Damning the Amazon

Hamilton Nolan writes a great column in today’s Guardian. He says that if Amazon want to plop one of its headquarters in New York City it should pay to house our  63,000 homeless people. He also offers some great insights and context. Read it here.

Please comment on his Guardian site or below. Have a nice day!

 

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Upgrade Subway Signals — Phase Out Phase II

This week’s Voice presents an excellent article by Aaron Gordon.

It says all that needs to be said. Here it is:

Maybe We Didn’t Need the Second Avenue Subway After All
The latest ridership numbers show that the MTA spent more than $300,000 for each new daily straphanger attracted by Cuomo’s much-heralded Upper East Side line

By Aaron Gordon July 18, 2018

All eyes were on Governor Cuomo when he celebrated the opening of the Second Avenue Subway in December 2016. Dennis Van Tine/AP Images
When the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017, Governor Cuomo rode the subway. As you may recall, this was no ordinary subway trip: It was the inaugural run of the Q along its new route, down from the 96th Street terminus of the shiny, new Second Avenue Subway. You know, a ribbon cutting. Our governor loves ribbon cuttings.

With last week’s release of station-by-station ridership figures for 2017, we can finally learn the impact this long-awaited subway extension had on the system. As it turns out, the Second Avenue Subway is undoubtedly a benefit, but at $4.5 billion for just the three stations built so far, a very expensive one. And the stats also tell us much more about the problem the line was built to solve — and raise the question of whether that $4.5 billion would have been better spent elsewhere.

The Second Avenue Subway’s primary reason for existence was to lighten the load on the overburdened 4/5/6 Lexington Avenue line, the busiest subway corridor in North America after the Second and Third Avenue Els were torn down mid-century. This was a worthy goal, and to some degree, the new line accomplished this: The five Lexington Avenue stops closest to the subway extension — 96th Street, 86th Street, 77th Street, 68th Street–Hunter College, and Lexington Avenue–59th Street — saw 17,377,828 fewer swipes into those stations last year, or about 47,600 per day.

Meanwhile, the three new Second Avenue Subway stations experienced almost 21.7 million trips last year, or just a hair shy of 60,000 per day. After factoring in large ridership changes at other nearby stations — the Lexington Avenue–63th Street F/Q station saw a 1.3 million bump in trips, while the Fifth Avenue–59th Street N/R/W had 560,000 fewer — the total change in ridership after the Second Avenue line opened nets out to just a hair more than 5 million additional subway riders in 2017, or about 14,000 per day.

This is greater than officials projected in terms of ridership gained: MTA planners didn’t expect much new ridership from the Second Avenue Subway, knowing that it’s only two blocks from an existing subway. But in the grand scheme of New York City transit, it’s a pretty low number; it’s about the same number of riders who take the B36 bus between Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay each day.

But since construction began on the Second Avenue Subway in 2009, the subway’s performance has steadily declined to the point where it is now in crisis. The Second Avenue Subway’s opening was a short-lived respite of good news from the otherwise constant barrage of nightmarish headlines. State of Emergency, Subway Action Plan, declining performance, you know the rest.

At best, the Second Avenue Subway is the lone bright spot in an otherwise concerning trend of declining public transit ridership. Even with the increase in ridership on the Upper East Side thanks to the Second Avenue Subway, Manhattan still lost 10,821,930 subway trips last year. This ridership drop is almost certainly due to the increasingly poor service, which itself is a result of maintenance backlogs, antiquated technologies, and questionable management decisions.

As I have previously reported, while tunnel-boring machines were grinding their way underneath Second Avenue to relieve the 4/5/6, the MTA was installing unnecessary signal timers on the Lexington line that ended up reducing its capacity. The New York Times later found that in June and July of last year, during the average weekday rush hour window, 57 scheduled trains on the 4/5/6 simply do not run. Those ghost trains alone could have fit the number of riders who switched to taking the Second Avenue Subway.

