Archive for the tag 'op-eds'

The Fab Four -- John, Paul, George and Ringo -- arrive in America at JFK. Source: Wikipedia

The Fab Four — John, Paul, George and Ringo — arrive in America at JFK. Source: Wikipedia

BETWEEN THE LINES: This past Sunday night, February 9, marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” A record 73 million Americans — more than a third of the U.S. population and considerably higher than the first Super Bowl TV audience three years later — tuned in. Some were habitual viewers of the popular weekly variety show. A sizable segment, no doubt, watched just to see what the fuss about four British lads was. But many viewers, largely pre-teen and teenage girls, were a legion of keyed up devotees, aware of the ruckus since the Liverpool quartet’s contagious pop songs became Top 40 radio staples in the weeks before their groundbreaking, two-set performance.

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The B44 SBS debuts along Nostrand Avenue. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS debuts along Nostrand Avenue. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: As a result of the efforts of Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch and Jumaane Williams, as well as pressure from North Brooklyn residents, the MTA announced on Friday that beginning in the spring, SBS stops at Avenue L and Gates Avenue will be added to the B44 route. The news came via an email from Jacobs’ office and in an article from the New York Post.

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Some seriously out of control jaywalking. Source: Brian Robinson (bhr1) / Flickr

Some seriously out of control jaywalking. Source: Brian Robinson (bhr1) / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jaywalking, for those only familiar with the term from occasional segments on “The Tonight Show,” can have dire consequences. Jay Leno casually — and lawfully — “jaywalks” Los Angeles streets, seeking spontaneous responses to questions from pedestrians, which are then painstakingly edited to amuse his audience. But, the act of “jaywalking” in many cities is actually a traffic safety violation.

The term has existed for almost a century and refers to pedestrians unlawfully crossing a street at a designated crossing or at an intersection without regard for oncoming traffic. It likely became a low-level public safety ordinance after a surge of vehicular traffic, particularly in urban areas, where it has sort of evolved into a group sport.

Seasoned New York pedestrians may justify that “Don’t Walk” signals mean don’t cross when a vehicle approaches, so why not cross the street when there isn’t a vehicle in sight or, at least, a safe distance away?

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The B44 SBS debuts along Nostrand Avenue. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: During its first week of operation, the B44 SBS was widely criticized by former B44 Limited riders for eliminated stops, unreliable, overcrowded and delayed local bus service, inadequate public information regarding the route change and longer walks to SBS stops. I covered these criticisms in my SBS series (parts 1, 2, and 3).

MTA apologists refused to hold the MTA accountable, claiming that these initial problems would be overcome as the MTA would make needed adjustments quickly. That would result in a route that would be better utilized because it would be quicker and reliable, saving time for most riders. The problem I have is we will never know that for sure since only data that supports the MTA’s success story will be shared.

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Weird anti-jay walking propaganda. Source: Wikipedia

Weird anti-jay walking propaganda. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: This column focuses primarily on buses and subways, although we also cover issues of interest to motorists. We have discussed air travel several times, as well as transit in other cities. One subject we have not touched upon is the pedestrian. We all are pedestrians at one time or another, unless you use a scooter to get around. We have ignored pedestrians thus far because websites such as Streetsblog vehemently advocate for the rights of pedestrians and cyclists while other than chat groups, there are few if any sites advocating for bus or subway riders.

Pedestrian Safety

During the past several weeks, there has been a surge of pedestrian deaths on the Upper West Side as well as a bicycle fatality in Harlem. In fact, it seems like every day we hear of another vehicle going out of control or a pedestrian death somewhere in the city. So what is going on and what is the city doing in an effort to curb pedestrian deaths? Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan for Vision Zero, which would reduce pedestrian deaths. The plan includes more cameras, which I have no problem with, as long as safety remains the prime focus and not revenue. When anticipated revenue from cameras becomes part of following year’s budget, then we have a problem.

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A passenger languishes in frigid conditions while hoping to board a B1 or B49 bus. Source: Dav1d / Flickr

A passenger languishes in frigid conditions while hoping to board a B1 or B49 bus. Source: Dav1d / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: The ongoing problem of the B1 and B49 bypassing intending passengers while school is in session, which I have mentioned many times before, took no vacation during the recent Polar Vortex. I know I sound like a broken record, but I will continue complaining until something is done. The reason this practice continues is because passengers just accept it as normal operating practice and do not complain. Others believe their complaints will fall on deaf ears, so what’s the use? However, complaining does get results. The MTA, like other agencies and companies, use complaints to measure how they are doing.

