Friday, April 20, 2007

This weekend, I'm going to keep on checking Streetsblog and The Gothamist for some hot news that might be coming from Mayor Bloomberg.

Rumors are flying that an Earth Day press conference will include announcement about a trial congestion pricing plan - basically, a toll for automobile access of midtown and downtown Manhattan.

This goes in line with the perspective, adopted by liveable streets advocates, that charging for things like parking spaces and automobile access to streets - letting the free market limit access to those resources - will both be the disincentive necessary to start a reduction of automobile use, as well as generate revenue needed to expand public transportation service to some of the outer neighborhoods in the boroughs from which lots of new york city drivers drive.

Several months ago, I watched a movie called "Contested Streets," which discussed the rise of congestion in New York City as well as the anti-congestion measures taken in London, Paris, and a couple other cities.

Traffic congestion can't really be dismissed as a niusance; I think of the possibilities that behavior is tangibly affected by the spaces provided for person to person interaction. Streets are bad, and pedestrian plazas are good. There's a reason why Road Rage is not only a common phenomenon, but a common term - we're all familiar with this effect! Furthermore, in the next decade or so, New York City's population is going to grow by an estimated one million people. Where they will go and how they will get around must be carefully considered and planned for - it must be built, now. And it must be built in a way that is going to be safe, healthy, sensible, and sustainable. Cities have an incredible potential for radical sustainability and low resource use - as long as decision-makers are willing to make dramatic changes.

Congestion procing is a good start.

I'll be clicking "Reload" a bunch this weekend.

As a parting image, this is what Park Avenue used to look like. A park. Actually a park - rolling greens and winding brick paths all the way down. How beautiful!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

A foray into reflections on the "blogosphere"? What?

I've been having problems with blogs lately. Some of the fuss over at Tenured Radical gets repeated The Combat Philosopher (who, by the way, has an interesting post about some environmentally despicable things happening - among a host of other despicable things, of course - in New Orleans).

This all seems uncomfortably similar to what happened in Wesleying's post - itself mainly a link to a Wesleyan Argus article - about an incident involving the Middletown Police violently attacking a student of color outside of a party. The comments section was flooded with idiocy from people all too willing to use the internet as a way to shed their humanity and somehow argue that justice has been served with the attacking and pepperspraying of a student who they don't like.


(It makes me glad that my blog isn't heavily trafficked - not that my daydreamy self-indulgence is particularly inviting to inflammatory remarks. Though I have a livejournal that got some idiocy visited upon it by people who chose not to identify themselves - apparently, criticizing racism in the classroom is not good, oh, and something about how liberals are dumb, too. right)

I recently sent an email to The Gothamist, pointing out that while they're a convenient news source, their overall quality goes down as soon as somebody clicks on "Comments" and is exposed to a veritable bevy of racist and sexist remarks, particularly any time Al Sharpton is mentioned, and frequently when he isn't.

Remember when about a month ago, the New York Times broke the news about how people use the anonymity of the internet to act in ways that they probably wouldn't 'IRL'?

It makes me wonder if, as more and more of people's communication and interaction takes place through the internet (as it has for a chunk of people in this world), people just become worse human beings.

Today, it was rainy, and people bumped me in the face with their umbrellas, but I wrote poetry and picked up an Italo Calvino book. Kurt Vonnegut died recently. There - I waxed blogoriphic, as I am wont to do, so as to keep this post consistent with my others.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Real New York

There's nothing quite like walking through the garment district in the morning. Box trucks are idling while men push racks of clothings around, taking up sidewalk and street space, yelling at each other in classic NYC accents. In these narrow side streets it feels like walking through a New York City that's a little bit more real than some of the cleaner places where the sun shines with more clarity.

Of course, I'm well aware that it's foolish to romanticize some notion of a realer, authentic New York. All that does is play silly games trying to compare New York City to the city that lives in postcards, and movies from the 1990s about people who move here (single, to work for a magazine and think about their love life - heterosexual) somewhat unprepared for life in New York City. Charicatures and fantasies, as if New York City needed to be romanticized.

