Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer break

Like fellow blogger Inwoodite, I'm taking a summer break from the blog. I haven't been completely idle, however. A group of us are working on a package of bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly improvements to present to Community Board 12 (representing Inwood and Washington Heights) in September. Want in on the action? Contact us via Inwood Livable Streets.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A plaza at Staff Street

I received the following email this morning from the Campaign for New York's Future (excerpt):

"One goal of New York City's sustainability plan is to put every New Yorker within a ten minute walk from park or open space. Now, the NYC Department of Transportation is working with community partners to launch the NYC Plaza Program to help accomplish this goal, and they want your input!

"The program aims to transform underused streets into vibrant, social public spaces throughout the city.

After racking my brains for a few minutes, I went to the online form and composed this message:

"I would like to see a public plaza installed on Staff Street in Inwood, Manhattan. Staff Street is a one-block connector between Riverside Drive and Dyckman Street. It is currently an ill-paved parking lot on a hill that also provides access for cyclists from the Hudson River Greenway terminus at Riverside Drive and the bike path on Dyckman Street. Most drivers do not use this as a through street, preferring to use the adjacent Henshaw Street instead. Families will often picnic on the grass beside the lot.

"I propose closing Staff Street to automobile traffic and parking, adding a southbound lane to the northbound bicycle lane to provide a two-way Greenway connector, and using the ample remaining space to install pedestrian amenities (seats, planters, etc.).

"Thank you for your time and attention."

Do you have any ideas for public plazas in Inwood? Share them here, and send them to DoT.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ride to Montauk disaster

Sadly, the Ride to Montauk ended up being a complete disaster.

The volunteer staff didn't manage to get all the 66 and 30 milers processed in time for the 7:30 a.m. train to Mastic-Shirley, so many of us missed the train. That put us two hours behind schedule. Then, when we arrived in Mastic, we waited for another hour for the bikes to show up, while half the people got bussed to another rest stop. Three of us who managed to get our bikes started the route. At the start, we accidentally went 6 miles out of our way, but figured out how to get back en route. We really enjoyed the first 17 miles, but then the SAG team picked us up to drive us to Montauk, because there wasn't enough time for us to get to the finish line by 6 p.m. (since so much time had been lost between train and bike fiascos). At that point, two of us bailed, seeing there was no point in being driven to Montauk just to return to Manhattan (and likely miss all the food and lose our bikes again), and took the Hampton Jitney home. I rode home from 86th St and 3rd Ave to Broadway and 207th, so at least I got another 7 miles in.

Thankfully, the organizer is doing the right thing and offering everyone both a refund and free ride next year.

My breaking of the 60-mile limit will have to wait for another time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Riding to Montauk Saturday!

In a moment of weakness yesterday, I let my buddies on convince me to sign up for the Ride to Montauk. It's a group ride with 145, 100, 66, and 30 mile routes all ending in scenic Montauk, Long Island. The 66-mile route will be my longest ride yet attempted, so wish me luck!

A-train yet again passed over

According to today's New York Times, the MTA will provide additional service on 9 subway lines to ease crowding starting in July. The affected lines are the 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, B, J, M, N, Q, W and the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal.

The Times states that "the changes include having the B and W trains run until 11 p.m. on weekdays, an hour and a half later than they currently run. And the No. 3 train, which currently shuts down from midnight to 5 a.m., would run during those hours between Times Square and 148th Street. "

Alas, the A-train continues to suffer from limited express service ending daily at 10:30 p.m. and on-going construction late nights and weekends that seriously inconveniences all individuals traveling north of 168th St.

Transit riders slapped in the face

(Image source: Machetera)

Well, I'm having my fifteen minutes of fame on the Streetsblog home page as the featured "Word on the street." Those words are: "All transit riders here have been collectively slapped in the face."

No, there hasn't been an outbreak of hand-to-face violence on New York City subway cars. Rather, our dysfunctional and corrupt state legislature has once again denied home rule to NYC on a local matter of vital importance: enforcement of car-free bus lanes.

Buses in NYC, beyond fighting traffic congestion like other automobiles, are slowed down even further by frequent stops and slow boarding: passengers can only enter through the front door and must pay for their ride on board. Starting in July, the city will begin an experiment with Bus Rapid Transit (on the Bx12 route), a system that attempts to provide the efficiences of a subway system above ground. Passengers pay at the stop before boarding and may enter and exit at all doors. Buses have dedicated lanes and priority rights-of-way at traffic signals.

A key way of ensuring cars and other vehicles don't use the bus lanes is through bus-mounted cameras that photograph the license plates of any vehicles improperly using the lane. Unfortunately, using these cameras requires approval of the NYS legislature, which on Tuesday killed the legislation in committee by a 14-11 vote, due to the opposition of state transportation committee chair David Gantt (Assembly, D-Rochester). Gantt's opposition was supposedly on civil liberties grounds, although he approved red-light camera enforcement in other counties in order to benefit a specific vendor. Gantt is a sadly typical example of the graft and corruption rampant in the NYS legislature. Here are my various comments about it on Streetsblog:

at 1:14 p.m.
I'm outraged.

Once again another livable streets initative for New York City has been stymied because of our corrupt and dysfunctional state legislature in Albany. I feel all transit riders here have been collectively slapped in the face.

New York City has been deprived of home rule on so many fronts, ranging from rent regulation to congestion pricing to bus lane enforcement. It's time for us to secede.

at 2:50 p.m.
Gantt is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt. Here's an another very recent example of his cronyism:

Bill moving driver-safety courses to Net draws fire

"A bill by Rochester Assemblyman David Gantt to move all driver-safety courses to the Internet is drawing fire from groups that run the courses, fearing that the move would increase the cost of the classes and could benefit a lobbyist close to Gantt.

"...the narrow language in the bill could...favor giving the Web-development contract to an Albany-area company, CMA Consulting Services Inc., whose lobbyist, Robert Scott Gaddy, is a former Gantt aide.

"The allegations are the second time in recent days that Gantt's close relationship with Gaddy has come under fire. Just last week, industry officials who want to install red-light cameras at intersections in Upstate New York complained that Gantt's bill on the issue is so narrowly worded that only CMA could get the work."

at 3:10 p.m.
Thank you, Mr. Gantt, for protecting my civil liberties! Oh, wait, you voted *against* legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State last year.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Inwood Livable Streets group forming

Streetsblog is sporting a whole new look, and as part of it, they've made it easier than ever to form online working groups for various livable streets initiatives.

If you're interested in helping make Inwood a more pleasant place to live in and visit for pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit riders, please join the new Inwood Livable Streets group!

Some of the issues we'll be looking at are:

  • Adding to the riverfront Greenway in Inwood
  • Creating a protected cycle lane on Dyckman to link the Hudson and Harlem River Greenways
  • Providing bicycle access to select areas in Inwood Hill Park that do not receive heavy pedestrian traffic and would benefit from "eyes on the street"
  • Creating a protected cycle lane along Fordham Road to link Inwood with Pelham Bay Park
  • Other initiatives to improve our streets: more pedestrian-centric designs, traffic calming, tree planting, green spaces
Feel free to propose your own ideas for neighborhood improvement.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

House overwhelmingly passes Amtrak bill

There's a happy ending to my earlier blog post about the Amtrak funding bill: it passed the House Wednesday by a veto-proof margin of 311-104. The bill authorizes funding for the national passenger railroad over the next five years. Some of the money would go to a program of matching grants to help states set up or expand rail service.

