Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Irresponsible Government

It is inexcusable for scientists to torture animals; let them make their experiments on journalists and politicians.
-- Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906)

When agencies like the D.O.B., which has ignored calls from the community, especially SoHo, to remove offensive billboards that are illegal; when D.O.T. allows special interests who are neither residents of our community, nor interested in the will of the people; – you have a prescription for widespread discontent and political retaliation.

This past weekend was the scene of a demonstration in front of the offices of D.O.T. at 40 Worth Street. Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Kahn, an avowed bike enthusiast, along with a Mayor who increasingly resembles a prudish Dictator (in with Disney and big developers, out with nightclubs and late night entertainment) -- together have allowed the D.O.T. to butcher the roadways in SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown and parts of Greenwich Village. The recent rat maze created out of Grand Street in SoHo is a perfect example. The adoption of Park Row as a security zone that resembles Checkpoint Charlie in Soviet era Berlin is another compromise.

Interestingly, Margaret Chin, the organizer who worked with Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance, was joined by Pete Gleason and Alan Gerson – all of whom (except Sweeney) are running for the same City Council seat now held by Gerson. Gleason had made comments on the issue and Chin has been vociferous – while Gerson met with only John Fratta of Little Italy and ignored everyone else.

Clearly, all of the politicians realized that they may be subject to the whims of the Mayor (Gerson has pandered to Bloomberg on term limits), but to throw the voters of Chinatown, SoHo, Little Italy and Greenwich Village to the dogs for green stripes and mid-street parking horrors in order to pander to extreme bikers should not be worth the risk. The communities want protection for pedestrians before they start worrying about bikers having their own highway across town. A street where residents can park overnight or legally drop off their kids is a street where bikers can be welcome. A street where pedestrians are robbed of a crosswalk, is not a place where bikers need special treatment.

Everyone is clear about the fact that Houston Street was the proper location for cross-town bike traffic – and it is still the best option.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Political Scene

Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.

-- George Burns (1896 - 1996)

The political future of Alan Gerson, Council Member for the SoHo area seems to be a question mark that may be answered by the contenders for his seat. Julie Menin, former Republican and current Community Board #1 Chair, Pete Gleason, attorney and former fireman, Margaret Chin, housing activist and Chinatown luminary are the major current challengers.
Gerson has been criticized for ignoring SoHo, while wasting at least 5 years on a vendor law and ignoring the billboard issue, barely recognizing the pollution and traffic problems and, most recently, pandering to the Bloomberg term-limits fiasco. He has also been silent on the butchering of SoHo streets pandered to by Community Board #2 and Transportation Alternatives -- through Bloomberg’s D.O.T. Commissioner Sadik-Kahn.

Billboard Behind Trump SoHo

Menin claims to not be running, although Jewish females have a high rate of voter turnout and success at the polls downtown. Her cunning and notoriety is due in part to lots of cash and a coterie of real estate professionals and dealmakers who benefit from her control of Board #1.
Gleason is running and takes every opportunity to point out that he is the only candidate that resembles Robin Hood, in a sea of people trying to buy political office downtown. His biggest support comes from Civil Service, Firemen and Police. Although, he has recently been soliciting the advice of activists. Persistence has paid off for many other underdogs.

Margaret Chin has yet to define her candidacy with respect to the other constituencies downtown, apart from Chinatown.

Many over recent years have coveted the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Clinton. Jerry Nadler is known to have wanted it – with Scott Stringer drooling over the opportunity to move up to Congress (Nadler is Stringer’s rabbi). With that unlikely scenario occurring, they’ll both stand pat – and term-limits has kept Stringer interested in remaining as Borough President. There are no challengers on the horizon just yet.

The Cuomo people have reportedly had dibs on the Senate seat even before the election. It remains to be seen whether the old boy (Cuomo senior) network and Cuomo family can press the right buttons. In fairness, however, while Andrew has not been described as warm and gregarious, his performance has been well received.

