Sidewalk Roulette

I’m in New York City today for a quick trip, staying just next to Times Square.  Last night I went for a walk before dinner and realized, again, what a special experience it is to take a walk in Manhattan in the midst of its extended pedestrian rush hour.

real_estate_160129960_ar_-1_bwybxpzmohfmIf you’ve only been walking recently on the sleepy streets of a city like Columbus, you’re really not prepared for the Big Apple pedestrian experience.  Not only are there fewer people walking around Columbus — by a factor of about 50 or perhaps even 100, I’d estimate — but there aren’t as many sidewalk obstacles, either.  No pop-up vendors shilling stocking caps, no dirty water hot dog stands, no mounds of trash bags waiting to be collected, no building scaffolding at some point on every block, no bike messengers zipping in and out. When you go for a walk in Manhattan, in contrast, you’ve got to be aware of all of those things as you navigate the crowded sidewalks.  Your mental reflexes had better speed up considerably, or you’re going to find yourself in trouble.

Walking to work in Columbus is a reasonably pleasant experience, where you can put your brain on autopilot and let your mind wander a bit.  In New York City, that approach would be fatal.  You’ve got to adopt a much more active mindset, with all senses on high alert, as you calculate distances, scan for openings in the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic, and make sure you don’t tumble into an open cellar door or invade the space of a homeless guy sitting at the foot of a building who wasn’t visible until the last second when the foot traffic parted to pass him.

It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the thought processes of a race car driver.  If I speed up, do I have enough space to pass the slow-moving guys in front of me and get back to my side of the sidewalk before the people coming in the other direction start cussing me out for disrupting pedestrian flow?  Should I cut around the street side of the scaffolding to avoid the woman with the baby carriage who’s blocking the way, or if I do that will I be able to get safely back onto the sidewalk before the approaching traffic arrives?  And when you’re walking in the area around Times Square, there’s the ever-present possibility that the person in front of you will stop in the middle of the sidewalk without warning to take a selfie or a photo of the Allied Chemical Building, so that factor also has to be added to the mental matrix.

Walking in New York during a busy period isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does get your blood pumping.  I can’t imagine, however, what it would be like to try jogging in this busy place, where everything comes at you even faster.

Welcome Back From NYC

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is viewed as a likely candidate for mayor of New York City in 2021, apparently is upset about gentrification and displacement.  During a recent speech at a Martin Luther King Day celebration, Adams made some controversial remarks on the topic that made mention of Ohio.

12016738035_d242e539fc_bAccording to a Washington Post report on his remarks, Adams complimented long-time residents, saying:  “You were here before Starbucks.  You were here before others came and decided they wanted to be part of this city. Folks are not only hijacking your apartments and displacing your living arrangements, they displace your conversations and say that things that are important to you are no longer important.”  The Post article reports that Adams then turned to the topic of recent arrivals to New York, and said:  “Go back to Iowa.  You go back to Ohio! New York City belongs to the people that [were] here and made New York City what it is.”  The article also states that Adams said: “You are not going to enjoy this city, and watch the displacement of the people who made this city.”

Gentrification and displacement are serious issues, and obviously Adams feels strongly about them.  Still, telling recent arrivals to get out of town doesn’t exactly seem like a thoughtful and measured response to the issues — even by blunt New York political standards — and a Martin Luther King Day celebration seems like an especially ill-suited forum for delivering that kind of negative message.

Since Adams is urging people to go back to Ohio, I just want to note that Columbus, and other parts of Ohio, would be happy to welcome transplanted New Yorkers — and anyone else who wants to come to a place where they won’t be judged by how long their family has lived in town.  We think that Columbus belongs to whoever lives here and wants to be part of our community.

 

Anticipatory Improvements

I flew through New York’s LaGuardia Airport recently, and these signs are everywhere. The Port Authority, which operates LaGuardia, obviously wants appalled travelers to know that it also recognizes that the airport is an embarrassment for such a major city. Of course, the signs leaves unanswered the key question: namely, how did the Port Authority let LaGuardia sink to such a state in the first place?

I’m not sure that touting anticipatory improvements is a good approach. To me, the signs and their slick representation of the supposed LaGuardia to be are a pointed reminder of just how crappy some of the bleak and overcrowded existing concourses are.

Congestion Taxes

It sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke, but it isn’t:  New York lawmakers have approved a budget that will impose a tax on drivers who venture into Manhattan — one of the most congested driving areas in the world.  Drivers in New York City not only will be cursing the gridlock, now they’ll be paying extra for the privilege, too.

maxresdefaultThe budget deal will create a six-member commission that will set the fee to be paid by drivers who cross into Manhattan below 61st Street.  Because the idea is to use the tax to reduce congestion, pricing is expected to be variable, with higher rates during the peak periods and lower rates at night and on weekends.  Electronic readers will assess the tolls, which are expected to be between $11 and $12 for cars during daylight periods and about $25 for trucks.  The tax is forecast to generate about $1 billion in revenues, which New York lawmakers promise to use to address desperate repair needs in New York City’s subway and commuter rail systems.

