Archive for the tag 'opinions'

THE COMMUTE: Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach are prominently featured in a new series of MTA public service announcements denouncing texting while walking, cycling, and riding the city’s buses. I doubt it if the MTA realizes how ironic some of the locations that were chosen are. The cyclist begins his ride just 100 feet from where my friend crashed into a cyclist about 20 years ago. He was uninjured, but just a few blocks away another cyclist was killed earlier this year. The location in the video where the girl is “hit by the bus” while texting is just 200 feet from a real bus fatality four few years ago. The messages are clear and all should take heed. Texting does not go well with walking, cycling, or even standing in a bus if you are not holding on.

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The Fulton Transit Center. Source: Wikipedia

The Fulton Transit Center. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: In answer to the question posed in the headline, it is because they don’t care enough, since they do not place themselves in the position of passengers who are making decisions. Customer service is just not a high priority. It is a theme we keep coming back to. The last time we discussed it was back in August. At the end of that article I linked to two posts from blogger David Gerber, in which he went into excruciating detail about how the MTA provides misinformation. He has since written three more posts detailing the MTA’s misinformation and / or lack of information. In part three of his series from this past August, he discusses passengers having to endure the cold because of inadequate public information regarding the MTA’s winter service plans. In September, he wrote about how track work on the M train resulted in conflicting announcements about the service change.

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Photo by Ned Berke

Photo by Ned Berke

by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Back in 2008, my Assembly colleague, Alec Brook-Krasny, and I were able to secure $10 million in capital funding for the repair of the Riegelmann Boardwalk. The purpose of this money was to give the Boardwalk the rehabilitation it deserves and ensure that generations of New Yorkers will have the opportunity to enjoy this iconic wooden structure.

One thing this money was not supposed to do was destroy the Boardwalk as we know it. That’s why I’m outraged by the city’s decision to rebuild the Boardwalk out of concrete and plastic, effectively turning our Boardwalk into a sidewalk. To repurpose the money and change the scope of the project is an underhanded misuse of funds by this administration, and it’s something I won’t tolerate.

Since the start of this new Mayoral administration I have attempted to open a dialogue and stress the need to rebuild the Boardwalk out of wood. Unfortunately, the city has chosen instead to fast-track the destruction of our iconic landmark and has been unwilling to listen to the people of our communities. We’re the ones who have a vested interest in the Boardwalk. We’re the people who know how badly the concrete sections were damaged during Sandy. Clearly this is not a material that promises flood resiliency.

The contract for the funds I allocated is set to expire on December 31, 2014. The city is hoping to extend this contract but I have other ideas. I am committed to doing everything in my power to block the extension of the contract and rescind the money that was allocated.

Thank you for your letters, emails, tweets and calls. My confidence is strengthened with the knowledge that I have the support of my community and activists like you.

Please remember that I’m here to help you with any issue or problem and I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas. My district office is located at 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road and we’re open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Fridays until 5 p.m. Feel free to call me at (718) 743-4078 or email cymbros@assembly.state.ny.us.

Steven Cymbrowitz is the 45th District’s representative to the State Assembly, representing the Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Gravesend.

Source: micurs via Flickr

Source: micurs via Flickr

Last month, Councilman Mark Treyger proposed a comprehensive bike safety legislation package to help minimize bike casualties, winning support from the City Council’s Transportation Committee, the mayor, and bike advocacy groups like Bike New York.

But while no one thinks it’s a smart idea to text and cycle at the same time, not all bike advocates think the law would make streets safer.

One criticism is that the bill is an example of legislation-by-anecdote. Treyger cites his own experience of witnessing a near-collision in front of his Stillwell Avenue office as evidence of the dangers of biking and texting, when, in fact, there is little data demonstrating that texting while cycling has caused any fatalities.

From StreetsBlog New York:

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Secondly, some argue that cyclists would be disproportionately targeted by traffic cops, as they are more visible than drivers of cars. Furthermore, the proposed cycling laws are even more stringent than current laws for motor vehicles. Doug Gordon, a television producer who runs the biking blog Brooklyn Spoke, writes:

Treyger’s bill “would ban any use of a cellphone, tablet or computer except when attached to a hands-free device. It’s currently legal to fiddle with a smart phone while riding a bike.” Drivers are free to fiddle with GPS devices, dashboard touch-screens that require them to take their eyes off the road just to change radio stations or adjust the AC, and many other non-cellphone devices. These distractions have likely caused more fatal crashes than texting-while-biking.

