The Newtown Pentacle

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genuine gravity

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All your base belong to us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pretty much every time my phone rang yesterday, it was someone asking me what I thought of Amazon pulling out of the Long Island City arrangement they had made with the Mayor, Governor, and the NYC EDC. As you may have noticed, I’ve been rather “silent” (well, silent for me) on this particular subject, with one longish NP post, a Greenpointers interview, and a singular radio interview being my only statements about it. In all statements, the message which I was trying to impart was that the fact of Amazon was less disturbing than the idea that the executive branches of both State and City had finally managed to figure out a way past the various checks and balances which had been inserted into the City Planning process since the era when Austin Tobin or Robert Moses could do whatever they wanted to with zero local community input. Apparently, this is what ended up being the Achilles heel of the Amazon deal, as LIC collectively rose up and said “NO.”

That’s the most important takeaway here, in my mind. The sleeping giant has finally awoken. Queens is mad as hell and isn’t going to let the City or the State do what it wants here anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The BQX also died with the Amazon deal yesterday since its moribund carcass has only sparked back to life due to the arrangement, and while the Sunnyside Yards project is still on the horizon, the people running the show for that one are – I guarantee you – in a panic. I predict an executive level bloodbath at the NYC EDC in the next year, who have a less than stellar recent track record as it is (Staten Island Ferris Wheel, anyone?) and angry bosses in the Real Estate Industrial Complex who are going to want to know how this happened. They were expecting to reap a windfall over in the REBNY camp, and have already begun to bemoan their situation and call LIC “overbuilt” with a “glut of rentals.” The bosses won’t or can’t go after the Mayor or Governor, and beyond some petty shots at Jimmy Van Bramer and Michael Gianaris, they’re going to need somebody to blame this on.

Doom and gloom for the powers that be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Winners and losers, that’s how the media will frame it, as if the world of politic and policy is some sort of sport. It’s not, and it’s a toxic POV which first emerged back in the 1980’s when punditry shows like the McLaughlin Report first appeared. There are no winners in this story other than that the activist community, there are only losers. The Amazon deal and the collapse of same will prove to be a divisive force in the LIC community and body politic for quite a while, I predict. There’s going to be all sorts of “high politique” going on which we, the public, will never be privy to.

As I often say when pronouncing such grim statements – It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 15, 2019 at 1:00 pm

fundamentally suspicious

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Thought experiment day…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suppose that the subways ran at street level, in lanes shared with motor vehicles. Said motor vehicles behave in familiar fashion, pulling over to deliver parcels and people, breaking down, getting into “accidentals” and acting in the sort of erratic fashion that non tracked vehicles do. You’ve also got human powered vehicles scooting all over the place, bicycles and skateboards and so on. Then there’s pedestrians, people walking dogs, all of the things you see on a daily basis in New York City and “tune out.” The subway would have to constantly stop short and “dwell” in between stops and there would be a ton of vehicular accidents, including the trains themselves getting struck by cars and trucks and also smashing into errant pedestrians. That would necessitate NYPD activity, which would further increase “dwell” or delay time for the train. The designers of the system, a century ago, foresaw all of this and went to the expense of creating both “cut and cover” tunnels and “elevated” trackways. This gives the subway a “dedicated lane” wherein a lot of the random things that used to happen to the streetcar or trolley lines would be avoided.

This is why the BQX is a stupid idea, incidentally, since the folks pushing for it aren’t planning on dedicated lanes. The bicycle fanatics demand dedicated lanes, as a note, with “protected” border indicators made of concrete. Now, the Subway is the primary form of conveyance for the vast majority of working New Yorkers, but for most it’s only a part of their daily grind. Something like 75% of all Subway riders have a bus figure into their commute, and particularly so in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn.

Ok, now transpose the word “subway” with “bus” and reread the first paragraph.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in recent posts, I’ve been “getting smart” about the MTA’s NYCTA Bus system. One of the most common complaints which bus riders will offer, after crowding, is that the published bus schedules are theoretical at best. You actually can’t blame MTA for this one, as their “on time” surface transportation statistics are vulnerable to weather and traffic conditions. There’s all sorts of pundits out there – including the Union Representatives of the Bus Drivers – who have offered ways to reduce trip time, including novel ideas like two door fare control entrances. I’ve come to believe that what we really need to be discussing are dedicated bus lanes.

