Category Archives: Chelsea

Cars > Bikes

On Tuesday, December 14th,  a 33 year old woman died as result of injuries caused by a biking accident on Nassau Ave. in Brooklyn, raising the death toll of New York City bicyclists to 24 this year. Gawker reported that Solange Raulston was side swiped by a flat bed truck moving the same direction as her while she was on her way to work. 2009 has been an important year for bicycle activists hoping to raise more awareness about the benefits of a bikeable city, and the importance of safety that comes along with it.  More and more people are braving the streets of New York via bike. Bikes are ecological, economical, and fast, but in a city where the streets feel unsafe even in a car, is it good that more and more people are opting for bicycles?

Biking accidents have been around for a while, in fact the first ever reported automobile accident, according to the federal highway administration, was in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist. But this year’s bike accidents seem especially brutal. And the politics behind biking in New York are getting more and more heated.

The bike lane fight in Williamsburg has received a lot of press around the city. Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to make a greener city somehow involves buying hybrid cars for all public officials, but also hurries to paint over already existing bike lanes.  In a telling quote from a New York Times article on biking in the city “ …the overwhelming share of the deaths, 92 percent, involved a moving motor vehicle, while only one death in that period happened in a bicycle lane.” While the Bedford community’s argument for removing the bike line to safeguard the children in the area is an important concern, does this statistic not hold its weight as well?

The city now has over 420 miles of marked bike lanes and paths along the streets in all five boroughs — half of those created in the past three years. Another 200 miles are off the street, including Central Park and the Hudson River path. Biking activists are fighting for protected bike lanes which have already popped up in areas like Chelsea and the Lower East side. The idea is that if the parked cars simply switch places with the bike lanes, the rows of parked cars will create a steel barrier between the bikes and the cars. Though protected bike lanes are a great idea, many of these lanes abruptly end forcing bikers back into traffic.  Awareness of motor vehicle drivers will decrease accidents immensely, as many bicycle commuters have to use roads without bike lanes at least once on their commute. Also “being doored” has been a leading cause of biking accidents and was the actually a cause of a recent death.

As a migrant from Boulder Colorado where the weight of your bike is more important than the brand of your car, I was surprised to come to a place where biking caused such controversy. In my first three days here I had one bike stolen. A month later after saving up enough money for another commuter bike I got into the first of two accidents this year. The first accident was simply caused by an extremely large extremely invisible pothole that threw me off of my bike into moving traffic on Flatbush Ave. Luckily my bike and I were scraped off of the street by two fast acting bystanders who saved  me from a car moving toward me at 40 miles/hr.  The other was only two weeks ago when a car started turning into me as I was crossing East Houston. I was forced to turn into pedestrian knocking him off his feet and receiving hollering applause from a nearby crowd.

The website gives advice for safe riding in the city, and though some of it is common sense perhaps the most important thing for people to remember is to wear a helmet. According to the same article in the New York Times, “Only 3 percent of the bicyclists who died [in 2008] were wearing helmets, according to available data. Head injuries contributed to three-quarters of bicycle deaths.” Stupidity is also a leading cause a biking accidents. Waiting for red lights and slowing down for yellow lights are not just for cars. And for all you fixed gear riders out there, under NYC law all bikes must have working breaks. The government has even threatened to require licenses for bikes, a recent development in Chicago.


Perhaps the most surprising aspect of NYC bike politics is the resistance to bikers by certain communities and even the NYPD. NYC critical mass is a monthly group bike ride that brings awareness to alternate modes of transportation in NYC. Though the rides can sometimes get in the way of traffic, two law suits have been filed against police officers for unnecessary brutality against riders. In both of these cases the police officers denied allegations of being unnecessarily rough with the bikers, that is until video’s surfaced that showed otherwise peaceful bike riders being flat out pushed off of their bicycles by officers.

