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Sunday, June 26, 2005
Upsizing the Taxi Fleet
The front page of Crain's New York Business carried a small item last week on a City Council bill that has the potential to have a huge transformitive impact on the New York cityscape:
The city's sedan taxis could be replaced by wheelchair-accessible minivans as medallions expire in the coming years. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilwoman Margarita Lopez have reached a compromise on Ms. Lopez's bill for a 100% accessible fleet. The deal is likely to call for a slower phase-in than Ms. Lopez initially sought. Details could be announced this week. Opposition is expected from the taxi industry, which has stalled the bill for two years.Since the mid 1990s, when Chevrolet discontinued the Caprice, the ubiquitous presence on New York streets has been the tangerine yellow Ford Crown Victoria, which is used for the vast majority of cabs. According to research on the taxi fleet prepared by Schaller Consulting:
Taxi owners use cars with body-on-frame construction to endure the city's streets. Heavy duty suspensions and brakes and larger radiators further fortify the cars for taxi duty. Unibody cars have not been durable when tested by taxi fleets, although some owner-drivers have had success with minivans.The minivan model I spotted most frequently used as a taxi is the Toyota Sienna.
I have mixed feelings about the potential transformation of the taxi fleet. The yellow cab is an icon of New York City, depicted in important visual roles in countless movies and television shows over the years and included in photographs in family scrapbooks across the world. It's been through several transitions before, most recently from the checker cab to the square-cornered mid-1980s Caprice, to the late model rounded cars used now. Execpt for incremental annual changes, New York City's buildings stay the same, but wholesale changes in the cab fleet define New York's changing times more prominently. One look at a screen shot, and you can tell whether you're looking at The Out-of-Towners, as originally made in 1970, or the 1999 remake, or whether you're in New York during the rough-and-tumble 1980s, as seen in Crocodile Dundee.
The Crown Vic is a sleek sedan, elegantly aerodynamic, not at all overbearing and blimp-looking like the late model Caprices were. It helps shape New York's image as a thorougly thrilling and classy city. Like the fashionable and svelt people who are shown slipping in and out of taxis, the car itself presents an attractive appearance. The Crown Vic is part of New York City's image, which has helped to attract the tens of thousands of people who have moved here in recent years, and untold millions more who have visited.
On the other hand, the Toyota Sienna is frumpy and squat. It looks slow. It looks like it doesn't care about its own appearance. It seems more suited to a quiet cul-de-sac driveway, waiting out front to ferry the kids off to soccer practice than setting the pace on the traffic clogged avenues of the capital of the world. It doesn't seem to be a fitting vehicle for the U.N. diplomats and Masters of the Universe financiers to climb into every day.
As a New York City bicyclist, I'll be sad to see the minivans take over because they are tall and harder to see over. The same applies for anyone who will continue to drive a sedan or station wagon, including the police. Between buses and vans and trucks and SUVs and a future fleet of minivans, people driving what were once regular sized cars will be hard pressed to see past the bumper in front of them. The change to minivans may be one more thing that encourages people to buy SUVs instead of regular cars.
But mobility for the disabled is a more important concern than aesthetics. Mobility for all people regardless of age or ability to drive is one of the great benefits of mass transit, and the thesis behind the book Access for All, listed at left as an inspiration for this website. So I guess Councilwoman Lopez's legislation is a good thing for the city. But there is another reason to support it. Surprisingly, the minivan actually gets better gas mileage than the sedan! As you can see by their makers' specs, the Crown Vic gets an abysmal 17 miles per gallon in city driving, while the Toyota gets a slightly less abysmal 18 to 19 miles per gallon. So paradoxically, changing to bigger vehicles will help us to marginally reduce harmful emissions. As I alluded to earlier this month, Toyota seems to be thwacking Detroit when it comes to fuel efficiency.
But leaving aside concerns for mobility and gas mileage, I'll be sad to see the Crown Vics go.