Congestion taxes are used in other congested cities of the world, like London, but New York City will be the first U.S. city to adopt them.  And if the taxes work as planned in the Big Apple, it isn’t hard to foresee other congested areas of the country, like southern California, adopting them, too.  After all, local governments are always looking for new revenue sources, and this particular approach can be pitched as a method of using taxes to achieve a virtuous result — reduced road congestion and, if the tax revenues are earmarked, improved mass transit.

I’ve driven through New York City exactly once, in a rental car on a Saturday morning when the roads weren’t bad.  I can’t imagine what how nerve-wracking it would be to drive there on a daily basis — and now to pay special taxes for that added stress.

And here’s what’s interesting, too:  if congestion taxes are, in fact, designed to reduce congestion, that reflects an acknowledgement that taxes influence behavior.  That is, such taxes presuppose that some drivers will forgo taking their cars into the congested zone in order to avoid the tax — otherwise, the tax would have no effect on congestion.  But if taxes do in fact affect behavior, and people take action to avoid taxes, what does that mean for New York and New York City generally, which have some of the highest income taxes and other taxes in the U.S.?

Three Days In An Elevator

A New York woman who works for a couple that owns a five-story Manhattan townhouse walked into the elevator for the townhouse on Friday night.  The elevator got stuck, the couple was gone for the weekend, and the woman was trapped in the elevator for three days until she was rescued on Monday.

elevator-stuck.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartIt isn’t clear yet what caused the elevator to break down, or why it apparently wasn’t equipped with a call button that would allow the trapped woman to summon help.  She also apparently did not have a cell phone that could could have used for that purpose, either.

Unlike a prior incident of a person being trapped in an elevator for hours, there’s no video footage of the elevator interior that would show how the woman passed the time.  According to a report of the incident in the New York Times, the woman, whose name is Marites Fortaliza, was conscious and calm when she was finally removed from the elevator and taken to the hospital, and a relative of the townhouse owners who accompanied her to the hospital said she was “doing well.”  That probably means that Ms. Fortaliza had at least some water with her in the elevator, because three days without any water would run a serious risk of dehydration.

It probably also means that Ms. Fortaliza isn’t a claustrophobic, for whom three days trapped in a tiny, broken-down townhouse elevator would be one of the worst imaginable fates.  If you’ve ever been with someone with claustrophobic tendencies in an elevator that experiences any kind of unexpected pause, or bump, you have seen their look of abject terror at even the thought of being stuck in such a small space — and that’s in an elevator in a commercial building, which probably is larger than the elevator in a New York townhouse.  In fact, fear of being trapped in a stuck elevator must be pretty common, because a Google search yields lots of articles giving you instructions on what to do if it happens to you.  One thing is certain:  no claustrophobe would emerge from three days trapped in an elevator looking “calm.”

What’s your worst nightmare?  Whatever it is, remember — you should always keep your cell phone charged, and on your person.

Who’s To Blame For NYC Subway Delays?

If you’ve ever been on the subway in New York City, you know it can be a frustrating, overwhelming experience.  It’s crowded, and hot, and the trains never seem to run on time.  In fact, a recent study determined that, in July, 72,000 subway trains ran late.  That’s a hefty 32 percent of all subway trains on the system.

Who’s to blame?

subway-doorThe New York Metropolitan Transit Authority says the subway riders themselves are one of the causes for the many delays.  The apparent problem is that riders aren’t letting the trains leave on time. If passengers are rushing to the train and the doors are closing, they don’t wait politely for the next train.  Instead, they shove their backpack or arm or leg into the gap, prevent the train doors from closing, and then when the doors open as a result they elbow their way into the already crowded cars.

In short, one of the problems is that . . . well, the vast majority of the NYC subway riders are pushy New Yorkers.  They’ve been conditioned through years of experience to behave in precisely that way in public places, whether it’s in the subway or ignoring “Don’t Walk” signs and dodging traffic on gridlocked Manhattan streets or cutting in line and getting into arguments about it.  And their pushy New Yorker conduct inevitably delays the trains, contributing to the crappy statistics for trains running on time.

The MTA is trying to deal with the problem by having train operators be less tolerant of the arm in the door practice and by having people in the stations as observers, in hopes that riders under the watchful eye of the MTA will behave more appropriately.  A platform controller quoted in the article linked above says, however, that even with the watchers, more courteous rider behavior “is not really catching on.”

Who’d have predicted that New Yorkers would continue to act like New Yorkers?  If the MTA really wants to have the trains run on time, it had better come up with a better solution than hoping that New Yorkers act politely in anonymous public places.