Thursday, September 25, 2008

Places to rest

Here are two recent items about public seating, in Gothamist and the Park(ing) Day NYC blog:

Perfectly functional chairs are rescued from trash piles and reassigned to stations where limited seating options leave subway patrons no choice but to stand for extended periods of time.

“Rest areas,” otherwise known as “parking spaces” are reserved for motorized vehicles in between trips, but where can the people go to rest in between trips? Must we always spring for a latte or a beer to get some relief?

No question that it's hard to find a comfortable place to sit in many subway stations and sidewalks. What's missing is the understanding (or acknowledgment) that much of this is by design.

I remember New York in the 1970s, when you could find a comfortable seat at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. You could also find a locker to store your bags while you strolled around the neighborhood took the subway someplace else. There were, generally, more benches on sidewalks and in subway stations. There were also more public bathrooms.

These amenities were removed by civic leaders and bureaucrats who felt that they "attracted the homeless." I'm sure they did, but come on, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sadly, for them public seating was probably not valuable enough to be compared to a baby. They could always find a restaurant or office to sit down in, and a private bathroom to pee in. Many of them probably had cars to keep their stuff in. So they didn't use these benches, bathrooms and lockers very much, and they didn't see any reason to keep them around.

Park(ing) Day will not result in more street benches unless it somehow convinces the BID leaders of the value of street benches, and deals with the issue of homeless people sleeping on them. The Take a Seat Project will probably not result in more subway station benches unless it does something similar with the MTA management.

It's good to call attention to the need. Now let's deal with the obstacles to meeting that need.

Another quick detour

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that the current market mess is a good illustration that it's a bad idea to invest social security funds in the stock market.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The downside is that people are riding the bus

This morning Streetsblog linked to a Gotham Gazette article called The Downside of Low-Cost Buses. It's another one of those "huh?" articles. Buses are good for the environment and good for social justice, but when they get too popular they're bad? Why is that a "downside" and not just a side effect that needs to be better managed?

It seems clear that the author likes buses and wants them to succeed, but framing the issue this way seems to encourage people to think of the buses as having a downside, as opposed to some growing pains, so that if any new challenges appear it would be that much more difficult to overcome them.

In fact, I had no idea that the buses were expanding so much. I'll bet most of the bus riders don't live in Chinatown; where are they coming from? Sunset Park? Flushing? Williamsburg?

Why not send survey teams out to ask bus riders where they live and work, and arrange for direct service from those places. Imagine if you could hop on a bus to DC at the corner of 59th and Fourth, or Metropolitan and Union, or Main and Roosevelt, or West Farms? Isn't flexibility supposed to be one of the advantages of bus service?

It turns out that there is already some flexibility. A website called Bus DC NY lists 120 bus stops in the area, including some in Brooklyn and Queens, but there is very little information (in English at least) on the web about any of these bus companies.

It's no wonder that transit is unprofitable in many places. As soon as a transit operator starts having growing pains, they're treated as dealbreakers, not just challenges - by their supporters!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A quick detour

In hearing the financial news lately, I had to make this comment: anyone remember the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, sometimes known as the "Financial Services Modernization Act"? It repealed the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933, which required separate ownership of deposit banks (like Chase), investment banks (like J.P. Morgan) and insurance companies (like AIG). Back in 1999, everyone sure thought that was a great idea: we couldn't have another run on the banks like in 1929! Let's get rid of those outmoded regulations!

Well, turns out those regulations were a good idea. As the Wikipedia entry says (with links to sources):

Economist Robert Kuttner (among others) has criticized the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act as contributing to the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis. Economists Robert Ekelund and Mark Thornton have made similar criticisms, arguing that while "in a world regulated by a gold standard, 100% reserve banking, and no FDIC deposit insurance" the Financial Services Modernization Act would have made "perfect sense" as a legitimate act of deregulation, under the present fiat monetary system it "amounts to corporate welfare for financial institutions and a moral hazard that will make taxpayers pay dearly".

Aren't you glad we modernized our financial services?

And although Phil Gramm, James Leach and Tom Bliley were Republicans, and the Act passed almost entirely on party lines, it was signed by Bill Clinton. It's precisely because he and his wife were so willing to horse-trade for things like this that I'm glad she's no longer a presidential candidate.