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Web www.startsandfits.com
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
WTC-Area Construction
There is a huge amount of construction going on in the area north of the World Trade Center, helping to revitalize this important area and, at long last, fill in the Urban Renewal Area that stood vacant for many decades, and complete Battery Park City. Here is a photo round-up.

Crews are driving piles into the ground at 89 Murray Street / 270 Greenwich Street / 101 Warren Street, otherwise known as Site 5B.

Across the street, a new gramatically incorrect residential tower is rising at 200 Chambers Street Site 5C.

Goldman Sachs will move its headquarters from Broad Street to Battery Park City, here at Site 26.

And rounding it out is another residential tower underway on the block south of the Woolworth Building. I don't have much information about this one. Anybody know what's up with this building?
- Posted at 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |  

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
What About a Taxi Honkometer?
Curbed and A Test of Will are carrying photos of a construction project at Broadway and John Street. These photos reminded me of an incident on Saturday morning as I was returning home from photographing 66 Leonard Street and 380 Lafayette Street for the ever-expanding Hardenbergh architectural database.

I was cycling down congested Broadway. Just past City Hall, the traffic had to wait as one of the trucks you can see in the pictures was making a left-hand turn, with great difficulty, onto John Street. Then I had the following conversation.


I turned around to see a cabby talking on his cell phone, obviously too busy to pay attention to the affect his actions would have on the world around him.

"Hey! What's the point of honking like that?"

"Did I honk at you, bro?"

"No, but it annoys everybody, not just that guy."

"He knows he's not supposed to turn like that."

A-HA! So the cabby was jolting scores of pedestrians out of their socks and annoying who knows how many people in the adjacent buildings because an overworked guy driving a super-noisy, eight-ton truck loaded with lumber that was destined for the exact spot where he was maneuvering would understand that he wasn't supposed to be turning like that. Either that, OR the cabby was just upset he wasn't moving faster than he would be in the car commercials.

Here are the problems with honking, as I see them:
  • As a monotone blast, it fails to communicate any actual information.
  • It annoys many people who are not the intended recipient of the transmission.
  • It shows that drivers forget that many of the people within earshot are not ensconced in metal-and-glass exoskeletons.
  • It rarely makes anybody go any faster.
My ever-innovative friend Gary says that all cabbies should be given a honkometer, which would charge cabbies X cents for every honk after a certain threshold is passed each month. They can still do it in cases of severe emergency (because there are always those times when you see someone darting in front of the cab and would rather hit the horn than the brakes), but they would simply know they are being charged.

Is there any reason this idea wouldn't work?

- Fulton Street Transit Hub Update: Screw Cutesy [Curbed]
- Corbin Building Scaffolded [A Test of Will]
- Posted at 9:20 PM | Permalink | Comments: 10 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Parking Spot Squat Furor
The idea that a bunch of Park Slopers would congregate in a parking space in an effort to demonstrate that there are better uses for scarce public city land than the temporary storage of a single person's piece of property has caused outrage on comment threads at Naparstek and Curbed. There's been a lot of name calling and ad hominem attacks. Can't we all just get along and discuss ideas in a civilized manner?

The point of the people who staged the parking spot squat was to show that parking a car is cheap. Really cheap. A municipal giveaway, in fact. The squatters may also raise the point that public policy at the moment is to forbid bicycle parking in the curbside lane and then to confiscate bikes parked on the sidewalk if they get too numerous, as happened in Williamsburg near the overcrowded L train station at Bedford Avenue. The point of the critics is to note that the parking spot squatters have too much free time on their hands or are wrong to fault the car as a source of problems or are pursuing the wrong strategy for making the city more pedestrian-friendly.

Amid the frey, there was one idea that I want to pull out and comment on. The idea that cars parked in parallel along a curbside act as a buffer to make pedestrians feel protected from the speeding cars in the driving portion of the roadway. Here in the Financial District of Manhattan, there is no buffer of parked cars, and pedestrians are protected from speeding, road raging motorists only by the one- to two-inch height of the curb. Cars frequently drive onto the sidewalk to park, or to squeeze by cars that are parked on the opposite curb. But in general, there are just pedestrians and cars in motion.

