Monday, December 24, 2012
By Kathleen Horan : Reporter, WNYC News
The city's largest police union rolled out an ad campaign last week to focus on the more heroic aspects of the work cops do. Union officials said Hurricane Sandy presented the NYPD with a unique opportunity to counteract some of negative press over the past year.
Friday, December 07, 2012
Just 51 percent of New Yorkers speak only English at home, according to recent data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. As for the other 49 percent, well, the languages span the globe.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
Saturday, October 27, 2012
The first American subway trip left New York City Hall heading north for Harlem 108 years ago today. The Independent Rapid Transit line connected Manhattans most traveled crossroads in one zig-zaging route. The first IRT line ran under Park Avenue South to Grand Central Terminal, crossed 42nd Street to Times Square, then up Broadway to 145th Street in Harlem -- a combination of today's 4/5, shuttle, and 1/2 lines.
A year later the route extended into the Bronx, then within five years, over to Brooklyn. Transit expansion was fast a century ago.
The subway quickly gained popularity because it was much faster than trolley cars and existing elevated trains. About 20 years later, New York got it's second subway company, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit company combining existing elevated lines in south Brooklyn with newer routes connecting to Manhattan. In 1932, Independent Subway launched, which, despite the name, was municipally-owned and operated.
In 1940 with the IRT and BMT both in deep financial trouble, the city absorbed the original subway lines and merged them with the IND, forming what is today's subway system, which hasn't expanded much since.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
By Kate Hinds
In a bitter blog post, the head of a taxi-hail smart phone app said his company was pulling the app out of New York City yellow cabs -- one month after launching.
Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, said bureaucracy had prevented his app from gaining a foothold in the city's taxi fleet.
"We did the best we could to get more yellows on the road but New York’s TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission) put up obstacles and roadblocks in order to squash the effort around e-hail," Kalanick writes.
Uber allows ride-seeking passengers to hail available cabbies with their smartphones. But the app got a chilly reception when it entered the New York market in September. Only 160 cabbies participated in the UberTAXI pilot -- a fraction of the city's 13,000 yellow cab fleet.
The TLC said it was restricting the use of electronic hail apps due to "current contractual agreements between the TLC and payment processors." A passenger using the smartphone app pays its fare to Uber. But the TLC has existing -- and exclusive -- contracts with two companies (Verifone and CMC) for payment service. The agency says until those contracts expire next year, it can't allow any other company to process fares.
And another obstacle: the TLC also reminded cabbies last month that New York law forbids the use of electronic devices while driving.
While some cities (most notably Boston and San Francisco) are Uber-friendly, the app has met with resistance in other places. The company has been battling the Washington D.C. city council over regulations, and it's being sued in Chicago over its practice of automatically charging a 20 percent gratuity.
"We’ll bite our tongues and keep our frustration here to ourselves," Kalanick writes, not entirely succeeding. "In the meantime you can try UberTAXI in more innovation-friendly cities."
But the taxi app could one day return to New York. TLC commissioner David Yassky said the agency "is moving toward rule changes that will open the market to app developers and other innovators. Those changes cannot legally take place until our existing exclusive contracts expire in February. We are committed to making it as easy as possible to get a safe, legal ride in a New York City taxi, and are excited to see how emerging technology can improve that process."
That rule change could be introduced at a TLC meeting next month.
Uber's car service hail apps -- UberX and Uber Black -- continue to operate in New York.
Friday, September 28, 2012
A task force investigating a spike in thoroughbred deaths at the Aqueduct track last winter is calling for tighter rules and better regulation of drug use, particularly corticosteroids that can mask injuries.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
New Yorkers are confronted with all manner of subway solicitations, from ad campaigns (like Dr. Zizmor's decades-long rainbow-fueled quest for perfect skin) to world-class musicians. But it's the daily decision to spare some change or ignore the pleas that presents the biggest ethical challenge.
WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez took to the trains to find out how many New Yorkers deal with this ethical puzzle.
Several social service providers say whether to give to panhandlers is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong. Joel Berg, who runs the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said it’s probably the question he gets asked the most.
