing to hold these massive street fairs and festivals? According to a report released by The Center for an Urban Future, the issue at hand is a lack of diversity. Once you’ve been to one street fair, you’ve seen them all. While the gyro and funnel cake always tastes better at Little Johnny’s Stand at San Gennaro’s it’s the same recipe being used by Mary’s Meats at the Murray Street Festival.

As of last year, Mayor Bloomberg established his stance on street fair culture. And though he claims that he “loves to go down and have one of those hot sausages like anyone else”, NYC street fairs are something that we can no longer afford.

New fairs can no longer apply for permits and Bloomberg is continuing to work on measures to shorten parade routes and limit the time frames in which events can be held. These fairs are becoming more of an annoyance than a reflection of the unique cultures within the melting pot of New York City.

They happen everywhere, every weekend, all over the city. For some, this is a past time and means of making a living. But for others, it’s the ultimate pest.

To make the case for MTA’s fare hikes

September 26th, 2010 by Tuan Thanh Nguyen

By Tuan Nguyen

New Yorkers are not happy with MTA’s plan to increase fare starting January next year. MTA officials have been received with frustration and anger during hearings with straphangers of five boroughs so far.

Populists have reasons to blame MTA to increase fares during a difficult time of economic downturn. If the proposed hikes take effect it will result in an over 30 percent increase over the last five years. The situation is like a nagging pain that has been going on and on. Still, a look at the whole picture, MTA has its reasons for the increase.

How reasonable is MTA’s plan of fare hikes?

George Carrano, former senior Vice President of New York City’s Transit Authority and the official responsible for swapping the MetroCard for tokens, explains that NYC’s subway fare is still among the cheapest of major cities worldwide.

New York City’s subway is also the only one that runs 24/7. In big cities like Tokyo, Berlin, Paris or London most the subway system stops after midnight. In New York, you can return late from party or work at 3 or 4 am in the morning and can still take a subway home. The cost for around the clock travel is a mammoth cost. Construction or maintenance of the system is more intricate: it takes twice as long at least. There have been cases of workers hit by trains during construction as the trains run day and night.

In a not far away memory, during the 1970s, the subway system of New York derailed or collided on average every 15 days. From the late 1970s, MTA issued bonds to upgrade this wrecked-system and now New Yorkers have the most extensive network in the world with over 660 miles of track. A collateral result is an outstanding debt of more than $31 billion to date.

According to Carrano, current fare only covers 70% of operation cost for MTA. The rest comes either from federal subsidies or bond issuance. No New Yorker wants to return to the old bad days of a decayed subway system and it’s time for us to accept the inevitability of the hike.

Pests Take Over Bicycle Lanes

September 26th, 2010 by Jacqueline Vergara Amézquita

New York City cyclists face yet another hurdle in the never-ending battle for cyclist rights: insensitive pests obstructing bicycle lanes. It appears that as the NYC Department of Transportation completed its commitment to build 200 miles of bike-lanes throughout the five boroughs, inconsiderate lane squatters equally augmented their commitment to claim public space reserved for pedal-lovers.

In the past few years, cyclist advocates have protested against careless drivers who block lanes and have been responsible for unfortunate deaths and accidents. Shortly after a police car was spotted parked in a bicycle lane late last year, Hunter College reported that cars do not respect bike lanes 60 percent of the time. Both parked and while in motion, vehicles are frequently seen in the lanes, seemingly oblivious to the traffic rights of cyclists.

This year alone, a city official’s car, a boat, and a baby in a carrier were all caught taking refuge in bicycle lanes. With the rising trend of illegal multi-use of bicycle lanes, what do the city’s cyclists have to say? And what is being done to ensure respect of these designated bicycle havens?

Josh Gosciak, an avid cyclist for the past 25 years, recommends that the NYPD play a role in the assertion of cyclist rights.

“Intensive training for all new recruits at the academy about bicycle safety, traffic rights, and misuse of the lanes, would help alleviate some of the tensions on the street,” he said.

Lisa Zwick, who depends on her bike for transportation, shares Gosciak’s view of welcoming police participation.

“Bike lanes need to be taken more seriously. We need to put enforcement and get cops out there to ticket people,” she said.