Indeed, at the time the MTA was justifying the Second Avenue Subway, one of the key words involved was “overcrowding” — as in, crowding on the 4/5/6 was causing delays, and the only feasible way to address that was to build the Second Avenue line. This was the prevailing logic in 2009, and even for much of 2017 after the Second Avenue Subway was completed. Yet the new transit chief, Andy Byford, has since declared overcrowding is not, and never has been, the root cause of delays. Overcrowding is the result of delays, not the cause.

We know now that the Second Avenue Subway could not possibly have been the most cost-effective way to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line. That would be upgrading the signals to Communications-Based Train Control, or CBTC. One of the first lines Byford wants to tackle is, in fact, the 4/5/6 from 149th Street–Grand Concourse in the Bronx to Nevins Street in Brooklyn. Doing so would allow the MTA to run trains much more efficiently, increase capacity, and turn those ghost trains into real trains.

This project alone would provide a benefit to Lexington Avenue line orders of magnitude greater than the Second Avenue Subway for a fraction of the cost. (Re-signaling the Queens Boulevard line from Kew Gardens–Union Turnpike to 50th Street is expected to cost $425 million; the Eighth Avenue line from 59th Street to High Street has a preliminary estimate of $375 million.) But the main holdup for Byford’s plan is he needs the money. Oh, if only he could have, say, $4.5 billion available, enough to upgrade most of the subway system to CBTC.

Most transit experts will tell you that thanks to decades of apathy the subway needs to build extensions and rapidly upgrade its existing infrastructure. No disagreement here; the best version of New York City is one where we can do both. But, as the last several decades and Byford’s ongoing efforts to secure funding illustrate, that isn’t the New York we have. Instead, the MTA is working on scraping together $6 billion for Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway, which will take it up to 125th Street — at that price tag, the MTA could almost certainly re-signal the entire subway system. The question isn’t why the Upper East Side can’t have nice things, but why, with so many dire, urgent needs across the system, the Upper East Side should be disproportionate benefactors.

In any case, the Second Avenue Subway extension has now been built, so we must do our best to enjoy it. The people who used to have a fifteen-minute walk to the subway but now have a mere ten-minute walk must savor those precious moments. The straphangers still taking the 4/5/6 ought to bask in the extra space they now have. Take an extra second to enjoy the world-class art in the new stations. Somebody has to, because Governor Cuomo won’t. He hasn’t ridden the subway since. After all, there haven’t been any ribbon cuttings.

For Want of An Apron

The other day as I was scrubbing paint brushes at the sink, a fellow art student of a certain age told me that she had never learned to be neat. She blamed it on not having attended kindergarten. That omission, she said, affected her son. Decades ago he took an admission test to a significant pre-school in Manhattan. A perfect score was obligatory, but he missed one word. The one he had missed was so simple that his failure indicated a developmental problem, so they called his mother in. They said he was the only student they had ever encountered who had no concept of the word “apron.” She explained his ignorance – there was no such item in the home – and the boy was registered.
“If they had asked him about Doric columns, he would have done fine,” she said. “I think of that every time I hear that minority students do poorly on entrance tests. Maybe, like my son, those kids don’t have all the same reference points as the schools.”

Please leave a comment in the box below.

Must-reading on NYC’s subways…

Kudos to the N.Y. Times for its investigation into how the city’s subway system became the dangerous disaster it is today. With so many examples to choose from, the reporters omitted my favorite horrific Metropolitan Transit Authority blunder – the $530 million “renovation” of the South Ferry station that opened in 2009 and was knocked out of service  by Hurricane Sandy three years later as a storm surge poured through its entrances and crippled the entire system. It turns out that those who designed and approved the upgrade early in the 21st century forgot that the South Ferry station was next to New York Harbor. The MTA team neglected to engineer safeguards against rising sea levels and inevitable storm surges.

Not to worry about missing that one — read about how Governor Andrew Cuomo forced the MTA to used $5 million of its budget to prop up three upstate state-run ski resorts that were adversely impacted by a warm winter.

