Catholics call out condoms

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (4) ·

All New York City wanted to do was provide a service for people that promotes healthy lifestyles. In the face of countless studies that say abstinence-only policies simply serve to promote unsafe sex, the City decided to be proactive in the fight against STDs by distributing free NYC-branded condoms throughout the Big Apple.

Sadly, some folks don’t look too kindly on this immoral behavior. First, the MTA was upset because the City was using their subway bullets. The MTA didn’t want to be associated with a condom. (They prefer to go about their business without one.) So the City compromised, and that’s why the N is 8th Ave. IND blue and the C is Broadway BMT yellow. It’s almost-but-not-quite the same.

Then, along comes the actual hand-out, and one group was furious. They declared war on the condoms! If you guessed the Catholic Church, well, then step on down. You’re the next contestant on Ridiculous Outrage.

Edward Cardinal Egan, New York’s leading Catholic clergyman, and Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the condoms. The Post reports:

“The decision of the City of New York to distribute [26] million free condoms to the public – and minors as well, according to news reports – is tragic and misguided,” Egan and DiMarzio said.

“Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms,” the statement continued.

Egan and DiMarzio warned that the condom plan will “degrade societal standards.”

“The taxpayers’ money that is being spent to distribute condoms and promote the attitude that ‘anything goes’ would be far better spent in fostering what is true and what is decent,” they said.

I guess “what is true and what is decent” doesn’t covering “saving lives” and “protecting against disease.” Meanwhile, for the first time since Sex Ed classes in high school, people are actually talking about condoms on a near-daily basis, and that is a very good thing.

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The MTA hates pigeons too

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (8) ·

Neither pigeons nor this vintage train will be appearing at 103rd St. in Queens again. (Courtesy NYC Subway)

My mom and sister – two frequent visitors to this site – hate pigeons with a vengeance. These ugly, disgusting flying rats once prompted my mom to declare that she would shoot the pigeons if she could. And my mom is not a violent person.

Well, Mom and Victoria, the MTA is right there with you, but instead of shooting this bird, they’re going to shock them instead. Faced with a pigeon problem at some of their elevated stations in Queens, the MTA is going to shock these birds into submission. The New York Sun reports:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is implementing Operation Bird-B-Gone at three of the most avian-friendly stations on the no. 7 line. To prevent birds from reproducing underground and leaving behind unsanitary and unsightly droppings, the stations are being wired to zap birds when they goto roost on ledges in the stations.

Today, the MTA and state representatives will announce the completion of station refurbishments, including the electrical wiring, at the 103rd street station. The MTA will next tackle the pigeon woes at the 90th Street station.

The article goes on to note that pigeons are attracted to dirty stations where they can easily scavenge scraps of food. In typical MTA fashion, then, the obvious solution – cleaning up the stations – is the one not implemented. Assemblymen Jose Peralta and Jeffrion Aubry have tried for years to get the MTA to clean up the stations at 90th, 103rd and 111th Sts. in Queens, some of the dirtiest in the system according to the MTA.

But when these efforts proved futile, Peralta and Aubry instead secured the state funds to install the electric wiring. In the face of typical MTA bureaucracy, these two simply took matters into their own hands.

And so three stations in Queens will be safe for my family and pigeon-haters everywhere.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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¿Necesitar un condón?

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·


Ok. Ok. I’ll stop the condom obsession soon and give you some new material. In the meantime, check out NYCcondom.org for the all the info on these snazzy rubbers you could possibly want. And then some.

Comments (1)

Condoms arrive in style

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (4) ·

Via Gothamist comes the news I have been awaiting since January: The New York City subway condoms are here. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to snag one today because they’re being distributed now at the Kenneth Cole store at Rockefeller Center, not near where I work.

In January, I looked at how different subway lines could get their own condom, but today, we see that, alas, it’s just a generic condom for the entire subway system.

Meanwhile, as Jen at Gothamist noted, the City and Lifestyles didn’t do a fantastic job integrated the subway bullets into the packaging. Sure, the bullets are then and are reminiscent of the subway. But why the color mash-up? Except for the O and Y which aren’t subway lines, the rest of the lettering should fit its proper bullet.

But hey, at least it’s a collector’s item and it might come in handy later tonight on Valentine’s Day.

Photo from Gothamist.

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In a surprising blow to the City’s plans to develop the Far West Side, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander has put the plan to extend the 7 line on hold until cost overruns and other financial concerns can be addressed. Sander’s announcement has City Hall on the defensive as the Mayor’s Office won’t promise to fund cost overruns, and Sander won’t jeopardize other MTA construction projects.

The Times reports:

The new leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority signaled yesterday that it had deep concerns over a deal with the city to build a $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 subway line, saying the authority did not have the money to pay for possible cost overruns or other additional expenses.

“It is M.T.A.’s position that we are under no legal obligation to absorb any additional costs or overruns,” Elliot G. Sander, the new chief executive, wrote in a letter to Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat. He was responding to a letter from Mr. Brodsky expressing concerns that the project could exceed its budget. Mr. Brodsky made Mr. Sander’s letter public yesterday.

The conflict stems from the original agreement concerning the 7 line. Mayor Bloomberg, in an effort to promote his Hudson Yards project, hammered out a deal with the MTA where the city would pay for construction costs and the MTA would handle the project’s design and implementation. But this deal came with one caveat: The city’s contributions were to be set at $2.1 billion.

Well, as reported in November, the project’s budget was on the rise due in part to a weak dollar and the need to purchase new subway cars from Japan. Now, Sander says the MTA, focusing on the Grand Central Terminal-LIRR railink and the Second Ave. subway, can’t assume the cost overruns, and City Hall ain’t budging.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff had some firm words for The Times. “Our view is that we certainly had an understanding and that the city would be responsible for all costs up to $2.1 billion and that the M.T.A. would bear the responsibility for costs above that. We’re going to sit down and talk, but our view is, the deal is the deal,” he said.

Also involved in this brouhaha is Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky who oversees the Transit Authority. “If we keep to the basic principle, which is the city will pay and the M.T.A. will build, we’ll be O.K.,” Mr. Brodsky said to The Times. “But right now there are hundreds of millions to almost a billion dollars of costs that the M.T.A. would probably have to absorb that would endanger the Second Avenue line, the East Side link and other parts of the capital program, and that is simply unacceptable.”

So now what?

Well, someone has to blink in this game of New York politics, and hopefully, it will be the City. Right now, it’s clear that those on the MTA’s side are sticking up for this project. Sander has stressed the need for a Second Ave. subway and will not sacrifice these aims for the sake of the Hudson Yards development, a pet project seen as Bloomberg’s baby.

Meanwhile, the City should take responsibility for the funding promises it has made. Already, plans for the 7 line extension may be cut to build to build a station only at 34th and 10th Ave. and a shell at 41st and 11th Ave. that could be renovated into a full station in the future. For the sake of the subway, the City should be willing to kick in money for any projected cost overruns and both stations. A completed projected now will be much cheaper in the long run than the need to complete another station in the indeterminate future.

But for now, our Second Ave. subway is safe. It’s the silver lining in this dark and ugly cloud as two political powers face off over dollar signs.

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Kheel: Subways should be cheap as free

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·


A view of the old MetroCard prices. (Courtesy of O-R-G.com and Photoshop)

“Free” is today’s subway word of the day.

The free frenzy started last week when Streetsblog reported on a talk by Theodore W. Kheel. Kheel, an environmentalist who just gave $100,000 to the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility to study his pet project, issued an interesting proclamation: The subways should be free, and drivers should foot the bill for the MTA’s upkeep.

Well, today, this news escaped from the world of Streetsblog as The Post and The Sun covered it this morning. The blogs chimed in during the day with SUBWAYblogger voicing support for the project and Brooklyn Record posing a few questions about Kheel’s ideas.

Let’s dig a little deeper here, and see what Kheel is proposing. For info, we go to The Sun:

If New Yorkers don’t pay a fee to use the police and fire departments, they should not have to pay to use the city’s mass transit system.

That’s part of the thinking of Theodore Kheel, who last Thursday donated $100,000 to the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility to study how a free mass transit system could save money for the city. Mr. Kheel, a 92-year-old philanthropist, environmentalist, and labor relations lawyer, says charging a fee to drive on the city’s most crowded streets would create an incentive for drivers to switch to mass transit. The revenue earned on the streets could be used to subsidize free subways and buses.

On the surface, it’s an interesting premise. The city over services — such as the police and the fire departments — that we as citizens use for free. Or for “free.” The police, the fire department and various other civil organizations are all funded through taxpayer money. Think we’re not paying for that? Think again.

The subways too are funded through some taxpayer money (local, state and federal) and some fare money (but, as SUBWAYBlogger pointed out, not all fare money goes back to the system). So Kheel wants to charge people more for driving on the crowded city streets, and this money would go toward the subway.

At the event last week, Kheel, as reported on Streetsblog, said that the free subway would save the city some money. The how here is up for debate. Aaron Donovan at Streetsblog speculated, “that savings would come in terms of reduced costs for road maintenance, fewer vehicle accidents and hence emergency services, reduced asthma cases, etc” would save money. I’ve also heard some people claim that fare collection is costly to the MTA, but I find it hard to believe that even an organization as inefficient as the MTA and New York City Transit would spend more money to collect fares than they would draw in through these fares.

As the cost of driving goes up, Kheel’s solution would bring more people into the subway. The subway would then become insanely overcrowded, in my opinion, as many who drive out of luxury would stop doing so and turn to the now-free mass transit options. And here is where I see Kheel’s solution breaking down. If fewer people were driving, the revenues drawn in from the increased tolls and new congestions fee would have to off-set a dramatic surge in ridership in the subway. The MTA would need more cars, more maintenance crews, more cleaners and more subway lines. I don’t see how a feasible congestion fee can achieve these monetary goals.

Meanwhile, the local media is already reporting this story incorrectly. At the event last week, Kheel noted that the one-day ridership record set in 1946 stood at 8.8 million. We’ve come close, but we’ve yet to eclipse this number. The Sun, reporting on the event, claimed, “In 1943, when the fare was five cents, average weekday ridership was more than 8 million, almost double what it is today.”

But the most accurate ridership information I could find (in this PDF presentation) showed an annual ridership of slightly more than 2 billion in 1946, largely considered the busiest year in subway history. That amounts to an average daily ridership of around 5.5 million people. Recently, in September of 2006, just over 5 million people a day rode the subways. We’re not that far off from those records.

So for now, this is just a study, but it’s a complicated issue. I’ll pay attention to it, but I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical of the media coverage of this proposal, and I’m skeptical of its feasibility. I am all for a congestion fee; I’m all for free subways. But the numbers just don’t add up.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Subway construction plans in jeopardy

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·


Long before he took office, New York’s new governor, Eliot Spitzer, had championed capital construction projects aimed toward improving the state’s transportation infrastructure. High on that list of priorities was the Second Ave. subway.

Even at such an early stage, the funding for Spitzer’s goals was far from assured. Upstate representatives to Albany were concerned about funneling so much into a city-centric agency such as the MTA, and the billions of dollars needed to complete the first stage of the Second Ave. subway and the Grand Central-LIRR link were never going to be easy to find.

Now, just a few weeks into Spitzer’s term as governor, the financial outlook for these projects does not look too rosy. In fact, to survive the cutting board, Spitzer may need to step in and deliver the big bucks for the MTA because the MTA’s debt problem may mean yet another postponement for these much-needed projects. The Times Ledger reports:

The problem is that the MTA’s capital program, which runs through 2009 is running over budget by at least $1.4 billion, according to a report first published by the New York Times. As result of heavy borrowing, the MTA faces years of enormous debt starting next year.

The $21 billion program is supposed to provide for not only what the MTA calls its mega projects Ð the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal but also the purchase of hundreds of new rail cars and the improvement of signal systems and other subway equipment.

Accordingly, Elliott Sander, the new executive director and CEO of the MTA, will do what heads of bureaucracies do best: appoint a committee. After last week’s The Times’ report, Sander decided to investigate the claims made concerning the MTA’s financials. While he and MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow are skeptical of the alleged $1.4 billion overrun, Sander did note that some of the bigger projects could be put on the back burner while routine maintenance demands are met.

For those in New York who have been waiting decades for the Second Ave. subway, it would come as no surprise if this project is delayed yet again. But with the federal government kicking in some money for the Second Ave. subway, I would be surprised to see this new subway delayed yet again. Optimism may reign supreme in hoping for the arrival of a subway line 70 years in the planning.


Bus schedules often wrong, Captain Obvious reports

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·

At every bus stop is a schedule, and people waiting for the buses in New York take that schedule to be the gospel truth. I don’t know why.

It comes as no surprise then that the New York City Transit Riders Council has issued an indictment of the bus schedules. The buses, you see, don’t really run on time. From amNY:

A survey by the New York City Transit Rider Council found buses are an average of 5 minutes and 15 seconds behind their published schedules.

Many of the delays are caused by “bunching,” when one, two, or even three buses arrive at the same stop almost simultaneously, the survey concluded.

The report was quick to blame conditions out of the hands of the MTA such as traffic, the weather and alien abduction. It’s certainly not the MTA’s fault that they publish schedules that do not reflect the reality of driving around New York City.

The report also had a great stat about bus signs:

The report also found that 5 percent of all bus destination signs had some sort of problem that “did not correctly reflect the route to be traveled.” Some buses displayed wrong signs, such as “Not in Service,” “Subway Shuttle” and even “Evacuation Center.”

So the next time you see an M104 incorrectly labeled as an Evacuation Center bus, don’t worry; we’re not under attack.

In other bus news, the MTA will roll out a new $7 million GPS tracking system on seven bus lines that will tell riders when the next bus will arrive at their station. This service will be available on the M15, M31, M35, M57, M66, M72 and M116 bus routes with plans in the works to expand it. Hopefully, this fancy system will be a little more accurate than the current schedules.

Categories : Buses
Comments (1)

Nothing screams bureaucracy quite like the Port Authority and the MTA trying to work together to build a ridiculously ornate transit hub in Lower Manhattan. And as we all could imagine, this project has not gone well. First, came the talk of fewer tunnel connectors than called for in the original plan.

Now comes the story we all expected: Cost overruns have led the Port Authority to order a re-engineering of the Santiago Calatrava-designed World Trade Center hub. The Times reports:

Faced with construction cost estimates up to $1.2 billion over budget, the Port Authority said yesterday that it would re-engineer, but not fundamentally alter, the birdlike World Trade Center transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The budget was set four years ago at $2.2 billion. The contractor for the project, Phoenix Constructors, now estimates that it will cost from $2.7 billion to $3.4 billion to build the hub, a greatly enlarged version of the current PATH terminal.

For the mathematically challenged among us, that’s an increase in cost of nearly 50 percent.

Now, considering the design of this hub favors form over functionality, I would think that all the parties involved would do their best to sacrifice the gigantic porcupine with a retractable roof (for baseball games, perhaps) in favor of a fully functional transportation hub designed at cost and for the people using the subway instead of for the architectural design boards.

Not so fast.

Calatrava told The Times that he wants to keep the design elements in place while finding others ways to cut costs. Anthony E. Shorris, head of the Port Authority, said the agency would work to trim aspects of the project that are “less visible” than the overall design.

This strikes me as typical bureaucratic foolishness. This transit hub is about bringing people in to Lower Manhattan in an efficient way. At the same time, I understand that those behind the WTC Memorial want to incorporate some aspects of the Sept. 11 memorial into the transit hub. But should we really do that at a cost of nearly $1.2 billion? And should we give up “less visible” parts of this project that may affect commuters and riders more than altering the aesthetic design would? That seems most illogical.

Categories : Fulton Street
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The odds are pretty good this phone doesn’t work. (Courtesy of Flickr user Paololluch)

MTA pay phones are often a last-ditch solution for stranded Straphangers needing to make an underground call.

Just this Monday, in fact, I saw one subway rider walk approach the pay phone with exceptional caution. This woman in her mid-twenties looked to be running late. She peered into the tunnel at W. 4th St., hoping to spot a glimmer of an approaching F train. With no train nearing the station, she cautiously approached the payphone.

The payphone was your typical subway pay phone. It looked like a few drunk NYU students had probably smacked the receiver around a little. There was nothing growing off of it. But this woman didn’t trust the phone. She pulled a wool glove out of her pocket and then lifted the receiver, holding it an inch or so away from her ear. This woman would have no part of this phone touching her.

Into the slot at the top went the quarter…and into the change return slot fell that very same quarter. Surprising no one on the platform, the pay phone did not work. In fact, according to a newly-released poll by the Straphangers Campaign, nearly a quarter of the NYC subway pay phones are inoperable.

Here’s what the public interest group found:

In one survey of 886 telephones at 100 randomly selected subway stations, 29% were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to coin slot blocked (survey margin of error is +/- 4%). This finding is consistent with 2006 findings when an identical campaign survey also rated 29% of phones non-functioning.

In a second survey, the campaign tested 537 pay telephones in the 25 most-used New York City Transit subway stations and found 22% to be non-functioning.

Noting that the current contract between Verizon and the MTA does not guarantee any minimum number of working pay phones, members of the Straphangers were a bit dismayed. “Given the importance of being able to communicate with the outside world, especially during times of delay and emergency, we’re disappointed the MTA and Verizon removed the guarantee for a minimum level of service operability,” Neysa Pranger, one of the group’s coordinators, said in a press release.

Two of the Straphangers’ findings, in my mind, raise some interesting questions. The group found that all of the pay phones in the stop on East 86th St. were functioning as were all of the phones at the stop on the West Side IRT at 72nd St. But only 29 percent of the phones at the Jamaica Center stop on the E, J and Z lines were working. Do the socioeconomic conditions of the neighborhoods in which these stops are located have anything to do with the pay phones’ operability?

Meanwhile, as plans to wire the subways for cell service have seemingly faded away, it would probably be useful to have working pay phones in the tunnels. You never know when your train line might break down.