Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

In an image from the 1950s, the Rockaway Beach Rail Line used to run from Rockaway to Rego Park. Source: The Forum Newsgroup

In an image from the 1950s, the Rockaway Beach Rail Line used to run from Rockaway to Rego Park. Source: The Forum Newsgroup

THE COMMUTE: Now that Queens College has released its year-long study of the feasibility to rebuild and reactivate the long dormant Rockaway Beach Line between Rego Park and Howard Beach, momentum to reuse the line for transit purposes is gaining traction. The New York Daily News is now a supporter. Other alternatives include the building of a High Line-style park named “Queensway,” and doing nothing. According to the study, restoration would cost between $600 and $900 million and would generate as many as 500,000 daily riders.

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Source: Hupu2 via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Hupu2 via Wikimedia Commons

“…Legalize it, yeah yeah, that’s the best thing you can do” – Peter Tosh, “Legalize It,” 1975

BETWEEN THE LINESStart spreading the news — the times they are a-changing and New Yorkers will soon be a little less anxious about getting high with a little help from their friends.

After more than 40 years, the winds of change have a distinct hint of marijuana blowing across the nation with legalization and decriminalization slowly taking effect. Though federal legalization is still a pipedream — soundly opposed by diverse pockets of resistance — on Election Day, Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states to legalize and regulate the commercial production and sale of marijuana for adults. What’s more, voters in the nation’s capital and in several cities nationwide decided to eliminate marijuana possession penalties.

New York City is set to join the expanding list of municipalities liberalizing archaic drug laws, which could end most arrests for low-level marijuana possession, with police officers directed to issue summonses without detaining the suspect.

As a matter of fact, New York City will now conform to the state’s 1977 Marijuana Reform Act, signed into law by then-Governor Hugh Carey. The statute calls for possession of up to 25 grams of pot as a violation, punishable up to a $100 fine for the first offense.

New York is actually one of eighteen states, including a few Republican strongholds like Nebraska and Ohio, that have decriminalized marijuana possession — with no prison time or a criminal record — for first-time possession of small amounts for personal consumption.

After 37 years, New York City cops will be directed not to exploit a segment of the act specifying the weed must be in public view to qualify as a violation. (Under the controversial stop and frisk policy, NYPD officers routinely demanded individuals empty their pockets. When they saw a joint, the concealed pot was suddenly “in public,” and, therefore, a crime.)

But don’t expect this subtle change to transform The Big Apple into The Big Reefer.

A substantial majority of baby boomers have either smoked or sampled pot. It could also be taken for granted that some of that generation’s politicians did a doobie now and then. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York State Governor George Pataki, former New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to name a few, have admitted smoking pot in their youth. Former President Bill Clinton did, too, but, without a smirk or a wink, noted he never inhaled.

One presumption hostile to legalization is that marijuana, which is much more intoxicating today than when it was the choice of trendy young adults years ago, leads to harder drugs. That’s as preposterous as proclaiming regularly consuming beer may lead to drinking more potent potables!

There was an unsubstantiated anecdote circulating in the freewheeling 60s that a major American university had conducted research in which lab rats were fed their body weight in marijuana over a 30-day period. Consequently, the drugged rodents showed a multitude of problems, leading to the conclusion that cannabis could result in similar effects to humans. The research seems scientifically questionable and patently unrealistic. Nonetheless, anyone capable of smoking their body weight in marijuana in a month would experience a relentless case of the munchies, not to mention likely turn acutely sick and impaired!

Anyone consuming their body weight of anything in a brief period, whether it’s water, broccoli, tofu, potato chips or Twinkies, would probably risk adverse side effects.

I’m not aware of any conclusive research asserting that smoking an occasional joint does more harm to the human body than a daily shot of liquor. Nonetheless, marijuana is criminalized, while alcohol supports multi-billion dollar businesses, from agricultural to advertising to your local saloon. On the plus side, if pot were legal, it could be a major source of sorely-needed revenue at all levels of government.