The Maloney people are waging a feverish campaign to make us all aware of her high-visibility and impeccable credentials – also a woman and an activist. This seems like a likely selection and is supported by savvy politicians like Adam Silvera of the D.I.D., a District Leader who seems to know where a lot of the bones are buried. Julie Nadel, a leading political activist downtown, has not yet made her opinion known.
Caroline Kennedy, the choice of many Democrats, is the darling of Obama's coterie and it will be interesting to see how Paterson plays this.

Nadel, incidentally, is being forced out of HRPT (Hudson River Park Trust) by Stringer for speaking out and it is one of those unseemly power plays directed against genuine progressives in politics. The HRPT is a closed club controlled by Bloomberg’s so-called girlfriend, Diana Taylor and it doesn’t play well with either transparency or criticism.

Eric Gioia & Julie Nadel

The Public Advocate race has had Eric Gioia of the City Council (Investigations Committee Chair) pushing hard – against at least Norman Siegel (Gottbaum is not running) – when out of nowhere Mark Green has reemerged. Green, supported in the past by some dubious characters like Allen Roskoff, who has now slipped quietly into Community Board #4 and is rumored to be working on Maria Derr’s campaign – where he ran her dirty tricks campaigns for her at Community Board #2. Green, as it has been reported, has the advantage of being well known – which is also his disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Maria Derr (former Board #2 Chair) has now adopted both the McManus Midtown Democratic Club and the welcoming arms of Jim McManus – and has emerged as a “progressive” Democrat according to the propaganda from her campaign. She had previously adopted V.R.D.C. when it suited her political needs, along with nightclub owner Bob Rinaolo. Apparently, after searching for the proper venue to assert herself and present her dubious bona fides – she has decided to challenge Christine Quinn for her City Council seat which is located in McManus’s turf. Quinn has been weakened by the Slushgate investigation and downtown residents, at least, have been critical of the D.S.N.Y garage, Trump SoHo and her support of Bloomberg’s term limits play.
Derr has joined with McManus and is attempting to associate her new “progressivism” with the Obama people in order to enlist more political juice. Clearly, the view of what is termed progressive has become a malleable concept.
Of course, claiming to benefit from supporting Obama in a completely Democratically controlled political town – is like asking a New York landlord for a thank you note for paying rent. It’s just a little too obvious.

None of the above politicians (with the exception of Margaret Chin) have yet to really have any affect on the housing crisis and landlord/developer abuse, affordable housing, elimination of illegal billboards, pollution and traffic problems in SoHo to make pedestrians safer; – and none have openly criticized wildcat City agencies like Department of Buildings or D.O.T. – which ride roughshod over our community. But, then, when have any of our politicians acted in our best interests once elected?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Pedestrian Discussion

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
-- David Brin (1950 - )

Recent developments in SoHo as well as Little Italy have created embarrassingly foolish designs for our streets, on Grand Street in particular. Years of complaints about preserving guerilla art and calls for turning billboards into canvasses for contemporary art have been ignored. Even pedestrian safety is ignored. For almost 10 years Councilman Alan Gerson as well as the Community Board have ignored pleas to support Bob Bolles Park.
But, bike paths? Anything they want, they can have. Almost instantaneously, it would seem.
Thanks to Commissioner Sadik-Kahn of the D.O.T. and the Greenwich Village group that controls the Community Board’s Transportation Committee. They never saw an experimental plan in SoHo that they didn’t like.
There was never any rational question about the fact that a bike lane was needed cross-town – and that Houston Street was the place to put it. But that was ignored by D.O.T. and the next easiest thing was to carve up the underrepresented community in SoHo. It was never about bike safety. It was always about power and control over SoHo.

What we have here, now, are car lanes located nearly in the middle of Grand street and minimally used dirty green paint – preventing SoHo residents from having places to stop to drop off passengers, the elderly, handicapped or their children. It's NO STOPPING, not NO STANDING. And, no overnight parking at all on the bike lane side of the street.
In the interest of bike safety, Commissioner Sadik-Kahn, the leader of what is fast becoming a bike cult (as opposed to cyclists like you and your kids), has permitted enthusiasts to carve up our neighborhoods to the detriment of cars, buses, and trucks.
What? You are supporting the rights of these polluters over the serene quiet of a bicycle? Are you mad?

