The Newtown Pentacle

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I got to ride on a New York and Atlantic Freight Train!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the New York and Atlantic’s newest ride – Engine 400. Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge my pal David Silver and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things rail for pointing me in the right direction on the original make and model of this particular locomotive engine. Originally built in 1966 for the B&O railroad, this model GP40 locomotive’s original configuration offered some 3,000 HP.

NY&A has recently (2018) had the thing rebuilt at Knoxville Locomotive Works to bring it in line with modern day Tier 4 emissions standards. It lost 700 HP in the conversion, it seems, but NY&A operates on fairly level terrain (by rail standards) in NYC and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. NY&A are a private company contracted by the Long Island Railroad to handle their freight duties, as a note.

Also as a note, I’ve actually photographed this unit before, at night in Maspeth at the Haberman tracks in March of 2019. Check that out here.

from wikipedia

The GP40 is a 4-axle diesel-electric road-switcher locomotive built by General Motors, Electro-Motive Division between November 1965 and December 1971. It has an EMD 645E3 16-cylinder engine generating 3,000 hp (2,240 kW).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ride itself was offered by NY&A, the Waste Management Company, and the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. A small group of invitees assembled at Waste Management’s Brooklyn waste transfer station on Varick Street, and there were three opportunities to ride on the thing along the Bushwick Branch tracks leading through East Williamsburg into Ridgewood and then Maspeth. I rode it twice, sitting out the middle trip so I could get shots of the thing coming and going.

This was actually pretty exciting for me, since my oft repeated “I don’t trespass” stance has often found a humble narrator staring wistfully at some trackway which I was dying to explore. Today’s post is proof of my pudding that eventually I will get to go where I want, in the company of the people who own the thing, and that I will be able to publish the photos publicly. A number of the officers of NY&A were onboard, notably the NY&A’s president James Bonner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hampering the efficiency of the line are the multiple “at grade” street crossings which the route follows. There are no signal arms or even flashing lights and bells to warn motorists or pedestrians or even – god forbid… bicyclists – that the train is about to cross the street along this section of the route. Procedure dictates that the conductor (apparently that’s what you call the guy, even though there’s usually no passengers) gets off the train and walks ahead of the engine, stopping approaching traffic the NYC way – standing in the middle of the street and waving his arms around.

James Bonner told me that this situation is something that the company is trying to fix with some haste, but for now the train moves through this section of the Creeklands at the limited speed which a conductor can walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train carried us roughly a mile into Queens and then reversed back towards the Varick Street location. A humble narrator got quite busy with the camera on this trip. Most of what I shot were pretty boring photos, which were recorded in a simple documentarian manner depicting and detailing the otherwise forbidden rail tracks. During the excursion, I was allowed to walk around on the engine’s catwalks. There were a couple of other photographers along for the trip, as a note. Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Greenpoint was onboard as well, along with other notables from Brooklyn. At one point, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation showed up and she made a speech.

The notables were riding in a little caboose at the back of the train set. I rode in the caboose on the last ride of the day, but during the first trip I was on the locomotive section. In between the two, there was a “slug,” which I’m told acts as a purely mechanical augment to the locomotive engine providing additional tractive effort assistance and extra braking capability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineer driving the train was a pretty good humored fellow, but I never did catch his name. He was seated at a console offering multiple digital indicators and gauges. I don’t have room for what the console looked like in this post, but if you want to get an idea of it – check out this photo of the setup over at flickr.

Of course I had to be a jackass at least once during the trip, and while standing on the engine’s catwalk at a street grade crossing in Maspeth, I spotted an attractive woman waiting for the train to pass. I shouted out “hey, what do you think of my ride?” to her, and she smiled and then winked her eye at me. It was probably just the sun, or dust, or a seizure, but I’m holding on to it being a wink – thank you very much. I’ve still got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train returned to the Waste Management facility at Varick Street, where bags of NY&A shwag were waiting for us. I got a neat baseball hat with a NY&A logo on it, and a pen with a logo too. Just behind the train, you’ll notice a fence line with some green material affixed to it. Right on the other side of that bridge is the loathsome terminus of the Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary, some 3.8 miles from the East River. The water is crossed by, and the Bushwick Branch tracks are mounted upon, the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge, which is roughly 3.7 miles from the East River.