The White House has threatened a veto, saying the bill doesn't hold Amtrak accountable for its spending. But similar legislation has passed the Senate, also with enough support to override a veto.

More details at the New York Times.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A few pet peeves

Here's my equal-opportunity list of pet peeves:

  • Not looking before crossing the street
  • Walking and congregating in bike lanes (treating bike lanes as an extension of the sidewalk); the Prince St. bike lane is particularly bad in this respect as is the Hudson River Greenway, where runners and walkers persist in using bicycle/skater-only lanes in stretches where there is a beautiful adjacent pedestrian path
  • Crossing the street while plugged into an iPod or yacking on a cell phone and not paying attention to other pedestrians and street traffic
Mass transit riders:
  • Standing and/or sitting at the top or bottom of subway station stairs, thus impeding taffic flow
  • Playing music (or games) on a portable device without headphones or playing the music with headphones so loudly that it still can be heard by other passengers
  • Preventing the subway doors from closing
  • Littering in the station and in cars
  • Hustling other passengers for money


  • Riding the wrong way up a one-way street, particularly in a narrow bike lane: this is a recipe for collision with a cyclist going in the correct direction
  • Blowing through red lights without checking the intersection first
  • Not being mindful of pedestrians


  • Driving, standing, stopping, or parking in a bike lane (a sadly rather frequent occurrence in New York). It forces cyclists to dart out into faster-moving traffic and makes conditions more chaotic and dangerous for everyone.
  • Not checking for cyclists before opening a car door (the biggest danger to cyclists in an urban environment)
  • Not checking for cyclists before executing a turn
  • Excessive speeding on city streets
  • Displaying general obliviousness to cyclists and pedestrians while driving

What are your pet peeves?

Latest cycling adventures

The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, SC

I keep meaning to get on and blog about what I've been up to cycling-wise, so here's a recent round-up:

1. CHARLESTON NIGHT RIDES: Memorial Day weekend I went to Charleston, SC to catch a few concerts at Piccolo Spoleto (where a family member was performing). After briefly considering bringing my beloved but bulky folding bike (and dreading the thought of schlepping it through the airport), I realized the simple solution would be to rent a bicycle once I got there. The Bicycle Shoppe at 280 Meeting Street outfitted me with a good-quality 8-speed city bicycle, helmet, and lock for four days (all for the low cost of $42). The heat, even for late May, verged on oppressive, but I enjoyed many nighttime rides, particularly around the historic district, down King Street (where there are some Art Deco gems), and across the Ravenel Bridge. I can't say enough good things about night rides: traffic is light, air is cool, and one sees another, often romantic, side of cities. Charleston is amazingly intact and--dare I say it?--almost European in feel.

2. MANHATTAN CRITICAL MASS RIDE: Ever since I started cycling a couple of months ago, I've been wanting to participate in the famed Critical Mass ride. Friday, May 30 was my opportunity. The Reverend Al Sharpton was there to make common cause, linking the NYPD shooting of Sean Bell to NYPD harassment of cyclists participating in Critical Mass. I was determined not to get a ticket and as I was riding from Union Square, I already saw cyclists being ticketed at 13th St. and 7th Ave. (While I was watching this, I noticed bicycle delivery guys riding the wrong way up 7th Ave who were, of course, being completely left alone by police.) So I held back a bit to let the police clear and consequently lost the ride. I rode south a bit, then tacked back up to Union Square, where I joined up with a few Massers to ride to Times Square. As we gathered on a pedestrian island, a police car pulled behind us to insist we vacate the space. I rode down to Union Square in another small bunch, at which point we separated. Sadly, this ride really soured my view of the NYPD. It was frustrating to watch my tax dollars being used to selectively harass cyclists and stifle political protest. I felt like a hunted animal on my bicycle.

3. EAST COAST GREENWAY RIDE: Here's a charming sequel to my Charleston adventure. When I was biking across the bridge, I noticed a sign for the East Coast Greenway. My curiosity piqued, I Googled the organization once I got back to New York. Their goal is "to connect cities and towns of the East Coast with a continuous, traffic-free path...from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida. " (The Hudson River Greenway, along which I ride to work, is part of this larger network.)

To raise awareness for ECG in Westchester, the organization held a ride on Sunday, June 1 from Bronxville to Battery Park. The ride traveled along the proposed Westchester Greenway route, then connected with existing greenways in the Bronx, crossed over Inwood's Broadway bridge, and continued down the Hudson River Greenway to Battery Park. I was particularly delighted to ride through Westchester and the Bronx, as this was new territory. At the end of the ride, I became a member of ECG. Later, I bicycled with a couple of friends from the ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to admire the Telectroscope, then back to Manhattan and up the Greenway to Inwood, Sweet Inwood.

4. CENTRAL PARK MOONLIGHT RIDE: On Friday, I gathered with about 40 cyclists at Columbus Circle at 10 p.m. to enjoy a scenic moonlight ride through Central Park organized by Times Up!. It was a perfect temperature for cycling. The ride led us over several pedestrian paths (normally closed to cyclists) and stopped several times for scenic vistas. I chatted with several riders and was delighted to spot several folding bicycles.

5. TOUR DE QUEENS: Yesterday, I rode in the first-ever Tour de Queens organized by the Queens Committee of Transportation Alternatives. As I had missed pre-registration, I made sure to arrive by 8 a.m. to sign up. The trip from Inwood to Flushing took about 100 minutes by combining the A, D, and E trains and a bike ride from Forest Hills. The day was a scorcher, even at 8 a.m., so I gratefully took refuge after registration in the air-conditioned Queens Museum of Art, where I slathered myself in sunscreen, purchased a vegetarian empanada to enjoy later on the ride, and admired the three-dimensional panorama of New York City that had been marked out with the bicycle route. After some speechifying at 9 a.m., our group of 500 riders kicked off for a tour that covered both ugly, industrial stretches and very charming communities like Middle Village and Forest Hills. Providentially, I had been handed some lightweight reusable towels that I moistened and covered my forehead and neck with to prevent overheating and sunburn (as well as continued applications of sunblock to my hands and nose). Along the way, generous Queens residents would hose us down. At the finish, I gratefully entombed myself once again in the museum to clean up, cool down, eat some sushi, and watch a Streetfilms mini-festival. Crazily enough, I rode home to Inwood, but thankfully the route was down tree-lined streets and mostly pleasant.

5. NEW BICYCLE: I decided to buy a Downtube Mini on Friday, after several frustrating experiences folding and carrying my bike through my office and the subway system. I love the ride my current Downtube provides, but I want to try a more compact folder to see if that makes a significant difference in portability and ease of use. What does mean that two months into cycling, I'm already buying another bicycle? (I'm trying to avoid becoming one of those people with multiple bicycles--I just don't have the space!)