The Mayor is willing to commit a significant amount of our black top street pavement to the Bicycle Fanatics, but in terms of numbers… there’s a fairly limited number of people whom these bike lanes actually serve in terms of the traveling and commuting masses. MTA’s buses serve so many more people than the bike lanes do that the comparison wouldn’t even qualify as a rounding error. So, here’s my thought experiment:

Why not create dedicated bus and bike shared lanes, which the bike riders can use in the twenty minute or so intervals in between bus passages? Obviously, you couldn’t do this on every bus line since many of them wind through narrow one way streets, but for the “big boulevard and avenue street lines” – like the Q53 from Rockaway via Cross Bay Blvd. (ridership of about 21,000 per week or 1,092,000 annually) or the Q19 on Astoria Blvd. (ridership of about 4,000 per week or 208,000 annually) or the Q60 on Queens Blvd. (ridership of about 14,000 per week or 728,000 annually) for example?

I know, I’m using logic in DeBlasio’s NYC… In comparison, btw, the entire NYC Ferry system carried about 2.1 million people in 2017. The fare is the same as riding the bus ($2.75), but the City underwrites each fare to the tune of about $6.60 (combined $8.96 according to official sources), which means that the tax payer is kicking close to $14 million bucks into that particular mode of getting around per annum. I’m certainly not suggesting we get rid of the service, as I’m a big fan of it, but I think it’s important to know what things actually cost when talking about transit matters. I wonder what a mile of bike lanes costs, versus what a mile of dedicated bus lane would cost.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s actually quite a bit of room available for novel forms of transit like street car trolleys through the densest sections of the City, believe it or not, as evinced by the shot above which was gathered a block or two west of Queens Plaza. The NYC DOT uses this space to store their trucks and other equipment, which they also do under the 7 line viaduct on Queens Blvd. and in lots of other spots around the City. Eliminate a lot of this municipal storage, and it frees up a lot of land. Why do you think they want to close Rikers? What, mercy? Kindness? You need to put these facilities somewhere.

I know there’s nothing more fun than a wonky post about transit infrastructure to warm the cockles, but again – numbers matter when it comes to City Planning and spending. I understand and know that under our current Mayor, it’s about “feeling groovy” and “sounding good” but it seems to me that if a bus line – such as the Q53 with its roughly one million annual riders – carries the equivalent of one eighth of the entire population of NYC, we should be talking about creating dedicated bus lanes which can also serve bicyclists. This dedicated lane would also fit nicely into the “Vision Zero” traffic calming policies currently in vogue better than the “single task” bike lanes serving a statistically irrelevant number of commuters.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

circumstance alone

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A Jedi craves not these things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Noticed on a fairly recent walk down to Hunters Point from Astoria, a neat and somewhat older car. Not sure what make or model it is, but it reminded me of the 1980’s, when a young Joe Piscopo taught us all how to laugh again. Back then, early pontifications from a humble narrator stated that “the future” would offer three likely paths which I summarized using popular science fiction movie tropes. First was the dystopian “Road Warrior” future, which can still happen but doesn’t seem to be the likely path upon which the world walks. Second was the utopian “Star Trek” future, which also seems increasingly unlikely to occur. Unfortunately, it seems the world has seemingly embraced a “Robocop” pathway instead.

I’d buy that for a dollar, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, and a couple of others which you’ve already seen, were my goal for the evening in LIC’s Hunters Point section. This was the night when something went “sproing” in my left foot (the pain squirrel strikes again) which has been bedeviling me for the last couple of weeks, and while shooting it a weird sort of chill sapped away any and all of my strength. For some reason, standing at the East River waterfront at night in February caused a physical effect in me. Weird, huh? Must be supercancer.

For those of you who don’t understand the term, supercancer is what Google tells you that you have if you search for an explanation of any number of ordinary or mundane aches and pains. As my team of doctors often tell me: Don’t google, make an appointment with us instead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncharacteristically, my little photo expedition to the next neighborhood over was cut short, and I bowed to my physical weaknesses by taking the train home. Of course, I had to go the long way around, and caught the 7 for a transfer to the N and then a walk down Broadway in Astoria back to HQ. What was weird about that was that it was only about 11 p.m. as I was scuttling up the avenue, and literally every shop other than the ubiquitous bodegas were closed. Even bars. Alright, it was a Tuesday, but… sheesh.

