Skiing in the New York City Area: Ski New England’s Mountain Creek, Tuxedo Ridge, and Hidden Valley

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks about Skiing in New York city area. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

In New York City, time is a precious commodity. So precious, in fact, that every minute taken in recreation must be taken in consideration. Luckily for skiing New Yorkers, there are several good skiing resorts a short ride from the City. Three of the better known resorts are Mountain Creek, Hidden Valley, and Tuxedo Ridge.

Mountain Creek was Formerly Vernon Valley/ Great Gorge

Located in Vernon, New Jersey not far from the New York border, Mountain Creek is the consolidation of two popular ski areas: Vernon Valley and Great Gorge. After a number of incidents involving its summer park – the legendary Action Park – and the bankruptcy of its parent company, Vernon Valley and Great Gorge were bought and renovated by Intrawest.

Mountain Creek encompasses four mountains, though none of them have a vertical of more than 1050 ft. Compared to the popular Catskills area Hunter Mountain with 1600 ft, Mountain Creek is little more than a series of hills. Mountain Creek does, however, have 45 trails including 23 advanced trails, 19 of which are in the terrain park.

Mountain Creek has 9 total lifts including an eight person gondola and two high speed quads. Night skiing is allowed on all trails and all trails have snowmaking abilities.

The ski area tends to be very crowded though, as it is the most popular ski resort in the New York City area. This causes wear on the trails and icy patches. The parking area is also a long, crowded walk from the actual skiing area, which can be a nuisance. Prices are comparable to resorts in the Catskills.

The Hidden Valley Club Is Targeted for Families

Originally developed by the owners of Great Gorge (Mountain Creek) Hidden Valley is specifically targeted for families. It was developed specifically as an alternative to the more crowded resort and therefore more appropriate for children. For example, the same base area is used for all the trails so that it is easier to keep track of children.

Hidden Valley has a small vertical of only 620 feet, but it has 13 trails, one terrain park, and one mini terrain park. The terrain park have several competitions during the year for those inclined. There are four lifts, though none of them are high speed. A high speed lift would be overkill considering the small vertical.

Hidden Valley also has a racing program for young skiers looking to become competitive racers. The program is comprehensive and has produced USA ski team members in the past.

Like Mountain Creek, Hidden Valley is located in Vernon, New Jersey, about an hour from New York City.

Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center

After being virtually abandoned for several years under the name Ski Sterling Forest, Tuxedo Ridge reopened in January of 2007. Although they have made significant improvements, Tuxedo Ridge still has far to go to compete with nearby Mountain Creek.

Tuxedo Ridge is small, with only 7 trails. They do have 4 lifts to go with the trails, which is a good ratio. But the trails are much flatter than elsewhere, so flat that skiers sometimes have to skate to build up momentum, novices sometimes stop moving all together. Tuxedo Ridge is a good place to learn, but it will leave excitement hunters unsatisfied.

One advantage that Tuxedo Ridge has is its price. It is a good twenty dollars cheaper than Mountain Creek. It is also the closest to New York City and the easiest to get to, right off exit 15A on the Thruway (I-87) in Tuxedo, NY.

None of these resorts can truly compare to the majestic mountains of the Catskills or of Vermont, but as a day trip for Gothamites, Mountain Creek, Hidden Valley, and Tuxedo Ridge are very good choices. One can cross the George Washington Bridge in the morning, ski all day, and return at a sane hour, perfect for New York City’s lightning fast pace.

New York City Students Derail the MTA!

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post , Patrick how students organized an effective campaign against MTA. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

The MTA never expected the students themselves to organize an effective campaign.

Armed with its independent public authority status and shielded from the wrath of the electorate, the MTA has become accustomed to getting its way. Over the years, the MTA has demoralized the people of New York City to such an extent that the agency felt it could easily discard its responsibility to young people.

Brief Historical Background

In NYC, the operator of the subways and buses always assumed full responsibility for providing students free access to the system since 1948. When the MTA took over in the late 1960’s, it assumed this responsibility and executed it without a problem for decades. Both New York State and New York City provided a subsidy which culminated at $90 million/year, with $45 million from New York City and $45 million from New York State, reduced by the State to $25 million in 2009.

The MTA tried to dispense with its responsibility to students far earlier than most New Yorkers think. After broadcasting the existence of a surplus for much of 2008, the MTA suddenly reversed gears and forecast an upcoming financial crisis. As it prepared plans for a fare increase in July 2008, the MTA introduced the idea of the State and NYC taking over the student MetroCards entirely—a year before the NYS legislature cut transit subsidies. I think that there is more to this than a financial angle. The agency embarked on the SmartCard program in 2006. Shrouded in mystery, with many questions still unanswered, the MTA wants to get out of the fare collection business and have riders use credit/debit or pre-paid transit cards to enter the system. In such a setup, free entry for students could provide a problem.