“I would say definitely if it’s a supposed organization asking for money, that is illegal and that is almost always a scam,” Berg said. “But individual people asking for money, it’s really up to your conscience in each situation.”
The MTA said it frequently receives complaints about panhandling from customers. And while times are trying, the MTA notes there are other ways to help. “Poverty and hunger are vexing, stubborn problems and we urge our customers to give generously to their favorite and most trusted social service charity,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a written statement.
Follow Rodriguez on a few rides to see what the other side of the tin can is like for those who beg for a living. One man she meets earns $100 in two hours--then stops so as not to wear out his welcome. He says he begs only when his disability runs out. Another panhandler reports earning just $60 in a day and living off that.
There's a boisterous set of comments at the WNYC website already, so head on over there and listen to the radio story -- then join the conversation.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is under fire this week for saying he doesn't have any hopes of winning the votes of the 47-percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes. Just who are the 47 percent in New York City, and do they really not pay taxes?
Thursday, September 13, 2012
New Yorkers can get their first peek at the technology required to construct a proposed park in an underground abandoned trolley station. A year ago (almost to the day). the Lowline project teased the imaginations of New Yorkers and dazzled park lovers everywhere by releasing dreamy renderings of a lush park paradise-to-be in a most unlikely place: below ground. And not just below ground, but below Delancey Street, one of the most disparaged and dangerous stretches of asphalt in the whole city for a pleasant pedestrian stroll.
In dense Manhattan, though, clusters of unused cubic feet are precious, be they in a penthouse or buried in infrastructure purgatory. So an abandoned trolley terminal dating back to the early 1900s is a contender to become New York park space. The plan depends on subterranean sunlight shining through the sidewalk in beams powerful enough to grow greenery.
"What I envision is that we will have this kind of undulating, reflective ceiling actually functioning as an optical device to draw sunlight into the space to make it somewhere that you would actually like to spend some time," says James Ramsey, co-founder of the Lowline and designer of the "Imagining the Lowline" installation that opens Saturday to showcase sample "solar harvesting" technology.
The Lowline name is a play on the wildly successful High Line, which turned an abandoned freight rail line on Manhattan's far west side into elevated park space. To showcase how that might be replicated in cavernous conditions, the Lowline team has set up an exhibit in a warehouse at ground level, right above the proposed site on Essex Street between and Broome and Delancey Streets. The rugged, blackened warehouse aims to recreate what it might be like to amble through the 100-year old trolley terminal below.
"On top of this roof we created a massive superstructure, that's way in the air, that's actually harvesting the sunlight, redirecting it through light pipes," Ramsey says. A computer guides the rooftop solar collectors to track the sun all day long for maximal reflected light through a system created by a Canadian company, Sun Central.
To fund the exhibit, the Lowline raised $155,000 on Kickstarter. But it has to cross a number of hurdles before -- not to mention if -- it becomes reality.
Ramsey cautioned that the final design will depend on "many, many different conditions." Including negotiations with several city agencies. Delancey Street -- presently under a years' long redesign to become more bike and pedestrian friendly -- would need another overhaul to install "remote skylights." The preliminary engineering study for the Lowline is still weeks away from being finalized. That will bring with it cost estimates for tasks like lead paint abatement and adding drainage. After the price tag is tabulated, a design will be hatched, and the dreamers crazy enough to build a park below a busy city will have to commence some serious fundraising.
Also sharing space with the "Imagining the Lowline" exhibit is "Experiments in Motion," an installation sponsored by Audi and executed by Columbia architecture students to explore multi-modal transportation possibilities. The centerpiece of the projects on display is a 50-foot 3D model of New York's underground public spaces, mainly subway stations, meant to place the Lowline in spacial context.
The exhibit is open to the public Saturday, September 15th - 27th. More details are at the Lowline website.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Businesses should be financially liable if their delivery people disobey cycling rules.
That's a goal of a package of four bills under discussion in the New York City Council. The legislation aims to educate commercial cyclists, as well and put teeth into rules that are already on the books. One of the bills would give the Department of Transportation the authority to issue civil fines to employers who don't post signs in the workplace about traffic laws, or fail to provide lights, helmets, bells and vests to their delivery people.
Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said one of the main goals of the legislation is to take some of the burden off of the NYPD. "The New York City Police Department has been asked to do more with less for long enough," he said, "and commercial cycling enforcement in that agency has not been a priority."
The legislation piggybacks on a campaign currently underway in the DOT. This summer, the agency created a six-person unit tasked with educating businesses about commercial cycling rules. "This unit has already gone door-to-door to over 1,350 businesses," said Kate Slevin, an assistant commissioner for the NYC DOT, at a City Council hearing on Thursday. Its efforts are focused on Manhattan's restaurant-heavy West Side right now; it will expand to the East Side, as well as Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, by the end of this year.
Enforcement starts in January, when the unit's inspectors will begin issuing $100 tickets to businesses that aren't in compliance.
But whether a six-person unit can ensure that thousands of businesses are obeying the law is a big concern of the council -- not to mention the fact that moving violations are still under the purview of the NYPD.
"The extent of the problem that I see is tremendous," Vacca said, citing complaints about delivery people riding on sidewalks or against traffic. "I want to make sure that this unit has enough people in it to make everyone understand that the days of yesterday are gone."
He said he agreed with an idea that Council Member Peter Koo had floated earlier in the hearing about using the city's traffic agents to help enforce the rules. "What are they trained to do, just give summonses to people? ... It's an extension of their existing responsibility."
Sue Petito, a lawyer for the NYPD, tried to put the kibosh on that line of thinking. "It's a different body of laws and regulations," she said, "completely different from what their current mandate is."
Meanwhile, Robert Bookman of the New York City Hospitality Group said he wanted the council to cut restaurant owners some slack. "I just can't understand the logic of why an employer should get a summons for an employee who is provided with a helmet who chooses not to wear it," he said.
A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said her office was reviewing the legislation and the findings from today's hearing.
Friday, August 17, 2012
(UPDATED 8/20 7:45am) The city plans to appeal a state Supreme Court judge ruling that blocks New York City's plan to improve taxi service in the outer boroughs by adding a second category of taxis in addition to the city's iconic yellow cabs.
The taxi plan, which would increase street hails to the outer boroughs by adding a second category of taxi authorized to pick up passengers who flag them down on the street. In NYC, only licensed yellow cabs are authorized to do that now. The plan was estimated to bring in an additional $1 billion in revenue from the sale of new medallions. But without it the city faces a $635 budget million shortfall – and it’s only the second month of fiscal year 2013.
In his ruling issued Friday, the judge said the city had illegally bypassed the City Council, and that its decision to make new medallions available only to livery cab owners was unlawful.
The five-borough taxi plan would have brought additional street hail service to areas less frequented by yellow cabs: northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs. The new cabs would have been green.
The city will file an immediate appeal, according to Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department.
“We are confident that the appellate court will uphold the state law authorizing two important transportation initiatives: providing safe and reliable hail service by liveries in areas of the city rarely served by yellow taxicabs, and providing 2,000 more wheelchair-accessible yellow taxicabs for disabled passengers,” said Cardozo in a statement.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said on Sunday that she shares the disappointment over the court’s decision because it affects taxi accessibility throughout the city. She also said she was concerned about the financial implications.
“This is an important case because it deals with whether or not there will be taxi service that’s really accessible to people geographically throughout all of the city,” said Quinn.
“We will have to find ways to make up those hundreds of millions of dollars, which short of there being an unexpected increase in tax revenues, would mean we’d have to find places in the budget where we would have to cut back,” Quinn said.
Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky tweeted Friday: "ruling delays service for millions -- disappointing!" and conveyed the city would immediately appeal the decision.
In its statement, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a group representing yellow cab owners, applauded the ruling and said "Chairman David Yassky and the Administration back-doored a flawed plan in Albany and got caught. It’s that simple."
Some stakeholders expressed concern going forward.
Bhairavi Desai, who heads the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers, worried that yellow cab owners would undo provisions that had finally brought her organization on board.
"Now that they would be going back to the city council, where they've had undue influence for decades, our concern is another plan would be hatched, where drivers would get caught in the crossfire."