Readers can pick their own favorite blunders from the newspaper’s fine reporting here.

Please comment in the box below.

 

Williamsburg Tickets Cyclists!

More cyclists than commercial truck drivers in North Brooklyn are receiving tickets, according to NYPD data. As Gwynn Hogan reports in DNA Info,  between January and the end of September, cyclists in Williamsburg were ticketed 1,160 times for violations like running red lights and riding the wrong way on a one-way street. This is compared to 463 tickets written to commercial trucks for violations like texting while driving or not wearing seatbelt. I think we are supposed to be appalled that law enforcement is harder on cyclists than commercial truck drivers, but I am glad that bikes are getting some attention. If cyclists want to break laws with impunity, they should pedal over to Manhattan. It seems to me that their luck is better there.

Please comment in the space below.

Cruising the Hamptons Film Festival

The films Zoglin reviews will be coming to the city soon.

Zoglin's View

I just finished a busy weekend of filmgoing at the Hamptons International Film Festival. This annual Hamptons ritual — which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year— has always struck me as a bit of a superfluous stop on the film-festival circuit.  It overlaps with the higher-profile New York Film Festival, just a hundred miles to the west, and most of its big films are second helpings from more prominent festivals in Toronto, Cannes and elsewhere. Still, the festival always brings in a lot of interesting little films looking for attention (especially foreign ones and documentaries), draws an enthusiastic crowd of non-cineastes to its packed screenings, and is increasingly regarded by the film studios as a good place to generate buzz for their big fall releases. Nearly all the major Oscar nominees from last year were previewed at the Hamptons festival — including Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and La La…

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The Cycling Wheels of Justice

Three years ago, on September 21, 2014 Jill Tarlov died of injuries she sustained when Jason W. Marshall cycled into her in Central Park on West Drive and 63rd Street. Since unlike most cyclists who hit pedestrians, he remained at the scene, we know Marshall’s name and that on the Strava website for athletes he had frequently boasted of breaking speed limits.

A police spokeswoman says that charges were never filed in the case. I must accept that means that Marshall acted in a totally lawful manner. Nonetheless, as a New Yorker who has been hit by one bike rider and grazed by a few others, I was dumbstruck when I read that an irresponsible cyclist in England who killed a mother of two has been sentenced to eighteen months in jail.  When has that ever happened here?

At the time, it seemed that the Tarlov tragedy would finally highlight the issue of pedestrian safety in a city where daily cycling grew 350 % between 1990 and 2015, before Citi Bike began a major expansion.

The public discussion never happened, although average New Yorkers grumble about it all the time. What do you think? Please click the reply box below.

N.Y.Times to New York: Drop Dead!

Amazon plans to build a second headquarters for itself that will house 50,000 employees. New York City wants it and will make a bid. Don’t count on the N.Y. Times to be of help. “Stay away from her, Amazon!” says the paper. Its Upshot column (which served the nation so well during the 2016 presidential campaign) decided to do free consulting for the retail behemoth, ran some numbers, and insists that the complex should go to Denver. Upshot put the calabash on New York City because of its high housing costs and the balance between those and amenities, like “cultural edginess.” Separately, Times columnist David Leonhardt quickly urged Amazon to stay away from the country’s coasts, which would also mean New York City.

Thank you, N.Y Times. Isn’t is all such fun to theorize? Thank you for helping the people of our five boroughs and greater area. I guess we could say the paper can’t be bought, although it could show Amazon something about getting financial incentives from struggling cities. It received $79 million and more in tax breaks  from Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg after it threatened to move jobs and facilities out of the city.
The Altoona Times? Maybe if it had moved to one of those places it prefers it would have done a more balanced and accurate job of covering Trump v. Clinton and it readers would have experienced less disinformation in 2016. But I am sure Amazon can trust it on Denver. Please comment in the box below.

Library Rose Room Reopens to All!