 

Likewise, New Yorkers were unaware that the MTA ended student discount cards on 36 Express bus routes, raising student fares from $2.50/ride to $5.50/ride on August 13, 2009. This move made riding Express Buses for most students cost prohibitive. Since few students took Express buses, the move attracted relatively little attention.

Thus, when the NY State legislature voted to cut the student subsidy from $25 million to $6 million/year in late November 2009, it gave the MTA an opportunity to get rid of the student passes.

In December 2009, the agency announced that in the school year of 2010-2011, all students would pay a half fare and then a full fare beginning in the fall of 2011.

Most members of the MTA Board, as well as the upper management of NYC Transit, come from the upper socio-economic strata and if their children or their friends’ children use mass transit at all, paying a full fare would not be a problem.

For working people, however, this posed a financial disaster: Students paying a full fare would require an extra $700 per student/school year. Already crushed by the Great Recession, this would create enormous hardship for poorer working families. In addition, many high school students wouldn’t be able to travel to schools of their choice because of transportation costs.

Even though every elected official and transit advocacy group urged the MTA to use the permissible 10% of President Obama’s transportation stimulus money to cover the budget gap, the agency wouldn’t listen. Money to cover student fares or to reduce the 2010 service cuts would be money taken away from their primary beautification project, the Fulton Transit Center.

The MTA definitely expected a public outcry from elected officials and from parents but they did not expect the students themselves to rise to the occasion and to fight back effectively and inspirationally.

New York City Students Explode

One of the earliest manifestations of student activism took place in Flushing on December 23, 2009. Led by Assemblywoman Grace Meng and State Senator Toby Stavisky, students marched along Union St. chanting “No Cuts to Student Aid.” In a speech to the crowd, Stavisky warned that the elimination of the student Metrocard would mean a choice between putting food on the table and transportation. She also predicted that turnstile jumping and absenteeism would be the inevitable result.

Actions were not limited to Flushing, students set up a page on Facebook called “Protest the MTA Getting rid of Student Metrocards” with an initial membership of 71,000 which soared to hundreds of thousands by the spring.

Not to be outdone, Bronx students banded together under the capable leadership of Maria Fernandez and Shaun Lin of the young people’s group, “Sistas & Brothas United” (SBU). SBU not only organized students in the Bronx but also, reached out to students in the entire City forming a coalition called the “Urban Youth Collaborative.”

On a bitterly cold February 1, 2010, the Students’ Coalition gathered in front of MTA headquarters at 347 Madison Avenue for a demonstration, which I attended, that lasted for four hours! Supported by NYC Councilwoman Gail Brewer and others, the students chanted “Students United Will Never Be Defeated,” with Maria Fernandez pounding a conveniently located commercial dumpster for musical effect. Soon passers-by joined the 100+ students and together marched in a very long ellipse. Motorists passing by honked their horns, with many shouting “we are with you all the way.” Even from street level, the protesters saw the cold and hostile faces glowering at them from MTA headquarters! There were no incidents, no arrests and plenty of praise from the police who monitored the event.

The students continued impromptu rallies throughout the city and participated in the March MTA public hearings. While several students were arrested in the Brooklyn public hearing, SBU organized students in the Bronx public hearing of March 3rd were the quintessence of impeccable civic activism. While some demonstrated outside with signs stating : “The School Bully Used to Steal My Lunch, Now He Steals My MetroCard” or “Had to Drop Out So My Brother Could Get to School,” others marched into the Theater in an orderly fashion.

The students saw firsthand what a dictatorship a public authority is. They saw their elected officials: Bronx Borough President Diaz, State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and City Councilman Oliver Koppell offer sensible ideas and plead with the statuesque entities gathered on the stage of the theater. A number of students testified on their own, obediently following the 3 minute rule of a public hearing. Kadijatou Diallo, 17, testified that if she spent her money on transportation, she would have none for breakfast. Maria Acosta pointed at her 9 year old son and said “If you take away his MetroCard, you take away his future.” The students boisterously cheered every speaker, all of whom supported them.

It must be noted that while attacking the student passes, the MTA was simultaneously imposing draconian service cuts, which would make commuting more difficult, and planning a fare increase, which would bleed recession ravaged riders. In addition, the agency planned to compromise public safety by dismissing many station agents, whose union, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 (TWU) was fighting back through the courts.

Already perceived as the enemy of working people, the MTA didn’t want to be seen as beating down struggling students. After failing to shift the entire blame on the NY State legislature in a meeting with some students on March 17. MTA CEO Jay Walder persuaded the MTA Board to table the motion on the student passes until June.