I don’t come back here very often – remember that “I don’t trespass” thing? Also, this is a pretty far walk from Astoria. Saying that, check English Kills and the Montrose Avenue Bridge out at night in this 2019 post, during the day in this 2017 one, and for more on the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch tracks click through and all the way back to a simpler time in this 2012 post.

What a week I had!


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Ugghhh.. Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the boat trip with the United States Army Corps of Engineers ended when we docked at a ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan, I suddenly found myself thrust into the middle of a dystopian nightmare. One had to get home to Astoria to allow Zuzu the dog an opportunity to relive herself of bodily waste, and prepare myself for what turned out to be a highly annoying Community Board 1 Transportation Committee meeting. We were discussing ferries and bike lanes, so of course it got to the boiling point pretty quickly. Passions run deep amongst the bicycle fanatics.

Busy day for a humble narrator, huh?

It was hot when we arrived back in Manhattan, which is appropriate for an urban hellscape, I guess. Check out that little visible bit of the sky which hasn’t been appropriated to glass towers visible in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the site of National Tragedy, more and more reconstruction is going on. Eighteen years, I have to keep on reminding myself. Eighteen years.

I made my way into the rebuilt subway station at World Trade Center, which is now found under a shopping mall which is populated by shops where there’s naught an ordinary person such as myself could afford, and then boarded an E line train to get out of dodge and back to Western Queens where I belong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A number of people have commented to me over the years that my demeanor actually alters for the better upon passing over or under the border between Manhattan and Queens. At Queens Plaza, with its rotting concrete and dripping masonry, one transferred to the M line which took me the rest of the way back to blessed Astoria. Zuzu the dog seemed quite amused when I opened the door to HQ, but then promptly fell asleep.

Tomorrow – the other really cool thing I got to do last week will be discussed. It was an actual adventure!


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October 3, 2019 at 11:00 am

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More from the Circumnavigation of Staten Island with the USACE.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in prior posts, one was invited to travel with the United States Army Corps of Engineers on their annual harbor inspection onboard the MCV Hayward last week. The first part of the journey left lower Manhattan and then travelled along the eastern coast of the island, which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The USACE commander – Col. Thomas Asbery – and his crew described some of their ongoing, and a few of the upcoming, projects which they are working on that are designed to vouchsafe the area in the era of climate change. The Hayward then took a northern turn onto the Arthur Kill, a busy maritime industrial tidal strait connecting Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull with Raritan Bay to the south.

Pictured above is the Dylan Cooper, a Reinauer company owned tugboat. Reinauer, like all towing companies in NY Harbor, paint their boats in a particular fashion. The “colorway” allows for rapid identification of a vessel while it’s under way, so you can call out on the radio to it as “Reinauer tug” long before you see the IMO identification number or vessel name painted on the hull. This practice predates modern day radio transponders, which make it somewhat unnecessary, and provides for a bit of colorful panache on the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The western shoreline of the Arthur Kill is in the state of New Jersey (Union and Middlesex Counties), and the eastern is in NYC’s Staten Island. Arthur Kill is about ten miles long, and has also been referred to historically as the Staten Island Sound. The name “Arthur Kill” is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Achter Kill” which translates as “back channel.” Arthur Kill, geologically speaking, is defined as an “abandoned river channel,” which was carved out of the surrounding land by an ancestral pathway of the Hudson River. The New Jersey side is colloquially referred to as “the Chemical Coast.” The expensively maintained depth of the water here is between 35 and 37 feet, and the channel is an average of approximately six hundred feet wide.