It looks like biking in New York is going to continue to be a battle, and until more bike lanes are added or drivers become more aware it is going to continue to be an extremely dangerous way to get around this metropolis. New Yorkers can’t expect the city to look like Amsterdam any time soon, and If ghost bikes keep popping up all over the city, and bike lanes already in place are being painted over, maybe us bikers will have to move to cities with bike lanes already in place rather than try and paint them on ourselves.


Union Square Christmas!

Union Square Park is a must see this Holiday season. The Christmas market is open and bustling, freshly cut Christmas trees are for sale amongst the green market food, and the newly renovated park brings bundled children out to play. The overall cheer of Union Square seems to be a reason as well a reaction to the park’s success.

Though the recession was a cause for concern in Union Square with last year’s closings of Circuit City and Virgin Mobile, the area has quickly moved on. Best Buy has opened a 24 hour store in the old circuit city location, and next spring, the city’s first Nordstrom Rack will open in the lower level of the Virgin location.

“The arrival of more than a dozen new businesses plunged the Union Square district’s retail vacancy rate to below 4 percent,” writes Jennifer Faulk the Union Square Partnership executive director, “making Union Square among the most viable business locales in the city.”

The north-end project in Union Square Park, now more than 90 percent complete, the community’s new and expanded 15,000-square-foot playground is now open. In addition, pedestrians can now walk the repaved 16th St. transverse complete with new park benches.

‘Tis the Season to enjoy the holiday market, but it appears that the Union Square district will continue to be a year round success.

Everybody Poops

When I have to pee, I either make a b-line for the toilet or I look at all the fat butts of the women in line ahead of me to distract myself from my throbbing bladder. I don’t usually spend time looking at or examining bathrooms, especially public ones, but learning how important “comfort stations” were to Robert Moses and his keen eye for architecture, I thought I would give the public bathrooms of my most frequented parks an examining eye, without the distraction of a full bladder.
Most of the big New York City parks have public bathrooms, and I realized that I haven’t even noticed the bathrooms at some of my favorite parks: Tompkins Square, East River, Washington Square, and Union Square. I was surprised to find that though they still showed signs of heavy use they were surprisingly clean, well heated, and were architecturally really beautiful. Walking around taking pictures of bathrooms got me some funny looks, but that only made me realize how seldom people pay attention to the bathrooms they pass by or use every day.

Bathroom talk made big news in 2006 when Bryant Park re-opened its bathroom after extensive 200,000 dollar renovations. Fully equipped with a copper vase for fresh flowers, mosaic walls, marble flown in from India, crown molding, and a full time attendant, it is definitely the nicest public bathroom in NYC. The bathroom was paid for by the Brayant Park restoration cooperation, not by New York City Parks and recreation.

In an article about the Bryant Park bathroom in The New York Times Mr. Benepe the Parks commissioner said ” ‘We’re making a concerted effort to make sure park comfort stations are open, decent and clean,’ he said. ‘You know, we have an informal motto — we actually say this in our meetings — it’s our business to help New Yorkers do theirs.’”
The Central Park conservancy has also spent a large amount of money over the years keeping its bathrooms clean and elegant.


Next time you gotta go, don’t shy away from the NYC public bathrooms, take time to look at the exterior. And pay attention to the details, like mosaics or crown molding even if it’s actually molding.


Tompkins Square Park Exterior

East River Park Track bathroom and locker rooms

Bathroom at Washington Sq.





Steam Me Up Scotty!


taken from



Before I moved here I never really understood why there was always steam coming out of manholes in Manhattan in the winter. My first thought was that it was the metro, second was that New Yorkers have really warm sewage (gross), and third was that maybe all of the construction workers are really members of a huge Turkish underground spa. But no, none of those hypothesis were correct.

The steam that flows out from underneath New York streets is in fact from “The New York City steam system, a district heating system which carries steam from central power stations to heat, cool, or supply power to high rise buildings and businesses.” Thanks Wikipedia.