Friday, May 30, 2008

A bicycle corridor linking Inwood and the Bronx

Here's my wishful thinking to kick off the weekend: a safe bicycle corridor linking Inwood and the Bronx along 207th St and Fordham Rd.

Although the Fordham Rd Metro-North Station is less than 2 miles from the A train stop at 207th St, much of the route is a cyclist's nightmare: the traffic on Fordham Road is heavy, particularly east of the Grand Concourse and the work-arounds (due to one-ways, varying elevations, and the irregular grid) require cyclists to go far out of their way.

Mass transit riders have it a little easier: the entire route is served by the Bx12 bus line. Nevertheless, as I discovered in April, the congestion along Fordham Road is such that the 2 mile trip can take far longer than expected. Perhaps when Select Bus Service (New York's version of Bus Rapid Transit) debuts on this line starting June 29 we'll see some improvements for riders.

So let's imagine for a moment that Fordham Road was given a livable streets makeover to share road space more equitably between cars, public buses, and cyclists. How about a 9th Avenue-style protected bike lane or some kind of bike boulevard? The transit connections along this route (A, 1, 4, B, D, Metro-North Hudson and Harlem lines) would really provide intermodal synergy and could ultimately serve to link the Hudson and Harlem River Greenways to the bicycle path along the Bronx and Pelham Parkway. Imagine being able to hop on your bicycle on Broadway and arrive at the Fordham Road Station in the Bronx 15 minutes and an easy ride later. Or, say, enjoying a 30 minute bicycle ride from Inwood Hill Park to Pelham Bay Park? Or even riding from Pelham Bay Park to the Upper West Side?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New York set to recognize out-of-state gay marriages

In another victory for marriage equality, New York State Governor David Patterson has issued a directive to state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other localities (such as Massachusetts, Canada, and Spain). The New York Times has more details. This is a huge and important step towards equal marriage in New York State.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Today's letter to Inwood's U.S. Representative

(Image: Wikipedia)

Just it time for Memorial Day weekend, Streetsblog is urging its readers to write their state representatives to support Amtrak and passenger rail. Jerrold Nadler is the only member the New York City delegation to sign on as a co-sponsor so far. It needs 218 co-sponsors to get floor time in the House, but only 41 are on board.

Here's what I wrote:

To the Honorable Charles Rangel:

I am writing to urge your support for two items:

(1) Full funding for Amtrak. Unfortunately, President Bush has only requested $800 million for Amtrak in his Fiscal 2009 budget. Please work to reject this 40% cut and fully fund Amtrak.

(2) the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, H.R. 6003. The bill provides real, meaningful reform for Amtrak and a federal-state partnership for capital investments, which is enjoyed by the other modes of transportation.

Amtrak is important to me, and, I believe, to many of your constituents in Inwood. As you know, for most residents of Manhattan, it is not practical for us to own automobiles. Our streets as it is are highly congested and our air is heavily polluted. Oil prices are escalating daily. Thankfully, we New Yorkers are gifted with a 24-hour mass transit system that satisfies most of our transit needs within the city. However, we also need mass transit solutions for traveling outside the city, of which our national rail system, Amtrak, is a key component.

I am a frequent rider of Amtrak. I live in Inwood and travel to Albany for business and to spend time with my family. If we had a stronger rail infrastructure (such as true high-speed rail as exists in Europe and Japan), I would rarely need to fly domestically. Passenger rail is one of the most pleasant and environmentally low-impact means of long-distance travel and should be a national priority. Our dependence on foreign oil has locked us in costly wars and is degrading our environment and standard of living. America needs passenger rail now more than ever.

Thank you for considering my views.

Today's letter to the Department of Parks & Recreation

Spurred into action by receiving a medical bill for my visit to the ER back in March, I sent the following letter today to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The e-mail form limited me to 150 words or less, so I had to be informative but succinct.

I would like to call your attention to a hazardous situation for cyclists on the Hudson River Greenway around 181st St (the Grecian Temple). To the right of the temple heading north, the pathway divides into a ledge/shoulder for the highway on the right and the Greenway path on the left. At night, lighting conditions are not sufficient to see this separation, and a cyclist’s tendency is to stay to the right of the road. On the evening of March 5, 2008, I rode onto and over this ledge (believing it was the path) and ended up in the hospital with a sprained wrist and chin sutures. Having inspected the site during the day, I realize my accident could have been far worse.

Please install a barrier to prevent cyclists from riding onto this ledge (the current pylon is not sufficient). You will save lives.

I would appreciate a response.

I have ambitions at some point to bring my camera and take a few pictures of the site in question.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A vision for transportation reform

As part of a longer comment today about congestion pricing on Streetsblog, George Haikalis of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility proposes the following bold vision for transportation reform:

I think it is time to calm down, get over the blame game and devise a winning strategy for transportation reform that includes disincentives for driving to the core, including very substantial levels of cordon pricing, closing key single-occupant arteries to the core like the Central Park loop roadways and converting the entire upper deck of the Queensboro Bridge to bike and pedestrian use, eliminating fares entirely on subways, buses and commuter rail lines and creating a grid of pedestrian streets with surface rail transit, using vision42 as a prototype.

Mm, wait. A car-free Central Park, unfettered bike and pedestrian access to the Queensboro bridge, free public transportation, and pedestrianized streets? This sounds like a New York we would all enjoy living in.

Today's response from the MTA

Response (Melissa Glasgow) - 05/21/2008 09:50 AM

This is in response to your recent e-mail message to MTA New York City Transit offering service suggestions for the A line.

We greatly appreciate your interest in improving mass transit, and thank you for your suggestions. Please note that your e-mail have been referred to supervision in our Department of Subways for review and consideration. The feasibility of your suggestions will be carefully studied and evaluated in the context of our system wide service requirements.

If you have any further transit-related questions, concerns or suggestions, please contact Customer Services at (718) 330-3322, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or write to Customer Services at 2 Broadway, Room A11.146, New York, NY 10004.

We thank you for your interest in our transportation system.

Pedro M. Mojica
Associate Transit Customer Service Specialist

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's letter to the MTA

Since I've already blogged about extending express service on the A line, why not take it up with the MTA? Here's what I emailed them via their Web site:

As a daily user of the 207th St station in Manhattan on the A line, I write to ask for extended express service on my line and to reduce the number of stops during express service.

I make this request because I commute almost daily from Inwood to midtown and downtown Manhattan for business and entertainment. Currently, express service on the A stops shortly after 10:30 p.m. It can be challenging to make it to the station in time if I'm working late or attending an evening event (such as the theater) and I frequently miss the last express train. Given the number of local stops between the Central Business District (or even Brooklyn) and Inwood, this considerably lengthens my commute time home.
The problem is at its worst when the late night local train inexplicably travels at a very slow pace between stations or stops completely for several minutes. This can almost double the time of my commute. I have heard other riders here in Inwood voice similar complaints.

I would propose the following changes to A express service:

1. Lengthen the hours of operation for express service--at the very least, run the A express until midnight Sunday through Thursday and 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Even better, run it express 24 hours per day, like the D train. This will require, of course, keeping the C train in operation during extended hours.