The Staten Island side is largely post industrial, with a few notable exceptions. Arthur Kill is crossed by three bridges – The Outerbridge Crossing, the recently replaced Goethals, and the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge. The first two are vehicle bridges, and the latter is for railroad traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the New York Container Terminal (aka Howland Hook Marine Terminal) pictured above, on the Staten Island side of the Arthur Kill. Currently being upgraded and massively expanded due to the acquisition of Proctor and Gamble’s Port Ivory, the NYCT was originally built by American Export Lines, but NYC bought the facility in 1973 and it’s leased by the City to the Port Authority. There’s a rail connection just upland from it, which allows for the transport of containers along the former North Shore railroad route originally built and operated by the Vanderbilt owned B&O railroad.

They handle some commercial cargo here, and there’s a customs facility, as well as deep freeze and refrigeration warehouses. Most of the tonnage moving through NYCT these days though are garbage containers, which are loaded from rail cars onto barges for transport off of Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MCV Hayward outpaced Dylan Cooper after the NYCT, and we proceeded to cross the Shooters Island reach and head towards Newark Bay. A “reach” in navigational terms is how far you can travel on a single compass heading before heading to adjust your course, if you’re curious. Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull intersect with Newark Bay at the Shooters Island Reach. To the south, some ten miles behind us, Arthur Kill meets Raritan Bay. About a mile south of Raritan Bay is the Atlantic Ocean. Newark Bay itself is formed by the intersection of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.

Primeval Newark Bay was called the Newark Meadows, before the 1910 efforts by the City of Newark to carve a shipping channel through the wetlands. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921, and their first big project was the widening and deepening of the bay for maritime industrial purposes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1927, the PANYNJ used some of the dredge tailings to fill in upland wetlands and the City of Newark took advantage of the new land to create an airport. PANYNJ took over the airport and maritime port in 1948. In 1958, a project at the Bound Brook (formerly defining the border between Elizabeth and Newark) produced enough dredge tailings for the authority to create 90 square acres of new land and the first modern container terminal in NY Harbor was established. The terminal footprint has since expanded to 350 square acres.

The age of containerized global shipping actually got its start here in 1958 when the first container ship – the Ideal-X, a converted US Navy cargo ship – was launched from Port Newark. The cargo container concept was innovated by trucking company executive Malcolm McLean and an engineer named Keith Tattinger. In 1963, the Sea Land Terminal was established at Port Elizabeth Newark, and the rest – as they say – is history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way back to dock in Manhattan, just east of the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, another United States Army Corps of Engineers vessel and its crew were hard at work. That’s the MCV Gelbart, and the crew members who are pictured standing on that rig tied up “on the hip” of the tug were busy removing flotsam and jetsam from the water. They were handling the “small stuff,” which Col. Asbery described as being mainly plastics – bottles, carrier bags, and the like. That’s what happens when you litter, lords and ladies, it ultimately ends up in the water.

Tomorrow – something completely different, and Friday’s post will ultimately be all about garbage again. You won’t believe what I got to do.


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October 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Arthur Kill with the USACE, in todays post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, I was invited to join with about a hundred other water facing activists and government officials aboard the MCV Hayward for the United States Army Corps of Engineers annual inspection of NY Harbor. This time around, the USACE wanted to discuss their projects and initiatives playing out on Staten Island and at the Port facilities in Newark Bay. After navigating beneath the Verrazano Bridge, the Hayward entered the Arthur Kill – a roughly ten mile long tidal strait which forms Staten Island’s border with New Jersey.