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Alternate side parking rules -- put in place to facilitate street cleaning -- actually increase driving in the New York City area.
In a soon-to-be-published study looking at driving behavior in places affected by street cleaning rules, a pair of New York University researchers found that alternate side parking (ASP) increases car usage in the New York City region by an average of 7.1 percent.
"Residents may simply make a new trip by car, to work, to school, or elsewhere, that they would otherwise not make, were street cleaning not performed on that day," reports the study, entitled "Duet of the Commons: The Impact of Street Cleaning on Car Usage in New York."
This, despite the fact that the costs of driving in New York can be astronomically high-- drivers may need to pay for tolls and parking, and almost universally have to deal with traffic congestion and irate drivers.
But like many things New York, location is everything. In denser neighborhoods that are closer to the urban core, car-owning residents are more likely to drive on days when the rules are in effect. But in places further afield -- like in outer boroughs where residents have more access to off-street parking options -- ASP actually leads to a decrease in car usage on the days the rules are in effect.
Guo found that surprising. "It seemed there should be no impact at all," he said. But when he dug a little deeper -- which meant, in part, that he scrutinized driveways and garages on Google Street View -- he discovered some compelling reasons to leave the car in the driveway once you get it in there.
"Many of the garages are actually very narrow, not facing the street," he said. Moreover, driveways in single-family detached houses in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx are often very narrow. Translation: once you maneuver a car into the driveway or garage, said Guo, "it's very difficult for you to get the car out and use it again." The cars, he said, are effectively trapped -- and you only take them out for a good reason.
But he pointed out that that applies to only a small percentage of New York City car owners, as the majority don't have access to off-street parking, so the net effect is an increase in driving on alternate side days.
Legislation targeting alternate side -- a bête noire of New York City drivers -- is a perennial political staple. In 2011, the New York City Council passed a bill that would give each community board the chance to opt out of alternate side parking one day a week — but only if that neighborhood had at least a 90 percent rating on street cleanliness in the mayor's management report two years in a row. And earlier this year the Council passed a bill outlawing the city's "shame stickers" that the Department of Sanitation used to adhere to cars flouting alternate side.
Guo says his study found that if neighborhoods that can reduce ASP rules do reduce them, there could be a reduction of almost three percent in the number of car trips.
"Streets belong to all New Yorkers," he said -- not just car owners. "It's a public space... it's a public treasure. And now only people who have cars actually benefit from that property. So there's a social equity problem here. So by reducing street cleaning, "you're basically assigning more user rights to car owners."
"The Duet of the Commons: The Impact of Street Cleaning on Car Usage in New York" will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Planning Education and Research.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
By Kate Hinds
New York City won't commit to a new launch date for its vaunted bike share, the largest planned for North America.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered the first explanation Thursday for why the city’s bike share program won’t launch in July: technical reasons.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony in Harlem's Sugar Hill, the mayor was asked when the program was going to be up and running — and what the problems were.
He replied: “Well, its software isn’t working yet. And just rest assured we’re not going to put out any program here that doesn’t work.”
He went on to acidly comment that New Yorkers’ attitudes towards bike share seemed to be evolving. “What’s fascinating is there was a lot of screaming that ‘we don’t want bikes’ and now everybody’s screaming ‘we want ‘em now.’ We’re just not going to do it until it works. There’s no government money involved whatsoever here, the only thing about a delay — if it turns out there is one — is that people won’t be able to use something that we think is phenomenally popular. But until we get it working perfectly, have these private companies do it to our satisfaction, we’re just not going to put it out.”
Calls to Alta Bicycle Share (the company operating the system), as well to the New York City Department of Transportation, weren’t immediately returned. A spokesperson for the City Hall wouldn’t provide further information beyond confirming the Mayor’s comments.
Previous speculation about the delay focused on money and timing. New York City’s bike share program is unique among its peers in that it’s entirely privately funded. Citibank, the program’s main sponsor, wasn’t formally on board until the end of April. Until the sponsorship money was firmly in hand, the city couldn’t begin production. Which meant New York had only a couple of months to turn around 7,000 bikes, 420 stations, and a functional payment system. Some sources TN spoke to wondered if that timeline wasn’t too ambitious.
