Thursday, October 31, 2013

20 Miles Per Hour for New York Neighborhoods, Intro N. 535

The tragicomic expression of urban living - clowns and earnest cyclists lamenting the lack of safety on the city streets. 

For years now, cycling advocates have pushed to create a safer city for all New Yorkers. We have testified at City Council on the need for the city to investigate car collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. Advocates have painted stencils and memorials for cyclists and pedestrians killed by cars reminding the world of their lives and the reality that the NYPD did little to investigate the causes of their deaths. We organized Critical Mass Rides celebrating non-polluting transportation and even dressed like clowns to push cars out of bike lanes.

Some years it has felt like the city is pushing back against our efforts. And in others, it feels like they are actually working with us, like they are actually starting to hear us. At least this was the case today at City Council, where the Transportation Committee was debating Int. No. 535 by Council Members Greenfield, Cabrera, Chin, James, Koslowitz, Mealy, Palma, Vann, Levin, Mark-Viverito and Koo.

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to a speed limit in residential areas on residential streets.

Be it enacted by the Council as follows:
Section 1. Section 19-177 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended by adding thereto a new subdivision d to read as follows:
d. Notwithstanding the aforementioned provisions, speed limits not exceeding twenty miles per hour shall be established on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes and shall be indicated on speed limit signs posted at all appropriate locations as determined by the department.
§2. This local law shall take effect ninety days after its enactment into law.

I saw the call for the hearing on a few list serves and members of Right of Way planned to attend. I would go as well. Maybe this is an idea whose time has come, I wrote on facebook announcing the hearing. My friend Wendy noted: .

o A ped/cyclist crash at 20mph is survivable - written testimony can be submitted but how? Is someone going who can take mine? I will write Chin now too

Wendy sent me testimony on the hearing, which I would print out for the day of the hearing. It declared:

I am Wendy Brawer, a 25-year Lower East Side resident. I urge you to support Intro

535 to save lives and make our neighborhoods more livable.

As a proponent of safer streets, I often stand up at community meetings and request

that motor vehicle speeds be reduced on residential streets. Today, vehicle traffic

speeds through at 30 MPH, causing stress, excess noise, and most importantly dozens of

deaths and hundreds of serious injury to pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and passengers

each year.

Intro 535 and enforcement of this rational 20 MPH speed limit will go a long way

towards ending the carnage!

It’s been proven that 97 % of people on the street can survive a 20 MPH crash. Doesn’t

every New Yorker and visitor deserve this protection? Elders and children are especially

vulnerable. Only 80% can survive a 30 MPH crash, as detailed in the New York Times

on July 12, 2012, when the NYC DOT expanded the neighborhood slow zone program.

That is a critical difference especially drivers often go even faster - only 30% survive a 40

MPH crash.

Thank you for supporting a better future by supporting Intro 535


Wendy E. Brawer

I saw my friend Joanna on the subway on the way to the hearing. Her kids are cyclists.

Walking in I thought this would be just another hearing. But when I saw that the first group to testify were the family of Sammy Eckstein, the boy recently killed by a car in Park Slope I knew this was not going to be the usual.

“On October 8th at 5:11 pm, my 12-year-old son, Sammy Cohen Eckstein, was struck by a van just across the street from our home,” declared his mother Amy. “He died a few hours later. As best we understand it, he crossed into the intersection from Prospect Park with the light to get a soccer ball. While he had the light when he entered the intersection, it quickly changed and he slipped and was hit by a van approaching the intersection at full speed. Sammy was a bright, kind and generous soul….”

There was not a dry eye in the room, except council.

The tone of the hearing was radically altered with the words of the slain boy’s grieving mother, father, and sister’s lamenting his passing and calling for the council to prevent future deaths.

Eric McClure later asked what all of us were thinking, what if the speed limit had been twenty and the driver had had a second to swerve away? We’ll never know, but its worth slowing things down, as the Prospect Park West Bike Lane has done.

Chairman Vacca followed the family, choking up as he tried to speak, noting he has been on this committee for years and he has never been as moved as he had been by the Eckstein’s testimony.

“I will never forget this day,” he confessed, wiping away tears. “I will personally give your letter to Commissioner Kelly so we can step up enforcement of traffic laws. That’s the least we can do.”

