The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Citi Building Megalith’ Category

fear him

leave a comment »

Remember, remember the fourteenth of September.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One word before I delve into the usual narrative here – I was attacked by friggin Grasshoppers while in pursuit of some of the images in today’s post. Grasshoppers, as in a biblical plague like swarm of giant bugs flying at me with murder on their minds – a gang of grasshoppers in friggin Long Island City.

It occurs, since these shots were largely collected on the 11th of September, that there are certain calendrical markers which loom large in the collective mind. Unfortunately, these events tend to reflect recent history, whereas other moments which were once considered to be of maximum importance are forgotten. September 11th will be remembered for the events of 2001, of course, but what about September the 14th?

On this day in 326 A.D., Emperor Constantine the Great’s mom Helena (Helena was the Augusta Imperatrix) is said to have recovered a piece of the True Cross in Palestine, as well as finding the site of the burning bush and a few other odds and ends. She’s a Saint now, the Augusta Imperatrix.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even on the day of the attacks, I mentioned to the little gaggle of refugees who had gathered at my home office in Upper Manhattan that it would be just a matter of two to three decades before Sept. 11th became a legal holiday of national remembrance like Labor Day. Within five to six decades, it would lose its significance, like Labor Day or Veterans Day have. Future generations would figure their vacations around the week between Labor Day and what will likely be called Remembrance Day, and there would be sales at retailers. It’s crass, but that’s the American way.

In 1741, George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” was completed on this day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was out wandering around on the 11th in Long Island City, it was somewhat forefront in my mind that I wanted to get an uncommon shot of the Freedom Tower from Newtown Creek, which is why I was wandering around in spots which are normally avoided due to fear of arrest for trespassing. The shot above overlooks the DB Cabin railroad bridge and the mouth of Dutch Kills, incidentally.

In 1812, an antichrist named Napoleon marched the Grand Armée of France into the City of Moscow on September 14th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Have to admit – I was actually enjoying the day, and the solitude, for once. I love conducting my Newtown Creek tours on the weekends, bringing people to the crazy places I know around the Creek and reciting the historical trivia, but it does get in the way of me doing “my thing” with the camera. Having a Sunday off for once, the headphones were stuck into my ears and I spent several happy hours listening to my collection of HP Lovecraft audio books. In particular – the Horror at Red Hook, The Outsider, The Thing on the Doorstep, and The Shunned House were in rotation last week. Pictured above is the Cabin M rail bridge over Dutch Kills.

In 1901, President William McKinley died. The President was shot by an anarchist on Sept. 6th, and it was gangrene that ended up doing him in. McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded him.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was while I was crouched down to get the shot above that the Grasshoppers grew angry at me, and hundreds of chitin clad bullets suddenly erupted from the brush. While I was flailing about in the buzzing crowd, a cramp developed in my left arm and one of my “spells” came upon me. I must’ve been laying on the tracks crying for a good half hour, cursing the fact that I hadn’t decided on studio photography rather than urban landscape. The horror…

On Sept. 14th in 1959, a Soviet built probe called “Luna 2” crashed into the moon, making it the first man made object to reach the satellite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scarred by the insect attack, I decided “enough” and headed for home back in Astoria. I was hungry, desired an alcoholic beverage to steel myself after the grasshopper incident, and was working out how to exact my revenge on the horde of exoskeletal bastards who had harrassed me. Astoria? Only primates, dogs, cats, and rats live in Astoria. Ok, we’ve got possums and raccoons too, but you catch my drift. We ain’t got grasshoppers.

In 1715, the French monk Dom Pérignon died on September 14th, and in 1836 – so did Aaron Burr. In the United States, September 14th is “National Eat a Hoagie day.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with some other drivel and a bunch of pix.

If you’re not doing anything after work tomorrow, I’ll be narrating on the Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour for the Working Harbor Committee, along with Capt. Maggie Flanagan of Waterfront Alliance. Come with? We’re boarding at Wall Street/Pier 11 at 5:30 and the weather is meant to be bloody brilliant. Link below for tix.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

little polyhedron

with 3 comments

Street photography, literally, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every little facet of Western Queens is endlessly fascinating to one such as myself. The section of Jackson Avenue which was refashioned into Northern Blvd. in the early 20th century (a puzzling nomenclature, as it runs east/west, and both Ditmars and Astoria Blvd. are further north), which I’ve long referred to as the “Carridor” has a distinctive look and feel. On the western end of it, the Real Estate Industrial Complex has finally broken through the barrier presented by the southern end of 31st street and large scale tower production is under way. It won’t be long before the Manhattan skyline views which Western Queens is known for will be completely obfuscated by the glass boxes being hurled at the sky.