2. Eliminate unnecessary stops that are already covered by local service and do not provide significant transit interconnections: 145 St, Canal St, Chambers St.

3. Ultimately, as transit funds come available to make line improvements, build local tracks up to 207th St, then cover all stops between 207 and 168 streets with the C. In other words, the first four stops on the A express would be: 207th St, 168th St, 125th St, 59th St.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I would appreciate a response to my request.

Stay tuned for their response.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Inwoodist goes somewhere to eat

What an extraordinary weekend this has been: first on Thursday, California rules that gay people can marry, then on Saturday, I have a fabulous dinner with complete strangers only a ten-minute walk from my apartment.

For those not in the know, to have a fabulous dining experience in New York usually requires an Inwood resident to hop on a train to Midtown, Downtown, Brooklyn, or Queens (Astoria). Since subways are almost always under construction on weekends, this pretty much guarantees a trip of one hour or more each way, which gets old quickly.

Now to the rescue comes Somewhere to Eat. STE is the delectable brainchild of an Inwood-based chef, who prepares private dinners in his apartment for groups of eight. The meals are completely artisanal, use seasonal and locally grown ingredients wherever possible, and are organized around different culinary themes. Since I don't eat meat, I signed up to attend a vegetarian event.

On Saturday evening, I left my apartment at 7:25 and arrived at 7:35, already utterly delighted to have such a short walk to my destination. The guests included a local gay couple and four Brooklynites who were friends of our hosts (two were married, the third was from Spain, and the fourth had married our hosts via the Universal Life Church). All of us, I suspect, were in our thirties, and most of us were vegetarian (at least to some degree). The menu included the following six courses:

Chapeau rolls (with a garlic and apple spread)
Yellow pea crepe with giant lima beans, red pepper relish
Carrot orange soup (the citrus accent was delightful)
Mixed grains (amaranth, wheat berries, millet) with spicy micro greens, pickled ramps, charred green garlic vinaigrette
Artichoke and goat cheese ravioli in broth with fiddleheads, oyster mushrooms
Cheese plate: Old Chatham Ewe's Blue, Mimolette aged 24 months, Jacquin St. Marie Ash, Italian Taleggio
Lemon rhubarb tart (with hand-whisked whipped cream), Barbadillo San Rafael Oloroso Dulce (a Sherry), and home-roasted coffee (a remarkably delicious, smooth coffee--and I never drink coffee).

The pacing and portions were perfect: enough to savor and satisfy without stuffing. The suggested donation of $50 "officially" included 2-3 glasses of wine (although no one was counting, and it was plenty). The conversation was scintillating; I made some new friends in the neighborhood; and I left around midnight in a state of total gastronomic satisfaction. The best part? I was home at 12:10.

Victory in California: Massachusetts no longer an exception

In a major victory for equal marriage, the Supreme Court of California ruled Thursday, May 16 that same-sex couples in California have a constitutional right to marry.

I find this ruling remarkable for four reasons:
  1. It takes effect 30 days from the date of ruling. In the 2004 Goodridge decision, the Massachusetts state legislature was given 6 months to comply, which gave Mitt Romney and his minions plenty of time to attempt to derail it. Although there's already talk of voter initiatives to amend the California Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, once gay couples begin receiving licenses, I think it will be much more difficult to pass said initiatives. Voters have an easier time denying a theoretical right to gay people than actually taking away their nice gay neighbors' marriage license. In Massachusetts, it was clear that once gay people started getting married and Western Civilization didn't collapse, opposition to gay marriage dwindled to a few die-hards.
  2. California does not have a residency requirement for marriage, nor a statute like Massachusetts that forbids marrying out-of-state couples whose marriages would be considered null and void in their home state. This means that gay couples all over the nation could openly come to California and get married.
  3. Massachusetts is no longer exceptional. Therefore, equal marriage now has a stronger case. Since 2006, several states (New York, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut) have continued to deny access to marriage to same-sex couples, preferring to institute civil unions instead.
  4. The California court set a national judicial precedent in declaring sexual orientation a suspect class demanding strict scrutiny in claims of equal protection violations. This heightened level of scrutiny makes it much more likely for discriminatory laws to be struck down as a result of judicial review (because the state must demonstrate both a compelling interest is at stake and that the law is necessary--and narrowly tailored--to support that interest). Until now, sexual orientation discrimination claims have been subjected to a rational basis review, whereby a discriminatory law is upheld as long as the state can demonstrate a rational basis exists for it.
If only the New York State Court of Appeals had been this enlightened two years ago (although Judge Judith Kaye did her best).

Folding bicycles granted equal access to MTA

Reblogged from Streetsblog: The MTA in recognition of New York City Bike Month has launched the MTA + Bike site to promote cycling in combination with mass transit use. Good news is in store particularly for folding bike riders:

Folding bikes, appropriately folded, are considered luggage and not subject to rules governing standard frame bicycles. Therefore, folding bicycles can be brought on board local buses as if they were a backpack or suitcase. They can also be brought aboard LIRR and Metro-North trains at any time without a permit and are best stored in the overhead luggage racks. Conventional bikes are not allowed on board buses operated by New York City Transit, the MTA Bus Company or Long Island Bus.

A caveat: folding bikes are still not allowed on express buses. Why don't all buses have bike racks?

Now, if only the City Council would pass legislation requiring commercial buildings to provide secure bike parking...

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Inwoodist does the 5 Boro Bike Tour

What can I say? It was an amazing ride and the first time I've ever set foot on Staten Island. Thanks to Fast and Fabulous, New York's lesbian and gay cycling club, I got to ride with a fabulous rainbow flag fluttering from my helmet. I kicked off from 24th and 6th Ave around 8:30 a.m. and arrived in Staten Island around 1:30 p.m. Highlights included the stretch through Central Park and all the bridge views. Afterwards, I rode around a bit, had dinner with friends in midtown, and rode home on the Greenway. Total miles: 58.

I feel like I've just graduated from cycling middle school.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don't take the A-train

Re-blogged from Inwoodite: Inwoodists, take note that according to the MTA, weekend suspensions of the A-train from W. 168th Street to W. 207th Street will continue periodically until 2009. If you're in a hurry, you're probably better off taking the 1. Sigh.

The beginning of the end for Silver?

(Left to right: Sheldon Silver, Paul Newell, Luke Henry)

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (representing the LES, Chinatown, Nolita, Financial District, and Battery Park City) is one of Albany's notorious "three men in a room" controlling a corrupt and undemocratic state government. Thanks to Silver, congestion pricing was never allowed to the floor for a vote, thus protecting Assembly Dems from having to go on public record as being pro- or anti-pricing. He has not been challenged in a Democratic primary since 1986.

Enter challengers Paul Newell and Luke Henry. Newell and Henry are aiming to unseat Silver this fall and offer a progressive's dream agenda: clean money, clean elections; stronger rent regulation (including repeal of the Urstadt law that denies New York City home rule in determining rent regulation); an end to partisan redistricting; marriage equality for GLBT New Yorkers; and congestion pricing and other livable streets initiatives.