- Posted at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments: 6 | Post a Comment |
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Oil prices surged in New York this afternoon, topping $40 a barrel as Chinese demand increases continued to outpace estimates ... NYMEX crude topped $50 a barrel today despite a government report showing inventories at five-year highs ... Benchmark crude oil dropped $1.62 in active trading today as New York traders took profits after a weeklong bull run ... Prices on oil futures inched closer to parity with front month prices as it appeared that oil would remain an expensive commodity for some time ... Experts say sustained high oil and gasoline prices may start to slow the economy. In New York, oil prices rose to a record on fears of civil unrest in Nigeria, more after this ...
The steady drumbeat of hightening tension in the world oil markets has received saturation coverage in the news media for months: On the radio, on the nightly news, in newspapers, and all day long, every day, right here on the Internet.
As oil prices continue to rise and our economy stumbles into the transition to alternative fuels, the eyes of the world are turning their attention to the New York Mercantile Exchange, which overlooks the Hudson from Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, and to counterpart organizations in London and Tokyo. Here, oil traders gesturing and shouting in an open outcry system will mediate the transition into a post-oil future. The growing fears of high oil prices spreading across the globe will be manifested in the controlled chaos in the pits of this building's trading floor. All the while, the bidding up and the bidding down will be hidden from the public by the exchange's serene and subdued exterior.
The New York Times's David Dunlap, quoted in the AIA Guide to New York City, describes the building this way:
[N]othing about its gray-flannel facade betrays the sheer pandemonium within ... clad in the eye-popping colors of a medieval pageant, shouting and gesturing wildly, they buy and sell futures and options in crude oil, ... platinum, copper, silver and gold.That was written between 1997 and 2000, when oil was cheap and prices stable.- Posted at 5:29 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Thursday, June 23, 2005
$60 Oil - There's a Reason for That
Downtown at the New York Mercantile Exchange today, oil traded for $60 a barrel for the first time. No economy is more dependent on oil than the United States's because we've suburbanized housing and commerce and leisure activities away from our cities. Now that most Americans are required to drive to go about their daily business, we're at the mercy of the oil markets, controlled by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and other Persian Gulf countries.
Back when I was starting this blog I thought it would be about "land use and transportation" because I wanted to raise awareness of the connection between land use patterns (i.e., high or low density) and transportation needs (i.e., being dependent on the automobile).
There are a lot of different ideas about how to reduce our dependence on oil. A frequently espoused one is to increase fuel efficiency by making cars hybrids. Matthew Simmons wants to increase fuel efficiency by reducing traffic congestion. I think that these may help marginally in the short term, but in the long term would just encourage more driving to ever more distant places. The really big savings, and the lasting savings, would come from land use patterns that encourage walking, bicycling, rail, buses, Segways, Roller Blades, skateboards, basically anything but the car.
The other day I came across a big city resident who got an urban planning degree for the purpose of designing transit-oriented housing. He uses rhetoric that is more militant than mine, but supports the same concepts. Starts & Fits readers, meet one Aaron Eads of Chicago, who wrote the following, in response to a blog entry about the war in Iraq:
You said from the beginning that this war was about securing access to oil, our great and tragic addiction. BushCo. knows about [the near term] peak[ing of world oil production] and they have shamefully taken to Plan War instead of pushing for sustainable land use, transit and developing better renewable energy sources. For this alone they deserve an eternity of infamy.Well said, friend.- Posted at 8:30 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
America Has Spoken
Alas, no hotel party for us. A formidable opponent has been declared victorious in Curbed's neighborhood naming contest. Congratulations to the winning entrants.
Thanks for all who played and voted for The Nightie Drawer. Tremendous effort. We earned a solid and noble second place in a red-hot field of 11. As we Mets fans say, just wait till next year.- Posted at 1:56 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Monday, June 20, 2005
The Time to Act Is Now!
Friends, I bring you a post this evening about a very important topic: A Curbed.com New York neighborhood naming contest! A close personal associate of Starts & Fits has entered a potentially winning entry, which as of this writing is one vote shy of winning the luxurious grand prize, one night's stay at the Hotel on Rivington! So vote for "The Nightie Drawer" now, or at least before 1 p.m. tomorrow. E-mail all your friends and tell them to vote too! All right, here's the offer: Anyone who votes for The Nightie Drawer in Curbed's 'Hoodwinked neighborhood naming contest gets to come party with us when we throw the raging hotel party that will accompany any potential grand prize winnings. Dude, we're going to totally trash that place.