That’s the NJ side tower of the Outerbridge Crossing pictured above, a 1928 suspension cantilever bridge (thx Dan S) operated by the Port Authority. It connects NY route 440 with NJ route 440, offers a 143 foot clearance over the water, and with its approaches the Outerbridge Crossing is just over three miles long. It’s named for “Gene” Eugenius Outerbridge, who was the first chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For somebody with my interests, Arthur Kill is a wonderland of maritime industrial splendors. Given that it’s fairly difficult to get here by boat, given the distance and time/fuel equation, it’s a rare treat for me to be waving the camera around while moving north along it. Also compounding the treat aspect is the time of year (early autumn light in NY Harbor is at the perfect relative angle) and of course there was also the company. While I was shooting this, I was joking around with members of the EPA team from the Newtown Creek Superfund, who are normally quite staid and maintain a “professional” demeanor in our usual encounters. I also got to hang out with the Deputy Commissioner of the DEP, a few people I know from the City Planning arm of NYC Government, and a gaggle of Graduate students and their Professors who are studying various aspects of the harbor. Good times.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To my eye, that’s a former coaling station on the New Jersey side of Arthur Kill. I could be wrong, but I don’t want to inquire too deeply as it’s important to me that there’s still things out there in the Harbor that I don’t know everything about. The New Jersey side of Arthur Kill is often called “the Chemical Coast,” due to a rail line just upland called the “Conrail Chemical Coast Line” which is part of the PANYNJ expressrail system at Port Elizabeth Newark.

The Chemical Coast moniker first appeared in the late 19th century, when the colorants and dyes industry began to base themselves in this section of New Jersey. These industrialists took advantage of the abundance of manufactured gas byproducts being produced around NY Harbor. The red in the American flag, and the blue, are after products of gas manufacturing. Those businesses got forced out when Standard Oil took over the NJ side coastline, and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey was established. SOCONJ eventually changed its name to ESSO and later to EXXON.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are numerous tributaries and secondary waterways feeding into Arthur Kill – on the New Jersey side you’ve got the Elizabeth, Rahway, Passaic, and Hackensack Rivers (I met citizen activist counterparts for Newtown Creek Alliance from each onboard) as well as the Morse’s and Piles Creek. On Staten Island, you’ve got Lemon, Old Place, Sawmill, and Bridge creeks. Also on Staten Island, you’ve got the infamous Fresh Kills.

That’s the Dann Towing tug Ruby M navigating past the largest man made object on the planet, which is in Staten Island and which the Fresh Kill still flows through. Draining most of the western half of the island, Fresh Kill was designated as NYC’s primary garbage dump and landfill by Robert Moses back in 1947. Between 1948 and 2001, 20 barges a day of garbage – some 650 tons per day – was layered into the pile at the Fresh Kills landfill. NYC Parks took it over in 2006, and converted the now covered mound into a park. Fresh Kills instantly increased NYC parkland by one third.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the future projects which USACE discussed onboard was doing something about the old Witte Ship’s graveyard just north of Fresh Kills. A maritime scrap yard established in 1930, which is a shadow of its former self, the Witte graveyard is nowadays owned by the DonJon towing company. The Army Corps folks discussed their concerns about slicks of unknown composition they’ve observed coming from the wrecks, and the nuances of what would essentially be an excavation job to clean up and remediate the area.

Cotter Dams were mentioned, as well as an extremely large number of dollars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moving northwards along Arthur Kill, we slotted into the channel under the brand new and recently opened Goethals Bridge replacement. The original Goethals was built at the same time as Outerbridge Crossing, 1928. Named for the first supervising engineer of the Port Authority – Gen. George Washington Goethals (who also happened to be the construction supervisor of the Panama Canal) – the original bridge offered two lanes in each direction. The new model sports three traffic lanes, is meant to have a pedestrian and bicycle lane, and the engineers built the thing with the capability of eventually carrying a mass transit light rail line, should the need arise sometime in the next century.

More tomorrow.