There’s also plenty of research to show that hands-free devices do little to limit a driver’s cognitive distraction. If Treyger wanted to save lives, he’d propose, or at least discuss, banning the use of a cellphone in any form, handsfree or otherwise, while operating a motor vehicle.

Finally, some folks are worried about how the law will be implemented. For example, Gordon cites research showing that tickets for bike infractions like riding on the sidewalk are disproportionately used as an excuse to pull over black and Hispanic young men. Enforcement of these laws, he adds, are just a waste of valuable police resources and time.

This recent viral photo of a cop intercepting a bike for a traffic infraction, seems to highlight the challenges of enforcing bike laws:

What do you think? Should it be illegal to text and bike at the same time?

A familiar sight: Next bus please! Source: afagen | Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Ever since I started riding buses more than 50 years ago, I noticed that service is erratic. I never knew the extent of the problem until I analyzed our origin and destination data as part of the study of southwest Brooklyn bus routes, which I directed for the Department of City Planning beginning in 1974. I included an open-ended question allowing bus riders to express comments. Service irregularity topped the list as the most pervasive problem with local bus routes.

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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.

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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Remember that time when Brooklyn Industries used devastated Sandy communities as the backdrop for an ad shoot? Très cool. (Source: BrooklynIndustries.com)

Sheepshead Bay is very expensive. You don’t want to move here. People get stabbed all the time, bicyclists are run off the road and we don’t have a Starbucks. It’s, like, a three-day commute into Manhattan on a train that’s full of urine, showtime boys and broken air-conditioners. Really. It sucks. Hell, our news website is called “Sheepshead Bites,” not “Sheepshead Is Da Bomb.”

We promise. It’s just terrible. Don’t move here.

Plead as we might, Sheepshead Bay may be poised for a new influx of avant garde urban explorers fleeing Williamsburg and Bushwick; neighborhoods which are just, like, ugh, so 2008.

At least that’s the case if we’re to believe one SoHo-cum-Williamsburg-cum-Bushwick-cum-Gowanus musician who whined to the Village Voice that rents were rising and no one will let them bang on drums and vomit in the street at 3:30am. Her friends are apparently already pioneering the hipster trail down here.

“Who knows when the rents will go up there?” kazzoo’d Annabelle Cazel, of the Fiery Furnaces. “Most of my musician friends have moved … way south, to Ditmas Park, Sheepshead Bay, Windsor Terrace, or Flatbush. Gowanus is done with.”

Settle down there, Madison, er, Annabelle. It’s Southern Brooklyn, but it ain’t West Virginia.

The article is actually about how the rising cost of real estate and the replacement of defunct manufacturing districts with luxury residential stock mean there’s very little affordable practice space available for bands. And residential areas make particularly bad homes for DIY rehearsal spaces, since families who have to get up early in the morning to take the kids to school and generally contribute to society don’t really want to be kept up all night long by the rock-and-roll lifestyle.

Hell, these guys even had to compromise with their neighbors. Oh, the horror!

“In the past, everyone would be rehearsing. In more recent years, we had to make agreements with our neighbors: If you let us make noise during the day, we won’t make noise at night,” said Josh Copp of some band you haven’t heard of.

We concede; all jokes aside, this a very real problem. New York City has a legacy to preserve as a bastion of art and culture, and pricing out the people trying to “make it” is just as bad as pricing out the immigrant and blue-collar families that also form pillars of our economy and culture.

And, really, we could use some better music on this end of the borough. We’re so over Vanilla Fudge playing BayFest.

But if all this turns out to be true, that the hipster trail, like the Bedford bike path, now ends at Emmons Avenue, it’s certainly the end of an era for our once sleepy yet cosmopolitan corner of Brooklyn.

Good? Bad? You tell us. We’re just here to write about it.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Reader Mike N. wrote to point out what he believes is a waste of NYPD resources: catching fare-beaters on the Voorhies Avenue side of the Sheepshead Bay subway station.