It doesn't! It just needs a general acknowledgement that everything that happens is real, and that nothing - or, perhaps everything - is just as "so New York" as anything else, to take a phrased that was overused by an intoxicated and somewhat idiotic public commentor on a friend's wedding ("How much you love each other is just so New York, and how you met, such a great story, just so New York, and I see the two of you together for a long long time, with so many stories, and so New York..."). The Starbucksification of New York - damn near all of Manhattan now, not to mention the more profitable parts of the other boroughs - is as real as the interesting pockets full of sweating, swearing, duct tape and tin.

Riding through the Bronx on the MetroNorth - seeing handpainted signs for small auto parts businesses - tagged-up brownfiends behind barbed wire.

Last week, I was involved in conversation which included a short bit with somebody describing herself as a nonhegemonist.

My exposure to all of the spit-and-polish of midtown does strange things for me. I see more suits and taxicabs on a daily basis than I care for. I've actually spent nine dollars on an unsatisfactory lunch, and I've also tried to find food at seven PM and failed. Fortunately there's always the $1/slice pizza place several Avenues over - hmm: in the garment district. Where I stand with my bike, back to the wall, watching the trucks and handcarts.

The garment district really is a funny bubble. Funny like the dirty diner across the street from Madison Square Garden - the Tick Tock Diner, where you can pay a couple bucks for coffee and fries and sit there for an undetermined (unlimited?) period of time withoug being bothered - unless you consider the offer of a refill (free, of course, otherwise it wouldn't be a diner, would it?) to be a bother - which I do not.

I imagine that tourists see the Tick Tock Diner, imagine that it's special because it's a diner in New York City. They have a meal there, and are satisfied, until they realize that they've used up one of their finite number of meals in New York City on perfectly ordinary - satisfied in being unsurprised - diner, just like the one out on county road 141, just outside of town, near the truck stop.

Explanation: I guess I think that every tourist is from a town - not small, but certainly not large, near enough to a large city, but definitely not a part of the city, nor a suburb, a distinct unit - in the midwest.

How right or wrong am I?

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Racin' some bikes!

I took my chances in another alleycat race this past weekend, and rode to a respectable 10th place in New Haven, Connecticut. There's nothing quite like doing well despite a couple of mix-ups and getting lost to make you vow to do a whole lot better next time, especially when it's combined with repeatedly catching up to (and passing) a fast local, only to have them pick a better route from behind you, and emerge in front of you yet again.

On my commute to work this morning I thought a little bit about why I ride in alleycat races. I'm aware of the tendency for bikeishness to lean toward snobbishness and general jockery, and don't want to be a part of it. Bikes are for fun, not status symbols. So it was a funny moment to realize, hey, wait, alleycat races are surprisingly non-competetive. I mean, people aim to do well, but I haven't seen any idiotic cock-measuring of "I'm gonna kick your ass today!" People ride hard, cooperate frequently (I rode the whole race alternating between drafting off of and pulling another NYC rider, and was joined by several CT folks at many points of the race), and are generally out to have fun with the mentality that anything can happen in an alleycat race. It's not about speed, nor is it about geographical knowledge. It's about both, with a healthy bit of luck thrown in - are you going to get a good sequence of lights down that avenue? Flat right after the first checkpoint? Pick a direct route only to run into a devastating headwind? Kiss the hood of a taxi?

I think that a lot of riders know that when they ride, there's a lot that is within their control, and a whole lot that is out of it. The sobering threat of an inattentive driver damaging your frame or your body adds to the mix the knowledge that whatever happens happens, and it's preferable to some of the worse-case scenarios.

Bike races are fun. Before I started doing them, I was pretty convinced (based on slim evidence, mind you) that racers were a hardcore, exclusive bunch. I've since been proven wrong. When you're on the outside of something, it's really easy to be scared of stepping in. When you're inside something, though, it can slip one's mind to reach outside. That's why I like having fun at races, being friendly to bikers who haven't raced, encouraging them to race - to test their limits, improve themselves.

After all, I'm at a point where one of my notions of fun is to sprint my bike around for 20+ miles through traffic, and I can do it well enough, too. It's a physical feat that I never really thought I could accomplish until I realized it was within my grasp.

That was the point at which I thought, I wonder what else I can do - on bikes, and off.

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