Adventure, excitement… I crave these things, which indicates that I am no Jedi.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

various inhabitants

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Hooray, it’s Monday!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odds and ends in today’s post, as a humble narrator is fairly hurting for new stuff to show you. The weather and a few  “have to’s” had forced my butt to remain static at HQ last week, and the camera has received little to no exercise outside of the normal rounds here in Astoria. Additionally, something went awry with my left leg in the ankle zone so I spent half of last week with a disturbing bit of “owie” going on. Often I’ll describe my physical woes as being due to the presence of the “pain squirrel” which alights on different branches of my body randomly, in much the same way as the Norse myths describe the squirrel Ratatoskr running about on the world tree Yggdrasil. Ratatoskr would chew on various branches of Yggdrasil, which caused earthquakes and volcanic activity to manifest. The pain squirrel, instead, causes one to merely exclaim “what the hell did I do to myself now?”

The older you get, the more hypochondriacal you get. Eventually, you get to the point where the impact of sunlight on your skin is felt, and hurts. Pictured above is a gas station on Northern Blvd. in LIC. Have you noticed that the real estate people have been devouring gas stations recently, along with supermarkets? Anything with a big enough footprint, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is in the process of becoming diurnal again, after long months of activity in the dark of night. Transitioning between the two results in a feeling akin to jet lag, with drowsy intervals occurring in the afternoon. Given that one has more or less been surrendering to the embrace of Morpheus just before sunrise for a few months, this rather jarring process will likely take all week. I’m not abandoning the night shooting, not by a long shot, but a biological need to experience the rise and fall of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself in the wan winter sky is upon me.

Don’t want to start growing a patch of mushrooms on my back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, I haven’t caused any real trouble for a bit, and there’s probably battles I should be fighting.

It’s also marginally warmer during the days, I seem to recall.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 11, 2019 at 11:30 am

nothing unprecedented

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Just another day in paradise, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sculptor who designed the plastic pink lawn flamingo was Donald Featherstone, a task he accomplished in 1957 for a company he ended up running until his retirement in 2000 A.D., called Union Products Inc. I had a dream once where Featherstone’s Flamingoes were chasing me and fell out of bed. Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is quite rare and only regularly affects about 4% of adult humans. Sleepwalking episodes typically last anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes, and there are sleepwalkers who have actually left their homes for a sleep drive in their cars while dreaming. There are sleep eaters, and sleep “shtuppers” who engage in sexual coitus (sexsomnia) while totally asleep. There are several legal proceedings in which a sleepwalker has actually murdered someone, wherein the somnambulist was pronounced not guilty. That’s a slippery slope.

As a child, I became convinced that quicksand, which is a fascinating soil condition caused by a particular ratio of sand and water that forms a “shear thinning non Newtownian fluid” was something you needed to be prepared for as an adult. Stress the sand/water mix – say by stepping on it – and the sand and liquid will seperate and you’ll sink right in. The physics of it all are fascinating, and removing yourself from the quicksand is difficult and complicated. Trying to just pull yourself straight out would require titanic amounts of force. Your best bet, I’m told, is to slowly work your self into a position where you’re facing the sky and your limbs are spread out as far as you can manage (which is the same advice offered for those caught in avalanches of snow). Then you sort of wiggle and wriggle your body towards the solid ground direction that you came from. Contrary to popular belief, due to the relative material density of the quicksand and of your body, you likely won’t sink in past your waste even if you do panic and struggle. Those who die in quicksand do so due to hypothermia and or the arrival of carnivores. I don’t know if Flamingoes qualify as carnivores, and don’t want to find out.

As a note, quicksand has not turned out to be the ubiquitous problem when “adulting” that I thought it would be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s likely that you’ve experienced, when laying down to sleep, feeling your arms or legs suddenly twitch or jerk for no reason. That’s called a hypnic or “myoclonic jerk” by sleep specialists. It’s pretty normal, but the league of doctors aren’t of a single mind as to causation for the phenomena. On the other side of things, that period of 15-30 minutes when you first wake up and are experiencing both cognitive difficulty and motor skill impairment is called “Sleep Inertia.” Part of ir is caused by the presence of a certain chemical, and you’ve got a series of receptor cells in your brain for this chemical  called “Adenosine,” which is abundant in the noodle when you’re sleep deprived – which most of us are. Caffeine is a blocker for these Adenosine receptors, and that’s why if you haven’t had enough sleep a “cuppa Joe” will help snap you out of the sleep inertia. Saying that, it’s still pretty normal to be a bit groggy when you wake up, since your body has been in an anabolic state and busy cleaning up the mess you made of it the day before. The natural process of waking up involves a spike in cortisol levels in your blood, wherein the adrenal glands can manufacture an average of more than fifty percent more cortisol than when asleep. Ultimately, Cortisol levels are the difference between “morning people” and “evening people,” which is thought to be related to individual “cortisol awakening response.”