Let’s face it, a used car lot has a huge footprint, and the Real Estate shit flies are rapacious when the subject of Sasquatch property lots arises. Thing is, this used car lot strains the Municipal infrastructure a whole let less than a block of apartments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on 43rd street, a longish roadway that leads from Newtown Creek to the south to a northern terminus at Bowery Bay and which transverses Astoria, Sunnyside, and Blissville that used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd., there’s a window on the world of tomorrow which can be observed by looking over the Sunnyside Yards at the western horizon. In Tolkien’s epics, it’s the west that the elves disappeared into. Coincidentally, the same mythology is presented as relating to the Decadent Dutch colonials who fled the “English” through Western New York and New Jersey by the literature of Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, and many others. In Western Queens, the Real Estate Industrial Complex has stolen the western sky, as evinced by the shield wall of luxury apartment buildings rising from the filled in swamps of Long Island City pictured above.

Legend has it that the Dutch will return someday, when we need them most, but we won’t see them coming anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The same shield wall of construction is visible from the eastern side of Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, which rises from the elluvial flood plains of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary nearby Skillman’s intersection with Thomson Avenue. The intersection of two communities is nearby, on a sloping hill which hosts both a “Woodside” and a “Sunnyside.” The Woodside, my reading suggests, was heavily forested with deciduous speciation in its aboriginal state, and the Sunnyside was more of grassland interspersed with coniferous trees that graduated into what would best described as an environment resembling the Louisiana Bayous.

The Sunnyside of the hill sloped down to the swampy lowlands of what’s now Queens Plaza, Dutch Kills (neighborhood), and the Degnon terminal area. This condition, which bred what was contemporaneously described as a “pestilential number of cholera and typhus carrying mosquitoes,” largely persisted in Queens until the early 20th century when the Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal, and Queensboro Bridge construction projects included a fair bit of land reclamation and swamp drainage.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

rank swamp

with 2 comments

Some people just can’t be satisfied with what they’ve got.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The manifest horror of what’s happened around Queens Plaza and Court Square, real estate development wise, is kind of hard to miss. If you ride the 7 train, or the N/Q lines, I’m sure your jaw routinely drops at the sheer scale of it all. The Citi building megalith – and that impossible, ravenous “thing” which cannot possibly exist in its cupola, whose unblinking three lobed eye gazes greedily down upon the world of men – is nearly occluded by the new construction taking place all around Long Island City. 

The real estate industrial complex seems to have won, and Long Island City is no longer the “next big thing.” Instead, it’s a manifest reality. Thing is, the real estate guys aren’t done yet. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Paragon Oil building on 49th (or Hunters Point) Avenue, once known as the “Subway Building” and or “Queens Borough Hall” was recently purchased by one of the big developers. Rumors and back channel chats with the “powers that be” in Long Island City have revealed that there is a push underway to rezone the industrial corridors along 49th/Hunters Point and Borden Avenues to a “mixed use” designation which will allow the infiltration and conversion of the M1 or “heavy manufacturing zone” over to residential and commercial (office) use. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The enormous Blanchard Building on Borden has also been snapped up by the same company that purchased the Paragon Oil building. Official sources indicate that both structures will be purposed as commercial buildings – office space, in other words. The word on the street that I’ve heard is that the rezoning effort would encompass the area found between the Pulaski Bridge and Greenpoint Avenue, and that the eventual end product would resemble what has occurred along Jackson Avenue and the Hunters Point waterfront. 

This is, of course, all rumor and scuttlebutt. Can you imagine installing a huge population back here, in the LIC cul de sac formed by Newtown Creek and its Dutch Kills tributary? 