I would be thrilled if either man managed to unseat Silver, but if I could vote in this election (which I can't because I don't live in the 64th Assembly District), I would probably throw my support behind Newell, who seems to have greater political experience and be stronger on livable streets issues. I also think he may have a more intuitive grasp of GLBT issues than Henry (for example, transgender inclusion), although honestly I couldn't identify any real difference in their published positions. Nevertheless, Newell's profile in the NY Sun mentions that he eschews driving in favor of riding around the city on his red mountain bike, so what's not to like?

Riding this Sunday!

News flash: I managed to score a ticket to the Commerce Bank 5 Boro Bike Tour on Sunday! It's time to get my bike ready for the event (water bottle cage, spare tube, etc.).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Want to ride your bicycle to work? Tough luck!

Here's a depressing example of a prominent Manhattan building whose management is anti-bicycle to the point of summarily rejecting any changes--even low-cost and free ones--that might accommodate cyclists. All names have been changed.

From: Urbanis
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008 11:39 AM
To: John Q. Public
Subject: Bicycle parking

Dear John:

My name is Urbanis and I work at the XXXX Building. As part of your plans to “green up” the management of the XXXX Building, I would like to request a few easily implemented changes that would better support the building’s workers and visitors who commute by bicycle.

Commuting by bicycle benefits everyone—improved air quality and less congested roads, healthier and more productive workers, lower public health costs, and decreased national dependence on non-renewable fossil fuel for transport. Unfortunately, people who would want to come to the XXXX Building by bicycle are currently deterred from doing so by the lack of options for secure bicycle parking. Indeed, there are signs forbidding locking one’s bicycle to the outside fence and bringing one’s bicycle into the building, and there are no bike racks out front. To put this in perspective, a study conducted by the Department of City Planning found that lack of access to secure bike parking was the primary reason cyclists did not ride to work (

I would like to suggest the following changes—all of which are low or no-cost—to better support bicycle commuting to the XXXX Building:

  1. Provide outdoor bike racks, appropriate for visitors on short errands, messengers, and delivery people. A very low cost way to do so is to request NYC Department of Transportation to install bike racks in front of the building through their CITYRACKS program. DOT pays all the costs of materials and installation. Further information and an online request form are located here: As an alternative, permit people to chain their bikes to the fence, preferably on the inside of the fence (as I understand was the practice in past years) to provide an additional level of security and help keep the sidewalk clear for pedestrians.
  2. Provide a secure indoor bicycle parking facility for employees and long-term visitors, which can be a small room that is not currently used. If that is not feasible, as an alternative, permit those employees whose companies can provide storage space to bring their bicycles into the building. At a minimum, permit employees to bring folding bicycles into the building. Folding bicycles, as their name suggests, can be folded into small package, carried, and stored at an employee’s desk. Please note that bicycle wheels are no more “dirty” than street shoes, so permitting bicycles in the building would not likely add additional burdens to regular maintenance and cleaning.
I would be delighted to assist the building management in investigating solutions that both support bicycle commuting and help keep the XXXX Building a safe, clean, and pleasant environment to visit and work in.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



From: John Q. Public
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008 12:34 PM
To: Urbanis
Subject: RE: Bicycle parking

Thank you for your thoughts. However the exterior of this building is considered landmark'd and absolutely NO changes are permitted without the express written approval of the NYC Landmarks Commission from paint to mortar. The owners of the building do not like to have a clutter of bicycles in front of the building as it detracts from the aesthetics and should any pedestrian slip or trip on someone's bicycle there are liability issues involved.

Your idea regarding folding bicycles is intriguing - but enforcing a folding bicycles policy only in the building might be viewed as discriminatory and could lead to legal issues.

You raise many good points although unfortunately at this time I am unable to implement any of your proposed solutions.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly round-up

I'm off to a folk dance festival in Mansfield, MA this weekend where I plan to do lots of contra English Country dance. This week, I logged over 75 miles on my bike (which I'm coming to think of as my witch's broom): 3 round trips from Inwood to Soho, 1 memorial ride in midtown/downtown, and 1 loop around Central Park. I can feel it in my legs, but I can also feel my legs getter stronger. :-)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My current bike agenda

(Image: Ilene Black)

Here's an update on my first month of bicycle commuting and your chance to weigh in on some of the Inwoodist's burning bicycle questions!
  1. Yesterday I managed to bicycle round trip Inwood to Soho (25 miles) and go on a memorial ride. Amazingly, I didn't feel flattened at the end of it and I managed for the first time to climb the rather steep and intimidating hill on the Greenway near the George Washington Bridge without dismounting and walking my bicycle.

  2. Although I have a folding bike that I can stash in my office during the day, I'm already yearning to use my bicycle for other trips where I would have to lock my bicycle on the street (for example, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Does anyone have recommendations for locks and locking techniques? So far I've dug up this page of bike locking suggestions. I would love not to have to ride around with one of those heavy chains around my chest or waist.

  3. Spandex shorts--are they worth the investment? I had a bit of sticker shock when I was browsing the rack at Bicycle Habitat.

  4. Schlepping cargo: I have a standard rear bike rack. If I wanted to buy some veggies at the farmer's market or some books at the Strand, what's a good way to transport them? A messenger bag? Some kind of bag strapped to the rack? A front pannier?

  5. I'm still trying to score a 5 Boro Bike Tour ticket (I can dream, can't I?), so if you happen to have one you need to get rid of, contact me.

Adventures in cycling, part IV: Birth of a bicycle activist?

(Image: Razor Apple blog)

Having read about it on Streetsblog yesterday afternoon, I joined about 25 other cyclists last night for a ride to commemorate the untimely deaths of Alvaro Olson and Jian-Lan Zhang. We cycled from Union Square up to 36th and Broadway and then down to Hester and Allen to visit their ghost bike memorials. It was poignant to think about the lives of these two men, both in their mid-fifties, who were killed on the same day by delivery trucks, and it was a sobering reminder how dangerous our streets remain for cyclists. Some of the riders wove flowers into the ghost bikes and we all observed a moment of silence and ceremonial bicycle lift in their memory.

The ride was also for me a visible demonstration of the "safety-in-numbers" principle. I have never felt as safe riding on New York streets as I did last night surrounded by so many cyclists. All in all, it was a beautiful coming together of community.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Light rail now!


The following comment was posted yesterday in response to the NY Times City Room blog item about congestion pricing's downfall. While I disagree with Mr. Spitz's characterization of congestion pricing as "economically harmful," I found his comment particularly visionary in promoting light rail as a greener mass transit strategy:

In promoting Congestion Pricing as a panacea, Mayor Bloomberg continues the irrational policies of his PlaNYC and the MTA by omitting non polluting street level boarding light rail as a remedy for improving the environment and lessening vehicle gridlock. Light rail, the solution successfully adopted by forward-looking cities including Charlotte, Baltimore, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Portland, Oregon, has proven to be the 21st century answer for reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.

