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.