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

sojourns beyond

leave a comment »

A man needs a decent hat. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conferring with a friend who is known for his regular display of sartorial excellence, regarding queries as to his current preferences for a haberdashery, a humble narrator found himself heading to the South Side of Williamsburg to purchase a summer hat. Famously, “I wear a lot of hats” – which is how I often describe the complicated web of non profit organizations with whom I’m associated. Saying that, I’ve always favored “old fashioned” hats in my normal round, the sort of things commonly observed on male heads until the early 1970’s – fedoras and the like. I used to have a place near Port Authority where I’d shop for my chapeaus, but that operation is long gone, and burnt away by the fires of gentrification. 

Accordingly, I found myself in a cab heading to Williamsburg (where those fires burn hottest, oddly enough) from Astoria last week. Normally, I’d walk it, but I was still convalescing from a nasty cold which I was suffering from and didn’t want to overexert. Since the logical route involved the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge and over my beloved Newtown Creek, I had the camera ready to go and was firing the shutter the entire way. 

Pictured above – Calvary Cemetery in Blissville. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopes that before the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge is demolished that a chance to properly shoot Newtown Creek from up here comes along, rather than just using an insanely high shutter speed and the “spray and pray” technique. “Spray and Pray” is basically a series of blind shots, where you point the prefocused lens in the general direction of a subject and hold down the shutter button with one hand and with the other – you cross your fingers and hope your luck is good. 

The whole ride took around 15 minutes, which is kind of lucky. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from that rooftop in Greenpoint that I mentioned the other day, and it’s a lot more in tune with what one normally goes for – a composed shot with a thought out field of focus. Hopefully, I’ll get to do something similar from up on the “Kos” someday after the BQE is rerouted onto the new span, and before they demolish the old one. 

As far as the hat buying went, I went to “Bencraft” on Broadway and South 8th nearby the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and bought a spectacular Panama for a reasonable price. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, there wouldn’t be a single haberdashery left in the entire City of Greater New York.  

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

threadbare accoutrement

with one comment

Yet another bit of meeting reportage, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator seems to be on a lot of “steering committees” these days. I’ve long been associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, although we don’t have a steering committee, and contrary to what many believe – I’m not a board member. I’m the official photographer for, and steering committee member of the Working Harbor Committee. Recently, I joined the steering committee of Access Queens. I’m also a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) for the Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek.

The CAG has a series of steering committee only meetings that occur somewhat frequently, where we review and comment on various bits of policy and announcements from the EPA and the Potentially Responsible Parties who are tasked with the scientific analysis and eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek. There’s business people, community activists, policy makers, and representatives from Riverkeeper on the Steering Committee. There’s also a gaggle of Newtown Creek Alliance people on there as well, but given our overwhelming familiarity with the situation that’s sort of a natural fit. A “general” CAG meeting occurs less frequently, but that’s going to change as we get closer to the next phase of the Superfund process, which will discuss the solution to 150 years of environmental degradation based on a nearly decade long scientific survey. General meetings are open to the public if you’re curious, click the link above to find out when the next one is scheduled. If you want to join the CAG, we have a technical advisor who can guide you through the process (which is mainly writing down your name and email in a legible manner).

A recent Community Advisory Group meeting, which was open to the full membership of the CAG (not just the steering committee) occurred at LaGuardia Community College last month on the 22nd of March.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint’s Mike Schade, who has been operating as the Co Chair of the CAG, stepped down and we voted my colleague from NCA – Will Elkins – to pick up the mantle as co chair and run with it. The other CAG co chair is Ryan Kuonen, who is chair of Greenpoint’s community board’s environmental committee.

The NYC DEP, which is one of the “potentially responsible parties” along with ExxonMobil, National Grid, Phelps Dodge, and a couple of smaller corporate players like BP and Amoco, offered a presentation to the assembly explaining the concept of “ebulition” to us. Ebulition is essentially the release of droplets or blobs of contaminants from the sediment bed up to the surface of the water, and it’s commonly observed in Newtown Creek. They showed some video of coal tar bubbling up in front of the National Grid bulkheads, which was meant to be an “a ha” moment. To the initiated, however, it’s no secret that there’s 30-40 feet of coal tar and petroleum derivates in the sediments. That’s what brought EPA to Newtown Creek in the first place. Problem is that the ugly leave behinds of industry are intermingled with human waste, which is what the DEP supplies.

Long have I used the term “Black Mayonnaise.”