Brad Lander, who is the councilman for their district, followed noting their kids went to the same synagogue. “This is an issue that the council has been motivated to speak out about, but not enough. We will push it harder.”

Paul Steely White followed nothing the Epstein’s are proud members of Transportation Alternatives.

New York City’s Neighborhoods Need a 20 mph Speed Limit

T.A. Supports Council Member David Greenfield’s Bill for Safer Residential Streets

Transportation Alternatives is supporting a City Council bill to adopt a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit on narrow residential streets, to reduce the number of traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities.

“Around the world, it’s been proven that lower speed limits save lives,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, testifying before the City Council Transportation Committee today.

In September of this year, the City of London joined Paris and Tokyo in lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. “New York City would greatly enhance the safety of all its residents, motorists and pedestrians alike, by adopting a similar measure,” White said. “Our city’s most vulnerable people – our children and seniors -- would have the most to gain, in terms of increased safety.”

“It is clear that we must do much more to make our streets safer for everyone, especially pedestrians,” said City Council Member David G. Greenfield (D-Midwood, Boro Park and Bensonhurst) who in 2011 introduced the Safe Streets Act, which would advance the widespread adoption of a 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets fewer than 60 feet wide.

“Barely a day goes by without another New Yorker being injured or killed by a speeding or reckless motorist,” Greenfield says. “This is a problem that impacts every community and everyone who walks our streets. One of the simplest things we can do is reduce the speed of drivers traveling throughout our residential and side streets. That's why I am proud to have introduced this common-sense legislation and to help lead the fight in New York City for safer streets.”

More than 1200 New Yorkers were injured in traffic crashes every week during 2012. 58 people lost a limb or suffered other life-altering injuries, and five city residents were killed each week during 2012. Speeding was one of the leading causes of that pain and suffering.

“Studies show that a one-mile-per-hour reduction in average speed on pedestrian-dense urban streets with low average speeds will lead to a 6% decrease in traffic crashes. And New York is home to the most dense urban streets in the country,” White said.

While noted the city council has already passed legislation supporting increased speed cameras to track speeding. Yet, so far the city has only bought twenty more cameras.

“All the cameras are a drop in the ocean,” noted a frustrated Vacca. “Why do we need to consult with Albany about this?”

White noted the 20-miles-per hour speed limit was already yielding major benefits in London, where the law has saved hundreds of lives, something like a 40% reduction in fatalities. I’ve seen cars drive 45 miles per hour to go stop at a red light. Speed limits create a calming effect.

After McClure and Joanah and others, I was the last person called to speak.

“Thank you Chairman Vacca,” I began. With little need to review the statistics everyone had already cited several times, I would speak as a Dad and driver, a cyclist and pedestrian. “I have seven and ten year old daughters, friends with Joanna’s kids. And I don’t want any of these kids to be the next casualties. We have been to many council hearings and heard many accounts from families of those killed. I do not want any of us to be invited to come speak or be honored in another hearing after our kids have been hit by cars. This legislation will prevent future incidents.

For ten years I lived on Sackett Street in Brooklyn and motorcycles and cars would race up my street like it was a speedway, only to careen to a stop at the red light. The cars menaced and screamed at cyclists, such as myself, just trying to find a place to ride.

Recently I moved to the Gowanus, where we have been designated a safe zone. And the policy works great. When I drive and my mind is on other things, the 20-miles-per hour signs remind me to slow down and keep an eye on the big picture. They are a huge help.

The policy is going extremely well. And should be expanded citywide.

Chairman Vacca remember the feeling, of sadness, we all had today. We have to get this bill passed. I know the second year leave the hearing you are going to be pressured to kill this bill. So let us know what we can do to move this. If you need us to stack hearings or committee meetings or get in the streets, we’ll do it.

Thank you for your time.”

Councilman Levin followed noting that the police have all sorts of quotas for tickets. Why not have quotas for speeding tickets?

Councilman Greenfield thanked the advocates noting that we should make no mistake that the city can move this. If they say they can’t it is because they will not. It is not because they cannot. Soda ban, term limits, etc, when they want something they believe in they get it, regardless of the obstacles or questions about constitutionality. You could sue or them or scream at them they do not care. They can move on issues they care about. So don’t believe them they cannot do this.

