Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 331 - Bus Rapid Transit Arrives in the Bronx

Not that I ever need a reason to spend time in the Bronx. But I happened to be heading up there for a meeting at Fordham and realized that it was the first work day of the MTA's version of bus rapid transit--what the call "Select Service" on the Bx12 route, which runs along Fordham Road from Co-op City & City Island to Inwood.

While other transit systems have envision BRT as buses on dedicated rights of way, or with the ability to prioritize traffic signals for its vehicles, this introductory version is not quite that. That said, there are some innovations over current bus service that are great starts toward a more robust BRT system.
  • There are stops at only 15 major points along the route, instead of several dozen regular stops.
  • Riders swipe their card or pay their fare at the stop instead of queuing up at the farebox on board. This in turn allows...
  • ...riders to board at both the front and back doors and take their seats immediately. (A receipt is issued to the rider at the bus stop when she or he pays the fare. This must be presented to an MTA employee or cop who make random checks on board.)
  • There is some signal prioritization at certain intersections, meaning that if the light is about to turn red but the bus is about to pass through, the light will stay green for a few seconds longer.
  • There is a dedicated bus-only lane along the route, though it is not well enforced.
Other cities--especially in other countries--are so much further along with innovative transit than we are. That said, there has been a sea-change in New York City in the past 18 months with both the new DOT commissioner and MTA president--two transit advocates and thinkers.

Select Bus Service is due to be rolled out along at least one route in each of the other boroughs over the next couple of years.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day 330 - ¡Viva España!

God, I love New York!

For today's final match in the Euro Cup 2008 between Germany and Spain, I could have watched it either at Gottscheer Hall in the dissolving German enclave of Ridgewood; or, as I did, with Spaniards at Casa Galicia in Astoria. Boy did I guess right!

Even though Germany was favored to win, there was something drawing me and a friend to crowd in with the Spaniards in the large eating-and-drinking hall of this members-only social club for natives of the northwestern Spanish community of Galicia. I'd been before for other events, but only with my Galician friend and member. But on a day like today, we didn't have to worry; the folks here seemed to be taking a liberal view of who was Galician. (There was a lot of English being spoken among a sea of Spanish.)

I won't pretend to be prepared to describe the match intelligently--I'm a fan of what soccer does to fans more than the sport itself. But I can say that Spain's upset victory (Fernando Torres scored the only goal in the 33rd minute) was made even more special by the fact that they kept the favored Germany from scoring a single goal. By the end of the match, Spain had won their first Euro Cup since 1964--the year of the second European Nations cup and, poetically, the year they hosted the tournament.

I'm sure Gottscheer Hall would have been a great place to watch the match--whether or not Germany won. But it's hard to imagine more heart than in these elated Spaniards.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 325 - A step back in time

I met a couple of friends at Cavalier in Jackson Heights and found myself in a time warp--about 45 years earlier. The place, while recently renovated with a (slightly) updated color scheme, is nearly unreconstructed 1960s nightlife. It has an undulating, kidney shaped bar up front and semi-circular booths on risers built along the walls. On the menu are traditional surf & turf selections: clams casino, shrimp cocktail, steaks, chops, French onion soup. The menu was classically displayed outside in a stainless steel and glass case. At any moment I expect to see Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta step through the door in a scene from Goodfellas.

I wish they had.

Instead, the bar was filled--such as it was--with a group of women well in their 70s having Mai Tais before catching the early bird special. (Yes, there really was one on offer.) And the satellite radio had neither Bobby Darin nor Johnny Mathis piped through the speakers recessed into the ceiling. But the bartender made one hell of a dirty gin martini. The glass however, was caught somewhere between the classical era and ours...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 317 - Recipe For Growth

Jessamyn Waldman grinds blue corn into flour for her socially conscious baking business--Hot Bread Kitchen--at Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen, a shared space for food entrepreneurs in Long Island City.

I just had the pleasure of having a commentary published the excellent Center for an Urban Future this month.

Recipe for Growth explains how entrepreneurs are clamoring for affordable space in one of NYC's growing manufacturing sectors--food production. More than 16,000 New Yorkers are employed baking bread, making chocolate, mixing spices, or brining pickles, just to name a few products. Another 2,500 New Yorkers operate independently as sole employee food businesses, suggesting that there is a large number of entrepreneurs trying to break into the industry and become the next group of full-fledged firms. Their biggest obstacle? Affordable space. To find what the City can do quickly to help seize this opportunity for home-grown economic development, read on here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 309 - Tour de Queens!

Today was the inaugural Tour de Queens bike ride. Queens now enters the pantheon of borough-centric, awareness-raising, advocacy-building bike rides following no lesser venerable rides than the Tour de Brooklyn and, the one that started it all, the Tour de Bronx which I rode back in October. Back in March, you may recall, I helped host a fundraiser which involved bike racing IN A BAR in order to make the Tour de Queens possible.

The TdQ had more than 400 riders particpate and signed up a bunch of new members for Transportation Alternatives in a borough with a growing awareness of the importance of pedestrian and bicycling issues, thanks to the Queens Committee of TA.

We were graciously hosted at the start and finish lines by the Queens Museum of Art who even marked the 20-mile route through central and western Queens on the legendary Panorama! (Pink tape below--it's hard to see in this light.)

Day 308 - The S.I. Railway Pub Crawl

Local ruffians. I used to be scared of these shirtless bastards.

Last night, I joined my friends and colleagues from the Bridge & Tunnel Club for perhaps the coolest pub crawl I've ever been on.

This once- or twice-a-year affair follows the same general itinerary. It starts just before sunset at the southern tip of the Island--in one of New York State's southernmost restaurants--a few minutes' walk from the one-car-long flag stop known as Atlantic on the SI Railway. Last night began with several courses of pasta and some wine at Rocky Toto's, a classic (and very good) red sauce joint in Tottenville.

From there, we headed back on the train and began the crawl in earnest, stopping in at a bar at each of several stations on the way back toward the ferry: Talk of the Town in Great Kills where we played some bar shuffleboard; the Night Gallery (which reminded me of a suburban finished basement with a wet bar installed) in New Dorp; and the classic Lee's Tavern in Dongan Hills for thin crust barroom pizza. I pealed off after that, but the rest of the crew hit a few more bars in Stapleton, Tompkinsville and St. George before, well, crawling back onto the ferry in the wee hours of the morning.

As a Staten Islander by birth and through adolescence, and a proud denizen of the outer boroughs, it was a little embarrassing to not have been to a single one of these bars growing up. To be perfectly honest, I was a pretty good kid who didn't begin dabbling with such things until well into high school and, by then, I was leading a decidedly non-Staten Island-centric life.

The whole evening was marked by turning heads (as our entourage basically barged into locals-only hangouts), quick drinking (as we were timing our stays and departures to meet the next train), and lots and lots of cheap beer. It was divine!