Prepared by their environmental contractor, Louis Berger, the logic DEP offers in their ebultion argument is that since they aren’t responsible for the presence of petroleum or coal tar in the Creek, and that since the chemical footprint of what comes out of their “combined sewer outfalls” or “CSO’s” isn’t specifically named in the Federal CERCLA – or Superfund – legislation – the community shouldn’t be overly concerned by the raw sewage they pump into the waterway every time it rains. The presentation was offered by Dr. Eileen Mahoney, who is DEP’s Superfund manager, and Dr. Ed Garvey of Louis Berger.

Dr. Mahoney and I, it should be mentioned, aren’t exactly in love with each other and she spent most of her time menacingly glaring at me while speaking, waiting for me to speak up and challenge her assertions. She didn’t realize that my colleague Laura Hoffman was in the room, and the “Mother of Greenpoint” didn’t take kindly to DEP saying that the release of raw sewage into Newtown Creek isn’t a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek community advisory group is actually one of the best organizations to pay attention to at the moment, superfund wise. Everybody in the room is under some sort of Federal level jurisdiction, PRP wise, and therefore the fibbing is generally kept to a minimum. Even the DEP won’t out and out lie to the Feds, as there would be hell to pay. Another thing I’ve been saying for years about the Superfund is that the most interesting parts of the story will be about NYC’s vertical silos of power slamming into the Feds. Immovable object, meet the irresistible force.

I managed to convince some of my friends from LIC and Sunnyside to come to the meeting, and get the activist community of Newtown Creek’s northern shore to begin to engage in the process by joining the CAG. There’s a perception in Queens that Newtown Creek is Brooklyn’s, and particularly Greenpoint’s, problem.

I’ve long argued that this is most definitely not the case, and I’m glad to see that others are beginning to realize it too.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

occasional indifference

with 5 comments

It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too much to report to you today, Lords and Ladies. The hermitage season has certainly seen me shooting a whole lot of macro shots of foodstuffs, but otherwise a humble narrator has been stuck in the house nursing a wounded shoulder and disabled right arm. Wish I could describe some outré tale about the infirmity, but just chalk it up to age, and the “pain squirrel.” One has hit that section of life wherein something hurts every day, and whichever branch of the bodily tree that the pain squirrel has decided to inhabit that morning is where you’ll find the offending sensation.

Aches and pains are just a part of life, like taxes and a lonely death, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shoulder thing has been a “mofo” however. I’m right hand dominant, and unfortunately the limb that hand dangles off of is the affected one. My left arm is used as little more than a paper weight, and the right one has been nigh useless for about a week. If this sort of thing was occurring in my left arm, of course, I’d be in a hospital and under the care of a cardiologist. Saying that, this has little to do with the heart and circulatory system, instead it’s a pinched nerve which is slowly unpinching. Opiate pain medications were required just to accomplish a few hours of sleep when the condition first manifested, and one was forced to fashion himself a sling. Shoulder and tricep were dancing around unbidden within the skinvelope, my bicep muscle felt as if it was being eaten by a horde of beetles, and my elbow was reporting back to the brain that it had become hollow. Additionally, my wrist was of the belief that it had become packed in ice.

The dog was quite concerned, but she made a play to assume the alpha/dominar position in our household pack.  What can I say, she’s a dog, that’s what they do when they sense weakness. In the case of my dog, of course, rebellion took the form of her staring at me while she “woofed.” Her play ended when Our Lady of the Pentacle got home, since we all know who’s really in charge around here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, I’ve got zilch as far as new stuff to show you this week. Today, and for the next couple of days, it’s going to be shots from the archives – such as the twilight shot of the Sunnyside Yards above. Pain Squirrel and canid rebellion notwithstanding, the show must go on.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

 

refuge open

leave a comment »

Street photography, literally, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been on a bit of a “notice everything” kick of late, which I imagine would translate into “normal person” as “by Jove, one is surrounded by things which have always been accepted but unquestioned.” Well, I guess that’s how normal people think, I wouldn’t know. One of the things I’ve gotten curious about lately are streets, and more specifically – the roadway itself. This has led me down a bit of a merry path, which has led to the realization that just about every road in NYC, the United States, and in fact the world is paved with industrial waste.