Taking nothing for granted, the Students’ coalition urged high school students to cut class at noon and to gather at City Hall for a massive demonstration on June 11th. Neither school administrators nor truant officers, clearly sympathetic to the students’ motives, tried to stop them. Well over 1,000 students gathered in front of City Hall, supported by the MTA’s own employees from the TWU, Councilman Robert Jackson and Councilwoman Letitia James. After several speeches, this massive group of humanity almost covered the Brooklyn Bridge as they marched to another rally in front of MTA/NYC Transit headquarters at 130 Livingston Street in Brooklyn.

All along the MTA claimed that they would settle for nothing less than $214 million but when the NY State legislature again offered to restore the $25 million subsidy, the agency pounced on it to save face and backed off from their goal of forcing students to pay for their passes.

The students won and the MTA didn’t get its way!

New York City Students Should Reflect

NYC students and young people must take note that although they won a magnificent battle over the MTA dictatorship, they didn’t win the war. The MTA can resurrect the student Metrocard issue at any time and if student Metrocards do pose a problem for the SmartCard, it’s a certainty. Next time, the MTA won’t fight the students while trying to impose a fare hike, drastically cut services and lay off their employees. If anything, the students should ask “what will happen to student cards if the SmartCard comes on-line?” now and not wait until the MTA makes an announcement.

In general, students should also ask do they like the way that the MTA runs NYC’s mass transit? Did they like the MTA public hearings? Did they like to see their elected officials pleading with MTA officials, armed with omnipotent power, to little avail? Do they think that a setup in which the people of NYC have no power over a mass transit system which they use and they pay for is fair? Do they think that MTA officials with so much power should be beyond the reach of the public?

If the answers to these questions are “no,” the students must know that there is an alternative: New York City can end its leases with the MTA and run its mass transit directly as it does everything else and as it did in the 1940’s! This will empower the people and place full responsibility on NYC elected officials.

The students should seriously consider joining and supporting a campaign which will bring this about. Not only will they do themselves a favor now but also, help to create a better tomorrow for themselves, their families and students to come.

Fun in New York City-The Bronx Edition

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post , Patrick speaks about Fun in Bronx. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

The Bronx

One of these boroughs, the Bronx, is a great area for groups and families to explore. What was once tribal land for the Weckquasgeek Indians was eventually settled by the Scandinavian sea captain, Jonas Bronck, for whom the borough was named. The farmland gave way to notable neighborhoods founded by immigrants during the 19th century after the expansion of public transportation. It has now developed into a borough known for its family oriented neighborhoods, beautiful parks, incredible vistas and the baseball team that calls the Bronx home.

 The New Yankee Stadium

The Bronx is probably known most for being the home of the baseball team, the Yankees. The new Yankee Stadium, which replaced the old stadium, has a new playing field with modern amenities, new seating, retail stores and many dining options including a new Hard Rock Café and the NYY Steak restaurant. The new stadium also has event spaces where non-baseball events are held and can be rented out.

A day at Yankee Stadium can include a baseball game, a little bit of shopping and lunch or dinner at one of the new restaurants. The stadium also sells tickets for tours and other non-baseball events including trade shows, fundraisers, picnics and barbecues.

Parks, Gardens and Zoos in the Bronx

Groups and families may enjoy a trip to the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo (also known as International Wildlife Conservation Park). The Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo are neighbors on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx. The Botanical Garden is a 250 acre “verdant oasis” with 27 outdoor gardens and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the largest Victorian crystal palace in the country.

The Bronx Zoo is one of the most famous zoological gardens in the world and has more than 6,000 animals from 600 different species. The zoo takes up about 265 acres and has multiple exhibits including the Children’s Zoo, a World of Birds, a World of Darkness (an exquisite bat cave), Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain. There is also the Bengali Express, a monorail that takes riders on a trek across several smaller parks to see such animals as hippos and giraffes etc.

Viewers can presumably spend half the day visiting the Bronx Zoo and the other half in the Botanical Garden. During spring and fall months, the Botanical Garden conducts night tours where the gardens are brought to life using outdoor lighting such as candles and electrical lights after sunset.

Parks such as Wave Hill, Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park are also fun places to explore, picnic, play sports or hike. Van Cortlandt Park was once an old plantation on over 1,100 acres and sits at the northern end of the Bronx. The park has a museum, woodlands, swamps, lakes, abandoned railroad tracks, golf courses and ball fields created out of the old farmland.

Wave Hill is another former estate converted into a park. This estate takes up 28 acres and sits at the edge of Riverdale overlooking the Hudson River. There are nature trails and formal gardens that provide spaces to frolic and enjoy views of the New Jersey Palisades. The estate’s former two mansions have since been converted into artist spaces and cultural centers that are used year round by guests, families and artists.

Pelham Bay Park is an expansive park that sits at the western edge of the Bronx. Created out of an old 1600s settlement that overlooks the Long Island sound, Pelham Bay Park contains over 2700 acres. The park includes a lagoon with green salt marsh, woodlands, parks, nature trails, Orchard Beach, the Hunter Island Zoology, and Geology Sanctuary. Visitors have plenty of options and can spend an entire day at this park exploring. In the summertime, Orchard Beach is filled with visitors basking in the sun or listening to the sounds of the Latin orchestras that appear during the summer months.