Caroline Samponaro, the director of bicycle advocacy for the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives said, “no one in any other city in the world remembers the start date.”
You can listen to the audio from the mayor's remarks below.
Monday, July 09, 2012
By Kathleen Horan : Reporter, WNYC News
(New York, NY -- WNYC) By the end of the summer, the cost of a taxi trip may be more expensive.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is poised to vote this week on the first taxi fare hike in six years. The proposed increase would boost fares by 17 percent.
Cab driver Badr Battaoui, 29, said the daily cost of leasing the taxi and medallion, rising gas prices and 5 percent drivers are charged per credit card transaction add up.
“The bills are expensive,” he said during a short break from his 10-hour shift at the corner of Second Avenue and 1st Street. “I'm not going to tell you that I'm poor, but I don't save up that much, you know? I have student loans. My wife has student loans. We have kids."
Cab drivers are also hoping that the TLC will end high credit card fees and institute a driver health fund, which the city is considering for the first time.
Veteran cabbie Brij Jihingen, who has chronic illnesses such as diabetes, said he has been waiting 25 years for a health fund that would set aside 6 cents per ride.
"I have sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure-- you name it I have it,” said Jihingen, who, like many of his fellow drivers, does not have health insurance.
A health fund, he said, would show the city values its taxi drivers.
"Because we are working for the city as well… you can see a normal person's health and a taxi driver’s health -- you can recognize a taxi driver from a distance...here's a cab driver coming.”
Taxi passengers have mixed feelings about the proposed increase.
John Salvo, who runs a Soho art gallery and lives in New Jersey, said comparatively taxis are cheaper in New York City than many other cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas.
"They actually do a pretty good job and it’s a pretty fair bargain so perhaps rates should go up a bit,” he said.
Gayle Brown, who lives in Manhattan, said she rides her bike most places and takes cabs only when she’s wearing heels or heading to or from the airport. But she feels for the drivers.
“Well, everybody is pinching and food is going up, everything is going up”, she said. “I don't blame people for trying. Cab drivers aren't rich. You can see that.”
Of course, not all customers are on board.
Sherri Lynn Graham from the Bronx doesn’t think drivers don't deserve it.
“I think it’s crazy because they're not polite people sometimes, and they don't stop for black people sometimes,” she said. “You know, you want an increase then you should give us the service that we need.”
Also being considered is the elimination of the per-swipe fee of 5 percent cabbies must pay on credit cards, and instituting a flat $9-per-shift charge instead. Fleet owners vehemently oppose the proposal.
Michael Woloz, spokesman for the fleet organization the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said “the $9-a-shift increase is not an increase at all—also, it’s far less than the 5 percent.”
Woloz said he thought the proposal was a punishment to medallion owners who are currently pursuing a lawsuit against the city to block a plan that would allow livery cars to accept street hails.
While drivers are hoping for a fare hike with no increase in the lease rates, many longtime passengers, like Gina Cecala, 80, of Manhattan are ambivalent about paying more for a ride.
"Dollar more, dollar less — don't bother me, beats walking,” said Cecala, who takes cabs several times a week. “They want it, they get it. That's it.”
The TLC is holding a public hearing on the fare proposal Monday and is expected to vote on the measure this Thursday.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
By Kate Hinds
For such a short highway, the fifty-year old Sheridan Expressway generates a lot of unhappiness.
"I don’t even know if you could call it an expressway," said Elena Conte, an organizer at the Pratt Center for Community Development. "It’s a fragment. It’s a mile and a quarter long."
It was planned by Robert Moses, whose original idea was to continue it through the Bronx Zoo. But local residents – not to mention the zoo and the New York Botanical Garden – opposed an extension and, in the 1970s, those plans were dropped.
But some Bronx residents have never made peace with even an abbreviated expressway. Activists, working together as the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, have for years been working to tear the highway down. In 2006, WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein went up to Bronx with the Pratt Center’s Joan Byron.
"There are three schools right on the expressway," said Byron. "So by redeveloping this as residential and parkland, those schools would have a green connection right across to the river." (A video of the plan is below.)