But don't just vote for the invite. This is seriously the best entry on its own merits. First of all, it is one of the few entries that doesn't resort to the AcROnYm naming conventions that are so overused. SoHo, TriBeCa and even NoLIta, fine, but beyond that, and it's a cliche. Second, ever notice all those super-wide streets that run right into the lower East River? I'm talking about Pike Slip, Rutgers Slip, Market Slip, Catherine Slip, Gouverneur Slip, Peck Slip, Old Slip, and even the little-known Burling Slip at the foot of John Street. Ever wondered why all those streets are called "Slips"? Well, I wonder too. But why not name this area along the Lower East Side and the Financial District "The Nightie Drawer" to liven it up a little? That's exactly what has been proposed: A neighborhood name that harkens back to the history of this once bustling seaport and dock district and at the same time injects it with a little 21st-century sex appeal!
(Above photo of the Lower East Side taken by yours truly on 4/6/04 from the observation room of the AIG headquarters.)
- First Anniversary Contest: 'Hoodwinked! [Curbed]
- 'Hoodwinked Polls Are Open: Vote Early and Often! [Curbed]
- 'Hoodwinked Finalist #3: The Nightie Drawer [Curbed]- Posted at 7:26 PM | Permalink | Comments: 9 | Post a Comment |
Friday, June 17, 2005
Need Another Reason?
Multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman had a column this morning that every U.S. policy maker and driver should read. That isn't enought to get you to follow the link? Here's a sample:
I certainly would not put on a black tie if the entire management team at G.M. got sacked and was replaced by executives from Toyota. Indeed, I think the only hope for G.M.'s autoworkers, and maybe even our country, is with Toyota. Because let's face it, as Toyota goes, so goes America.- Posted at 10:47 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |
A Moving Recap of City History
The Museum of the City of New York has added a mind-blowing new permanent film: Timescapes, a history of New York City crammed into 25-minutes on three visually packed screens. The film is perhaps geared to give tourists an introduction to the city, but because of its grandiose broad sweep of history, the film is a moving and useful document for New Yorkers as well: from map depicting the phenomenal importance of the Erie Canal to the devastating images of the depopulation and related arson the city suffered during the 1970s. It divides the history of the city into five parts, like the Merchant City of the early 1800s, etc. The film calls the New York in the post-war era, when people were enchanted with getting out of cities generally, "The Regional City." Ouch! After the 1990s, however, we're clearly into a tremendous renaissance, and the film notes it.
I'm going to be straight with you now. There were parts of this short little film that brought a tear to my eye — something about the magnitude of investment and achievement in this ever swirling and bubbling cauldron of humanity. This movie hit the same nerve that is hit when I read the part in the novel Time and Again when Si Morley brings Julia Charbonneau from her home in 19th century brownstone, gaslight, horse-and-carriage and cobblestone Manhattan to his home in the 20th century: Same space, totally transformed. As Si and Julia approach the city from the bay, she stares in abject amazement at the burst of skyscrapers that crowd together at the battery, and asks, "What makes them stand up?"
What indeed. This short story is kind of all about that.
- Posted at 12:28 AM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Saturday, June 11, 2005
I Hope That's Not the Apartment That's for Rent
Readers of this web log will know that I am constantly praising city life. Well, one of the things that makes life in the city interesting is the raw human emotion — not always positive — that living and working in close quarters with huge numbers of strangers can provoke.
As seen here, and here, I have a particular fascination with people who are so worked up by something that they post handwritten signs on buildings or in windows. Uptown in far East Harlem, I spotted a number of handwritten signs that illustrate the potential problems of living on the ground floor. Apparently, apartments are available in the building at left above. One hopes that the one on the ground floor with all the signs in the windows isn't one of them. All the photographs in this post were taken by the artist futurebird.