Creative Havens in the Bronx

For the creative types, the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Edgar Allan Poe cottage offer plenty of creative inspiration. The Edgar Allan Poe cottage is located in the Fordham section of the Bronx, just off Kingsbridge Road. In the early 1800s, Poe and his wife had moved to the town of Fordham (now the Fordham area of the Bronx) to escape the city (Manhattan). There, he wrote some of his most famous works including “Annabel Lee,” “Eureka” and “The City by the Sea.” The cottage is now a museum with many of Poe’s antique items. For a small fee, visitors can take a tour and be inspired by one of Poe’s historical homes.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts is another creative haven located in the Bronx. Located on the Grand Concourse in the Yankee Stadium area, this museum offers exhibits of over 600 contemporary works. Visitors can take a tour of the museum or take part in one of their many workshops and special programs.

Exploration of the Bronx begins with its famous Yankee Stadium, parks and gardens, beaches, zoos and creative havens such as the Edgar Allan Poe cottage and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Families and groups can visit all of these places in the Bronx for fun in the city.

Shopping for Fashion, Toys, and Luxury Goods in New York City

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks about shopping for fashion toys. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Here are a few :

Saks Fifth Avenue. The grande dame of New York City shopping is a must for anyone new to the Big Apple. Featuring a large assortment of high end brands at appropriately high prices, this world-famous department store can be overwhelming and intimidating, even to the most seasoned of fashionistas. Tall, polished model-like sales associates converge on shoppers like throngs of hungry exotic birds, peddling perfume and luxury goods. Buyer beware: hard sell is the order of the day, and be prepared to spend a lot of money.

Saks Fifth Avenue, flagship store location: 611 5th Ave., New York, NY.

 

Sanrio. Home of Hello Kitty and friends, this glitzy eye candy of a store offers everything fans of the infamous, fashionable feline could desire. From stuffed toys and apparel to Hello Kitty NYC mugs and cell phone bling, this busy Times Square boutique is a must for all Kawai aficionados. Be sure to check out the Luxe section, featuring jewellery designed by Kimora Lee Simmons!

Sanrio Times Square location: 233 West 42nd St., New York, NY.

FAO Schwarz New York City. Established in 1862, this legendary toy store is sure to please children of all ages. Shoppers in search of affordable souvenirs and rare collectibles will be delighted: the New York landmark offers the latest and the greatest in all manners of toys, stuffed animals, action figures, popular dolls and whimsical costumes. Be sure to check out the large piano, featured in the Tom Hanks movie “Big.”

FAO Schwarz flagship store address: 767 5th Avenue at 58th St., New York, NY.

Kiki de Montparnasse. A popular adult destination, this high-end Soho boutique brings an aura of rich decadence to boudoir adventures. The elegant, polished staff is at once discreet and helpful, offering aide while allowing customers to admire the crops, blindfolds and fine silk lingerie, peruse the tastefully smutty books and examine the luxurious adult toys, fashioned from gold and other precious materials. Kiki de Montparnasse is easy on the eye, but hard on the pocketbook.

Kiki de Montparnasse in Soho: 79 Greene St., New York, NY.

Century 21. Well-kept secret of stylish New York men and women, this bargain-hunter’s paradise – featured in the television hit “Sex and The City” – caters to frugal fashionistas in search of the perfect designer item, at the perfect price. The aisles are filled with racks of designer fashions from Pucci to Calvin Klein, discount cosmetics, and high-end brands at low-end prices. Get there bright and early and be prepared to put up a fight, if need be: aggressive shoppers will team up to block your way as they dig through piles of seductive accessories, determined to ensure they get first pick.

Century 21 Manhattan location: 22 Cortlandt St., New York, NY.

Century 21 Brooklyn location (a quieter alternative): 472 86th St., Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY.

From kitschy souvenirs to children’s toys, from adult novelties to designer fashions and luxury goods, New York is sure to please even the most discriminating of shoppers. The best part of shopping in New York City? Turning your shopping excursion into an adventure where treasures await, wherever you may go.

For more information about New York City shopping destinations, visit NYCgo.com

The MTA Bars The 99% From New York City’s Mass Transit Policies

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post , Patrick speaks about MTA. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Turning over its subways and buses to a public authority was the greatest mistake in New York City transit history.

In a New York Civic forum held on July 15, 2009, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky lamented that unlike education, healthcare, etc., there was no public interest and very little public engagement with transportation issues.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how the MTA destroyed civic engagement in transportation and its effect on New York City’s mass transit.