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October 1, 2019 at 11:30 am

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Cool stuff I get to do, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the fellow pictured above, I’d normally reference Captain America, but in the case of Thomas Asbery it’s Colonel America. Col. Asbery is the commandant of West Point and heads up the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the NYC region. He’s an immensely nice and friendly guy, and last Wednesday was the second time that I got invited out on his boat with a bunch of other activists, officials, and water facing people to do a harbor inspection. Last year, we went out to Jamaica Bay so that the Colonel and his staff could show off some of the shoreline resiliency projects they were working on. This year, we headed off in a different direction – for a circumnavigation of Staten Island.

A number of post Hurricane Sandy USACE shoreline projects which have been planned in the interim are about to start playing out in Richmond County, and which are designed to protect upland neighborhoods and businesses from future storms, and also to prepare NYC – proactively – for rising sea levels in the 21st century. Whatever your politics are on the subject of climate change are is immaterial to the engineers and soldiers of the USACE – they have a job to do and that’s protecting the citizenry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About a hundred of us gathered on the west side of lower Manhattan, a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center site. We boarded the vessel pictured above, the DCV Hayward. A drift collection vessel, Hayward is one of several boats operated by the USACE that performs maintenance functions in NY Harbor. You can read a bit more about her mission and function here.

If you didn’t click through, Hayward and it’s crew remove flotsam and jetsam and any other navigational hazards which might interfere with maritime traffic from the water. Hence the big crane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hayward first navigated eastwards and then moved in a southern direction along the coast of Brooklyn for a bit, then began the southwest journey towards Staten Island. Along the way, Col. Asbery and his staff told the assembled guests about various efforts they were involved in executing, and we were treated to the usual variety show that NY Harbor offers.

It was medium early in the morning – or late afternoon by military or maritime standard – we left the dock at 9 a.m. There were articulated tug and barge combos everywhere, as well as standard harbor tugs performing various duties.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the tug Shawn Miller, towing a flat top barge that had two semi tractor trailer trucks on it, as well as a statue of a horse festooned with “Longines” logos. Doesn’t matter if the tug is pulling, pushing, or tied up “on the hip,” it’s called towing.

Tug companies in NY Harbor generally name their boats after family members. The tug pictured above is owned by a family owned company. Obviously, the family surname is Miller.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hayward navigated into the section of the Narrows between Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge and Staten Island. Gerritsen Bay is the official nomenclature for this section of the water, and our course carried us directly under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Notice the low lying shoreline above?

The section of Staten Island between the Bridge and the Arthur Kill were amongst the most heavily flooded sections of the City during Sandy, back in 2012, and the USACE has designed a plan to keep that from happening again. The beaches along Father Cappodano Blvd. on this coast are going to completely redone, we were told, with a sloping sandy berm and a Rockaway Beach style boardwalk designed to structurally support it. Most of the drowning deaths associated with the storm occurred in the neighborhoods (Arrochar, South Beach, Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach, and New Dorp Beach) found along this shoreline.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Photographically speaking the shoreline mentioned above is fairly “meh,” as it’s a residential and wooded area. A humble narrator began to perk up when the Hayward entered the maritime channel on the western shoreline of Staten Island known simply as the Arthur Kill. That’s the Port Authority’s Outerbridge Crossing bridge pictured above.

More tomorrow, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Whom will stop the rain? Still, I wonder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one had to attend a Superfund meeting at Greenpoint’s PS 110, and since the presentation being offered by officialdom was something I was seeing for the third time, I got bored. Accordingly, I wandered around the public school floor I was on for a few minutes, wondering what grade school class rooms looked like these days. In the case of PS 110, which is a centuried building found across the street from McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, the answer is found in the shot above.

I don’t know, wasn’t expecting holograms or something, but that’s pretty much what school looked like 45 years ago when I could still fit in one of those chairs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, last weekend, I had to attend an event at Newtown Creek Alliance HQ – the Kingsland Wildflower Festival – and I also got bored. I’m easily bored, as a note. I went wandering for a bit and disappeared from the event, and noticed this crew digging and scraping into the pavement. They must have heard the old legend about the pirate Blackbeard burying chests of loot here in Greenpoint back in the colonial era and were trying their luck. Didn’t see any 18th century Spanish Doubloons, Dutch Gilders, or gold of any kind in their truck, so I figure that they came up empty.