Vacca concluded noted he was going to move the bill. He had just texted someone noting the bill had to move. Everyone felt that way. 20 mph Speed Limits are an issue whose time has come. It is time to make it happen.

For right now, its worth asking how many more kids, brothers, sisters, and friends have to die before Council acts?  If you support 535 write your council person and ask for their support for safer streets.  James Vacca is head of the Transportation Committee.  Write him and let him know we need 535 to pass.
District Office Address 
3040 East Tremont Ave. Room 104 Bronx, New York 10461 
District Office Phone 
District Office Fax 
Legislative Office Address 
250 Broadway Suite 1749 New York, NY 10007 
Legislative Office Phone 
Legislative Office Fax 

For additional coverage, see:

Kids growing up and running free as they should.
Top three pics... by Jeff Siegel

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


This image was tweeted out last night.
FOUND! TOMORROWS #BANKSYNY! 178thand St Nick's, site of Alexian Lien's beating. Check the call-in.

What: Last night, a stencil depicting the assault of SUV driver Alexian Lien by the undercover cop who spied on Occupy Wall Street was installed by activists with Right of Way on a scaffold above the West 178 Street site of the assault.

New York, NY: Right of Way, the group that brought you the 6th Avenue Bike Lane Extension and 8 Under 8, has struck again. This time they have borrowed Banksy’s stenciling style and call-in audio guides to highlight the NYPD’s active role in traffic violence. They call this work #Cranksy.

The work is on the beige scaffold visible in the well-known video of the assault on Alexian Lien. The central figure in the image is Banksy's "Protester," except that the iconic bouquet of flowers has been replaced by the motorcycle helmet used by an NYPD undercover to smash one of the car windows. The biker gang has been replaced with scooter cops, who are notorious for harassing peaceful Critical Mass bike rides. And the officers look on with smirks on their faces.

A picture of the stencil posted on Twitter last night has been retweeted to more than 500,000 followers.

“We have modified Banksy's ‘Protester’ to show that the stereotypical violent protester is often an undercover cop,” said Keegan Stephan, organizer with Right of Way. “And we have expanded that message to show that the NYPD facilitates many types of violence. Here, we are highlighting their participation in traffic violence. Off-duty cops are driving drunk and killing New Yorkers (; undercover cops are riding with motorcycle gangs that speed, ride recklessly, and worse; and on-duty cops almost always declare deadly drivers faultless and instead blame their victims.”

“We need a wholesale shift in the NYPD’s attitude toward violence,”Stephan said.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Homage to Lou, Book Parties and Bike Yards

Some of my favorite moments in this city have involved riding my bike as the sun sets into the New York night, with Walk on the Wild Side or All the Young Dudes playing, floating through the evening air. 

you hit me with a flower
You do it every hour
oh, baby, you're so vicious

you want me to hit you with a stick
But all I've got is a guitar pick
huh, baby, you're so vicious

When I watch you come
baby, I just want to run far away
You're not the kind of person around I
want to stay

When I see you walking down the street
I step on your hands and I mangle your feet
You're not the kind of person that I want to meet

Oh, baby, you're so vicious
you're just so vicious

hey, you hit me with a flower
You do it every hour
oh, baby you're so vicious

hey, why don't you swallow razor blades
You must think that I'm some kind of gay blade
but baby, you're so vicious

When I see you coming
I just have to run
You're not good and you certainly aren't
very much fun

When I see you walking down the street
I step on your hand and I mangle your feet
You're not the kind of person that I'd even want to meet

'Cause you're so vicious
baby, you're so vicious
Vicious, vicious
vicious, vicious
Vicious, vicious
vicious, vicious

Its a song from his Transformer period, channeling Bowie and Iggy, and even a little Mick Jagger - all very fey.  He had all of their moves in him, but it was his lyrics that moved us. We wrote stories about his perfect days, of heroine as his love. Trainspotting is basically a novel about his songs, “Heroine” and “Sister Ray.” The scene of Ian running away from the treatment center to get back to her, connecting with the syringe, as as Reed sings, “Perfect Day” still brings chills. It reminds us just how solitary our lives can and often are.  Yet, the search for pleasure, or release from pain, it can be both ephemeral and otherworldly.

