Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Promises Broken

Riding a bike in Central Park the other day I was stopped by a police officer who told me I was not allowed to ride on the grass. When I first came to live in New York, mountain biking was the rage and the hills and boulders of Central Park were covered with this new breed of bike and biker. Apparently, the rule now prohibits riding a bike anywhere in the park but on the roadways and only in the direction of traffic. But I see bicyclists cutting across the grass, using the walkways, traveling in the opposite direction on the roads every time I am in the park. According to these new rules, in order to cross the park, a bicyclist has to pedal from say 96 Street down to 59th and back up. Can that kind of law hold up? This goes to the heart of the convenience of a bike. Such rules are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce but, when they are broken, can be repaired with a fine.
Anyone out there ever cross against the light, J-Walk or see a pedestrian crossing in the middle of a street, probably on a cell phone? When you did, did you happen to notice any drivers on their phones?
Anyone (except those of us using the parallelspaces.com parking map) ever park illegally? Did you dunk the ball, do an end zone dance, call a friend to share your good mood when you got away with it? FedEx or UPS cannot even function without illegally parking and nobody really thinks they are going to take their business out of town. No, they agree to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking fines. They used to negotiate a rate with the city, probably still do. What is the parking fine reduction program by the DOT but a 25% OFF sale? All of which makes me ask, is it really illegal to park where parking is not allowed, or just very expensive?
Every week I see people cutting in movie lines or mechanics running up bills; businesses hiding their occasional incompetence (you still pay); drivers turning without blinkers, cutting people and cars off; traffic and parking laws broken; bootleg movies, handbags, and watches for sale; rotten fruit sold underneath good fruit; unsanitary deli kitchens; new bike lanes abused by cars and pedestrians or cars and pedestrians abused by unruly bicyclists; buildings that do not recycle; oil and toxic waste not properly disposed of (sometimes by millionaires); cars idling more than 3 minutes; litter thrown on the sidewalk; [fill in your examples here] and a city that looks the other way, usually for a fee. While we’re at it, who has forgotten the famous tales of the MTA lying about costs to get higher increases or the NYPD suppressing crime statistics, or suffered at the climactic scene the failed service of cable, cell phone or internet providers or experienced some other kind of professional (contractual) promise broken?
Remember the “broken window theory?” That was the nickname of a sociologist’s theory that a graffiti marred, homeless occupied, sidewalk littered neighborhood with abandoned buildings or “broken windows,” gave a “no one gives a shit” (my words) appearance to a neighborhood and actually promoted an atmosphere of lawlessness, actually increased crime. This was the cornerstone of Mayor Giuliani’s famous “Quality of Life” crimes program and which of our neighbors would not agree that the rebuilding, repairing of streets, parks and subways and the enforcement of these social crimes worked to reduce crime?
Yet we have a host of laws that cannot be, don’t even seem intended to be, enforced, and are often for sale. The fact is generally good citizens of New York break laws every day or see them broken. Good thing for us there isn’t a “broken laws” theory.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pedestrians, Cars, and Bikes, but no Buses! (cont.)

The City Council’s 12/9 meeting on “Oversight - Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges" is over and we don’t yet get to hear their decision.
“Please note: this meeting's minutes have not been finalized yet. Actions taken on legislation and their results are not available.”

No word on the proposed changes to Alternate Side Parking Rules either. That Introduction was “Laid Over by Committee” on Nov 9.

The Mayor deliberately withholds information (See post ”Tight Lipped City Officials Won’t Say where Parking Spaces Will Be Cut. and the City Council procedurally buries it. So once again I am left to decide what is right for this great city and I have to do it without the benefit of all the facts. One fact I know about the addition of bike lanes is they don’t all fit: the cars, the trucks, the buses and bikes; never did, no reason to think they will now. So I have to wonder how far this little social experiment will go.
Does Bloomberg & Company foresee our streets only used by bikes, taxis, fire, police and delivery vehicles? That would hurt his beloved tourism. Just the reduction of parking garages will seriously alter the tourism those garages make possible. In fact, the percentage of our economy due to cars is huge. How much of it are we meant to sacrifice in the name of bike lanes. How much of the buying; selling; repairing; parking; manufacturing; parts; fueling; maintaining of roads, bridges and tunnels; tourism; moving; traffic signals, signage and the other many purchases of traffic planning and control that are just a few of the businesses that depend on automobiles are we to give up? Not to mention the $574 million dollars from tickets last year that I think we can safely assume, this administration has no intention of giving up.
So, I have to assume he doesn’t want all the cars out, just fewer people to drive in the city, but which ones are allowed to stay? Does he just want people who can afford garages to drive in the city? Is it survival of the strongest? Has he fashioned his own traffic Tetris or Hunger Game so that only the most quick handed, cutthroat or persevering will remain? The bike lanes by themselves sound like a great thing, but in the ecosystem of our streets, they are traffic clenching and to call them "traffic calming," Mr, Mayor, does not make the little people feel the pain any less. When you constrict the arteries, blood rushes to your head. Do New Yorkers need more tempers flaring and horns blaring? Does this sound like a lot of questions? Well that might be because our city government is not giving us the answers.
We all know about the lost parking spaces and enforced traffic congestion, but the greatest concern to me so far is that the experimental growth of bicycles comes almost in direct opposition to the availability of transit buses. Our once great New York system of MTA Buses has already taken some hits from this Mayor’s policies. That carbon monoxide street plaza he landfilled in Times Square was at the expense of Bus routes through the heart of our Broadway neighborhood’s glitz and glamor (and theatre owners don’t much like the more difficult access either). And buses have again been cut back heavily this year. Bike lane enforced “traffic calming” only promises to make buses even slower and less popular. So let’s see, the buses will be slower. The trains are already overcrowded. How many people can actually ride a bike to work? How many can and show up looking professional? Does the A/C on those things even work? How many can ride a bus and look great doing it?
The problem with this process is there is no process as far as ordinary citizens go. We don’t see any scale model or drawings of New York in 2020. Is there any kind of grand plan (a little more far reaching than a map of proposed bike routes) or is it play as you go? Where does it end? How does it work practically? Show us the money. What is it supposed to look like? Amsterdam? Bermuda? Will the next Mayor just scrap it all? It might help us decide if this is just another New York ego giving us a headache or much needed growing pains. When do we get to see and hear your final objective, read the minutes of your meeting, Mr. Mayor?
Have you thought it all through, Mr. Mayor, Really?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pedestrians, Cars, and Bikes, Oh My!

