Archive for the tag 'op-eds'

It's all your fault, California Chrome. Bad horsey! Source: Wikipedia

It’s all your fault, California Chrome. Bad horsey! Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: Last winter, thousands of people waited three hours for New Jersey Transit trains at the Meadowlands to go home from the Super Bowl. That was mentioned last February in our discussion about how transit riders continually get screwed. Now, history has repeated itself at the Belmont Stakes: a three- to four-hour wait just to get out of the Belmont Racetrack parking lot or onto a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train. The New York Times reported on the transit aspect.

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All images courtesy of Allan Rosen

All images courtesy of Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: It was with much fanfare, just over a year ago, that the city unveiled its new parking regulatory signs. However, at least in this area, they have barely made an impact thus far because the older signs are only being replaced as they wear out or fall off. The new signs, in their utilization of more white space, are supposed to give the impression of less clutter. In order to accomplish this, the font size has been reduced, making the signs less visible from a distance.

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An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

Source: bustime.mta.info/

Source: bustime.mta.info/

THE COMMUTE: Bus Time was first rolled out in the Bronx and Staten Island. Later it was expanded to Manhattan and finally Brooklyn and Queens. It is a system that predicts bus arrival times using a computer, mobile device or by sending a text message via a cell phone. It is also available at a few selected bus stop locations with plans for expansion to additional bus stops. The ability to predict arrival times at bus stops was first promised by the MTA 35 years ago, so you can understand my skepticism why, after three failed attempts and tens of millions of dollars wasted, I thought it would never happen.

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Fun times...not. Source: Wilderbee / Flickr

Fun times…not. Source: Wilderbee / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week in Part 1, we discussed city hypocrisy regarding transportation issues. The MTA isn’t innocent in this regard either.

It was revealed last week that Metro-North gave a higher priority to on-time performance than to safety, possibly contributing to last December’s fatal accident in the Bronx. Like the Department of Transportation (DOT), the MTA has long insisted that safety always comes first.

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Source: _chrisUK/Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: Since the snow and ice evaporated, most drivers probably assumed maneuvering along city streets would be trouble-free. But now they have to deal with another aggravating upshot generated by this year’s severe weather — a plague of potholes. They’re not nearly as harsh as the 10 plagues God smite on the Egyptians in Exodus, but the proliferation of gaps and fissures in the pavement are, nonetheless, plentiful and problematical.

Under ordinary conditions the city’s roads are rough enough, but after two months of wicked weather and frigid temperatures, those thoroughfares have taken a licking and keep on cracking, creating one final winter souvenir — an obstacle course that scars our streets. Drivers who don’t avoid those fissures typically experience unnerving jolts or, worse, costly vehicle damage.

The only roads likely to be worse than our pothole-peppered streets may be those pitted with bomb craters in war-torn Afghanistan.

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Worn out street striping. Photo by Allan Rosen

Worn out street striping. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) claims that safety is their first priority. Nonsense. Why are there always large sections of the Belt Parkway with malfunctioning street lights for three months or more? As soon as one section is repaired, another section is in the dark. This has been a problem long before Superstorm Sandy. Pitch blackness is especially hazardous at entrances and exits of highways if you are new to a particular highway. If it is coupled with poor signage, it is a recipe for disaster for unfamiliar drivers who can make a sudden or erratic decision leading to an accident.

After Sandy, the problem only worsened. City Councilman Alan Maisel recently wrote to the new DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, complaining that lights on the Belt Parkway in Plumb Beach have been out for 15 months. He cited unfulfilled promises made to his predecessor, former City Councilman Lew Fidler, that the problem would be repaired by now. The lights were still out as of last week. If elected officials can’t get results, what chance does an ordinary citizen have? It is inexcusable for large sections of highway to be in the dark, especially during winter months, when there is less daylight, for so long a period of time.

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Source: Francisco Daum / Flickr

Source: Francisco Daum / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: It’s time to change — the time.

Daylight Saving Time (DST), the seasonal hourly change, commenced at 2:00 a.m. this past Sunday. Clocks, watches and other timekeeping devices, including computers and home video units, had to be reset one hour ahead — essentially shifting an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening until the first Sunday in November.

For those of you directionally dazed when it comes to fiddling with your timepieces, just remember — you ‘spring’ forward and ‘fall’ back.

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Display using the BusTime app on an iPad. Click to enlarge

Display using the Bus Bus NYC, an app on an iPad that uses BusTime data. Click to enlarge

THE COMMUTE: BusTime, already available on all bus routes in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, has been expanded to all bus routes in Brooklyn as of Saturday. Previously in Brooklyn, it had only been available for the B61 and B63 bus routes. The expansion throughout Brooklyn and Queens, originally scheduled for 2013, was revised to March 9, 2014 according to an MTA press release, but was actually available a day early.

Signs, however, announcing the expansion to every borough already began appearing in several subway stations as early as February 24th. Leave it to the MTA to cause unnecessary confusion, even if it was only for two weeks.

What Is BusTime?

We’ve discussed BusTime several times before. It is a bus tracking system advising passengers where the next bus is so they would no longer have to rely on schedules, which are mostly not adhered to. Originally intended to be digital displays, either stand alone or built into the bus shelter, showing the arrival of the next bus, the MTA opted for a different system. A system that is only available to computer and smartphone users and those who know how to send text messages on a cell phone. Yes, that is most of the population, but does not include many seniors who are not tech savvy.

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Photo by Roman Kruglov

BETWEEN THE LINES: New Yorkers warmly embraced a balmy weekend that likely thawed their chilled bodies and spirits. However, the forecast isn’t pleasant and looks like we’re in for Frigid Winter, Part Two. [Ed. – It was snowing all morning. We need this like we need holes in our heads.]

No sooner did Mother Nature tease us with a brief respite, with temperatures topping 50 degrees for three consecutive days, than we were alerted to a cold air mass heading south that will return temperatures below-freezing by mid-week.

Temperatures reached a high over the weekend not seen since it was a 55 on January 5, 2014 the day before the mercury nose-dived to a record low five degrees and frequently remained below freezing for the next six weeks.

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