Do you know that since the token booth, which became a non-selling booth, was removed from the Shore Parkway entrance, police stand at the other entrance watching the TV monitors, and when someone jumps a turnstile (no high gates here) they then walk up to the platform and surprise them with a ticket.

Often there are two to three officers watching at one time. Yes, it’s a violation to avoid a fare, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to put gate-style turnstiles that can’t be jumped at all unattended stations?

This would 100% solve the fare avoidance problem…however, it would stop the sweet flow of $105 tickets into the MTA coffers. And why are there no policemen ever stationed at the unattended turnstiles? Wouldn’t it make more sense for public safety to have officers where the ‘eyes and ears’ of the booth clerks are absent? (I know…the booth clerks aren’t much help).

Briefly, rather than the practical use of officers to guard an unwatched, potentially dangerous entry (I do understand that they technically are watching, but nobody sees them, so they do not deter crime), the officers are used to generate revenue.

It doesn’t sound like Mike believes the problem is going after fare beaters – who should be caught for stealing from all taxpayers. But he thinks the problem can be solved more easily and those NYPD resources redeployed for something more useful. What do you think?

Is there an issue you’d like to sound off about, or a problem you want to shed light on? E-mail editor [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com and we’ll consider publishing it!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Oh, the struggles of life in Sheepshead Bay. A beautiful waterfront. A glut of mass transit options. Prideful mom-and-pop businesses lining the commercial streets.

Sounds like hell, right? That’s the way some residents make it sound. If I had a nickel for every time a reader has told me we need one corporate franchise eatery or another – Starbucks! Outback Steakhouse! Red F’ing Mango! – I’d have enough nickels to give up this journalism racket, open up a 7-Eleven, a shove taquitos down everyone’s face-hole while yelling “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? ARE YOU?!”

The latest is this open letter by Sheepshead Bay resident DJ Alex Edge to Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer. Edge has just finished up Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table” and it made him hungry for a “beautiful cheese drenched Shake Shake [sic] double.” But Manhattan is oh-so-far. Forty freakin’ minutes!

Rather than take the hike to the bland, corporate Disneyland that is Manhattan, Edge goes for the more dignified approach. He begged… and gave the finger to Sheepshead Bay’s existing dining options.

I am not sure why but my neighborhood is pilfered with hundreds of sushi joints, Turkish shish kebab eateries, and Russian dens filled with lavish French delicacies. Even though I am from the part of the world that enjoys a good plate of caviar, I am a simple fellow Danny. One who enjoys a great burger that’s cooked just right. A burger that’s served with a generous amount of fries, a perfect smidgen of sauce and a smile that’s ripped right out of the pages of your hunger inducing book.

Hey, man. I’m all in agreement that the Bay would benefit from more variety, but our Russian dens and Turkish eateries are the tops, and the sushi joints… well, at least they’re cheap.

Anyway, Edge goes on to provide three reasons why Shake Shack should set up shop in Southern Brooklyn sooner rather than later. Which, quite honestly, are mostly good reasons for almost any business to be getting into the game down here:

  1. Coney Island. The same iconic Coney Island that has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. As much as Coney Island recovered from the destruction, imagine the impact you can have on the community when you build the ultimate family destination for delicious food. The number of jobs such an enterprise would create. The amount of positive PR and feedback it can generate for your brand and the area in general.
  2. Frozen Custard. As I’m sure you know Danny, frozen custard was invented in Coney Island by two smart fellows, Archie and Elton Kohr. What better way to honor the memory of these two beautiful geniuses than by slinging frozen custard in the land of it’s forefathers.
  3. The Timing. Yes, Danny as you can tell by now I read your book carefully. The timing for this is perfect. Where 20 years ago something like this would never be possible, the amount of people who crave a better product in our area is huge. I see it every day. The sad sunk in faces of young couples consuming sushi. A family of four pretending to love a gyro. Come on. We all know a gyro doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of a burger.

I don’t know, man. I like my gyros. And the sushi… well, at least it’s cheap.

What do you think? Does Sheepshead Bay need a Shake Shack? Or would we do better to see a homegrown burger joint come into its own and take over the rest of the city?

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