In the quest to fight against bike-unfriendly pests, the Bureau of Organized Bikelane Safety group is taking matters into its own hands.

The Other Underground Pest

September 26th, 2010 by An Phung

They move with rapid speed beneath the city as vessels of germs and odor. They’re unsightly, massive and oftentimes the cause of our anxiety and tardiness. No, it’s not New York City’s infamous subway rats. It’s the New York City Subway system. And these days, rat infestations are probably near the bottom of a long list of problems plaguing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The M.T.A. is weathering its fair share P.R. issues, including budget cuts that resulted in the demise of the V and W lines. Things went from bad to worse when the M.T.A. laid off agents and proposed fare increases that are currently under review in a series of public hearings over the next two months. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, maintenance and construction work caused the disruption of 18 subway lines this weekend. This left an aftermath of delays, slow speeds and express trains forced to impersonate local trains.

So how should the city’s straphangers combat this latest inconvenience?

People at the 96th Street station on Broadway, a stop for all three trains on the red line, were seen boarding the fleet of buses that were out in droves today. These shuttle buses provided commuters with service to uptown and The Bronx. Some boarded their slow moving train, and in a gesture of defiance and silent protest for the M.T.A’s poor service, got off before the doors even closed. The platforms were crowded, construction was loud and travelers were agitated.

“I wish I knew when this would end,” said an M.T.A. worker, when asked when he thought the weekend schedule will resume again.

The worker, with bullhorn in hand, heralded the shuttle bus option and provided answers and directions to frustrated riders. His employment with the M.T.A. prevented him from sharing his name or giving riders alternate solutions. But the New York City police officer next to him was less shy. When asked what she suggests for alternatives to the subway she said, “Take the bus or stay home.”

The M.T.A. employee urges travelers to check their website frequently for updates on service changes. Careful planning and leaving extra early will also help prevent tardiness. Commuters should also take heed and check for services changes communicated on colorful posters tacked around their stations. Weekend construction and maintenance will continue well into next year, with interruption to service that will be less chaotic than what was seen today.

Perhaps the rumored bike-share program will be the real answer to the subway problems. After all, it is easier to outrun those pesky rats (and rates) on wheel than on foot.

Today's M.T.A. service status at 4:38 PM

The MTA’s Perfect Storm, and Where Our Fare Money Is Going

September 26th, 2010 by Paul DeBenedetto

A list of all impacted subway lines, courtesy of the Daily News website (click to enlarge.)

Another weekend, another round of construction for the MTA.

Anyone who’s even remotely  familiar with the New York City subway system knows it has its flaws. Besides the occasional “track fire” and “train traffic” causing a delay on any given trip, the weekends for some have become synonymous with shoddy service. Express trains running local, local trains running express, shuttle buses, and service suspensions have just become a way of life. But if Saturday and Sunday service disruption is an expected nuisance, call the weekend of September 25th “the perfect storm”: a grand total of 18 subway lines were scheduled for maintenance. Why cram all that work into one weekend? I contacted the MTA about it and got back only a canned statement, saying “due to the 24 hour nature of the system, weekends and nights are the only time we can perform this vital and necessary work and minimize the impact on our riders.”

Soon, commuters may be having even more trouble with the MTA, as fare-hike hearings have just begun taking place. Initial proposals had the cost of a 30-day unlimited Metrocard rising once again, from $89 to $99 with a 90-trip limit. A truly unlimited card would cost $104. Newer proposals include raising the price of an unlimited card to $130.

I’m sure most people understand that upkeep is an important part of any transit organization, and it’s also a costly process. But this also comes on the heels of the V and W line elimination, as well as the cutting of over 30 bus lines throughout the city, and that was all due to a $750 million shortfall. We’re paying more for less. So it begs the question: where is all of our fare money going?

According to a the MTA’s latest budget proposal, wage and benefit costs are two-thirds of the organization’s operating expenses. On top of that, the state comptroller’s office is probing into overtime payroll abuses at the MTA, and according to the MTA’s website, they’ve got some doozies. Take, for example, the LIRR engineers who get a whole extra day’s salary “for switching between electric and diesel equipment without working one extra minute.” Or how about the 15 sick days roughly a quarter of MTA employees take that require someone else to fill in and collect overtime? And that says nothing of pensions: the way a city-funded pension works is that you get a certain percentage of whatever salary you made in your most profitable year. So, if I make $50,000 a year, and work enough overtime to earn $75,000, that’s what the barometer is for my pension.