The Mayor and the MTA are promoting two excessively costly Manhattan mega-projects which threaten to absorb not only all available transit funding and but which may require further subway, bus and toll bridge increases. Moreover, the $4.65 billion, 1.7 mile three station first phase Second Avenue Subway is not expected to be completed until 2015 and construction of the $2.1 billion one station 42nd street number 7 line extension has not yet begun.

Substituting street level boarding (excellent for senior citizens and the disabled) light rail on 1st, 2nd and 3rd Avenues for the Second Avenue Subway and the uncomfortable polluting articulated buses now used on those thoroughfares would cost less than $500 million and the MTA could easily construct river to river light rail on 42nd street for less than $300 million. Studies have shown that European and North American motorists are willing to abandon their cars when provided with state of art light rail as an alternative for their daily commute. There is enough money already committed by Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC and the MTA to the aforementioned Megaprojects to make major improvements such as light rail and bus rapid-transit plus improved subway signaling equipment throughout the five Boroughs without the economically harmful Congestion Pricing scheme.

— Posted by George N. Spitz

In my experiences riding light rail, I have found it to be the most pleasant means of urban mass transit as I didn't have to manage subway station entrances and exits (problematic if one is disabled or encumbered) and I got to enjoy charming street-level views of the city (rather than being banished underground).

For an example of light rail being applied to New York, check out vision42's fabulous proposal to make 42 Street a car-free pedestrian and light-rail corridor.

In the wake of CP's failure

Now that Congestion Pricing has been voted down, let's look at some other projects for improving Manhattan's streets that don't require Albany's approval. Featured today in Streetsblog, here's an interesting article from Outside Magazine about greening New York's streets.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Staten Island Ferry anti-bicycle league, or, adventures in cycling, part III (corrected)

CORRECTION: Oops! It turns out the Staten Island Ferry does let cyclists on board from a ground-level outside entrance reserved for cyclists. Egg on my face, but I'm glad to know that I was mistaken.

I had a breathtaking sunset ride yesterday down the Greenway from Inwood to Battery Park. Upon reaching the Battery, my friend and I entered the Staten Island Ferry station to freshen up and hop on the 1. Imagine my surprise upon being apprehended by security and being told that we could not bring our bikes upstairs (where the restrooms are) because they might be injurious to other patrons (who might, for example, snag their clothing on them). I was flabbergasted--do they make the same statement to individuals with strollers or in wheelchairs? Does the Staten Island Ferry truly not allow bicycle commuters (despite allowing bicycles on the ferry for the 5 Boro Bike Tour)? What kind of green transportation policy is this? Bicycle commuting is not a real option for most New Yorkers unless (a) bicycles can be stored in a safe place when not being ridden (for example, the office) and (b) cycling can be combined with other modes of mass transit (such as trains, subways, and buses).

Conclusion: Fold up the bicycle and stash it in the camo bag before entering unknown buildings. It's a jungle out there.

Have you had similar bicycle-hostile experiences in New York? Report them here.

Friday, April 4, 2008


When I started this blog, I didn't (and still don't) intend it to focus exclusively on mass transit issues, but with congestion pricing on the verge of passing (or failing) and my taking up cycling, it's a theme very much at the forefront of my mind. Here are some other random thoughts on the subject:

  1. I started driving reluctantly in my mid-twenties, while I was living upstate, starting graduate school, and realized that mass transit connections between home and campus were so poor that driving was the only practical way to go. Two years before moving here, I gave up vehicle ownership and entered a shared car arrangement with a family member. When I moved here, I gave up all car use, except when I'm upstate.

  2. Yes, I get frustrated when the trains are (pick one or more): delayed, re-routed, running weird schedules, moving slowly, stopping inexplicably, and a 45-minute door-to-door trip ends up taking 90 minutes. Not to mention when they're packed to the gills; you're being harangued by the same street preacher day after day; your neighbor, despite wearing earphones, is playing music at such a volume that you can hear it clearly, or (worse) is playing music through a cellphone with NO earphones. It happens all too often. But I'm grateful not to risk my life in car everyday, be free of the stress of traffic, have 90 minutes of daily reading to enjoy, AND save on all the costs of car ownership (average $7359.96 per year according to this site).

  3. Subway trains have a dedicated track, so can't they run faster than the current system average of 18 mph? Faster train service would provide a great incentive to get more drivers off the road (if I can get to where I need to go faster, cheaper, and safer than driving, then mass transit becomes a very attractive option).

  4. Regional rail: besides having faster trains, a well-designed regional rail system across the five boros--one that does not assume that every mass transit rider's main concern is to get to the hub of midtown/downtown Manhattan--would be a boon to the entire city's economy. For example, to travel from Inwood to Williamsburg is about an hour. To Brighton Beach: 90 minutes. Greenpoint? I shudder to think. A rapid regional rail system that, say, had 2-3 stops in each boro, with the stops connecting to local transit, could make a trip from Brighton Beach to Wave Hill far more feasible and could encourage, say, folks from Brooklyn to hang out in the Bronx, etc. The Parisian RER might provide a model.

  5. Speaking of connections, how is the MTA getting around compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act? (Here's what they claim.) So many stations (and station entrances) are without elevators and have features (such as full-body turnstiles) that make it difficult to access if you're in a wheelchair, have crutches, or are simply encumbered (with a stroller, bicycle, packages, etc.). The most awful example I regularly encounter is the IND stop at 34th St - Penn Station. Now, here's a stop where it's guaranteed there will always be numerous individuals (if not the majority) encumbered with suitcases and other items, and yet there is no elevator (or even escalator) that permits a smooth transition from the subway platform to the station. Nope, it's stair city.

  6. Add more lights to the Greenway, particularly north of the George Washington Bridge, damn it! It's almost impossible to see the path at night, especially with traffic driving in the opposite direction, and yours truly has already spent a night in the emergency room and had several doctor's visits as a result.

Who you gonna call?

Inwoodists, here's who you need to call to voice your support for congestion pricing:

Senator Eric Schneiderman: (212) 928-5578
Assemblymember Herman D. Farrell: (212) 234-1430

When I spoke with aides at both offices, Schneiderman appears to support congestion pricing. The aide at Farrell's office did not state his position (and I foolishly didn't ask), but from various news reports he appears to be against it. Please inform the aide when you call that congestion pricing would greatly benefit the vast majority of his constituency, since just 3.4 percent commute alone by car to Lower Manhattan.

Remember, CP needs to be approved the state legislature by Monday in order for New York to receive $350 million in badly needed federal funds to launch it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Call your state legislators now!

The New York City Council passed congestion pricing by a vote of 30-20 on Monday. To make it a reality, the state legislature needs to approve it *by Monday* to secure $350 million in federal funding to get the program started. Passing congestion pricing would help provide traffic relief and needed mass transit upgrades.

If you are in support of congestion pricing, please call your state senator and assemblymember as soon as possible to request their support. If you don't know who they are, you can identify them here. It's simple and fast (I just did it).