Yes, SoHo is mad - mad as hell! And, so is Little Italy.

Not only mad that the buses cannot turn onto Grand Street and then back up incessantly into the crosswalks in order to make the turn;
Not only mad that Fire trucks cannot make the turn at all on to Grand street (pray there is no fire);
Not only mad that Grand street and West Broadway have been turned into another impassable crosswalk for part of the day;
Not simply mad that this is just a completely stupid design that panders to leaders of the bike lane movement (not bike riders themselves) who are starting to look like cultists seeking power – for themselves – and their deified leader Janette Sadik-Kahn;
Not at all mad that the Commissioner is looking out for biker riders safety and their children who are sometimes into tow on their way to school. (Although many of us don’t have that option with several kids going to different schools or live too far away).
And, certainly not mad that there are fewer tourists who come to SoHo and who leave their debris on our streets as they show off their new Mercedes.

But, Mad as hell that no agency, especially D.O.T. or Traffic gives a damn about the residents and pedestrians in SoHo or Little Italy -- Who have complained for years about people being killed on our streets.

Where are the bike enthusiasts who do not live in SoHo – at the Community Board, on the Traffic Committee, in City Hall, at Sadik-Kahn’s D.O.T. –- where have they been as we have tried to have our streets repaired and protected by Traffic agents to allow us to safely cross the street?

Why are crosswalks missing at our street corners? Why have our sidewalks been broken and unrepaired for decades?
Why do we only have only a handful of Traffic agents in SoHo – from Broome Street to Varick Street – watching out for our children so that we can cross the street safely? Even parents pushing carriages are ignored, to fend for themselves.


Where is the enforcement in SoHo? The few police and traffic agents that do appear for a few hours a day during the week – watch as residents weave in and out of bumper-to-bumper cars that are blocking the crosswalks against the light.

The Enviro-biker friendly movement is the “next best thing” for a few leaders who have found a hook into political power and celebrity. This is a skyhook into personal status and political recognition. It is unfortunate that these people do not really care about those in the neighborhoods they cut up by supporting pedestrian safety FIRST. Where is the cry for politicians -- from people who do not live here -- to make our streets safer for our residents FIRST -- before basking in the glow of a Press conference touting their successes?
And, where are the giddy politicians who see only numbers in supporting this new group from out of town – on the issue of Pedestrian safety?

Or, is this new movement, which has gotten money to butcher our streets and inconvenience our residents, just a cynical ploy for a political party for its leaders? And, whom are they taking for a ride? Are politicians being paid off? Is this yet another, Hi-Rise Mike ploy to screw the residents Downtown?

Talk to us in SoHo about rights for bikers when we can cross the street safely. Many of us and our children are bike riders and have been for 30, 40, 50, or 60 years – but we all are pedestrians. Where were the snot-nosed kids pushing this agenda when SoHo was the cutting edge for bohemian artists?
The more dangerous the configuration of our streets, the more impossible to navigate our thoroughfares, the more self-centered vehicle drivers AND bike riders become – and the more the pedestrians suffer.
It’s beginning to look like this is just a fool’s game of power and control at our expense.

Is it that the pedestrians are, well, just not cool? We only walk.
If we were, wouldn't bike groups want to help pedestrians first – and then ask US to help THEM. Not the reverse.
But, that's not what is happening. Since the Community Board seems not be representative of SoHo, bike groups should be making contact with the people, not politicians or nominal groups.
We pedestrians and residents in SoHo apparently are not perceived to be powerful enough. We don't have a belligerent,
me-first, agenda that pushes certain politicians' buttons.

Children, senior citizens, the handicapped, pedestrians, tourists and, yes, weekend bike riders with their families - apparently don't count to those currently in office. Since members of many communities, such as SoHo and Little Italy, are offended by this treatment, politicians might do well to take notes.