Quoting in full, Sign 1: "Pity the teenage drug dealers drug users who 'hang' on the stoop and in front of my windows day and night. They have assaulted, robbed, burglarized and harrassed me. Their parents failed to teach them how to be members of the human race. These teens are unfit and shouldn't be around normal people! PITY THEM"
Quoting in full, Sign 2: "In order to facilitate the removal of drug dealers + gun dealers from this street to jail, all conversations from 291 stoop to 293 stoop are recorded. Often photos are taken. If you don't want to be recorded or photographed, move somewhere else!" Lower down, in a larger font: "To those who are knocking on my windows at all hours of the day + night — the drug dealers live next door —> And will the drug dealers friend, the gun dealer, — go sell your illegal guns somewhere else!"
The lower left window has been broken. A piece of foam has been pressed up against an unrepaired hole for insulation.
Quoting in full, Sign 3: "An old prostitute (with a cellulite ass) is holding drug parties in the basement, again! Some of her 'visitors' are cops, so the police don't do anything. The owner doesn't do anything because ... ??? 2/14/05 ID." Sign 4: "For the last two nights between 1:30 am + 5 am, the old prostitute (with the cellulite ass) has been using the basement as a beauty salon and been unkinking her + her family's hair. The smell is horrendous! OR For the last two nights between 1:30 am + 5 am, the old prostitute (with the cellulite ass) has been using the basement + forgot to douche. The smell is horrendous! 3/14/05 ID."
Phew! Drug dealers, gun dealers, foul noises and smells, accusations of robbery, assault, prostitution and even cellulite: It seems like there's some bad blood there on the block. I'm not sure that posting these signs will help solve any of the problems they mention, however. In fact, it's easy to see how they might make the problems worse.- Posted at 8:34 PM | Permalink | Comments: 8 | Post a Comment |
Death on the Roadway
Aaron Naparstek, over at naparstek.com, has a gruesome entry about a cyclist killed in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Thursday. He writes: "Dying like this seems to me to be just an incredible, massive injustice, particularly because it would take so little effort and money to create safer cycling routes in New York City."
People often think cycling on the streets of New York City must be dangerous. And indeed, it is. But driving a car is dangerous too. In fact, drivers kill far more drivers than cyclists. According to these statistics, 58.7% of the more than 40,000 Americans killed by motor vehicle accidents in 1997 were drivers, 26% are motor vehicle passengers, 12.6% are pedestrians and 1.9% are cyclists. (Note that the six safest states per capita are densely populated, urban, and have a lot of transit: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.) According to these statistics, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 34. Adding description and detail to these morbid statistics is this morning's New York Post, which carries a front-page story about an accident.
The Sunrise Highway turned into a scene from hell yesterday when an out-of-control oil tanker crashed into several vehicles, killing four and injuring three others.This is similar to a horrific accident in March 2004 that closed Interstate 95 in Bridgeport, Conn., for many days. In that accident, a fire caused by a burning tanker was so hot it melted a bridge.
The more dependent our nation is on motor vehicle travel, the more people will die on the roads. All this talk is making the subway and commuter rail look like the best choices.- Posted at 6:10 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
70% of Every Barrel of Oil
Matthew R. Simmons, an investment banker with a bearish outlook on future oil production and a book out that casts doubt on Saudi Arabia's oil supply, sat for an interview with The Agonist, a liberal weblog. Mr. Simmons talked about constraints on the future supply of oil, particularly at the world's No. 1 exporter, and then he turned to demand:
You got to fix the transportation market. 70% of every barrel of oil used in the world today is used to [sic] transportation. But there are some really interesting fixes. If you put all of the goods we now move by long haul trucks and get them off the highways and put them on the rails that has an energy efficiency of between five and ten fold, as opposed to five or ten percent. And that is not an impossible mission from a five to seven year time if we had to do it. There is a huge side benefit to that. By eliminating the trucks on the road we actually make a bug [sic] dent on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is public enemy numbers 1 through 8 on passenger car fuel efficiency.The need for trucking has increased in proportion to the sprawling of residential and commercial development in America. Rail freight is great for New York, where there are major portside intermodal terminals, and it's great for a number of aging industrial cities in the northeast. But it's not so hot for the sprawl-based cities of the sunbelt, where most goods would still need to be carried into the distant suburbs by truck. Trucking is even more critical for David Brooks's exurbs, disconnected as they are from urban areas. These places require long haul rigs to get goods to the people there, who would be increasingly stranded out there were trucking to wither.