Victory! or, adventures in cycling, part II

I completed my first official bicycle commute to work this morning, arriving at my building in one piece and having enjoyed the ride from Inwood to Soho. Total door-to-door time (including unfolding the bike, riding, re-folding, and stashing in camo bag) was 2 hours, total distance 12.5 miles.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

City Council approves congestion pricing 30-20

Read the reportage in the New York Times. Miguel Martinez, Inwood's representative on the New York City Council, voted in favor, so make sure and give him some love.

Adventures in cycling, part I

Two months ago I started thinking about interesting ways to incorporate more exercise into my life and I hit upon an idea: use a bicycle to commute to work. I would get to enjoy fresh air and views while improving my health and using time otherwise spent riding the subway. It would moreover be a more environmentally sustainable mode of transport. After spending several hours surfing the web doing research and talking to cyclist friends, I decided to acquire a folding bicycle I could stash in my closet at home, take on the subway, and carry into the office (I got a Downtube VIIIH, if you're curious). But for my maiden voyage (it had been over a decade since I last rode a bicycle), I borrowed a friend's Dahon.

The beauty of having a folding bicycle is that I can store it easily in my front hall closet. Having to lug it around, however, is an entirely different matter. 27 lbs is, frankly, a lot of weight to manage while trying to get down stairs, swipe a metro card, and squeeze through a full-length turnstile (a grim illustration of why I've almost(?) never seen a wheelchair-bound individual on a subway train). And I have yet to find a good way to roll it around in folded position on sidewalks (although continued experimentation and strategically placed straps may eventually solve this issue). For now, I wait to fold until I'm at my destination (subway stop or office).

My maiden voyage consisted of riding from work (in Soho) to a concert near Grand Central, then over to the West Side Greenway and home to Inwood. The first leg of the trip went smoothly, and a work colleague accompanied me on his bicycle to 1st Ave (which was very kind, as I would have normally avoided Houston St like the plague). After the concert, I cycled over to the West Side Greenway and began heading north.

The ride along the waterfront was stunning: views of the river at night, wind rushing past my ears, a sense of freedom and exhiliration almost as if I were flying. I got lost a few times, where the path took an odd turn in the dark, but I always managed to find my way back. At the George Washington Bridge, I dismounted and walked up a rather steep hill that I just couldn't manage on the bike.

I was feeling rather proud of myself when around 9 p.m. I reached the stretch between 181st and Dyckman when my wheel hit an odd plateau around which the path curved. Suddenly I was rolling on the ground stunned. I had flown over the handlebars and landed smack on my chin and hands. A jogger came along, helped me up, and I managed (although bleeding profusely) to climb back on my bicycle and get home. My roommate quickly patched me up and we grabbed a cab to the ER at Columbia Pres.

The result: 8 hours in the ER (mostly spent in a tiny office as no beds were available), chin sutures, and possible fractures (which miraculously was later discovered to be simply a sprained wrist).

So much for my maiden voyage.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Turn Park Avenue into...a park?

Here's a tragic example from Aaron Naperstek's excellent blog of what happens when urban transportation policy privileges private cars above all other modes of transit (including walking, bicycles, and mass transit).

Following its ignoble debut as a rail corridor for steam-powered locomotives, Fourth Avenue was transformed in stages through the building of underground railway tunnels until it was designated as Park Avenue in 1888. At that point, Park Avenue had extensive stretches of actual parkland that appear to have been automobile-free, as can be seen in the pre-1922 photograph looking north from 50 St. It must have been a city dweller's paradise; imagine relaxing on a bench along a charming brick pathway surrounded by grass, shrubbery, and glorious civic architecture. After 1922, this idyllic landscape was ripped out to make room for automobiles.

What in fact seems today a far-fetched dream was once a reality. Well, why can't we be more demanding of our city planners and elected officials and more radical in our proposals? Why does a street have to be noisy, ugly, and dangerous?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Please hold

Due to an unfortunate accident, my right arm is in a cast and major computing activities are on hold until further notice. In the meantime, check out all the fabulous blogs I've listed on the right.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mind the gap

Many of us are still smarting from Sunday's MTA fare increase that punished loyal riders affected regular users of New York's transit system (86% of all MTA riders, according to the New York Times) by increasing all discounted fares while maintaining the sacrosanct base fare of $2 per ride to reward tourists. So let me engage in a little fantasy that the MTA would actually take this extra money and put it towards infrastructure expansion, which this city's mass-transit riding population sorely needs.

An ideal mass transit system provides smooth transfers between various modes of public transportation, such as trains, boats, buses, and planes. For example, the Staten Island Ferry terminates at South Ferry, where passengers can walk down stairs and board the 1 train. In Europe, many cities have co-located the bus and train stations (and provided plentiful bicycle racks).

Here are some gaps in our city's transit system that leap immediately to mind:
  1. No direct rail link between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal
  2. No rail service to LaGuardia airport
  3. No uptown rail connection between the east side lines (2/3/4/5/6) and the west side lines (1/A/B/C/D)
  4. No direct rail link from Manhattan to JFK (requires a transfer to the Air Train at Sutphin Blvd or Howard Beach)
  5. No rail service to the Bronx from Inwood (except to Riverdale along the 1 line)
Why is this a problem? Try getting to the following locations from Inwood:
  1. LaGuardia airport (can't be done; your best bet via mass transit is the A to 125 St, then take the M60 bus and a good book, though taking a cab here is almost worth the time saved)
  2. JFK airport (A to 42nd, E to Howard Beach, Air Train to JFK -or- A to 34th, LIRR to Howard Beach, Air Train to JFK)
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (A to 125, C to 81, cross-town bus to Met or hoof it across Central Park if it's a nice day and you're not in a hurry)
  4. The New York Botanical Gardens (can't be done without unreasonable contortions; take a bus or a cab)
The Inwoodist's solution involves two above-ground rail lines:
  • a northern line running across 125 St that connects the 1, A-D, 2-3, 4-6, and future 2nd Ave subway lines, then stops at Astoria, LGA, Shea Stadium, Forest Hills, Sutphin Blvd, and JFK
  • a southern line connecting Penn Station, Port Authority, Grand Central in Manhattan, then Long Island City, Middle Village, Crescent St, Euclid Ave, Howard Beach, and JFK in Queens
Above-ground rail lines are proposed to account for variations in topography (the 1 line at 125 St is elevated) and the significantly greater cost of underground tunneling as compared to light rail. In addition, the intention is for these lines to be integrated with the Air Train, such that a passenger can remain on one train all the way from, say, Penn Station to JFK. Of course, I'm neither an engineer nor geologist, but it's a start, right?

The MTA CEO has also put forth an expansion plan to be realized in 2050 (translation: don't hold your breath).

Friday, February 29, 2008

Adopt a station?

Yesterday, the Gay Recluse observed here that the MTA could do us all a huge favor and renovate some stations, which leads me to today's post.