Ever hear the one about the guy in Greenpoint who set up an improvised oil derrick in his back yard about twenty years ago, seeking to tap into the underground oil spill?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After a fairly adventure free and somewhat frustrating summer, the Fall has been absolutely and stunningly fun for me. This week alone, I’ve managed to spend a day on a boat with the US Army Corps of Engineers, and yesterday I got to ride in a locomotive engine on the former Evergreen (modern day Bushwick Branch) tracks found on the eastern side of Newtown Creek.

The camera has had a real workout recording all sorts of cool stuff, as you’ll see next week at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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September 27, 2019 at 11:00 am

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My busy week is busy as promised.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator managed to get onboard that United States Army Corps of Engineers Harbor Inspection boat which I hoped to be on yesterday. One had a pretty nice day, despite having to get up at six in the morning to get there. Soldiers get up early, what can I tell you, and if you want to hang out with them so do you. The excursion returned to dock at about 2:30 in the afternoon, whereupon a quick train ride back to Astoria ensued. While the photos on my camera were downloading to the computer (the boat circumnavigated Staten Island, and the USACE described their various flood resiliency projects) Zuzu the dog received a bit of my attention.

Then I had to attend a Transportation Committee meeting for Astoria’s CB1 in the evening. There were two items on the agenda.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first was a request for support by the Durst Organization, who are petitioning the NYC Ferry service to include the E. 91st street (Manhattan) stop on the Astoria Ferry Route. As you’d imagine, I stepped up and did a lot of the talking with them on this one, given the whole maritime side of my life. It’s a good idea, ultimately, but this would add another ten minutes or so onto the Astoria route which has already been lengthened by the addition of a stop at Brooklyn Navy Yard. I asked if the Durst people were agnostic about which route would connect the Hallets Cove and E. 91st routes, and suggested that the Soundview Route might be a good candidate for the service. Additionally, I asked for their petition to include the creation of a stop at Randalls/Wards Island, to allow the kids from Astoria and in particular the NYCHA Astoria Houses easy access to all the ball fields on the islands. They liked that one. As a rule, when somebody wealthy is asking you for a favor, you ask for something in return. They became wealthy by being transactional, and this is a normal thing for them. Try to get something done for your community before saying “yes.”

Then came the bike lane discussion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Transportation Alternatives people are currently working on getting a protected bike lane installed along Crescent Street. It’s not a bad idea at all, and there’s a lot of support for it, and not just amongst the Elected Officialdom who are seemingly terrified of drawing the group’s ire. The Transportation Committee voted unanimously to send a letter requesting that the NYC DOT look into it, and do a study. The study would then be presented publicly, whereupon commentary from the actual community and not activists would be received by the Community Board which would then vote on it according to the local feedback. Odds are pretty good that the project would be controversial, but adopted. That’s the correct procedural methodology, according to the veteran community board members and committee chairs who were present.

Thing is, if you’re a belligerent group of activist bullies…

I won’t go into names and or details here, but suffice to say that several members of the committee are far more than just ideologically aligned with TA. They began an hour long circular argument that requesting a “bridge to bridge” study wasn’t good enough, and that they specifically wanted the committee to request a “Crescent Street” route which would align neatly with their advocacy position. The Chair of the Transportation Committee was adamant about not doing that, as it was procedurally inappropriate. The bullies, including one who couldn’t be bothered to attend but was instead texting to a present member and using them like a sock puppet, were incensed. In the end the motion for calling it a Crescent Street lane versus a Bridge to Bridge lane ended up being withdrawn.

I do not like belligerence, bullying, or a group of ideological activists shoving their current advocacy campaign down my throat. When one of them asked to review a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order…. grrr.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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