One of the supporters of this tear-down is Bronx congressman José Serrano. Two years ago he secured a $1.5 million federal grant to study three different options for the Sheridan: keep it, modify it, or take it down altogether. "The initial agreement we had, the understanding we had, was that they were going to look at everything," he said.
"What I’m concerned about, what the community is upset about, what we’re all upset about, is that they immediately took off the table the possibility of full removal of the Sheridan," said Serrano. "We just think that’s totally unfair and improper."
But as much as some wanted the highway gone, others say it's a vital piece of the road transportation network.
"Well, we were completely dead set against that and have been since the dawn of time," said Matthew D’Arrigo. He's co-president of the Hunts Point Market, the massive food distribution center located off the expressway.
"Without the Sheridan," he said, "a thousand trucks a night would have just one way to get to this market."
He says the market hasn’t been shy about making it known that taking down the Sheridan could jeopardize its ability to do business – and the thousands of jobs it brings to the Bronx.
"Everybody. Everybody. Everybody knows our position on that," he said.
Right now, the market is in the middle of negotiations with the city for a long-term lease. After this weekend, if it doesn’t reach a deal with New York, Hunts Point Market can start talking to other places. Like New Jersey.
Privately, officials told WNYC that fear of losing the market prompted the city to drop the removal option.
But recent a press conference in the Bronx, Mayor Bloomberg said the decision was driven by data, not politics. "All of the traffic studies show that it would not be feasible to do that," he said.
Predictions that losing a highway would cause traffic hell have been wrong before. Sam Schwartz – also known as Gridlock Sam – worked for the city DOT in 1973, when part of the then-elevated lower portion of the West Side Highway collapsed. In a 2010 interview with WNYC, he described what happened.
"People panicked," he said. "They thought that was Armageddon. They thought that was the end."
It wasn’t the case. Traffic on some roadways did go up. “We had trouble tracing one-third of the people and it wasn’t that they weren’t coming in," Schwartz said. "When we looked at transit, transit went up. We had the same number of people coming in, but they weren’t coming by car.”
Schwartz wouldn’t comment specifically on the Sheridan, but cities like Milwaukee, San Francisco and Portland all say they’ve seen big economic and environmental benefits when urban highways have been torn down.
New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called that comparison flawed.
"I think you know the Bloomberg administration has been very innovative when it comes to traffic engineering," she said. "But in this instance this particular option didn’t work -- but that doesn’t mean other options can’t work here and we’re going to continue to explore them."
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
(Daniel Tucker -- New York, NY, WNYC) Six subway stations in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood now have free Wi-Fi as part of a program bringing cell phone, data and Internet access to 36 stations by the end of 2012.
Many subway riders were pleasantly surprised by the news as they went through the turnstiles at 14th Street and 7th Avenue to catch the 1, 2 or 3 trains on Monday. Igor Salay was already using the hotspot to check his email.
"Nice speed. Very fast," said Salay, 30, an MTA employee who fixes MetroCard machines. "Perfect."
Not everyone was so bullish on the new service.
"In the future, nobody will want to speak to each other," said 79-year-old Harold Arnold. He prefers talking to texting and wishes the subway would remain the last bastion against a connected culture.
He lamented that an above-ground trend — texting youths crashing into him on the sidewalk — might now extend to the subway platform. "People are like zombies walking around the city," he said.
The wired stops include stations at 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues at 14th Street, as well as the C/E station at 23rd Street.
Google Offers is sponsoring the first phase of the subway’s free Wi-Fi hotspots roll out — for a total of 36 stations. Wi-Fi provider Boingo will bring the service to 277 subway stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx over the next several years.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York's Lost Subways loom large in the mind for things that aren't there.
Our January post, map and radio feature about the city's "ghost system" of never-built or abandoned lines sparked a robust public reaction. More than 5,700 TN readers talked them up on social media. And that fearsome cultural arbiter, New York Magazine's Approval Matrix, placed us not in the page's Lowbrow / Despicable quadrant -- where we always thought we'd end up -- but the Highbrow / Brilliant quadrant.