Inwoodists, Upper Manhattanites, and those from the boroughs are likely to spend significant amounts of their time (and, ultimately, lives) underground, especially if they work in midtown or downtown. While I would prefer to spend my precious daylight hours above ground enjoying the air and scenery--my favorite form of urban transportation is the streetcar--the subway is our best option at present for rapid commuting around the city:
  • Elevated trains are lovely to ride as a passenger (light, views), but they mar the street landscape, block light to houses and businesses, and make a lot of noise.
  • Buses are useful for local door-to-door service (example: 207 St. to 231 St.) and for transporting the elderly and disabled (given that so many subway stations are not elevator-equipped or wheelchair accessible), but they get mired in Manhattan above-ground traffic just like every other automobile. I remember taking the BxM1 express bus one morning to the East Side. It was a cushy bus that flew right along, almost making a convert of me--until it got to 125 St., which point it crawled along with the rest of the traffic to 42 St.
  • Any subway alternatives--monorails, light rail, PRT--would require massive planning and infrastructure investments that are highly unlikely to emerge any time soon, if ever.
Considering that much of the Manhattan underground constitutes a vast civic space, can't our city show it some love, work a little beautification magic, and brighten our lives? Wouldn't it be an uplifting experience to walk into a reasonably clean station with some aesthetic and historic interest? Riding the 1 train, it's clear that the IRT designers paid attention to station aesthetics: beautiful mosaics can be found at several points on the line, including 191, 168, and 66 streets. On the 4/5/6 line, there's some delectable glazed ceramic at Astor Place, and City Hall is allegedly the crown jewel of the system, although, alas, it has been closed to the public since 1945 (the folks at Forgotten NY manage to get in there occasionally).

So, what could the city do to help us aesthetically deprived subway riders out?
  • More aggressive station cleaning: who wants to watch rats forage among trash-laden tracks while sniffing eau de pissoir? And is there a reason why everything has to look so dirty? I thought tile was supposed to be easy to clean.
  • Installation of durable artworks (mosaics, metal sculpture) by local artists in stations; this would have the side benefit of supporting and promoting local artists. Tom Otterness's Life Underground installation at 14 St. is one fine example.
  • Renovation that respects a station's design history and intentions by preserving architectural details and other aesthetically significant features (such as mosaics and art tile), while installing visually pleasing and easy-to-clean materials where possible. (On a side note, making all stations accessible to the elderly and disabled is a must.)
  • Renovation that adds interesting visual details to otherwise aesthetically challenged stations (175 St).
  • With the surfeit of architectural and design talent floating around this city, why not hold design competitions that would encourage talent to submit plans for low-cost station beautification? It could even be a reality show--send in the Fab 5, some ambitious students from Parsons or Columbia, or whomever--to give your favorite decrepit station a makeover.
  • "Clean up your station day" initiatives
  • An "Adopt a Station" program that would encourage businesses and prominent individuals to fund station maintenance and beautification in exchange for in-station promotion such as a wall plaque, posted ads, etc. Heck, I could live with a McDonald's-branded station if it was tastefully done. An example is the Columbus Circle station, which has an entrance maintained by the Time Warner Center.

How do you think the city should go about beautifying its stations?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Speak out in favor of congestion pricing

If you support reducing traffic, cutting commute times, and funding public transportation across all neighborhoods in New York City, write your legislators now!

Take the Super A Train

So let's kick off this series with my pet peeve favorite topic: the A train. I love it, except when I hate it.

The A runs close to my door and gets me to just about anywhere I need to go in Manhattan. And it's express. When all is right with the world, it gets me downtown in about 35 minutes, which is a beautiful thing.

But there's a catch: starting at (the rather early hour of) 10:30 p.m., it runs local. And it runs local every time the MTA does track work on the line, which is, oh, about every weekend (2007, anyone?). For some reason, they also like to run a special shuttle periodically between 207th and 168th streets, which can really slow you down, or just shut down that part of the line entirely and run free buses.

Have you ever noticed the train engaging in other strange behaviors late at night? Like traveling at half-speed, or stopping inexplicably for several minutes when you're halfway through a tunnel, or waiting interminably at a platform with its doors hanging open? Or not showing up for 40 minutes when they're supposed to be running every 20? Any of these unfortunate events can suck the joy out of even the most ardent Inwoodist's life.

Now, I don't want to risk getting killed or seriously injured or simply suffering through train break-downs and delays every time I hop on the subway (which is just about every day, multiple times a day), so I understand the need for maintenance, but can't the MTA do any better?

Go visit Paris and see how a world-class subway system can run. Their trains are clean, efficient, and run on time.

So here are my proposals for improving service on the A train, running from smallest to largest:
  • FASTER, PUSSYCAT: Lengthen the hours of operation for express service--at the very least, run the A express until midnight Su-Th and 1:30 a.m. F-Sa. Even better, run it express 24 hours per day, like the D train. (Have you ever experienced 145 St. envy?) This will require, of course, keeping the C train in operation during extended hours.
  • DROP STOPS AND ROLL: Eliminate unnecessary stops that are already covered by local service and do not provide significant transit links--145 St, Canal St, Chambers St
  • EXTEND IT: Build local tracks up to 207th St, then cover all stops between 207 and 168 streets with the C.
Now we have it: the super A train. It runs 24 hours and services the following stops: 207, 168, 125, 59, 42, 34, 14, 4, Broadway-Nassau. Imagine, all of Manhattan in just 9 stops, with Midtown only 4 stops away.

Since I believe in self-determination, I'll let the Brooklynites figure out where the Super A should stop in their borough.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Improved mass transit

With all the buzz about congestion pricing as a solution to Manhattan's traffic woes, I've been thinking about ways to improve getting folks around in this city and the quality of life for those who make this island their home or place of work. Ultimately, to get more cars off the road, we need to do more than just charge drivers more money to negotiate our streets. When prices for everyday commodities rise suddenly and dramatically, many may grumble or protest at first, but they go ahead and pay the higher price and soon mentally adjust to the situation as "normal." For example, have significant price increases at the gas pump really reduced the number of drivers on the road in any meaningful way?

To get people out of their cars, we need to make mass transit not just a viable but desirable alternative to driving.

Now, I admit, living in New York, I'm spoiled. I gave up my car when I moved here and have never looked back. I can get anywhere I need to go within the city 24 hours a day using subways, buses, my own two feet, and, if I'm really desperate, a cab.

And yet...

How many of you living in Inwood and the Heights have encountered the following situations?
  • You cut short your fun evening out downtown or in Brooklyn because it's 10:25 and the A is about to turn into a pumpkin and you don't want to spend 75 minutes getting home when you have to get up at the ass crack of dawn to get to work the next day.

  • You discover that yet again, for the 20th weekend in a row, the A is going to be running local (which seemed to be the case for almost all of 2007). Oh, and just to slow you down even further, the MTA is running a "special" shuttle between 207th and 168th streets. You'd better bring a good book or some rocking tunes for that 90-minute commute to the East Village.

  • It's 2:20 a.m. and you're ready to slit your wrists at 50th St. because it's taken the A 40 minutes to show up (despite the MTA's claim that they run every 20 minutes late nights).

  • You're in the 'Wood and you need to get to the East Side... don't get me started.

Is it any wonder why some people persist in driving their cars around this island?

So in the next few entries, I'm going to put out some ideas for improving our mass transit and quality of life on Mannahatta. I'm just getting started with this blog, and I may not be able to post all that frequently, so be patient, okay?