Archive for the ‘AnsweredQuestion’ Category

Basic Tips for Avoiding Bedbugs

September 28th, 2010 by Geoffrey Decker

Cover page for the City Government's "Bed Bug Guide"

Bedbugs seem to be on the minds of every New Yorker these days, but, hysteria aside, public awareness is limited. Talk to any number of New Yorkers, from regular citizens to experts to city officials, and you’ll find their impression of the bloodsucking pests is filled with half-truths and vague assumptions.

Part of the reason for that is that not a whole lot is known about them. Even to scientists who study the critters, New York Times reported last month, they are a mystery:

Ask any expert why the bugs disappeared for 40 years, why they came roaring back in the late 1990s, even why they do not spread disease, and you hear one answer: “Good question.”

They are incredibly evasive. The apple-seed-sized Bedbugs are nocturnal, preferring to feed on humans at night under the cloak of an anesthetic they emit to numb any sting. When they’re not biting, they’re usually nestled away in some deep fabric, like a mattress or bedspring, or for more mobile means, on clothes and bags.

Indeed, many people with infested homes have never even seen them.

But there are some known facts about bedbugs and, more importantly, known ways to prevent and, if infested, get rid of them. As part of research I did for a story on bed bugs in New York city schools last week, I spoke to several exterminators and experts to help clear up the confusion.

According to the NYC private residence manual, titled “Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs” there are several basic maintenance steps to take, including:

  1. Seal cracks and crevices in the floors and on the walls with caulk.
  2. Regularly clean and vacuum in areas that gather dust and debris
  3. Get rid of clutter, to reduce the amount of places that bed bugs can borough

Another suggestion, which came from exterminator Elio Chiavola, is to buy a sealable mattress cloth cover, which can be bought for about $60 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

But as I learned from my reporting on bed bugs in schools, which revealed that last year there were more than 1019 confirmed cases of bedbugs in New York City schools, the problem doesn’t necessarily begin and end at home.

Schools, retails stores, office buildings and movie theaters aren’t natural habitat for bed bugs, mainly because it isn’t where people rest at night, but anywhere large masses of people gather are particular vulnerable areas. Bedbugs can jump from person to person when people bring them from infested homes.

From here, the pests hitch a ride home on clothing or bags.

“They are a major transfer point from one place to another,” said Mike Orlino, President of Superior Pest Elimination.

With that in mind there are some additional, more proactive things people can do to prevent them from even getting into the home in the first place.

Chiavola believes that every citizen should own their own personal supply of SteriFab, an alcohol-based spray that kills bugs on contact, any time you come and go from your apartment.

As a general rule, it’s wise to avoid purchasing used furniture, according to the New York City Bed Bug Advisory Board, which published a comprehensive report on the matter in July.

  • Bed bugs don’t just live in beds. Wood or metal or plastic furniture, sofas, chairs, tables and many other household items may be infested with bed bugs.
  • Used furniture and refurbished mattresses may have bed bugs and bed bug eggs that are difficult to see.

While the jury is still out on whether bed bugs are bound to officially take over the city (insert hysteria here!), hopefully these basic tips can at least help you avoid being their next victim.

To Greet, or Not to Greet?

September 27th, 2010 by Stuart White

New York etiquette is a tricky subject. The list of city-specific interactions and social situations with the potential for offense goes on and on. However, some questions of etiquette are more universal, like that old chestnut: Is it appropriate to greet strangers with a friendly “Hi, how are you”?

For some, the greeting is an innocuous pleasantry; to others the rhetorical greeting is a capital offense. With such varying views, the real question is who’s peskier, the person who offers a casual greeting, or the person who rejects it?

Nathaniel Marro, a New York resident by way of Vermont, finds the universal greeting to be a bit much. “It’s more like a case where if I catch their eyes, I give them a smile and a nod, than go out of my way to say hi to them,” he said.

In fact, Nathaniel finds verbalizing one’s acknowledgement of a stranger to be something of a faux pas. He does, however, try to temper his disapproval by responding politely. “But I would think it was an odd situation,” he maintained. “I would be taken aback.”

Though many have tried to justify or explain it, the city’s sometimes-prickly demeanor can be decidedly off-putting to some. Jessica Sullivan, a southern transplant, had to put a moratorium on the beloved southern practice of greeting strangers.

In her opinion, the thought behind the greeting counts for more than the content. “For a complete stranger, the fact that they even took the time to say hello is a friendly gesture in my book,” she said. “I wish more people did it here.”

The fact that the question is rhetorical is a nonissue, a boon even. “I would just prefer the standard ‘I’m fine,’ instead of ‘Well, my dog died yesterday,’” she said.

Though Jessica misses the easy camaraderie of the casual greeting, she has taken into account the logistical challenges of greeting everyone in a city like New York. “You encounter so many more people,” she said. “If you say ‘Hi, how are you,’ to every person you pass in New York City you’d never get where you’re going.”

Though native New Yorkers are historically painted as somewhat deficient in friendliness (1907 Times article), Ray Ruiz, a Brooklyn native, bucks the trend of ignoring passers-by. “I always say hello to everyone,” he said. “But I guess a lot of New Yorkers aren’t in tune with that.”

Indeed, it isn’t easy being a friendly New Yorker. “A lot of times I get shunned,” Ray admitted. “I guess some people don’t want to be friendly.”