Given that the third floor of The Stephen A. Schwartzman Building on Fifth Avenue, formerly known as the main branch of The New York Public Library, is now as densely packed with visitors as Times Square or the #6 subway line, I think it is time that the NYPL board and administrators, who encourage this crowding, hire a grad student to dress up as a topless Jane Austen. She could pass her drawstring bag around for funds. Maybe they could add a Bob Dylan. Literature has super heroes too.
Even if the likes of students, scholars, researchers and writers are no longer enough to justify fund-raising among the 1 percent, the larger issue is that yet another bastion of excellence is destroying itself. Let’s all go visit a fire station to make those cost-effective too. Currently, the only people allowed to enjoy these publicly-owned properties are those who need to be there. Let people in so they can slide down the poles!
Of course the magnificent Fifth Avenue library building should be appreciated by as many as possible, but the hordes now overwhelming the guards and librarians need to be actively policed. This month’s NYPL press release says of the Rose Reading Room: “The entire Room is designated for research and quiet study and there is a small viewing area where visitors can admire and take non-flash photography of the room and ceiling.” That is not the situation unfolding. (text continues below the photos)

NYPL patrons as zoo animals

If you can’t get to the zoo, photograph in the Rose Room

Scholars use the Rose Room

Patrons fill the North Rose Reading Room awaiting close-ups to be taken by visitors coming in from the rain

Visiting teens like to stand on this balustrade.

Liability issues ahead, NYPL!

So, here are some suggestions on how to re-civilize the former main branch of The New York Public Library:

  1. Inform all library guards about the rules of behavior for those wandering and photographing the reading and research rooms and its true patrons. Have them enforce the rules, which they are trying to do now with only moderate success.
  2. Designate guards to take the place of those going on their well-deserved breaks since rubberneckers swarm in taking photos and dragging children unless a guard is standing in the door of the north reading room (which is nearly identical to the south room and is supposedly off-limits to those not using NYPL materials).
  3. Ban strollers and children under the age of 12 from both reading rooms or, better, yet from the entire third floor.
  4. Rope off more lane lines so those attempting to request books can get through the clot of rubberneckers standing in doorways.
  5. Increase your toilet paper budget and improve plumbing because the bathrooms are overwhelmed, as are cleaning people.

  6. Increase your liability insurance because someone is going to get hurt. Before the Rose Room closed, I panicked when I saw a teenager standing on the balustrade on the third floor north side stairwell to impress his terrified buddy. Had the daredevil fallen three stories down to the hard marble floor his grieving parents would have had quite a payday. The building might have had to be sold and turned into condos to pay the legal judgement. Could that be idea? That Wells Fargo guy could buy an apartment in the Rose Room. Please comment in the reply box below.

Sweep Up Street Fairs, Please!

One good thing has come from the $4.5 billion of taxpayer money spent to construct the three stations that will comprise the Second Avenue Subway: over the near-decade of destroying small businesses and jobs, and undermining the health of residents, this project that was first (and better) developed in 1929 put an end to the Second Avenue Street Fairs.

I had made an annual ritual of slamming my windows to block carcinogens from burning meat snacks while I hoped to mute the cacophony of screaming drum-beaters who could not find a tune. However, the MTA’s claim that it will finally be opening those subway stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets means that the fairs will be coming back. Hello tube socks and other merchandise that discount stores have rejected! Multiple welcomes to  vendors of rugs and schmattas who appear at every street fair one tries unsuccessfully to avoid! With you all come increased air pollution from busses and cars stalled in detours. Gone will be hours of human life lost while idling in lung-killing traffic. However, we will again finally see what our police officers look like because they will be present making overtime protecting us at these generic events.

Nonetheless, there could be reason for the audacity of hope. Writing in Politico, Laura Nahmias reports that the de Blasio administration plans to make New York City’s ubiquitous street fairs less corporate. Here is her story:

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is proposing changes to the city’s street fairs intended to end the corporate flavor of many of the festivals, addressing a long-standing complaint from civic groups and elected officials that the fairs are a costly headache and do little to benefit the communities where they’re held.