Best of all, New York Public Library took notice and invited us to cross the threshold of the esteemed Mid-Manhattan branch and give an illustrated talk about our lost subways research -- where they would've gone and why they weren't built -- and how tricky it was to come up with the post's cool interactive map.
Come by to say hello! And comment below to let us know where you'd build a new subway.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Click around the map above to see the photos of the bikes and the latest updates on their status. You can update the map yourself, so please let us know if one of these gets removed, or tagged.
Listen to the radio version of this story:
WNYC listeners submitted over 500 pictures of abandoned bicycles in New York. But most of them will not be removed by the city. Here's what happened when we tried to bring the issue to the city's attention with what we thought were all the modern tools necessary: a stack of pictures, a spreadsheet of geocodes, and a veritable army of crowd-contributors.
The life cycle of a bike left to rot on NYC streets is long, and intentionally so. The complaint process is as clunky as the cast off bikes themselves and the criteria for removal is stiffer than the U-lock holding this pilfered cruiser to a bike rack on Bleecker Street.
The first obstacle is that what you consider an abandoned nuisance taking up your prime bike parking is property to someone else. Most bikes reported to the city as abandoned aren't abandoned enough to be removed (see definition below).
Before we started collecting abandoned bike photos, the City received 429 official complaints since July, the start of the fiscal year. Of those, just 60 bikes were removed, less than 15 percent.
That's because a bike has to be more than abandoned to be claimed by the city. It has to also be officially derelict, as Henry Ehrhardt, director of customer relations at the NY Sanitation Department patiently explained to me while I showed him my stack of hundreds of bikes in various states of decay.
“I think it’s important to remember that the Department of Sanitation’s job is to, essentially, remove junk and garbage from the city’s streets,” he told me.
Like these two, which were tagged and removed after we submitted them.
After a bike complaint is called into 311, a sanitation inspector heads out to the scene to determine if the bike is junked enough. Most bikes just don't make the cut.
There are many obstacles that prevent the Sanitation Dept from removing a seemingly abandoned bike. First the regulations:
The bike must be affixed to public property (not your front gate or a privately-owned bike rack).
To be derelict a bike must meet three of the following five criteria:
- The appearance is crushed or not usable;
- Have parts missing from bicycle other than seat and front wheel;
- Have flat tires or missing both tires;
- Handlebars and pedals are damaged, or the fork, frame or rims are bent;
- 75 percent of bicycle is rusted.
These bikes, while seemingly derelict were not removed -- possibly because the Sanitation Department inspected a different nearby bike instead.
And of course, many people call in bikes that just aren't abandoned or derelict at all.
“When we’re taking it we’re essentially recycling it, it’s going to be taken away and put in the recycling truck and processed as scrap metal,” Ehrhardt said.
That's a shame to some bike advocates who argue the city should be more proactive in claiming abandoned bikes for recycling or sale. A nonprofit, Bike Rescue Project, has proposed claiming the bikes while still salvageable to repair and sell for charity, but by the time they fall under the jurisdiction of the Sanitation Department, it's already too late. The city of Hoboken does a yearly sweep and collects about 50 bikes a year that get put up for sale at auction. That city's DOT tells Transportation Nation it gets no complaints about wrongfully removed bikes.
Vito Turso, a deputy commissioner at DSNY, says the criteria are strict to make sure no bike gets removed that is still someone's property. Changing that would mean changing the law. “That sounds to me like something a person who is interested in having these removed might want to bring to the attention of their local elected official and then have that local elected official take it the next step.”
He doesn't want to run the risk of claiming property. He deals in junk.
The green mountain bike below, for example, isn't derelict by the criteria. Though partially rusted, it’s in usable condition and the only parts missing are the seat and front wheel, possibly removed by the owner for security.
However, this is an example of the tricky business of reporting abandoned bikes. Our submission was not intended to be this bike, but rather this insectile black former-road bike across the street and a bit into Riverside park. At this intersection there are actually two streets named Riverside Drive (see map) so an address and intersection weren't enough, and wasted a trip by a Sanitation worker, he wouldn't have seen a copy of a photo, just a written description because there is no official online or digital submissions process.