The way the MTA frames it on their website is that they’re cracking down on some sort of injustice, but these employees aren’t doing anything wrong per se. City jobs are generally blue collar jobs, and the “offenders” are just men and women looking for a little extra money to bring home, which they are completely within their rights to do. These are established MTA laws. So where is our money going? Toward fixing the MTA’s mistakes.

UPDATE: An Phung has more on the MTA’s latest inconvenience, while Tuan Nguyen makes the case for the MTA’s fare hikes.

The Sweet Sound of Impatience

September 25th, 2010 by Daniel Prendergast

We’ve all experienced it. You’re exiting a crowded subway train after a hard day and you just want to retreat to the quiet sanctuary of your apartment. Then, as you’re slowly approaching the turnstile, some entitled jerk decides they are too good to wait on line like everybody else and bursts through the emergency exit door, sending a shrill sounding alarm echoing through the underground. Then a string of spineless cowards who wish they had the guts to do it follow suit. Since MTA employees are rare at subway stations these days, the alarm can ring on and on, making everyone miserable.

So what is the city doing about it? And more importantly, is it a solution worth paying for, or should we just deal with the annoyance?

Realizing the phenomenon of exiting through the emergency door has become a huge problem, the New York City Transit Riders Council conducted a study over the summer to observe the issue firsthand, and their findings have caused the MTA to take note. But their reasons for wanting to put an end to the problem have little to do with the annoyance it causes riders. Instead, the MTA fears that an open emergency exit door is an invitation to those on the other side of the door to slip through without paying. Whatever the motive may be, the MTA is weighing its options with regard to finding a solution to this very irritating problem.

“Since conducting the study, we have been considering a number of options that include everything from installing silent alarms to putting more cameras at the exits,” Bill Henderson, executive director of the NY Transit Riders Council, said. “People are much less likely to break the rules if they think they are being watched.”

People have become so inured to the alarms misuse, they really serve no purpose, and do little to alert riders of anything other than that a newer, quicker path of escape is open, so a silent alarm might be useful. But there is also a possibility that a silent alarm might encourage misuse because the abuser will not be drawing the attention of everyone within earshot as they surreptitiously exit. As for the other option, the new NYPD cameras that have recently been installed in Midtown are meant to combat terror, and it remains to be seen that the NYPD will use the cameras to deal with less harmful (but still annoying) crimes like inappropriate use of the emergency exit. And it is well known that the MTA is trying to save as much money as possible, so it is unlikely they will be paying to implement a separate set of conspicuous cameras just to deter emergency exit abuse and fare evasion.

Although police officers and booth operators often preclude the temptation of impatient subway riders from crashing through the emergency exit, there are simply not enough boots on the ground to make this a feasible solution; especially with the high number of layoffs the MTA has made this year.

“We are definitely fighting a losing battle on this issue,” Henderson said. “The less human presence we have in the subways, the harder it will be to discourage people from using the doors improperly.”

The study’s conclusion suggests that whatever option is adopted to stop this problem, the MTA will have to foot the bill, which means the expenses will eventually trickle down to passengers. This raises the question: “Are we willing to pay a little more to do away with the bothersome alarms, especially since there is no guarantee they will work?” If I know New York City straphangers, they’d rather put up with the alarms.

Chasing a Dream

September 21st, 2010 by Brooks Newkirk

by Brooks Newkirk

Niro Lucus and Roudy “Movez” St. Fleur launched Dream Cloth, a luxury urban line, back in 2008. With no formal training and no financial backing, the two are trying to make their mark on the fashion world. How do they plan to compete with fashions’ elite in the midst of an economic recession? By using their natural talent and working around the clock.

Remember the waiter

September 20th, 2010 by Edouard de Mareschal

Tourists sometime don’t know about common practice of tipping the waiters in New York, or don’t want to hear about it because it is not part of their culture. Tips,  though are often a precious source of income for service people.