Brief History

In the 1940’s, New York City ran its subways and buses directly through a Board of Transportation (BOT). Although the system was much larger than it is today and its ridership at levels never matched, the BOT ran the system successfully with very strong public support.

 

There was one major problem. The fare was 5 cents from the turn of the century and New Yorkers expected the nickel fare to continue forever. Operating costs soared after World War II requiring a major fare increase. In 1948, the BOT raised it to a dime for subways and 7 cents for buses but this was not enough.

Fearful of the electoral consequences of raising the fare again, the politicians decided to turn over New York City’s subways and buses to an independent public authority on June 15, 1953. In this setup, the public authority called the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) would assume the responsibility for raising the fare in exchange for total power to run the system without any interference from elected officials (Hood).

The power of the public authority was dramatically demonstrated with the Transportation Bond Act of 1951. Still in command in 1951, the BOT placed this referendum before the public to raise $500 million dollars to build a full-length 2nd Avenue subway with extensions to the Bronx and Queens, and connections to Brooklyn; to extend the Nostrand Avenue subway to Sheepshead Bay and to construct a new line on Utica Avenue to Avenue U (Cunningham & DeHart).

The Bond Act passed but the NYCTA took over before any construction began and to the shock of the public, announced that it would use the money to buy new subway cars for the IRT, lengthen station platforms, etc. instead of building any of the new lines. Even though the NYCTA went against the will of the people clearly expressed in the ballot box, no one (not the elected officials, not the courts) could do anything about it.

In 1968, the NYCTA was absorbed into a larger, statewide public authority named the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Continuing NYCTA’s ill advised program of deferred maintenance, a situation made worse by a massive crime wave and graffiti vandalism, the entire system came to a point of near total collapse in the early 1980’s. It took the MTA a decade to bring the system back to a state of good repair.

The MTA Consolidates Its Power

While bringing the system to a good state of repair, decisions were easy: new subway cars had to be purchased, older ones refurbished and trackways rebuilt. It’s not surprising that both public and legislative support was solid. Once that goal was attained, the MTA embarked on its own agenda, which in the parlance of the “Occupy… Movements” can be described as the agenda of the 1%. Aside from system maintenance, this consists of three general objectives: expansion projects for the wealthy, an obsession to modernize the system for the sake of modernization, including getting rid of as many unionized workers as possible, and beautification projects for wealthy neighborhoods–some with no transportation value such as the $1.4 billion Fulton Transit Center.

  1. Making the 99% Irrelevant: A public authority is required to hold public hearings on fare increases and on any major changes to the system. The hope is that it will modify or even reverse a policy after hearing testimony from the people. When the system was at the brink in the 1980’s, the MTA did listen, for example, reversing its desire to tear down the #4 train elevated, north of 161st St. (NY Daily News 5/1/86), to dismantle the Franklin Shuttle (early 1990’s) or to end express service on the Bronx D line (1991).

The MTA knew that its agenda of the 1% not only would have no popular support but also, would elicit strong public opposition. This in turn would hamper efforts to secure more funding from the New York State Legislature. The best way handle the public was to make opposition to their agenda so hopeless that no one would bother to protest. At that point, the MTA could claim that the people were simply not interested in transit issues.

Many MTA board members routinely skipped the public hearings to show their contempt for the process and blatantly ignored the public testimony. Thus, in 2001, the MTA dismissed the massive protests by Queens and North Brooklyn riders in the re-route of the Queens Blvd. line and even took measures to punish G train riders for their intransigence.

Beginning in 2003, the MTA ignored the will of the overwhelming majority New Yorkers to have a human presence in the system by closing token booths, removing station agents and attempting to remove subway conductors. If not for legal actions by the Transport Workers Union, Local 100 (TWU), there would be no station agents or conductors in the system today.

The MTA’s efforts to destroy public hearings were enormously successful: from jammed sessions lasting until the early hours of the morning in 2003, attendance at public hearings collapsed. Even though the last MTA Bronx hearing on September 15, 2010 was devoted to a fare increase, the hall at Hostos College was almost empty. It’s not that the people don’t care. They realized that they are irrelevant.

  1. The Experts Know Best: The second way that the MTA schemes to achieve its agenda is to create such an aura of expertise in transit issues that the outsiders wouldn’t bother to offer alternatives. Here are a few excellent suggestions from various sources which the MTA dumped into the trash can:

When the MTA decided to pursue draconian service cuts in 2010, every elected official and transit advocacy group urged the agency to use 10% of President Obama’s Transportation Stimulus package for operations. The MTA refused since building a dome at the Fulton Transit Center for the 1% was more important than alleviating the hardship caused by service cuts for the 99%.

On January 26, 2010, TWU President John Samuelson wrote a letter to then MTA CEO Jay Walder proposing that the two dramatically travel together to Washington DC to lobby for more federal aid for transit operations. Walder didn’t even bother to respond to the letter. Efforts by NY Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to secure passage of the Transit Assistance Operations bill in May 2010, received no support from the agency except for a brief verbal endorsement.

NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell pleaded with the MTA at the City Council hearing of 2/25/10 and at the public hearing of 3/3/10 to continue to run threatened bus and subway lines less frequently rather than to eliminate them. He argued that people would adjust their schedules to catch a desired bus or train. The MTA didn’t bother to comment.

In 2008, then MTA CEO Lee Sander established a Line Manager program in which every subway line got a line manager responsible for everything on that line. The line managers didn’t come from the upper management of the MTA. They were innovators who reached out to the public and who guided their actions by “what works.”

One of the line managers’ finest achievements was the #4 Bronx Thru Express. The express trains ran at 20 minute intervals with their schedules widely published. People adjusted their schedules and waited for the express, letting locals go by. The train was so popular that its arrival would elicit cheers and applause from riders. The line managers’ success, however, posed a threat to the aura of expertise promulgated by the upper management. When Lee Sander was replaced by Jay Walder, the express project and the line manager program were quickly ended.

It must be added that the Federal Transit Administration requires the MTA to hold public scoping meetings on major projects and studies to qualify for federal funding. Those participating have overwhelmingly complained that their comments are brushed aside and that MTA officials try to get them to endorse decisions already made.

Conclusion

Already isolated by statute from the political process, it’s clear that the MTA does not want public participation in planning its agenda nor does it want alternative ideas. In the form of a true dictatorship, the agency wants compliance and automatic funding.

This is exactly what MTA advocates and apologists are doing when blindly agitating for more funding whether via congestion pricing, tolling the East River bridges or other tax schemes. Sadly, this includes many rider advocacy groups who hope that some of the transit items which they want may be included. They won’t be.

The agenda of the 1% is extremely costly with provisions for Automatic trains, for example, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The MTA finances these through credit which has caused its debt to soar to $31 billion with annual interest payments of $2 billion and rising. This causes a severe drain on the operating budget and was the primary cause of the draconian service cuts of 2010. The MTA wants more money to fund the agenda of the 1%, not to improve services.

But the agency is unlikely to get it! While public opposition may have been muted and as Brodsky pointed out, the public has disengaged, the truth has not been obliterated. New York State Legislators are keenly aware that the MTA is hated by the public, has a credibility of zero and no public support. In these days of tight budgets, more funding is unlikely. The MTA is a dictatorship but it operates in a democracy and without strong public support, it will not thrive.

The consequences for the subways are tragic, with the system suffering from neglect and stagnation. The NYC subway system is so vast and complex that it can’t be run efficiently without the active participation of the people who know it best: the motormen, the conductors, the bus drivers and the riders.

It’s a shame that the IRT “arrival clocks,”—one of the few hi-tech installations that benefit riders–for example, aren’t used to their fullest potential. They could facilitate the addition of express services such as the #4 Thru-express and create service diversification, which would offer more riders a one-seat ride. Bus ridership is declining dramatically and, as Allan Rosen convincingly demonstrates, abetted by ongoing MTA service cuts.

The answer is not to throw more money at the MTA but to empower the people. This can best be done by ending the leases with the MTA and returning to the days of the BOT with NYC running its own mass transit by a Board of Mass Transit with appointees by the mayor, public advocate and the 5 borough presidents with the budget reviewed by the NYC Council. At that point funding will be easier to secure for the money will be spent according to the will and the needs of the 99%.

Top Ten Best Pizza Places In New York City

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post , Patrick speaks about top 10 best pizza places.Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Lombardi’s – 32 Spring St, near Mott, New York

Established in 1905, Lombardi’s became America’s first pizzeria. Still churning out pies today, the institution attracts crowds – so expect to wait in line. Noisy and harried – don’t come to Lombardi’s to relax!

 

Arturo’s – 106 West Houston St, near Thompson, New York

With live jazz nightly and photographs of famous clientele over the years, if you feel like a glass of wine and and feeling you’ve travelled through the city’s history, Arturo’s is for you. Here they put the cheese straight onto the crust, and the sauce goes on top which is genius or a terrible idea – depending on your preference.

John’s Pizza – multiple locations

Founded in 1929 at its Bleecker street location, Johns has a cult like following among people who claim their cheese distribution tops all others. Try the Pete’s a Rolls – although bear in mind they’re nearly as filling as the pie itself.

Co – 230 9th Avenue at 24th St

Co’s emphasis is on the pizza crust, which is lighter and more akin to Indian Naan bread than traditional pies, perhaps because the owner Jim Lahey, came to Co from Sullivan Street Bakery. Co’s toppings reflect Lahey’s belief that tomato and mozzarella are a pizza cliché. Come here for a truly unique pizza experience

Artichoke Basille – Multiple Locations

Artichoke Basille prides itself on the ‘imperfect pizza’ so there’s little homogeneity to what they turn out. Keith Richards is a fan; and people wait in line for hours for pies their signature creamy sauce

Roberta’s – 261 Moore St, Brooklyn, New York

Started by two musicians, this pizza place in a former garage is a hipster’s paradise. There are over 20 toppings, with such innovative ingredients as pork jowl. They have a garden for summer, and great set menus for large groups.

Famous Rays – 6th Avenue at 11th St, New York

There are still disagreements over which is THE Famous Rays of legendary pizza fame, but whatever the truth is – the slices at this 6th Avenue Rays are worth a trip, and as they do slices – you can experiment with a few of their creations. Don’t expect to sit down and eat, Ray’s is a ‘to go’ destination.

Franny’s – 295 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York

Franny’s has recently joined the ranks of what are considered to be THE pizza places to visit in New York City. It has the added bonus of having a varied and sustainable menu – so there’s something even for dining companions who aren’t in the pizza frame of mind. A great place for a romantic dinner or date

Totonno’s – 1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, New York

If you’re going to try Totonno’s, the best way to experience it is to travel out to the famous Coney Island original. Known for its fluffy crust and its ‘stay open till the dough runs out’ policy, it’s a great way to see another historical side of the city.

Grimaldi’s – Multiple Locations

Arguably the top stop for tourists in NY looking for great pizza, long lines may put you off. But Grimaldi’s has recently opened new branches meaning you no longer have to wait for hours in Brooklyn to sample their famous coal oven pies

Free Live Blues Music in New York City

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks aboutfree live blues music in the city. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Parlor Entertainment, for example, is the living room and kitchen of a woman known as Marjorie Eliot’s. She allows people into her house to listen to some of her closest friends, and many local blues musicians. There is also Groove, which offers a roster of rotating house bands that include many blues musicians, as well as funk and hip hop. Another location, St. Nick’s Pub, offers many jazz and blues sessions. They do sometimes post a cover charge and drink minimum, but these are rarely enforced.

Parlor Entertainment in New York City

Parlor Entertainment is actually an event that occurs every weekend at Ms. Marjorie Eliot’s apartment in North Harlem. Marjorie welcomes people into her living room and kitchen, allowing people to listen to a a jazz ensemble of guest musicians, and many of her closest friends. Parlor Entertainment is known for it’s comfortable atmosphere and there is no cover charge. Music begins at 4 pm on Sunday every week.

  • Parlor Entertainment, 555 Edgecombe Avenue, Studio 3F, (212) 781-6595, www.parlorentertainment.com

Groove in New York City

Groove started in the early 90s and began with a group of musicians jamming at what was known as the 101 bar. It soon evolved into a roster of rotating house bands that consist of many performers and musicians that are known as being some of the best that New York City has to offer. They play live music all week long, offering lots of blues as well as funk and even hip hop.

  • Groove, 125 MacDougal Street, (212) 254-9393, www.clubgroovenyc.com

St. Nick’s Pub in New York City

St. Nick’s Pub is a New York City pub that is known for having some of the best jazz sessions in New York City. Many of the best local players show up, including many well known artists, such as James Carter and Olu Dara. St. Nick’s Pub does post that there is a cover charge, and they are also known for having a three drink minimum. However, this never seems to be enforced. Most people claim they’ve never been charged and never report being required to purchase any drinks.

Partnership to Save Polluted New York City River: Bronx River Alliance Restoring the City’s Only Freshwater River

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks about partnership to save polluted New York City River. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

The Bronx River Alliance oversees everything from river cleanup to improving public access. By combining knowledge, skills and resources from a variety of organizations the Bronx River is able to recover from years of neglect.

The History of the Bronx River

Originally known as Aquehung or River of High Bluffs, the Bronx River shoreline was purchased from the Mohegans by Jonas Bronck in the 1600s. Beaver were common along the waterway at that time but extensive trapping reduced their numbers significantly.

By the mid-1700s multiple mills, powered by the river, contributed to the decline of the health of the waterway. Paper, tapestry and snuff manufacturing polluted the waters. The construction of the New York Central Railroad completed the transformation of the Bronx River into an industrial waste area.

Bronx River Restoration and The Bronx River Working Group

Efforts to beautify the waterway included the creation of the Bronx Park in 1888 and the Bronx River Parkway in 1925. A sewer system was constructed in 1905. But the river was far from clean.

Then community activists took the initiative in the early seventies, creating Bronx River Restoration, and beginning the serious cleanup process. But the real change came in 1997 as Partnerships for Parks brought the Bronx River Working Group together to coordinate the efforts of the many groups working on the river.

The Bronx River Alliance

In 2001, the Bronx River Alliance emerged from the Bronx River Working Group as a non-profit organization coordinating the activities of public and private partners interested in the Bronx River. By involving all interested parties, the Alliance is able to better care for the river and greenway. Today the Bronx River Alliance includes 21 community-based organizations, 33 non-governmental organizations, 8 federal and 19 state or local government agencies and 24 schools.