The Bloomberg initiative of shoehorning bike lanes into city avenues is becoming a difficult reality and battle lines over our shrinking share of prized NYC pavement are being drawn. So far, they are an incomplete solution for bicyclists, deprive drivers of parking spaces, hurt small businesses and bog down our already congested automobile traffic. Oh, but that is one of the points. One of the least funny quotes I have heard out of the Dept. of Transportation recently is in the context of the new bike lanes controversy, the benefits, and the backlash. The benefits would seem to be a kinder, gentler city life with couples casually strolling alongside bicyclists breezily flowing by and the occasional B-R-R-R-I-N-G! B-R-R-R-I-N-G! to warn of their passing.
I am sure Bermuda is very charming at this time of year, but we are talking about New York where competition for parking is fierce, unemployment is high, money is tight, small business needs their delivery trucks close and their customers’ parking spaces closer, bicyclists still have a host of dangers to contend with, harried pedestrians now have an extra obstacle to overlook, and traffic is worse than ever by design. That’s right the DOT has openly admitted that they are trying to forcefully constrict traffic patterns with these new bike lanes in a little exercise they have adorably labeled “traffic calming” (New York Times Article). No matter what you may think about the forced importance of bicycles as a principle form of transportation, deliberately causing traffic snarls in the name of “traffic calming” sounds more like a comedy sketch than public policy which begs us all to ask the obvious question, REALLY, Mr. Mayor?
REALLY? Does anyone in this administration actually drive their own car in this city or even drive their own car? Do they live in the neighborhoods where their theoretical “traffic calming” is being so rudely felt. Have they heard the yells, the car doors slamming? Have they noticed the very bikes they are promoting weaving around the blocked traffic like a pinball bounced by each startled pedestrian or car bumper scraped? REALLY? Have they ever tried to parallel park a car in a “Floating Parking Lane” that pushes them out into the high speed rapids of a major tributary of city traffic. Even my 9th grade daughter knows that the entire Greek Tragedy of Oedipus got started as a road rage because Oedipus’ carriage could not get past his father’s (unknown to him) carriage. He killed his father on the spot and married his mother and the rest is high school English. Of course, education isn’t a high priority for the DOT or for our always business Mayor, it seems.
REALLY, Ms Sadik-Khan? Have you or policymakers of your Dept. of Transportation ever been near a tunnel or bridge (or a dozen other “calmed” traffic byways) at rush hour. The horn blowing on a traffic calmed rush hour evening is like a daily New Years Eve celebration gone bad. Stuck in a perpetual crawl, you would like to think that the drivers would accept their fate (it was their choice after all) and lay off their multi-decibel alarms, but, in case members of this administration haven’t noticed, drivers in this city don’t accept “No” as an answer. Hey, Americans don’t like it much anywhere. So they let their determined ways temporarily destroy the peace of entire neighborhoods. They vote with louder and competing distress signals, rowdy protests internationally manufactured by Toyota, Audi and Ford. Whether it’s the self proclaimed “emergency,” the bus lane cheat, or the claustrophobic panic, or just the need to vent, traffic constriction does not make for quiet, “calm” drivers. "Traffic Calming"… REALLY?
Such tea room patter amongst people who have a huge impact on our daily lives would be funny if it wasn’t so callous and makes me wonder what else they don’t know about their constituents and fellow citizens. The backlash is being felt. Some communities have organized and bike lanes have been removed in Staten Island and Williamsburg and others are being reviewed. This Thursday the City Council will hold a hearing on bicycling to somehow balance the shrinking space for bicyclists and other road users. If you want your opinion heard on any of these matters, the Find Your Council Member Page is a good place to express it.
[To be continued]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Politics and Parking Don't Mix

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