For an example of what Mr. Simmons would envision for the future of freight transport, one need only look as far as a study conducted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency and others. They present an innovative idea that would remove trucks from highways and put freight on rail cars and barges, as seen here.
Besides removing truck traffic, the plan would revitalize the economies of a number of places that suffered population loss and rising poverty during the automobile-assisted 20th century exodus from cities: Bridgeport, Albany, Camden, Buffalo and Pittsburgh among them. The plan would put the rails along the Erie Canal back to serious work, and it would create working waterfronts and centralized jobs. But there's still all those green lines representing continuing demand for trucking in the suburban fringes. Our land use patterns are so sprawling we can't avoid using trucks now.
Another local idea on getting rid of truck traffic is the rail freight tunnel that would cross the Upper New York bay from east to west, connecting Long Island and southern New England with the rest of the country. (As it is now, freight trains have to travel way upstate to Selkirk, N.Y., to cross the Hudson.) That's a great idea that deserves a whole post of its own.
But there is a certain futility to getting highways rid of trucks. By improving the quality of drive time for other motorists, open roads would encourage driving. Like adding a lane to try to ease congestion, after a while, total vehicle miles traveled would increase. Getting rid of long-haul trucking is a good step toward ending our oil dependency, but not a panacea. Given that more than two thirds of all oil is used for transportation, the only panacea I can see is a return to cities.
- Peak Oil, Saudi Arabia [The Agonist]
- Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy [Barnes & Noble]
- Developing A Short Sea Container Shipping Facility & Service Bridgeport's Experience [pdf!] [Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency]
- Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project [NYC Economic Development Corp. & Federal Railroad Admin.]- Posted at 12:46 AM | Permalink | Comments: 5 | Post a Comment |
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Bad News for Columbia's Planning Program
Today via cuz produces we learned that Susan S. Fainstein, who in barely more than three years has energized and raised the academic gravitas of Columbia University's graduate programs in urban planning, is leaving the university. Surely, many people at Columbia are upset to have lost such a highly regarded and able professor. But none is as upset as Cuz Potter, a doctoral student in planning at Columbia, who writes:
I'm in shock. I can barely think. I must speak. I've denied and now I'm getting angry. Soon I'll probably be laughing in despair. I just heard news that Susan Fainstein is going to leave our department for Harvard's after the coming year. I've also heard that Peter is going to officially go soon, too. Although I have a great deal of respect for the other faculty, our department is going to be devastated. Eviscerated. Disemboweled and left in a gutter to bleed.Phew! Cuz, don't give up on that miracle just yet. There is time to find someone to succeed her, and surely plenty of people who would jump at the chance. Any ideas out there about who should lead the program next?- Posted at 10:39 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Monday, June 06, 2005
An Opportunity Forgone at Coney Island
Congratulations to Transportation Alternatives on a great first annual Tour de Brooklyn. The weather was perfect, the mood among the reported 1,800 riders was relaxed and convivial, and not one, but two borough presidents attended. The route took us down and then up Ocean Parkway, a wide, and more importantly, flat, boulevard. Closer to the refreshing ocean breeze, we passed along Surf Avenue in Coney Island, mapped above.
Coney Island is home to the Carousell, mentioned this morning on Curbed for being 86 years old and about to be auctioned. It is also home to the object of fascination of my friend Juan Rivero, who has written a considerably weighty paper on the continuing atrophy of a world-famous entertainment district, and on the planning process that led to its demise.
