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 (http://www.transalt.org/files/resources/blueprint/chapter12/).

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: http://nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikerack.shtml. 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!

(Image: vision42.org)

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.