A humble narrator has always been the latter, a “night owl” as it’s called. I’ve never been a Flamingo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The section of the East River pictured above varies in depth from about twenty five to fifty one feet, which you can visualize by thinking about submerging a series of buildings which range from two to five stories. If the Empire State Building ever found itself sitting in the middle of the East River, and hey… climate change, amiright?… it would still rise some ninety seven to one hundred stories into the sky. A couple of years ago, somebody asked me to do a boat tour of shipwrecks in New York Harbor, but it seems that wrecks are cleared out in an expeditious fashion as they’d otherwise be a hazard to navigation and commerce. So, I believe, are flamingoes.

Hope you enjoyed today’s completely random trivia, back on Monday with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

less than

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Another day, another bridge across Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are five bridges crossing the Dutch Kills tributary of that lugubrious ribbon of urban delight called the Newtown Creek, here in Long Island City. You’ve got two movable railroad bridges, the retractile Borden Avenue Bridge, the high flying truss which carries the Long Island Expressway and then slopes down into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the good old Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. There’s been a bridge of one kind or another here since about ten to twenty years after the Civil War, with one notable span made of wood whose opening and closing was powered by ropes and a donkey. The current bridge was installed in 1910, when Michael Degnon was building his industrial terminal around Dutch Kills, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was finishing up their construction of the Sunnyside Yards.The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was originally a double bascule drawbridge, but back in the 1980’s, the City rebuilt the roadway and replaced the mechanism with a single bascule version, which is the one featured in today’s post.

Apparently, Hurricane Sandy did quite a job in the electrical equipment that operates the thing, and since the City is required by the United States Coast Guard to maintain the HPA Bridge as a movable structure there’s been folks working “down below” in the gears and gizmos of the thing. It’s on one of my main routes when I’m out for a walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, Dutch Kills was frozen into a giant plate of ice. This isn’t surprising, since the hydrology of the canal displays very little in the way of laminar or horizontal flow. The water rises and falls with the tide, obviously, but the shapes and angles of the bulkheads in addition to zero sources of flowing water at its terminus other than a couple of open sewers cause the waters of Dutch Kills to mimic the behaviors of a stagnant lake rather than a flowing creek.

A few years ago, I started reading up on hydrology and talked to some of the powers that be about using “shaped” concrete forms to cause zones of compression and expansion which would passively move the water around a bit, but nothing really came of it. I still think this sort of engineering is the way to go, however. As I understand the concept, rounded shapes act as “brakes” in fluid systems, whereas narrowing the width and obliquing the angle of channel walls causes water to flow (think river rapids). Essentially, large bodies of water can’t rise that much above the level of surrounding water bodies they’re connected to, so when the volume hits a point of compression it gets “squeezed” and pressurized which causes it to begin moving towards a point where it can expand again. As an example, the same water pressure in your kitchen faucet is what feeds into your garden hose, with the only difference between the wildly dissimilar behavior of the same water pressure being that the stuff in the hose has been compressed all the way through the nozzle and the sink faucet flow can just expand into the basin.

Design in enough points of compression and expansion, you’ve got “flow.” Or at least, that’s my theory. What do I know, I’m a schmuck with a camera, not an engineer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another hypothesis I can offer is that the Newtown Creek is far more biologically active at night than it is during the daytime. All the time I’ve spent around the waterway in the last year at night has revealed an otherwise hidden world that comes out in the dark. There’s higher mammals, both feral cats and raccoons, which are occupying the predator and scavenger niches. You can see and hear vast numbers of fish splashing around in the water, and there’s all sorts of critters crashing around at the littoral edges and along the bulkheads.

The shots in today’s post were exposures of about thirty seconds, so you won’t see what I saw when shooting them unless it held stock still for that interval of time. What I saw was a big fat raccoon foraging around at the water’s edge, scooping up shell fish and other horrible wriggly things to eat for dinner. Actually, it was probably for breakfast, as the trash pandas are nocturnal – just like me.