Riding along Surf Avenue yesterday, the riders of the Tour de Brooklyn passed the focus of Mr. Rivero's most intense derision, Keyspan Park, home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets farm team that plays 40 games a year there. Here is a sample (emphasis added) of Mr. Rivero's wistful analysis of what could have stood on the site where the ballpark was built.
Questions about the terms of the stadium deal ignore the larger question of whether the stadium should have been built at all. Today, hardly anyone speaks out against it. Tellingly, three years after the completion of the stadium, it is much easier to identify the winners than the losers. Giuliani got his vanity project. The Mets got a minor league stadium in a profitable market. Herbert Berman shared in the credit of bringing baseball back to Brooklyn and of securing various community improvements. Brooklynites got another entertainment option. The Coney Island community got several charity programs from the Mets, and public improvements and an LDC from the City. And finally, at least some merchants in the amusement district claim that business improves on game days.I don't know that much about Keyspan Park, but I will add that besides being the Cyclones' home, it was the site of the first show in Phish's final tour. Rock on, guys.
Plenty more Coney Island redevelopment analysis and criticism is available via the link below. Enjoy.
- Coney Island: Planning Nostalgic Space- Posted at 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments: 4 | Post a Comment |
Friday, June 03, 2005
The LIRR's Clear Expansion Priority
Mobilizing the Region recently had an item calling for the $2 billion that President Bush pledged for construction of a Long Island Rail Road link to the Financial District be re-routed to two other projects: The long overdue Second Avenue Subway and the LIRR-to-Grand Central Terminal link known as East Side Access.
Nothing would be better for the long term economic and environmental health of the city than the construction of the Second Avenue Subway, so moving any funds to that project would be great. But the Feds, via the Bush Administration's Federal Transit Administration, have already pledged tremendous support for this project — recommending $1.3 billion for the first three stations and awarding only it and LIRR East Side Access the highest priority level for funding over 25 other projects across the nation. It is up to Albany, not the Federal government, to back it if it's to move forward.
But most importantly: How could the LIRR link to Midtown be more important than a LIRR link to Downtown Manhattan? The Grand Central Terminal area is already the most heavily packed part of the country's largest central business district, and commands the highest office rents. It's probably the strongest business area in the country. Long Islanders can already get to Midtown with a one-seat ride. Providing further access to this already fully built-out area would be a huge waste of money, especially when the Financial District is struggling to maintain its status as a premier central business district. In addition, the city and state are trying to promote west Midtown as the future area of expansion, and encouraging people to use Grand Central at the expense of Penn Station would undermine their own objective.
As Crain's New York Business has recently lamented, the Financial District recently fell to the fourth largest CBD in the country, after having been the third largest for longer than anyone can remember. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki are constantly trying to offer incentives to get businesses to locate there, as seen in yesterday's press release about Morgan Stanley taking space there. But a more effective and permanent incentive to keep for businesses in the Financial District would be to make it a one-seat ride for the Long Islanders who now have to transfer to the subway at Penn Station or Flatbush Avenue to get to work.
Don't get me wrong. As noted previously, I support all three projects, but the priority for the LIRR has got to be the connection to Downtown, lest we allow it to wither completely.- Posted at 7:06 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
New York Takes Over Vegas
Las Vegas, the home of New York, New York, a casino featuring miniature versions of many of the famous sights of Midtown, will will become the home of another New York City-based casino, this one based on two of New York's charming and increasingly expensive low-rise neighborhoods: the Village and the Meatpacking District.
A knockoff of New York City's East Village — with its own version of the city's Meatpacking District and Washington Square — is planned for 44 acres at the northwest corner of Tropicana Avenue and Paradise Road.It is interesting that an auto- and sprawl-based city in the American Southwest, Vegas, is becoming more like the sensible, walking city of the old Northeast. Las Vegas has been criticized by James Howard Kunstler as environmentally unsustainable and socially stifling: He concludes after a short visit there: "So overwhelming was the sheer anomie provoked by every particular of its design and operation." It seems that Vegas will be taking small steps away from its current design -- if only for the novelty value that a walkable neighborhood would have on most Americans.- Posted at 6:05 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |
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