Persuing that love, we sometimes leave everyone or thing behind. 

"You can't sit around all day with your heroine and listening to Ziggy Pop" Diane chides Renton in Trainspotting. 
"Its Iggy Pop," he explains.  But he might as well be describing Lou. 
"Whatever, the guys dead anyway."
"Iggy Pop is not dead.  He toured last year." 

The hellfire club on 9th Ave
9th ave and 14th street.
Jeremiah's vanishing new york. 

Back in 1999, a few of us ran into him at the Lure in the Meatpacking District. That was the talk of the next meeting and even more.

Working at CitiWide Harm Reduction wearing a Lou Reed t-shirt, I remember a client in the syringe exchange looking up commenting on the t shirt.  Lou connected with a much larger world and series of communities.  He was a cultural marker, and a source of solace.

"The reason I came to New York was the Velvet Underground," noted Allan Clear, of Harm Reduction Coalition. 

My favorite of his music was from the Velvets with Nico channeling Marlene Deitrich, All Tomorrow's Parties, Stephanie Says, all the the says songs, Caroline Says. I still count Jane Says as part of that story, even if it was by a different band. “Jane says, I'm done with Sergio.”  Its all music about being love sick.

I remember sitting in alone listening to it, hanging with friends in bed or the bathtub listening to it, feeling dizzy, feeling elated... feeling alone... so many hours, years and years and years of my life. 

Living in San Francisco in 1992, it was wonderful but it was hard, sometimes the only company I had was Lou Reed and Janes Addition,” Caroline remembered. “Patsy Cline. There was so much. The music really got me through those couple of years.”

Painting the house over the last few weeks, we put back on the New York album by Lou, on Koch's New York. It was another wonderful set of stories of life in the naked city.

I think of Lou Reed as my mentor,” noted JC Augustin, who joined Times Up! For our New York music ride. Two years ago, we had a Velvet Underground ride.

Last week, Brennan was organizing one of our New York dance rides. So I sent him a few song suggestions. The first, of course, was:

walk on the wild side
fuck you dean and the weanies
take the a train
rapture blondie
judy is a punk rocker
empire state of mind
le tigre
bob dylan subteranean homesick blues
feeling groovie by simon and garfuncle.
rappers delight
walk this by by run dmc
brass monkey beasties.
madonna get into the groove
billy joel its my life
somewhere over the rainbow
rock and roll radio ramones
It was the first song of a pantheon of sounds.

His music, these sounds echoed through the night as we danced and danced enjoying what beats can do to us, what the public commons can be, what it can tell us about our city, and the ways this experience changed our expression of this space, the ways this music moves lives of its many, many quiet heroes.

We rode by the amphitheater on the East River to dance and off to a book party.

But first we had to drop the sound bike off at ABC No Rio, another aging New York institution. Steve reminded us ABC was going through changes as well. Space in New York seems ephemeral. Our time in the space, the days to go there are limited. But they've been glorious. From Critical Mass parties to millions of meetings, and a few fights and brew parties, the space has meant so much for so long. The Times Up! Critical Mass party there in 1999 was the most outrageous of all of them. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not meeting spaces. Yet the memories, the celluloid images, the experiences of the night which took shape there and in New York's other underground stories, experiences, people, and bodies in space – these memories linger.

After dropping off the sound system, we walked the bike up Clinton to the Todd Seelie book opening.

Tod Seelie's Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York Opening Party and Book Release
It’s official. After 15 years of shooting in NYC, I will be releasing my first book of photography with Prestel Publishing. The book becomes available later this month in the US, it is already available in Europe. To celebrate this long-in-the-works labor of love, I will be having a solo show and selling/signing copies of the book. Featuring writing about New York subculture by Jeff Stark, Swoon, Ian Vanek of Japanther, Sto Len of Cinders, Joe Ahearn, DJ Dirtyfinger, and more.
Superchief Gallery at Culturefix
9 Clinton, Manhattan

Seelie used to photograph Times Up! rides. It was lovely to see how many people were lined up outside, pouring in to grab a book and a look. The room was filled with scenesters, buddies, Sarah Sparkles, who just released Parades, Parties and Protest, another book tracing an underground history of New York, as well as counter narrative to the story of Bloomberg's blandified tale of urban space. Seelie and Sparkles point to another New York, as a space where people seek out a city of friends, of dancing, and connecting, building counter publics in warehouses, streets, bike rides, and underground parties, without sanction or permission. 

Photos by Barbara Ross

Participants from the ride were there, as well as past DJ's, heros from marching bands and the night.  Like the best of art in New York, it was inspired by the street, by street photography, stories from the goings on on the pavement. 

We ended up chatting for hours, commenting on the great photographs and what they tell us.

A new friend from Berlin was there. We talked about New York in comparison with the Berlin of Isherwood, Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed.

How do I get to sail on that boat” she asked, pointing to one of Seelie's photos of a group of vagabonds sailing through New York.

Where is that?” she asked, pointing at a picture of C Squat, one of the more notorious squats left.

One of Tod Seelie's bright nights  at C Squat. 

After a few hours, we left for the 169 Bar for a birthday, hanging out even longer.

Hanging at 169 Bar. Photo by Barbara Ross. 

Throughout the weekend, friends dropped by and we talked about our New York hero's and friends, mentors and comrads.

Sunday, we romped to Judson and enjoyed pumpkin carving at Green Oasis Community Garden, just down the street from MORUS and C Squat.

The garden  is a dynamic space, a product of the passion and care of New Yorkers and their care of their communities.

Carving pumpkins, Maggie Wrigley dropped by with a copy of her new edited volume, The Architecture of Change.

The Architecture of Change: Building a Better World is a collection of articles that demonstrates the power of the human spirit to transform the environments in which we live. This inspiring book profiles people who refused to accept that things couldn't change, who saw the possibility of making something better, and didn't hesitate to act.
Breaking down the stereotypes surrounding "socially engaged architecture," this book shows who can actually impact the lives of communities. Like Bernard Rudofsky's seminal Architecture Without Architects, it explores communal architecture produced not by specialists but by people, drawing on their common lives and experiences, who have a unique insight into their particular needs and environments. These unsung heroes are teachers and artists, immigrants and activists, grandmothers in the projects, students and planners, architects and residents of some of our poorest places. Running through their stories is a constant theme of social justice as an underlying principle of the built environment. This book is about opening one's eyes to new ways of interpreting the world, and how to go about changing it.

Maggie told us about her book, the inspiration to write it, and the ways her life in the East Village at Bullet Space over the last three decades helped shape it.  The release party for the Shape of Change is this Friday  November one at 7 PM at MoRUS

She also mentioned Lou had died. Apparently, he'd had to have had a liver transplant. A muse for generations, I was inspired by his orchestra of songs, supporting the architecture of change which is New York, its community gardens, squats, and innovative spaces where people experiment with their bodies and bikes, their spirit and communities, sound and vision.

We walked back to the subway and off to the opening of the Bike Yard. At Havemeyer Park, South 4th b/n Wythe and Franklin, another example of the architecture of change transforming New York. A co-operative bike repair space organized by cycling luminaries Austin and Keegan, it is by extension another a public commons for meetings and stories and organizing, and a space for a perfect day.

With bicycle motocross and meeting spaces, it extends the accidental playgroud which is New York's public spaces. The kids riding there reminded me of cycling in vacant lots in Atlanta in the 1970's. There is so much we can learn from these spaces. As we move away from the Bloomberg era, hopefully the city does not not just wipe away their spontaneity or community pulse, especially when people start gathering in unsanctioned ways, as we have in gardens, Critical Mass rides and the like. “[P]lanners and municipal leaders have a lot to learn from spontaneous, transgressive urban spaces like this one,” notes Sarah Goodyear, writing about the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, a park only a few blocks from the Bike Yard. Last spring we lost nothing yet community garden. And the police regularly attack Critical Mass rides, restricting the improvisational quality of people building their own autonomous communities.  People got together and fashioned communities of their own design long before Bloomberg came along and they will years afterward.  Despite the ongoing attacks on the public commons, the arrests and assaults, the drive to create counter publics remains.  One thing is for sure, we need more openness, more freedom, more space for the kind of quiet moments which made Lou Reed's poetry and punk, his perfect days of New York so poignant.

BEDT by Daniel Canto

Thanks Lou. I hope you are having a perfect day, wherever you are. RIP.