The Alliance is divided into five area of expertise:

  • The Ecology Team- responsible for cleanup and restoration of the Bronx River
  • The Greenway Team –development and management of parklands on both sides of the river with public access to the waterway and parks.
  • The Education Team – help educators of many types utilize the river as a classroom, inform the public about the Bronx River and train river monitor volunteers
  • The Outreach Program works on involving the community through volunteer projects and social events, which spread the word about the Bronx River Alliance and its importance.
  • The Recreation Program organizes and enhances leisure activities on the river and in the parklands encouraging the public to enjoy the restored river and parks.

Despite the existence of the Clean Water Act there are still many heavily polluted rivers in the United States. But the Bronx River Alliance has been so successful in bringing groups together to work on the restoration of the waterway that other cities are attempting to follow their model. And, as an indication of the success of the Bronx River Alliance efforts, a beaver has moved back into the Bronx, the first one in 200 years.

Free Dance Classes in New York City

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post, Patrick speaks about free dance classes in New York City .Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

There is also one dance studio in New York City that offers free classes in the form of a scholarship, to students that are trying to improve their dance skills for their musical theatre career. These locations in New York City include Peridance, The West Side Dance Project and the Sandra Cameron Dance Center.

 Peridance in New York City

Peridance offers a large variety of dance, including hip hop, jazz, tap, ballet and even yoga. They’re known for being very modern, and classes can be rather expensive. However, they offer work-study positions where individuals can get one free class for each hour and a half of work. Applications can be picked up at their studio.

  • Peridance, 132 Fourth Avenue, (212) 505-0886

The West Side Dance Project in New York City

The West Side Dance Project is a small dance studio that offers a variety of dance classes. They offer classes in ballet, tap and jazz. A few times a year they hold auditions for their scholarship program. Those that win these scholarships are not always dancers, due to the fact they offer the scholarships to anyone who is trying to pursue a career in musical theater and are trying to improve their dance skills. The scholarship winners are required a three hour shift at the front desk once a week, and they also have to take a minimum of five hours of dance classes each week.

New York City Central Park guide Exploring Wollman Rink, Strawberry Fields, the Reservoir and more

The following is a post to from Patrick Mackaronis. Patrick is the Director of Business Development for New York City-based social network Brabble. In this post ,Patrick New York City Central Park guide. Patrick can be best reached on Twitter at @patty__mack.

Quick facts

Central Park runs from 59th street, called Central Park South up to 110th street called Central Park North, bordered by Central Park West and 5th Avenue. The park is just over 150 years and was created by legendary designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. It is a manmade park but has truly become what the designers had originally envisioned, an oasis for city dwellers to relax and enjoy nature. The park has also developed over the years to be a must see for visitors worldwide, so definitely take some time to explore its beauty.

Attractions

South End

This is the most popular and most easily accessible area that runs from 59th street to 72nd street. Popular attractions include the Sheep’s Meadow, the Carousel, the Zoo and Wildlife Center, Wollman skating rink, the Naumberg Bandshell on the Mall, statue of Balto, Tavern on the Green, and rowboats on the lake around Bethesda Terrace. A leisurely half day can be spent here wandering around the paved walkways and ending up with lunch at the Boathouse overlooking the lake. Horse carriage and pedi-cab rides can be found around 59th street and 5th avenue. The pedi-cab rides are more environmentally friendly and recommended over the overpriced ($70+), smelly, and who-knows-what-kind-of-animal-rights-the-horses-get carriage rides.

Middle

This part of the park runs from 72nd up to around 90th street. Attractions here include the Ramble, the Shakespeare garden and theater, Belvedere Castle, the Great Lawn, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Quieter than the southern end, this area is nice to stroll around and watch the sunset over the reservoir. In the summer free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park can be obtained from the Delacorte Theater. Towering over the Great Lawn is the Belvedere Castle and nice skyline views can be seen from there as well. Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just a quick walk from the Great Lawn.

North End

The least visited but still very interesting area runs from the top of the reservoir to 110th street. Urban families make use of the northern area and you will see more diversity up there. Bird watchers will love the quiet North Woods, with its rambling paths and leafy old trees. Lasker pool has free swimming in the summer and free ice-skating in the winter. Harlem Meer and the Conservatory Garden are next door to the pool and a quiet and picturesque stroll can be found.

Getting there

Take the A /C or B/D or 1 train to the 59th street stop.

For local train service to 72nd, 81st, 86th, 96th, 103rd, 110th stay on the C or B trains.

There is bus service heading south on 5th avenue not recommended for a long distance.

More Upper West Side info: Historic Upper Manhattan

More neighborhood info

-NoLIta: Mott Street

-West Village: West 4th Street