The New York Steam company started in 1882, it provided services for lower manhattan. The company now owned by Con Edison provides service from the Battery all the way to 96th street. It services 2,000 customers and 100,000 commercial and residential buildings.

In 1879 Wallace C. Andrews decided to take on the challenge of providing steam to New York City. Along with his Chief engineer, Charles E. Emery, The New York Steam Company acquired ten boiler plants and started laying steam mains. On March 3rd 1882 the company provided heat for its first customer, the United Bank Building.

“By 1932, the tremendous Kips Bay Station (occupying the entire block along the East River between 35th and 36th Streets) and five other stations provided steam to more than 2,500 buildings. Among them were some of New York’s most famous landmarks: Grand Central Terminal, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Daily News Building, Tudor City, Pennsylvania Station and Hotel, and Rockefeller Center. Just about every new skyscraper was a testament to the efficiency and reliability of steam service: most were built without smokestacks or individual heating plants.”

Today New York has the largest steam system in the world. There are 105 miles of mains and service pipes that provide some 30 billion tons of steam yearly for heating, hot water, and air conditioning. The steam coming up from the manholes is not caused by leaks in the steam system, but actually by outside water boiling on contact with the hot steam pipes, or other hot equipment underground.

The high pressure of the steam can cause the pipes to explode especially if they have not been replaced for centuries. In 2007 a pipe exploded in mid-town causing a 40 story high shower of flying debris and a steam cloud higher than the nearby Chrysler building. The eruption was so abrupt that people thought it was a terrorist attack, one woman died of a heart attack fleeing the scene, and another man was scalded on over 80 percent of his body.

The Gotham Gazette has a great article about the wonders of New York City’s steam system.

Just Take The Stairs

In September New York Magazine featured a story on health commissioner Thomas Farley’s initiative to get people to take the stairs. New York magazine states that two additional minutes of stair walking per day is enough to “burn more than enough calories to eliminate the average adult’s annual weight gain.” The article states Farley’s plans on potentially giving tax credits to buildings that are stair friendly. On Friday last week at a press conference for furthering the health of New Yorkers, with input from Governor Patterson, Farley released a statement on implementing a tax on people who are overweight who do not regularly take the stairs.

Governor Patterson started the trend with his initiative to end the obesity patterns in lower income areas and in children. Beginning in 2008 Patterson passed a law that would require “public schools outside of New York City to collect and report a summary of students’ weight status.” The New York State Department of health report stated “To help guide childhood obesity prevention efforts in New York State, beginning this month selected public schools will begin reporting aggregate body mass index (BMI) data.”

Farley has developed many ideas that would make taking the stairs more exciting using examples like the Apple store in SoHo, which see’s almost no usage of its elevator as people like the lit up glass stairway featured in the middle. Another ploy includes making elevators smaller and slower to entice people to take the stairs, but the be-all-end-all is his idea to tax overweight people who “rarely, or never take the stairs.” Farley said in his  press conference on Friday.


The front of Farley's informational booklet on the health benefits of stairs given to the press

With the help of Governor Patterson, who has had ideas like putting a tax on non-diet drinks, Farley hopes to make this tax “…the real solution. Save money and lose weight. Stairs are like a free gym, elevators would no longer be a free mode of transportation.” Farley admitted that he is not exactly sure how he is going to do this yet, but plans on trying to give health records to elevator operators, or, for now, at least having the elevator operators “give a disappointed scowl when someone who looks overweight takes the elevator.” He even wants the operators to go as far as sighing heavily when these people take the elevator less than three flights.


”]movieland09“Governor Patterson and I are talking to the state legislator about ways to make this tax possible. If we can make cigarettes ten dollars, and keep them from being smoked in parks and in bars, I strongly believe we make fat people take the stairs.”

NYC Homeless

homeless nyc 003

A Homeless man in Tomkins Square Park looks for breakfast early Thursday Morning. With 37,513 seeking shelter last night local homeless shelters are seeing an increase in occupants as the temperature falls.

Daily homeless statistics for NY