Elucidation follows, but first we need to discuss the development of the thoroughfare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roads were originally created from the compaction of soil along trade routes in prehistoric times, and there were fairly common paths developed in Eurasia and Africa by around 10,000 BCE. The oldest stone paved road known to archaeology was built by the Egyptians, in roughly 2,300 BCE, although there are older “courdoroy” or log roads known (There’s a few in the UK which date back to around 4,000 BCE). Over on the Indian Subcontinent, streets were paved with brick as early as 3,000 BCE.

Famously, the Romans were bloody brilliant at building roads, many of which have lasted into modern times. Their system involved the excavation of a fairly deep trench, followed by the laying and tamping down of several feet of differing grades of stone into it, with the top layer formed from a series of carefully cut paving stones which were quite heavy. The bottom layers allowed for drainage, the top layer armored the structure while using the force of gravity to keep it in place. For about a thousand years, the Roman system (similar technologies were used in China, and amongst the Inca in South America) was the best you could really hope for.

The Europeans who colonized North America used crushed oyster shells and stones to form a road surface, and they mitigated the dust generated by horse and cart by using various forms of oil to hold the stuff in place. It wasn’t until the middle 18th century that roads became “modern” when a Frenchman named Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet began working on carefully graded roads around Paris. Trésaguet was followed at the beginning of the 19th century by a Scot named Telford who created what modernity would refer to as “a cobblestone road” wherein the pavers were mortared in place using stone dust and gravel. Unfortunately, these methodologies used a tremendous amount of material, and required an enormous investment to lay the several feet of stone that was required for proper drainage and surface stability.

It was another Scot – John McAdam – who invented the precursor of the modern roadway, and his pavement came to be known as “Macadam.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Macadam roads wore tougher under carriage wheels, and were cheaper to build than “Telford’s”. Trial and error taught McAdam that a course of stones, broken up small enough and compacted by a heavy iron roller, would act as a solid mass if given proper drainage. It was perfect for horse and carriage, albeit a bit dusty. The roads of the industrial revolution era were generally paved in Macadam.

In 1902, a Swiss doctor named Ernest Guglielminetti hit upon the novel idea of using tar to coat the roads in Monaco. About twenty years later, an Englishman named Edgar Purnell Hooley patented a formula (in the UK and USA) which combined coal tar and blast furnace slag mixed into gravel and called his new product Tarmac, or Tarred Macadam. Tarmac became quite wide spread by the early days of the automobile, but by the late 1920’s the literal king of the road appeared and Tarmac went out of style.

Also, even by the beginning of the 20th century, physician and politicians alike began to realize that Coal Tar was a particularly unhealthy thing to loose upon the environment. Luckily, nothing bad had ever come out of the nascent petroleum industry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are 42 gallons of crude oil in one of those shipping barrels which you always hear business people referring to. When the distillation process is complete, multitudes of chemicals are wrung out of it. 1.7% of every barrel ends up as a fairly inert form of tar which is referred to as “Asphalt or Road Oil.” Asphalt actually occurs naturally, and when it bubbled up out of the ground in historical settings, it was referred to as “pitch.”

Pitch was used for waterproofing the wooden joins on ships, inside buildings – anywhere you’d need a waterproof seal. It was also used as an incendiary for flaming arrows, and for boiling people you’d want to teach a lesson to. The British, and geologists, refer to naturally occurring Asphalt as “bitumen.” There’s natural lakes of the stuff to be found, notably in Trindidad/Tobago and it’s the tar you’ll find in the LaBrea Tar pits over on the left coast in Los Angeles.

The English were paving with Asphalt as early as the 1830’s, and in 1837 a fellow named Richard Tappin Claridge was granted a patent on a formulation for asphalt paving. Claridge’s company survived until the First World War, when it had just entered into a new venture to manufacture “Asphalted Macadam.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In New York City, modern day roads (with the exceptions of historic “Belgian Block” pavement, or the rare brick surface like Stockholm Street in Ridgewood) are paved with asphalted concrete. It’s a layer cake, according to the NYC DOT. There’s a base layer of gravel, which is covered by cement or concrete (which is sometimes reinforced with structural steel, depends of where it is and what the substrate is) which is armored by a top layer of asphalted concrete. Luckily, the roads in Queens are crappy, and on a recently replaced section of Northern Blvd. in Long Island City – you can see two of the layers surrounding a collapsing sewer drain.