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gathered here

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Mitch Waxman, working for YOU!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The pathway which will allow access to the bike and pedestrian lane of the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is pictured above, a terrifying “last mile” section which is owned by the City. This is the approach at “Queens Midtown Expressway” or “Borden Avenue” (depending on whose map it is) which you get to via a southward journey along 43rd street in Sunnyside. It’s also the onramp for the BQE, and there’s nothing separating you from traffic other than a three inch curb. If you’re wondering, this is actually a fairly well used foot path between industrial Maspeth and South Sunnyside – so it’s not just me.

Why do I go this particular way? I’ll show you at the end of the post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Inviting, ain’t it?

A humble narrator is ringing the alarm bells here for a fairly simple reason, the Kosciuszcko Bridge construction project is meant to be opening the second and final half of the project up to traffic (of all kinds) by the end of the summer, at the latest. The City, which is supposed to have been redesigning this section of things (they own it), hasn’t been shown to have started any risible progress yet. Supposedly NYC DOT has a design, but where is it? Shovels in the ground, boys?

I’d be happy with a bunch of jersey barriers, truth be told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For years, literally years, I’ve been keeping an eye on this one.

I cannot tell you how many times in Western Queens that I’ve had the sudden realization that the sidewalk I was scuttling on led onto a highway. One time, after leaving St. Michael’s cemetery, the section of Astoria Blvd. I was walking along suddenly became the shoulder lane of the Grand Central Parkway as the sidewalk just ended.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This path leads to a pedestrian bridge, one that the K Bridge project has recently constructed as a replacement for a far older but similar lane. Friends who grew up on the southern flank of Sunnyside tell me that this path was well familiar to them growing up, and that the road and sidewalk conditions found in the shot above date back to their earliest recollection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last week, I was walking through here and spotted the condition above. Hadn’t been through in about a month, so it’s possible this collapsed in sewer grate had been lying in wait for an errant tire to enter it for weeks.

Here’s the “working for you part.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First things first, you document it. That’s me and the camera in the shadow on the left. Second, you report it.

Now, here’s the thing… I often have trouble making 311 or 911 operators understand that Queens has hyphenated addresses. Also, it took several paragraphs of text and a few photos to describe the location and condition of this place to you, my quite savvy and well traveled Lords and Ladies of the Pentacle. Additionally, this was a dangerous situation and I feared somebody could be seriously hurt if their tire entered the hole.

Prior experience with road condition and damaged sewer hatch reporting (yep, lots and lots of prior experience) has taught me that it can take weeks for the City to dispatch somebody to do repairs. They’ll send the cops out to throw down a traffic cone, but otherwise – weeks. I’m “Mitch Waxman” however, so a quick scan of the contact list on my phone allowed me to contact the K Bridge team’s Community Liason’s office, who in turn alerted the NYC DEP, whose sewer it is. DEP dispatched an emergency squad within the hour and they had the thing all fixed and repaired by the next morning. On the repair front, I let my pals at Jimmy Van Bramer’s office know about all the goings on and how great I thought it was how the K Bridge team and DEP handled the situation. That was also in the name of “reporting it” since JVB’s office keeps a list of complaints and problems in his District and since this one wouldn’t come to them via 311 or 911, there you are.

Nobody gets hurt. Street boo boo all better now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the other side of the “last mile” path, there is a permanently installed concrete separation between you and the onramp of the BQE. Where it slopes down and ends is the demarcation point of NYC and NYS’s property lines, or so I’m told. Want to guess why they’re there?

Yeah, that was me, suggesting it to the Engineering Team at K Bridge sometime back in 2012 or 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal “Special” Ed once described his ideal job title as “freelance unsolicited criticism,” which would take the form of waking into a bank and decrying the arrangement of the padded ropes leading to the tellers, whereupon he would then hand them a bill for his services. I don’t charge, but I fear that I’m living out Ed’s dream. Ed used to live downstairs from me in an apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one which was packed with high school and college friends. We lived a life disturbingly reminiscent of “Seinfeld,” I’m afraid. Ed had nothing in his refrigerator save for a single glass of water and a spoon, and stored his clothing in the kitchen cabinets. I miss Ed.

Pictured above is the K Bridge from that pedestrian ramp dealie which carries you over the onramps to it from the LIE onto Laurel Hill Blvd. at the border of Maspeth and Blissville, and between the Kosciuszcko Bridge and First Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is why I go this particular way. The view.

Just imagine what treasures await, when the ped and bike path is open. That’s presuming you don’t get squished by traffic on your way here, and end up in there.


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