Even when comprehensive marijuana legalization was a long shot in the early 1970s, American tobacco companies supposedly seized an opportunity that was too good to miss. Big tobacco reportedly registered a bunch of brand names, such as “Acapulco Gold” and other pot-related monikers, so, if and when the substance was legalized, they’d be set to commence production.

More than a decade ago, a national substance abuse group reported that underage drinking accounted for one-fourth of all alcohol consumed in this country. Predictably, the alcohol industry rejected that estimate as “absolutely wrong.”

While continuing to preach “No” to illegal drugs, that message should similarly repudiate any addictive substance, including prescription drugs. After all, excessive abuse, in any form, is irresponsible behavior.

It is also time to admit the “war on drugs” was a disaster that was mostly waged domestically. Fighting the cartels that transport illegal substances to our communities may seem effective, every now and then, when there’s a major bust, but, by and large, the drug pipeline has scarcely been clogged. It has also damaged countless lives, overtaxed the criminal justice system and led to numerous incidents of corrupt law enforcement agents, excessive police tactics and exploitation of civil forfeiture laws.

Besides, you don‘t need a sociology degree to realize that criminal enforcement has disproportionately targeted minorities and low-income neighborhoods.

According to NYPD statistics, 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession through August 2014, were black or Latino. Yet, the 2010 census indicated those ethnic groups just comprise about 60 percent of the city’s population.

After the repeal of prohibition, America didn’t turn into a country of alcoholics. Consequently, modernizing marijuana laws would not result in the nation going to pot. On the other hand, it would end the inequitable imprisonment of tens of thousands for a minor offense, as well as boost federal, state and local treasuries.

With that in mind, toke ‘em, if you got ‘em. But, don’t Bogart that joint.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

The famed Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, which connects Queens and Manhattan. Source: Wikipedia

The famed Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, which connects Queens and Manhattan. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, we asked if the real purpose for the new 25 MPH speed limit is increased safety or increased revenue. If the city is as concerned with increased safety as much as it claims, let us look at some traffic safety hazards the city has not been paying adequate attention to.

It took more than two years to repair the lighting on the Belt Parkway between Flatbush Avenue and Knapp Street after Superstorm Sandy. Dark dangerous stretches of highways with non-reflective exit signs were a problem long before Sandy, and will continue to be a problem.

Street markings are allowed to virtually disappear before being repainted. Lanes mysteriously merge into each other without any notice, and left and right turn lanes appear out of nowhere, forcing motorists to try to switch lanes in heavy traffic or make a turn they didn’t want to make in the first place, and risk getting lost. These are accidents just waiting to happen.

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A car accident at Emmons Avenue and Bedford Avenue (Photo by  Tom Paolillo)

A car accident at Emmons Avenue and Bedford Avenue (Photo by Tom Paolillo)

BETWEEN THE LINES: Beginning last Friday, New York City motorists, and anyone passing through the jurisdiction, are required to drive at a leisurely 25 miles per hour on most streets or face the consequences. It’s even slower — though more fitting — at 20 mph near schools.

Kind of brings to mind the opening line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Feelin’ Groovy”: Slow down, you move too fast.

I’m a safety proponent, especially when I’m behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound vehicle. I drive more cautiously as I age, as I’m fully aware my response time has correspondingly diminished. Yet, I regularly see drivers carelessly and, occasionally, recklessly motoring along local streets, which is likely the principal intention for the speed limit reduction. And, ultimately, to save the lives of pedestrians and motorists.

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THE COMMUTE: The 25 mile per hour (MPH) default speed limit is now the law. What proponents of this legislation fail to realize is that with a 30 MPH speed limit, the average speed limit on city streets is only 20 MPH or less. A maximum speed limit of 25 MPH will bring the average speed limit down to 12 MPH in most cases. That means that your average automobile and truck trip (yes, we forget about trucks, don’t we?) will now take almost twice as long. That is if everyone complies, and of course few will.