What are the effects of this? Lack of a buffer zone is indeed slightly disconcerting. But I wouldn't say it makes one fearful to walk however. But every parked car becomes a moving car at some point, and the lack of on-street parking in the Financial District means that fewer people choose to drive to the area. As a result, during the off hours, there is very little traffic here, but because of the density, there are still plenty around. The neighborhood has lots of people but few cars, which is the perfect combination for urban vitality that we seek at some level by choosing to live in New York City.

I do like the idea of a buffer zone though. Cars parked in parallel compliment an unbroken street wall. Together, the two solid rows do create a sense of security. Many of the people who participate in the parking spot squat, I believe, did it not in an effort to eradicate parking, but to ask that the city charge a reasonable price for it. Others were there to protest the fact that the acres of curbside asphalt in New York City could be opened up to human beings, or bicycles, or grand pianos, or yard sales, or small-scale entrepreneurs, or to anyone who could spare a quarter. I'm not sure how this would be set up technically, but why not open up the curbside space to the highest bidder? If it is more important for a motorist to occupy the space than a group of cyclists, let him outbid them and pay for the privilege of using the real estate. In a city where money talks more loudly than anything, why should private automobiles enjoy a protected status?

- Parking it in the Slope [Naparstek]
- Fun with Parking Spaces: Parking Spot Squat [Curbed]
- Parking Squat: Kind of silly and yet... [Naparstek]
- Posted at 8:25 PM | Permalink | Comments: 4 | Post a Comment |  

Monday, May 15, 2006
A Triangle Returns Decades Later

One of the earliest things agreed upon during discussions of rebuilding the World Trade Center was that Greenwich Street and possibly other streets obliterated by the former WTC superblock (Fulton, Dey, Cortlandt) should be restored. The new 7 World Trade Center, more slender and taller, leaves room for Greenwich Street. A block of Greenwich Street that didn't exist on Sept. 10, 2001, has returned, thanks to good urban planning that understands the street grid. It also leaves room for the adjacent colorful triangular park. After years of construction, the area is starting to look promising.
- Posted at 12:22 AM | Permalink | Comments: 8 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Every Block of Every Street in Manhattan

Sheridan Square, 1988.

Startsandfits.com recently enjoyed Waterfront, by Philip Lopate, a great recent addition to the canon of New York City walking-around literature. Another great addition to that canon — this one using digital photographs and shoe leather — is being produced every month by my friend Bob, who runs Coffeedrome.com, a website that contains my photo tour of Central Park West.

Bob is walking every block in Manhattan, and taking wonderful photographs as he goes. (Bob's photo at right is of my favorite building in Times Square, the Knickerbocker Hotel.)

In 1988, Bob walked every block south of 42nd Street, a 310-mile amble that took him past Sheridan Square (pictured above). Bob retired last year, and now he's finishing the job by walking every street in Manhattan north of 42nd Street. Check in and follow along as he makes progress. (He's up to 86th Street.)

For any Upper West Side trivia buffs who may be passing this way: Here's a question that came to light because of Bob's walk. There's a one-block street west of West End Avenue that connects 63rd and 64th Streets that doesn't have any street signs at it. Local.live.com calls it "W 63rd St." Google maps doesn't give it a name. The unlinkable New York City Map Portal calls it E TOWER DR. Does anybody know if that is correct? Bob is assuming it is, for now.

- Bob's Walk [Coffeedrome: Always Open, Never Closed]
- 40.77o N & 73.99o W [Local.live.com]
- 40.77o N & 73.99o W [Google maps]
- Waterfront by Philip Lopate [Gothamist]

- Posted at 10:55 PM | Permalink | Comments: 4 | Post a Comment |  

Monday, May 08, 2006
Partial Car-Free Trial in Central Park
On Monday, one day before the City Council's Transportation Committee was to hear testimony from Transportation Alternatives on a car-free summer in Central Park, Mayor Bloomberg announced a six month partial car-free trial in Central Park.

Transportation Alternatives has reason to be happy and reason to be displeased with today's announcement. The trial will last for about two months more time than the group had been asking for, but will cover about half the roadway. It had been asking for a complete ban on all traffic (except emergency vehicles, police cars and Parks Dept. vehicles). But what they got was something a little more watered-down. Under the plan announced on Monday, cars will continue to use the park's loop drive in the peak direction during rush hours (downtown in the mornings, uptown in the afternoons and evenings), as seen in these maps, where dark red indicates the places* where traffic will still be permitted.

AM RushPM Rush
7 - 10 a.m.3 - 7 p.m.

I wonder what Transportation Alternatives will say about this closure. Certainly, it's great to be restricting cars from a park, which after all is a place to recreate, not a place to disruptively speed through in a car. But the timing of the announcement seems designed to undercut its ability to spread its message about a complete car ban, which was gathering support in the City Council. One Starts & Fits e-mail correspondent wrote in Monday afternoon to suggest that the timing was solely a way to give transportation advocates enough of what they wanted to dampen the movement before the City Council had the chance to assert its authority over the DOT's management of traffic flow in the City, which perhaps would have had little or no precedent.

What do you think?

*Note: The wording in the press release is a little unclear about a few entrances. I've tried to map this as best as I could with a little guess work on what I assume the DOT will do.

Update: 11:51 p.m. Transportation Alternatives has issued a media advisory praising the move as "a step in the right direction" but stating that it will continue ahead with its push for a City Council-sponsored complete ban on traffic for the summer, as it had been asking. It also seems that the City Council's Transportation Committee will still consider the full summertime ban. I hope that passes.

Update: 12:17 a.m. PeakGuy over at The Oil Drum is way ahead of me on this, already posting on this issue.

- Mayor Bloomberg Announces More Car-Free Hours in Central and Prospect Parks [NYC.gov]
- Media Advisory: Statement on City's Fractional Closure Plan for Park Loops [TransAlt]
- Posted at 11:33 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Sunday, May 07, 2006
Folding Bikes
One of the problems with leading a car-free life is getting around the suburbs. Taking my regular bike on Metro-North has always been sort of annoying because you have to keep it in the doorwell, flip it upside-down so it doesn't fall over, and keep an eye on it the whole time to make sure that it isn't getting in anyone's way. I thought that I could solve that problem by buying a folding bike, and Futurebird got one too in the spirit of comradarie. With those bikes, we figured we could fold the bikes up and put 'em in the luggage rack. Upon leaving the train, we could unfold them and ride off. No car needed, even in the 'burbs.

The thing that got me started on this train of thought — no pun intended — was Transportation Alternatives' $1,000 folding bike giveaway.

We bought two bikes from a guy who runs a business out of a mini-storage facility in a Home Depot parking lot off the Belt Parkway. (And passes on that low overhead to you, the customer.) They cost $139 each. Considering the fact that folding bikes can cost well into the four digits, I figured it was a good first attempt at getting into the market. If they were even half as useful as my already mentioned well-worn 1985 mountain bike, which has proven itself the single most useful thing I ever bought, I figured we'd be in great shape.

Unfortunately it wasn't as easy as I thought. I'm too tall to ride the bikes comfortably, but this only became apparent after riding them home from the ministorage place.

So, we're selling the bikes, and I'm chalking this up to a learning experience. Folding bikes can be tricky. As long as you're say, 5'10'' or under, though, this bike should be fun to ride. Want to get a piece of this action? Bid for one of the bikes before May 14 at 12:50 p.m. If you can pick it up, you don't have to pay shipping, so there's your financial incentive. As of this writing, this model is out of stock at the distributor, so this is the only way to get one of these bad boys.

- ZPort Folding Bikes -- Practically New!! [EBay, item No. 7240157656]
- Metro-North Commuter
- Zport, Inc.
- Folding Bike - ZP2005UST [Zport]
- Win a $1000 Folding Bike [TransAlt]
- What Kind of Mileage You Get on That? [S&F]
- Posted at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |  

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