Under proposed rules scheduled for a public hearing on October 13, at least fifty percent of vendors participating in a street fair would have to be businesses with locations inside the same community board where the event is being held. That proposal marks a major change that could remake the character of the roughly 200 street fairs the city currently allows each year.

The proposed changes, which must undergo a period of public comment before being approved and which would go into effect in 2017, were met with delight by Manhattan City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who has been pressing for reforms to the city’s street fair policies for years.

“My complaint is that they are generic and that they are too frequent with too little community benefit,” Garodnick said.

“A street fair should be a small, friendly community event, which people in the neighborhood identify with and enjoy. Many of them have just become a carbon copy of one another,” he said.

Currently, Garodnick said, the fairs “sell sausages and socks and cell phone cases and pashminas on every block and there’s not a hint of local flavor, other than perhaps the sponsoring organization which they are required to have.”

Since 2004, the city has had a moratorium on granting permits for any new street fairs, after the New York Police Department complained about the excessive burden the fairs placed on its resources. The fairs and festivals, most of which are concentrated in just three community board districts in Manhattan (in the areas around the West Village, Chinatown, Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Midtown, Times Square, the Flatiron and parts of the Upper West Side), required officers to be diverted from their daily duties and drove up NYPD overtime costs.

New York City earned $1.6 million in vendor fees from more than 300 street fairs in 2010, but the events cost $4 million in overtime pay for the police officers staffing them, the Daily News reported that year.

Meanwhile, outer borough elected officials said their communities were left out of the capped street fair market, putting the burgeoning local businesses of the neighborhoods beyond Manhattan at a disadvantage. And last year, the de Blasio administration began eyeing the possibility of changing the regulations to enable outer boroughs to host more of these events. The administration sent surveys to local businesses and found significant interest in outer borough street fairs.

Under the proposed regulations, there would be geographic distribution of street fairs — no more than 200 street fairs could be held citywide each year, and no more than 100 of them could be located in Manhattan. Each community board would be limited to 20 street fairs annually.

The proposals are “a step in the right direction,” said Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future, which in 2006 published a report calling for the city to “rethink” its “bland and generic” street fairs.

“One of the big problems with street fairs was that so many of the vendors weren’t even from New York City,” Bowles told POLITICO New York in an interview. “The fairs week in and week out were dominated by the same few vendors, which is one of the reasons why they were boring and generic.”

Bowles said the city ought to consider opening vendor opportunities at fairs to local and independent businesses from outside of the community boards.

“We’ve criticized street fairs in the past, but not on principle. These could be so amazing for New York City,” he said. In the ten years since the Center for an Urban Future first published its report, many new and interesting street fairs and festivals have popped up, particularly in the outer boroughs, Bowles said.

“We’ve seen, since we started writing about this issue, how New York City has benefited from all these incredible markets, like Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, the Union Square holiday market.

“New York City has so many independent and entrepreneurial businesses, but so few of them have been represented in street fairs that it’s been a missed opportunity,” he said.

But some of the city’s largest street fair operators said they plan to fight the proposed rule. Todd Berman, the head of Clearview Festival Partners, which is one of the city’s largest street fair and festival operators, applauded the idea to make street fairs more inclusive, but called the new proposed regulations “draconian.”

“It is not realistic or achievable to reach the fifty percent requirement that they’re proposing and have the ability to generate a profit off of the event,” Berman said. “This regulation of fifty percent, it’s a death sentence to street festivals,” he said.

Berman, who operates many festivals outside of Manhattan, said the 100 festival cap on all outer-borough festivals was insensitive.

“I think this mayor has run on a platform of this being one city, but the boroughs are clearly being given the short end of the stick,” he said.

Thus ends Nahmias’ story. I would like to see all fairs banished from Manhattan, or at least confined to one area way downtown, or even in midtown where those who like them can find them with confidence. Please leave a comment by clicking on the lines below.