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Polly Trottenberg, the city's new DOT commissioner.

Polly Trottenberg, the city’s new DOT commissioner. Source: Transportation for America / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: On the day before he took office, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he was appointing Polly Trottenberg as Transportation Commissioner. She replaced the controversial Janette Sadik-Khan who held the position for the past six years.

Trottenberg was the under secretary for policy at federal DOT for the past year and assistant secretary for policy for the three years prior. She was a former aide to U.S. senators for 12 years. She worked for Charles Schumer and Daniel Moynihan, and Barbara Boxer of California (who graduated from the same Brooklyn high school as Marty Markowitz four years earlier). You can read more of Trottenberg’s resume here and here.

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The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round... Source: Lempkin / Flickr

Source: Lempkin / Flickr

THE COMMUTEThe Commute is now three years old. A year has past since we reflected on 2012. We looked ahead to 2013 and asked if the MTA will start allowing transfers between local, limited and SBS routes as well as a second transfer by the time the B44 Select Bus Service launches. That, of course, did not happen.

Select Bus Service (SBS) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

However, SBS was the biggest story of the year for Sheepshead Bay as Brooklyn’s first SBS route began operation on November 17.  We followed that story with three more about SBS where we looked at initial reviews in three parts: 1, 2, and 3.  Earlier in the year, we did another three-part series about SBS: Part 1,  and Parts 2 and 3 where we asked What Happened to Democracy? We even looked at Bus Rapid Transit in the Capital District upstate.

Keep reading The Commute’s year-end wrap up.

THE COMMUTE: I asked if that was the case back in 2010 when I documented 14 buses in a row bypassing bus stops after loading up at Kingsborough Community College. Since then I have done numerous B1 updates documenting service problems. I have written many times to the last two directors of Bus Operations over the past five years. Each time, I promptly received courteous replies and have met with a half dozen operating personnel on about four occasions, assured that the problem would be addressed and Manhattan and Brighton Beach passengers would not be ignored . Yet the problem persists.

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Andrew Gounardes (Photo by Carol Dronsfield)

The following is an opinion article submitted by Andrew Gounardes, a local attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

Last week, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption released a report detailing an enraging, though not surprising, level of corruption in our state government. The Commission’s report identified so many illegal activities, and incredulous abuses of legal activities, they can’t all be listed here. Here’s just a sampling of the worst offenses:

  • Pay-to-play politics – High-powered donors contribute to political campaigns in exchange for legislation that would reap a windfall on their business interests. One developer received a real estate tax credit worth $50 million last year just to build one luxury building in Manhattan.
  • Campaign finance loopholes – New York has some of the highest campaign contribution limits in the country, and yet many donors skirt those rules by donating through different corporate and LLC accounts. One donor was found to have used 25 different corporate accounts to make $3 million in contributions.
  • Misuse of campaign funds – There are no meaningful limits on what politicians can spend their campaign dollars on. Members of the legislature routinely use campaign funds to pay for personal expenses such as car leases and personal mortgages.

So what can we do to limit, if not outright stop, such blatant corruption? The answer is pretty simple and we already do it in New York City: public financing of elections.

Currently, the campaign finance system rewards big donors and the politicians they donate to. If we lower the amount of money someone can donate to a campaign, incentivize small-dollar donations through a public matching system, and limit how those campaign dollars are spent, we can break the corruption cycle of wealthy donors buying off politicians and politicians using campaign funds to pay for vacation homes and luxury cars.

Public financing will also make politicians more responsive to voters. Under New York City’s system, any contribution up to $175 gets matched by city dollars at a rate of 6:1; a $175 donation is really worth $1050. Under the current rules in New York State, one donor who contributes $1000 has more influence than five donors who each contribute $175. That’s ridiculous. If we replicated the New York City program at the state level, those five donors contributing $175 would outweigh the one donor contributing only $1000.

Opponents of campaign finance reform say that it costs too much money. They feign outrage at spending tax dollars on political campaigns and hope that if they scream loud enough, you won’t notice why the really oppose reform: because they benefit enormously from the status quo.

Here’s the truth: public financing of campaigns will cost approximately $41 million a year, or just $3.20 per taxpayer in New York per year. In other words, getting rid of corruption in New York State will cost $9 million LESS than the $50 million tax break that our politicians gave to that luxury building developer last year. Think about that: one fewer tax break to a wealthy donor can pay for a more honest government.

To me, the answer seems clear. Let’s start cleaning up Albany and start restoring faith in state government again by enacting true campaign finance reform.

Andrew Gounardes is an attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

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