Fun Project – U.S. Rail Map

You can take the train to a lot of places in the United States. Specifically, 1,624 places in 46 states. The map you see above shows them: All of the stations on the 25 passenger railroads serving the Lower 48 States. Since most of them interconnect, I like to think of them as one system. There is also a full size version of the map.

These are the stations served by Amtrak and the 24 regional (a/k/a “commuter”) railroads that operate in the Lower 48. It is color-coded by state. Clicking on an icon will tell you which railroads and lines serve a given station, and the state and county in which the station is located.

This map is ever evolving, as shown in this log. In recent years, U.S. passenger rail has been in growth mode, with new systems being added and big existing systems adding new stations. The map does not include subways, light rail, or excursion trains.

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The Coolest Greenway in New York

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

Check it out! This is definitely the coolest greenway in all of New York City. It is the Hell Gate Pathway (according to signs along the path) or Randall’s Island Connector (according to media references) underneath Amtrak’s monumental Hell Gate Bridge viaduct.  This greenway will eventually connect the Port Morris section of the Bronx with Randall’s Island. For now, only the Randall’s Island segment has been built. It has that brand-new quality with perfectly-striped and marked new pavement and great amenities like these:

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

This is being built by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is slated to have the path connected to the Bronx by 2015. The path will bridge the Bronx Kill waterway over the little red bridge nestled within the bigger Amtrak bridge seen here in this kayak’s-eye photo.

Hell Gate Bridge

Hell Gate Bridge over the Bronx Kill

And here’s one more shot of this beauty from a biker’s perspective.

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

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Burned out car

Burned out car

OMG. This is horrible. Every time I see a burned out car parked on the street, I think, How can something like this happen? What bizarre series of events could have led to this?

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Plaza Finally Opens at the Bronx County Hall of Justice

Hall of Justice Plaza

Bronx County Hall of Justice Plaza, from 162nd Street

The Bronx County Hall of Justice opened in the spring of 2007, but the public plaza surrounding the building remained hidden behind decaying one-story-tall blue plywood fences for six years. The fencing came down within the last few weeks. Now that it’s open to the public, the plaza looks great! And it finally opens up this block to diagonal through-traffic. Walking through here is going to make my commute shorter and more pleasant. Here are some photos of the plaza from a few different angles.

Continue reading

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Legitimate Cabs for the Outer Boroughs

Green Taxi

Prototype apple green outer-borough taxi (image via WNYC Radio)

I am ecstatically happy that the New York Court of Appeals has ruled that Mayor Bloomberg’s outer borough taxi plan, as approved by the NY State Legislature and Governor Cuomo, is legal. The plan had been held up by unnecessary and unfortunate legal wrangling brought by yellow taxi owners, who have enjoyed enormous asset appreciation thanks to government-created scarcity.

I hardly ever take cabs, but I still feel that this is going to be a huge improvement over the status quo. The idea that black cars (a/k/a livery cars a/k/a gypsy cabs) do business solely through “prearranged rides” — their only legal enterprise — was an utter farce.  You can hardly walk down the street in my South Bronx neighborhood without being honked at by black cars offering you a ride. Then if you accept the offer, you can haggle up front, or you can haggle at the end of the trip, by which point you pretty much have to accept the number the driver makes up. Either way, unless you take cabs all the time, you have no idea whether you’re being ripped off. In fact, you always feel that you’re being ripped off.  Now there is going to be a meter! The rates will be the same as yellow cab rates. You’ll feel confident that you’re being appropriately charged for your ride.

This new system finally legalizes a practice that is already going on and allows a service to exist that is clearly in demand. My only question is: Will the arrival of legitimate green cabs mean an end to the black cars soliciting business by aimlessly driving around and honking at pedestrians? It will probably come down to enforcement. The Taxi & Limousine Commission will issue 6,000 outer borough taxi licenses each year for three years, for a total of 18,000 cars. Only time will tell how much of a dent will that make in the gypsy cab business.

I also hope that the process of getting licensed for a green cab will mean an improvement to cabbies’ driving habits. I plan to make it a point of hailing only a green cab or a yellow cab (which you actually do see sometimes here in my part of the Bronx), even if that means I have to wait a little longer.

I’ll try to file a post here once the new cabs start appearing, which is promised for this summer.

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New Modes of Transportation for NYC

East River Ferry and Citi Bike

Citi Bike via ccho/Flickr and East River Ferry via mcmillianfurlow/Flickr

As a Bronx resident, I’m casting a jealous eye down to East River waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, which are benefiting from two great new forms of transportation, Citi Bike, and the East River Ferry. Both have long-term nebulous concepts of expansions to the South Bronx. I wonder which one will come up here first.

For now, the Bronx has one awesome new transportation-related thing that Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens don’t have (yet): real-time bus locations via MTA Bus Time.

Citi Bike image via ccho on Flickr and East River Ferry image via mcmillianfurlow on Flickr.

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Bicycle Parking Needed

Bike Parking

LOL. Here’s a sign that there isn’t enough bicycle parking at this spot. Yet, it also highlights the versatility of the bike, as it can be parked virtually anywhere. Photo from Madison Avenue in Midtown, near 46th Street.

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Manhattan Motorcycling: A Cautionary Tale

Motorcycles parked under Park Avenue viaduct

Motorcycles parked under Park Avenue viaduct.

I work in east Midtown, Manhattan, an area abundantly well served trains and buses. So four days a week I ride the train like everybody else. Or sometimes I catch the express bus to try to spice up the routine. On Fridays, I try to bicycle in for health and wellbeing as long as it isn’t raining or snowing.

Yesterday, I decided to ride to work on a motorcycle. What a huge mistake!

My problem wasn’t so much the actual ride, which was as you might expect a harrowing mixture of adrenaline-pumping forward motion punctuated by frustrating delays from brutal traffic congestion.  I took Lexington Avenue the entire way, a route that is slightly shorter than my bike commute. I made very good use, I thought, of a motorcycle’s ability to filter forward to the front of a row of cars at a red light, by low-speed, reasonably safe lane splitting as required by the circumstances. I probably passed scores of cars this way. Despite this, the motorcycle trip was four minutes slower than my typical bicycle trip which follows a longer route through Central Park.  Motorcycling took 42 minutes, although I’d allotted 35. I can only imaging how long it would take by four-wheeled vehicle without the ability to lane-split, which is a strong argument for congestion pricing.

Motorcycling in Manhattan rush hour traffic is a mentally invigorating experience. You’re constantly evaluating the traffic on all sides of you, what’s ahead, what’s behind, what’s likely to be ahead in the immediate future, how others are behaving. You’re looking at the official lights and signals, but also paying attention to body language of drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Buses are turning in and out. There are trucks all over the place. Weaving cabbies. In a fluid and dynamic environment, you are hyper-alert and alive.

And it puts you into the city in front of you in an incredibly immediate way. At 86th Street, I was amazed by the river of pedestrians swarming across Lexington Avenue and packing into the downtown-bound entrance.  It’s a perspective you don’t see when you’re already on the train. It was a vivid reminder of just how much the subway is the economic underpinning of the city.

It also affects the rest of your day. When you arrive at work by train or bus, you arrive in a state of basic tranquil complacency. Everything is normal and you’re relaxed and ready for the day. Sitting down at the desk after bicycling in, I feel energized and at the same time enveloped by a strange zen-like calm.

Sitting down after motorcycling in, I was jittery and frazzled! I immediately drank a thermos full of tea to calm down the nerves. Thanks, Dear!

Just for the fun of it, I’d motorcycle in again occasionally if that was the only downside. But it wasn’t. The problem was parking.

After I got the motorcycle two years ago, I rode it into work one day and parked in a garage for $17, which was an expenditure I found hard to justify. This time, I was going to avoid that fee. Ask any New York City motorcyclist how to park, and he or she will tell you to remove your license plate to park with virtual impunity on sidewalks, commercial zones, anywhere. As long as you’re relatively out of the way and not preventing actual cars and truck from parking, you should avoid a problem. Technically, removing the plate means you’re vehicle is “abandoned” and subject to tow, but in the real world that doesn’t happen unless it’s there for a long time and someone complains about it. But it is a practical matter: If they don’t have your plate number, they don’t have a means of ticketing you.

I’ve been watching the local streets around the office and seeing that other motorcyclists do exactly this every day and all year long: Parking at the curb for free by removing their license plates after parking. I’ve particularly admired one rider who parks a beautiful mint Kawasaki W650 all year long, even in winter.

There are a few spots that seem more popular than others, and I picked one where there are between one and six motorcycles on any given weekday, always with license plates removed of course. The location is shown in the photo at the top of this post: 45th Street just east of Vanderbilt Avenue, underneath the viaduct that carries Park Avenue southbound through the Grand Central area. My bike in the center of the photo, next to the confidently striding vested gentleman.

To give you a better view, below is a close-up of the parking situation from another angle. I selected a spot next to two other bikes, in the margin of asphalt between the crosswalk and the thick white line delineates where a driver is supposed to stop at a red light. My goal in selecting that spot was to avoid interfering with pedestrians and let commercial and delivery vehicles continue to access the curb space they need, as they are the sole authorized users of curbside parking in this area on weekdays.

Motorcycle parking at 45th Street

Motorcycles parked on East 45th Street. Mine is at left.

At last, I felt I’d found a way to avoid paying high garage fees, while still not interfering with the needs of my fellow New Yorkers.  Just to savor it, here’s one more shot of the parked bike. Mine is the red cruiser at right.

My motorcycle, parked

My motorcycle, parked next to two others.

I checked on the bike at lunch time around 1, and everything was fine.  Ahh, perfection.

Parking ticket

Parking ticket

But it didn’t last long. I went to get the bike after work, and found a parking ticket on it!

The agent ticketed me based on my Vehicle ID Number!

So in an effort to avoid paying $17 to a garage, I now owe the City $65.

I am going to pay the fine, of course. They caught me fair and square and the ticket is valid. I was definitely breaking the law.

In fact, I have to give the City some grudging respect for this one. They’ve neutralized the whole “pull the plate” trick, at least in my case.

All of this raises the question: How are all these other guys managing to pull it off? I may never know.

Maybe in addition to removing their plates, they’ve also scratched out their VINs. That seems like it could come back to haunt you when you decide to sell the bike. Maybe they got ticketed too, just this one time. When I found the ticket, the other bikes were already gone. Maybe they make so much money don’t care about getting some fines. That seems hard to imagine.

Who knows. Anyway, I’m not going to worry about those guys. I’m just going to keep taking the train to work as usual.

UPDATE April 30, 2013:

I now have no choice but to park the legitimate way, with one of these guys dangling off of my handlebars displaying a Muni-Meter receipt. Here’s a visual from Saturday while I was at the dentist.

Motorcycle parking with muni-meter receipt

Parking with Muni-Meter receipt displayed on handlebars.

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Focus on Infrastructure: New Willis Avenue Bridge

The new Willis Avenue Bridge, now nearly complete, has made it easier for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to travel between the Bronx and Manhattan. For motorists, there is now a huge flyover ramp directly connecting the bridge to the northbound Major Deegan Expressway. This should result in better air quality for this section of the South Bronx.

What’s more, a good deal of thought was given to pedestrians and cyclists, particularly on the Bronx side. The bridge walkway has three basic access points, including two that are stair free. It’s a major improvement over the former single, stairway-only access point. Through these improvements, the local neighborhood that’s impacted by the bridge gets benefits from it as well. And through-cyclists can move ahead more easily without being blocked by the Deegan, as they were in the past. Let’s take a look.

Willis Avenue Bridge Stairway

The new Willis Avenue Bridge has a stairway to south side of Bruckner Boulevard.

As you’re traveling northbound on the bridge pedestrian path, the first thing you come to is a stairway down to the street level. This leads you to the southwest corner of Bruckner Boulevard and Willis Avenue. It’s particularly useful if you want to say in the local neighborhood, where an apartment building called Bruckner By the Bridge has just been completed. So if you live by the bridge, now you can walk right to it without having to cross a busy street or go several blocks out of your way. This stairway replaces what had formerly been the only pedestrian/cyclist access point on the Bronx side to the old bridge.

The next thing you come to is a ramp that leads to the northwest corner of the same intersection.

Willis Avenue Bridge Ramp

The new Willis Avenue Bridge has a ramp to the north side of Bruckner Boulevard.

As you see here, pedestrians or cyclists heading northbound toward the camera have a choice of continuing forward toward the right foreground, or in doubling back toward Bruckner Blvd. In this way, particularly beneficial for cyclists or wheelchair users, destinations that are local or more distant are accessible without the need to negotiate stairs. Notice also the rusticated, rough-hewn stonework, giving the bridge an air of permanence, solidity and fine craftsmanship.

Finally, of value to those whose destinations are further north, the bridge’s pedestrian path continues with a bridge that engineers managed to slip in underneath the flyover ramp and over the Major Deegan. This is probably the biggest benefit of the new configuration over the old.

Pedestrian Underpass

The new Willis Avenue Bridge has a pathway for pedestrians and cyclists that goes underneath a flyover ramp and over the Major Deegan Expressway

Going through here takes you over the Deegan to the southwest corner of E. 135th Street and Willis Avenue. From there, you can continue along Willis Avenue’s two-way bike path, which leads right to the major shopping district at The Hub. Previously, if you wanted to continue into the Bronx and you were on a bike, you’d have to carry your bike down the stairs, then go out of your way along busy Bruckner Blvd. to find a way across the Deegan. The closest underpasses are at Alexander Avenue one block to the west, or Brook Avenue two blocks to the east. Now there’s a beautiful, hill-free direct connection.

And finally, as yet another benefit of this new bridge, there’s a walkway on the east side of the bridge, allowing a direct connection between 134th St. and 135th Street without needing to go down and around to the other side of the bridge where the main walkway is.

Sidewalk on East Side of Bridge

The new Willis Avenue Bridge has a sidewalk across the Deegan on the east side of the bridge.

All in all, cyclists and pedestrians can now enjoy much better connections between Manhattan and the Bronx, as predicted back in 1997.

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Manhattan Waterfront Greenway Expanding Along Harlem River

Manhattan Waterfront Greenway construction along the Harlem River

It looks like crews are working to fill in one of the last big gaps of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway – the segment between roughly East 124th Street and East 133rd Street. Most of this segment has been a staging area for DOT contractors rebuilding the Third Avenue Bridge and replacing the Willis Avenue Bridge. But many of the construction trailers have been removed, and contractors are building a stairway and ramp connecting the Willis Avenue Bridge to the future greenway, which is really cool in and of itself.

Here is what the Department of City Planning reported back in its 2004 survey of the entire greenway:

[T]he New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) is using the Harlem River shore as a staging ground for its bridge reconstruction. Over the next decade DOT will repair and reconstruct the Third Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Willis Avenue bridges. Until this work is finished the shoreline is closed to the public. After the DOT bridge reconstruction is complete, both DSNY and DOT have agreed to cede their land to the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR), which will then turn it into a waterfront park, complete with greenway.

That appears to be happening now! This will be right on my commute route if it connects to the Madison Avenue Bridge. And if this gap is filled in completely, one will be able to bike along the waterfront from 60th Street and York Avenue to 142nd Street and Fifth Avenue with no traffic lights. (The only obstacle would be a stairway at 81st Street.)

Here is my map of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway as it is today. The last unfinished segments are in red, and the arrow points to the segment in question.

Map of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway

Map of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway

Speaking of the Willis Avenue Bridge, the Bronx approach for bikes has been greatly improved over the former bridge. There’s now a wide dedicated bike/ped path extending over the Major Deegan Expressway all the way to the southwest corner of 135th Street and Willis Avenue, where it connects to the Willis Avenue bike lanes. The bridge also has a bike ramp and stairway that connect to Bruckner Boulevard. The DOT has done a great job designing the bike and pedestrian connections on both ends of this bridge. I’ll have photos and details in an upcoming post!

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