Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In which I rant about commuting and attempt to fix transportation in NYC

What’s wrong with commuting in NYC? The short answer: a lot. The long answer: it’s complicated. But with the third fare increase in as many years, it will now cost $104 to get to work each month, on increasingly crowded and late trains. A post of what’s wrong with the mismanagement of the MTA could easily run thousands of words and just scratch the surface but the fact remains that there is no way of schleping to and from your small overpriced apartment that is without its flaws.

Driving to work in the city is incredibly expensive, inconvenient, and impractical. Unless you live within a mile or two of your office, walking to work isn’t realistic. And biking in the city has it’s own set of problems:

Regardless of the miles of bike lanes that have been added in the last few years, New York City can still be a very unfriendly place to bike. A study last week of only 11 of Manhattan’s bike lanes showed what nearly everyone in the city knows: over 1,700 violations in 22 hours-- double-parked cars, delivery trucks, pedestrians and even police and city vehicles are clogging up the bike lanes, opening car doors forcing cyclists to swerve into traffic, and riders going the wrong way on way streets, or blowing through red lights, and though it all only two tickets issued.

Cops don’t care about cyclist safety—they are blocking the bike lanes – and drivers and pedestrians are hostile to cyclists and cyclists are hostile right back. Every cyclist has a story of a near miss with a car, but conversely every pedestrian and driver has a story of a jerk cyclist.

So here’s my solution to all of the city’s commuting woes:

1. Driving: Put congestion pricing into place—its main effect will be the final straw to force many people to not drive into the city during rush hours, making the streets less clogged and if it people still drive in the revenue can help improve the subway. Oh and save a few million by leaving inaccurate font on street signs and keeping the names of bridges.

2. Mass Transit: Make the subway and buses better. You can raise the fare without losing riders or pissing everyone off if people feel like they are getting what they pay for. Use the money from congestion pricing, cover everything in advertisements, then take the money and add more trains and buses to so it runs more regularly and isn’t so unbearably crowded at rush hours. What we can live without: wifi and cell phone service on the trains. What’s totally essential: electronic signs at on every platform that tell commuters when the next train in coming. The tube in London has it, the metro in DC has it, it is for me the most glaring common sense thing lacking in the NYC transit system. (it’s in the works for 75 stations currently, but it’s needed in every station and the city is decades behind on this)

3. Cycling: Everyone not on a bike stay the fuck out of the bike lane and all drivers and passengers, look twice before pulling out from a parking spot or opening a car door. There’s not two ways about it—it takes 5 seconds and ensures you won’t kill or hurt someone. If you ride a bike in the city, don’t be a jerk. When you are on a bike you feel like an odd cross between a vehicle and a pedestrian, and sitting for the duration of a red light when there are no cars coming and you know you you’ll likely get stuck behind a bus or other obstruction within in a block is frustrating. Most cyclists aren’t going to obey all the traffic laws (few drivers do and not all traffic laws are valid for cyclists), but if you are on a bike, you should at least do the following: a) wear a helmet b) have lights if you ride at night c) treat every intersection at least like a blinking red light; stop and look both ways—for cars, people and bikes-- before crossing d) have a bell but use your voice – so many times the polite “ding ding” work, so many others require a loud “HEY!” to be heard e) ALWAYS pay attention.

4. Pedestrians: Walk only on the sidewalk (see above re. stay out of the bike lanes), if you need to text/greet a long lost pal/look at a map/take a picture/read a book, etc. move to the side. Do not walk more than two people across, and look before jaywalking.

Yours truly,

Curmudgeonly commuter

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Something Something Detroit

I’m wary of sweeping trend pieces like the one in the New York Times a few weeks ago that described Bushwick in Brooklyn as having a “bohemian vibe” and tout that it’s at the heart of some sort of artistic revolution. A co-op or two does not a revolution make, and sure there may by a group of young white people making art and sharing stuff in part of Bushwick, but the last thing I got from the Bushwick in the past two years that I visited the neighborhood frequently was a “bohemian vibe.”

And that’s the problem with any urban area – there’s no one story. Detroit is the easiest example, and has been used as such exhaustively over the past couple of years. As Vice pointed out in it’s 2009 story called "Something, something, something, Detroit: Lazy journalists love pictures of abandoned stuff," Detroit’s decay became shorthand for all that is going wrong in American during the recession and abandoned buildings are as beautiful to photographers as sunsets (hell I love photographing abandoned buildings too). Of course there’s a lot of crime, tons of poverty, and LOTS of abandoned houses. But it’s not the whole story of Detroit and also far from one that should be used to illustrate the economic collapse of 2008-present day. News by definition should be NEW and there have been abandoned buildings in Detroit for decades.

And then there’s the other story of Detroit, one of its “creative renaissance” and this video is so interesting and encouraging, and such great PR for the city that needs it so badly. I’m glad they spoke to people who live there rather than just about them, but still why does Detroit need effing Johnny Knoxville to come in and tell the world about it? Yes there’s stuff happening in Detroit, but just like Bushwick, I don’t know that it can really be labeled as sort of trend in the same way that it’s not accurate to label the whole area as abandoned and hopeless. Both, as a woman in the video calls it, are “pick and choose journalism.”

Of course perpetuating a narrative of an artist utopia isn’t nearly as harmful as perpetuating one of hopeless blight, but my point is that neither is accurate, and that an urban area is complex and can’t be boiled down to a trend piece as simple as “Hippies now in Bushwick” or “Stuff is abandoned in Detroit.” To do so is just lazy journalism.

Complex reporting isn’t short and easy to digest, nor is it cheap and fast to produce, and no one benefits from some New Yorker dropping by a few abandoned buildings or hipster bars and proclaiming what a city he spent 12 hours in is all about. The last thing Detroit or needs is another journalist who is looking to make it a metaphor or someone like me who left for greener pastures dropping back in for a quick byline and then ducking back to an overpriced neighborhood on the East Coast to education everyone on what’s happening in the flyover states.

Those most qualified to tell the world the real story are the journalists who stayed –some of the reporting at publications like Metro Times Detroit and The Detroit Free Press is among the best I’ve seen. Let’s give them national attention rather than treating the city like an easy trend piece.