In a place as diverse as New York, the question of who deserves a greeting will be disputed forever. When it comes to ignoring a greeting, however, Ray Ruiz’ opinion seems definitive: “That’s just rude.”

Three ways to come back home without metro in the Weekend

September 27th, 2010 by Edouard de Mareschal

In France, when subways don’t run, it is usually because of strikes. But here in New York, travelers fear something even worst: The weekly subway maintenance. This weekend was no exception to the rule. A survey by the the Permanent Citizens Advisory Comittee to the MTA in 2010 acknowledged that “periodic weekend subway service changes are a major source of anxiety for New York City Transit riders”.

So here is the question: How to enjoy a weekend party in the city that never sleeps when we can’t rely on the subway?

First solution, to be informed. We have to be fair and admit that at least, MTA tries his best to inform users. Every Friday, you should therefore check the Planned Service Changes tab of the MTA website. For people who really want to be informed on live of the traffic, MTA is on Facebook and Twitter. And if you can’t stand MTA anymore at the point that the simple idea of going to their website gives you pimples, check

Then, there is still the solution of taking the taxi. Sometimes, it is ten times faster than the subway and not that expensive, provided that you share the costs with your friends. But you be aware of their rates, because it tend to be extensible for inexperienced people.

Another idea could come from Paris, where bike sharing has been a great success for three years now, despite the cost of maintenance. They are useful in any kind of situation : French ride Velib’ to avoid subway strikes , New Yorkers could use it to avoid Subway maintenance. This solution could be possible pretty soon.

Last tip: If none of these solutions fit you, you can still go back home by walk. Good luck.

Skyline Envy

September 27th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

From a proposed sale by a major stakeholder to the discovery of a squatter on the 40th floor, the Empire State Building has been grabbing headlines of late, but it’s another building, a proposed 1,200 foot tower down the street, that may have the biggest impact on what is arguably New York’s most iconic building.

City Council approved the construction 15 Penn Plaza in late August, paving the way for new skyscraper that, detractors say, will only mar the city’s skyline by drawing attention away from the Empire State Building. The 1,216-foot building, planned for a site two avenues west of the Empire State Building, would rise to nearly the same height as the Empire State Building and would make the iconic building nearly invisible from New Jersey.

But one has to ask, what’s in a skyline anyway?

Urban planners spend their lives designing aesthetically pleasing city skylines and New York City’s is one of the most recognizable in the world. (In fact, the Big Apple’s crowded skyline has been ranked fourth in the world, behind Hong Kong, Chicago and Shanghai).

But a skyline is a malleable thing,  and New York’s has been in constant flux since the early 1900s. When the Empire State Building opened its doors in 1931, the city had 13 buildings taller than 656 feet. By August of 2008, Manhattan had 50 buildings. Need further proof? Just look at this photo illustrating the city’s ever-evolving skyline.

David R. Greenbaum, of the Vornado Realty Trust, the developers behind the 68-story 15 Penn Plaza, echoed this sentiment in the New York Times.

“The fact is that New York’s skyline has never stopped changing, and one hopes it never will,” said David R. Greenbaum, president of the New York office division of Vornado Realty Trust.

There’s no doubt that a city’s skyline is an important part of its shared identity. Just ask the residents of Phoenix, Ariz., who are struggling with that very issue right now. And this isn’t the first time new construction has incited the ire of critics. The construction of the 52-story 712 Fifth Ave. has blocked views of the Empire State Building since it was constructed in 1990.

The simple fact is the New York skyline is going to change, whether New Yorkers like it or not. And one has to ask, with the amount of anger rearing its head in recent months, are New Yorkers just looking for a fight?

Coffee and Cigarettes

September 27th, 2010 by Claudia Acevdeo

Gone are those days when you could sit at a bar and have a beer and a cigarette. Now there’s no lighting up after a big, satisfying dinner without leaving the premises. No puffing away your midday stress at a cafe. No early morning nicotine high at the diner. Mayor Bloomberg made sure to snatch those moments from you back in 2002, when he began his anti-tobacco campaign in the city of New York. It took some adjusting to, but everyone dealt with it.

What does the future of smoking look like? Eight years have passed and it looks like parks and beaches are the next setting for the war on cigarettes.

Bloomberg, an ex-smoker, wants to lower the percentage of smokers in the city to 12 percent by 2012, and forbidding people to open fire in public places is a step toward attaining this goal. His tactics have worked in the past. After the 2002 smoking ban for restaurants and bars, the percentage of New Yorkers who smoked went from 21.5 percent to 16.9 percent in five years.

While the effects of smoking and second-hand smoke are known to everyone who buys a pack, hardcore puffers are set on their ways and, for the most part, offended by the impending ban. It is hard enough for them to find a place outside an office building without a no-smoking sign. Ashtrays and smoking poles are now fewer and farther between. People feel forced to take their breaks out on the street, and much to the bemusement and chagrin of passersby.

What was once a common pastime and social facilitator is now a cause for shame and civil strife. But one of the serious setbacks for smokers is the pricing hike that took place this past June. A pack of cigarettes in Midtown Manhattan can cost you a whopping $14.50. That’s $174.00 a month if you buy three packs a week. That’s almost the equivalent of two unlimited MetroCards. You could also buy a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico with that kind of money. It’s enough to make you want to quit. Many people already want to.

It looks like there will be healthier people roaming our streets over the next couple of years, which means that there will be happier people too. Is this still the East Coast?

courtesy of The New York Times

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 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.

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 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.