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Source: changeschanging / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, a one-and-a-quarter-mile afternoon trip took my friend one hour and 20 minutes using two buses. He waited 28 minutes for the B68 and another 30 minutes for the B82 in Coney Island. Three B68s came at once, and he just missed the B82. BusTime obviously is not being used to regulate the buses. What the MTA is doing, however, to help buses adhere to their schedule is putting pressure on bus drivers not to be late. What other explanation could there be for the following?

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The MTA's East Side Access plan. Source:

The MTA’s East Side Access plan. Source:

THE COMMUTE: The big news headlines this week were that subway ridership reached a new record level on September 23rd, with more than 6.1 million paying swipes, and the budget shortfall in the MTA’s new capital plan. (Notice I did not say paying customers as the MTA did, because I consider a customer as someone making a round trip. The correct term for someone making a one way trip is “passenger.” However, the MTA refuses to use that term as if it were a dirty word and now considers everyone a “customer.”) The headline only refers to subway riders; bus ridership reached its peak ten years ago.

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Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: New Yorkers must wait until 2023 for the completion of East Side Access, a project that will improve LIRR access to Manhattan, free up trackage at Penn Station to improve rail service to the Northeast Bronx, but degrade LIRR service for Brooklynites. It is a project first conceived in the 1950s and will have taken 70 years to complete by the time it opens. Its budget, originally $4.3 billion, now exceeds $10.8 billion. The scaled back Fulton Transit Center, a project costing $4.2 billion $1.4 billion is also way behind schedule and should finally be fully completed in December of this year.

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Click to enlarge

THE COMMUTE: In parts 1 and 2, we specifically discussed routing deficiencies in Brooklyn and hinted at similar deficiencies in Staten Island and Queens that are even more severe. This week, we will discuss…

Routing Problems In Borough Park And Bensonhurst Go Back To The 1940s!

There has been a need for through Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue routes since the 1940s. Instead, one route fulfills the need for two. However, there was an obstacle that prevented a through 13th Avenue route. There was no bridge over the Sea Beach cut at 62nd Street until 1937, which separated the two portions of 13th Avenue. A trolley line operated over the former B1 route along 86th Street, 13th Avenue and Bay Ridge Avenue to access the ferry to Manhattan since the 1890s. The B16 bus route was added in the early 1930s along Fort Parkway and 13th Avenue to Ocean Avenue, a logical route back then. Israel Zion Hospital, a small institution located at 49th Street and 10th Avenue, did not require a north-south bus route. However, during the last 70 years it has greatly expanded, serving all of southern Brooklyn and changed its name to Maimonides Medical Center. Still, it has no north-south bus service.

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An old bus map, clearly a relic from the Cenozoic era. Photo by Allan Rosen

An old bus map, clearly a relic from the Cenozoic era. Photo by Allan Rosen. Click to enlarge

THE COMMUTE: Last week, we discussed bus routing inefficiencies in Sheepshead Bay. I am going to venture a guess that Sheepshead Bay residents have a need to leave the area on occasion (although Ned may disagree) and are interested in routing deficiencies in our adjacent neighborhoods.

The Bus Routing System Was Never Planned

Many of the routing problems exist today because the bus system just incrementally developed over time by route combinations and extensions and absorption of former trolley lines. This is what caused today’s inefficient and indirect bus routing. In fact, while doing research for my Master’s thesis, I learned that when the B21 was created in 1946, bus riders protested in front of Coney Island Hospital on the first day, that the new route did not meet their needs.

Yet it remained in place for 32 more years, and if not for me it may have still been in existence today, 68 years later not serving our needs. More likely, had it not been incorporated into the present B1 and B4, it would have either been discontinued without a replacement or else become a shuttle route between Ocean Parkway and Kingsborough Community College, thus reducing mobility even further.

Other areas still have non-functioning routes, such as the B21. That is because the MTA does not do comprehensive bus studies, because the ones they have done in the past failed due to their unwillingness to compromise with communities. It was always the MTA’s way or the highway. Only recently have they restarted that effort with studies in Co-Op City and Northeast Queens at the behest of local elected officials.

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