That's the other obstacle to action, and the main hurdle we encountered. Calling in a complaint takes about 14 minutes and involves speaking with two operators. 311 handles all the intake then forwards the information to the Sanitation Department.
That means a bulk submission of 500 bikes had nowhere to go. Neither agency had the staff to take a spreadsheet and enter it into the correct databases for action. 311 agreed to take two spreadsheets -- after Transportation Nation agreed to filter out the non-derelict looking bikes.
After two batches totaling 150 bikes (or bits of bike parts), 100 of them are being investigated this week. From the first batch of 50 bikes, 24 could not be found on location. Several weren't derelict despite my best vetting efforts, and in the end, 19 were tagged and removed, either by owners or the DSNY.
Of the 350 remaining bikes in our database, they have to be called in.
If you do so, please update the map above. Here's the full gallery of photo submissions.
No Bike Share on the Upper West Side Until June 2013: Sadik-Khan Discusses Biking, Parking -- and Bike Parking, in NYC Council Testimony
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The Upper West Side of Manhattan won't see bike share until June 2013. That's according to New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in testimony before the New York City Council Tuesday.
The date isn't exactly a surprise -- the city acknowledged at the launch of its Citi Bike program that some neighborhoods won't see bike share until next spring, but the June date puts it at the outer edge of that timeline.
Sadik-Khan also defended the cost of the program, noting that an annual membership in New York gives riders 45 minutes of free riding compared to 30 minutes in London. And she pointed out that New York's is "a privately operated system" while most other city's bike shares are not.
In other questioning, Queens council member Leroy Comrie wanted to know what Citibank's $47.5 million will be used for. Sadik-Khan told him "it's going to pay for the purchase of the bikes, the stations, the operator that is going to be servicing the bikes 24/7, rebalancing the bikes, moving them around the city -- so all of that money is going to pay for the operation of that system." She added that the program will bring about 200 jobs to Brooklyn. "The initial launch site will be in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then we will be doing the permanent facility (which) will be located at Sunset Park, 53rd and 3rd."
On other subjects, Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the transportation committee, asked the commissioner what was happening with plans to privatize parking meters -- would people be laid off? Would we have dynamic pricing? Sadik-Khan said it's in the very early stages and the city is just putting out feelers by issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). "We've agreed to study the possibility of a public/private partnership for our parking program to see if there are opportunities for further improvement," she said, "but I would say that we run the most efficient and effective system in the country; we have a 99% uptake in terms of operability of our Muni Meters, and so we're thrilled with the performance of our programs to date, but again, we are checking to see...if there are options that could provide other, better service for New Yorkers (but) the benchmark is a high one."
She added that the feedback from the RFQ will determine whether or not the city moves forward with actual procurement. (Side note regarding NYC's parking meter program: 70% of parking meter revenue comes from credit cards.)
Sadik-Khan was also asked about a parking sensor pilot program on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx; she said the city was still in the middle of the pilot and would evaluate it after it was done.
Peter Koo, who represents Flushing, said bikes are chained everywhere in the neighborhood; the commissioner was sympathetic. "We've increased the speed with which we've put bike racks out there," she said. "We have over 13,000 racks out there right now, we continue to do more, but there are some parts of the city where if you stop walking for a second someone is going to chain a bike to you," Sadik-Khan said, saying that she knew the demand for parking was high. "We have to find a place for them to park!" Koo echoed, who added that he'd seen garages offering $8 a day bicycle parking. "It's really expensive! You can take the subway for $5 a day!"
"Well, for $9.95 a day, you can have a bike share bike ," Sadik-Kahn countered.
Following the hearing, reporters asked the commissioner about residential parking permits. Residents of the downtown Brooklyn neighborhood where the Barclays Center is opening this September have been pushing for a residential parking permit program. But it would require state legislation to enact, and Sadik-Khan said even after legislation cleared Albany, it would take nine months to get such a program off the ground.
Sadik-Khan also expressed support for legislation that would hold business owners accountable for delivery cyclists who don't follow traffic laws, and said she's working with the New York City Council to craft it.