It’s actually quite a thin crust, when you get down to it. This PDF at NYC.gov offers the “Materials” chapter of the DOT’s street design manual, and it covers the various approved road surfaces (sidewalks too) which you are encouraged to use in the City of Greater New York. It will tell you that, amongst other things, asphalted concrete is the most highly recycled substance in our municipality.

There is a “Green Asphalt” plant found in Blissville, at my beloved Newtown Creek, which is one of many facilities around the City which perform this sort of service. It seems that there is an economic, and practical, reason for placing these facilities within the City itself. Your “mix” needs to be within a certain distance of where you’re going to be laying it down, otherwise it begins to solidify and degrade in transit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Closer to home – my home at least – on Broadway in Astoria, a “trencher” was observed cutting its way through the street. You can see the layer cake of concrete and asphalt, and in the post which originally described the device – this one – your humble narrator reported that several largish chunks of timber were being brought to the surface along with the concrete and asphalt.

Broadway, in this section, is quite a complicated structure. The IND tracks of the R train are found at what’s probably 20-30 feet under the surface, which were constructing using the “cut and cover” method. There’s all kind of other stuff snaking around – sewers, utility tunnels, rat middens, etc. That means that the street is actually the uppermost section of a larger structure, meaning that if you fell down in the crosswalk – you’ve actually just landed on the roof of a building. As I mentioned above, how normal people think is a bit of a mystery to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to officialdom, 99% of Asphalt is recycled, and that 95% of the roads in the United States are paved with it. Asphalt pavement is rated according to the weather extremes it can withstand, and there are certain formulations designed for different climates. A different mix of tar and concrete is used for roads in Buffalo than those in NYC, for instance, due to climatological factors.

Engineers I’ve checked in with like the stuff – describing it as “easy to work with, and easy to repair.” It seems that a fresh laid bed of asphalted concrete is structurally a single unit – until something goes wrong under the surface or utility access requirements and repairs forces laborers to start cutting holes in it. That’s when the surface starts to flow, and pull, and crack. NYC is basically always working on one street or another – grinding, paving, laying new foundations. Given that a lot of the City sits on former wetlands, it’s a task best described as Sisyphean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So – back to the industrial waste part of things – according to a buddy who works as an Enviro-Cop, asphalt is actually a fairly benign substance as far as petroleum goes. Unlike other derivates, it’s environmentally stable once it has set. The recycling industry uses high levels of heat to release the bitumen from the concrete matrix, which allows it to be mixed in with a fresh batch of concrete and applied to a street. There’s all sorts of things which have, and still, get mixed into asphalted concrete. Although NYC claims its has never used the stuff on its roads, some have experimented with mixing in asbestos fibers, and or coal tar. Plastics collected by the recycling industry are often shredded and mixed in with the tar and concrete, as is glass. For a while, automotive tires were considered a good candidate for inclusion in the mix, but the cost of shredding steel belted rubber was too high. Routinely, fly ash from industrial furnaces is mixed in, along with all sorts of other stuff which would otherwise just fill up an ever shrinking square footage of municipal landfills and dumps. By the ton, the singularly largest part of the flow of NYC’s garbage involves the disposition of road construction waste. The fumes emitting from hot and freshly laid asphalt carry some risk, cancer wise, but the injuries most often associated with the material in its malleable form are laborers getting burned while working with it.

Regardless, it’s another one of the many byproducts produced by the petroleum industry. Remember, asphalt – which is found on nearly all of NYC’s 6,074 miles of roads and on 95% of the roads in the United States represents 1.7% of every barrel of crude oil sent to the refinery.

About half of that barrel will become gasoline. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information: “In 2014, the United States consumed a total of 6.97 billion barrels of petroleum products, an average of about 19.11 million barrels per day. This total includes about 0.34 billion barrels of biofuels”.

Of course this beggars the question, a paradox actually, which asks: if 99% of asphalt is recycled, where’s all the freshly manufactured stuff going? 1.7% of 6.97 billion barrels of oil would suggest that the U.S.A. produces 118,490,000 barrels of fresh Asphalt (or road oil) per year.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: