Pedestrians


This week’s Newsweek has a great essay by historian and Brooklyn Bridge “biographer” David McCullough about the perils of the proposed luxury condo in Dumbo that would block the view of the iconic bridge for most folks on the Brooklyn side.

Sadly the project was approved by the City Planning Commission this week and now head to the City Council for final approval.

On the Newsweek Web site is a counter-essay, written partly by Kurt Soller and mostly by the development company, that argues in favor of the project. Their argument aside from pointing out that the development will include some affordable housing units and a public school in addition to the luxury condos, essentially amounts to a claim that everyone (including the Community Board and the Borough President) wants the condo except for a handful of neighborhood kooks who have “hoodwinked” McCullough, a New England resident.

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the very few New York institutions that has not been surrounded by T-shirt shops and other tourist-trap BS. In fact, a walk across the bridge is something I always recommend to out-of-towners or new transplants, because it’s so landmarky without being touristy. Living nowhere near the bridge, I don’t really have any skin in the game but I’d hate to see the view of the truly inspiring American landmark marred so that some rich developers can get richer.

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An amusingly broken traffic light on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 1st Street (photo courtesy of Ethan Stanislawski at Tynan’s Anger):

angry-dont-walk-sign

Rejected captions:

“Something’s different about that ‘Don’t Walk’ sign, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“That’s one very cross walk.”

“Who says New Yorkers never lift a finger to help a pedestrian?”

“Crossing Delancy–now rated R.”

“New York to pedestrians: F*** you!”

“New York’s traffic signals now display the state bird.”


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umbrella-man

One of my favorite things about New York is the guy in the above photo. OK, not so much that particular guy, but the fact that you can buy a crappy umbrella for $3 outside any popular subway stop.

Another great thing about Manhattan in the rain is the construction. The ubiquitous scaffolding around the city is usually ugly and in the way, but when it’s raining it can be a God-send. In some areas there’s so much of it that you can make it from office to train station without an umbrella.

But in general, getting around New York in the rain is no fun. It appears to bring out the inner moron in all of us. Which means I get poked in the eye, smacked in the head, and late. So here’s a few pointers for your commute home:

  1. Giant golf umbrellas are great on the golf course. But they are not OK in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour. Yes, I know the bigger size helps keep you drier, but there’s just not enough room on the sidewalk for you and that retractable stadium roof you call an umbrella. When you’re commuting, use a human-size umbrella, please.
  2. Your hands work independently of your feet. So why do you think you have to stop walking in order to open or close your umbrella? There are people behind you. Keep moving.
  3. Two umbrellas cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If you’re walking toward me, at least one of us needs to either lift or lower so we can pass each other without collision. Most people know this, but it’s hard to avoid having two well-meaning pedestrians raise umbrellas at the same time and crash anyway (kind of a vertical version of that awkward dance when two people step aside for each other in the same direction). Here’s a simple rule: the taller person should raise; the shorter person should lower. Or, even better, if there’s nobody next to you, just move your umbrella to the side a bit so we can pass by at the same height without bumping.
  4. Along the same lines, it’s important to remember that you take up more room when you’re holding an umbrella than you do without the umbrella. Just because your body hasn’t bumped into me doesn’t mean your umbrella isn’t smacking me in the face. Just be aware, is all I’m saying.
  5. I’m walking right behind you. Stopping short is dangerous for us both.
  6. After you hit me with your umbrella, apologize. Don’t just turn, look at me, and then keep walking.
  7. Don’t close your umbrella every time you go under scaffolding. For one, it makes you stop walking (see #2 above). Then you stop walking again a block later, when the scaffolding ends and you have to open the umbrella again. But also, most scaffolding leaks, so you probably won’t look too stupid keeping the umbrella open.
  8. If you don’t have an umbrella, holding a newspaper above your head will not keep you dry. Newspapers are made of paper. You look stupid. Plus, you can buy an umbrella for $3 at any subway stop.


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One of my favorite things about New York is that everyone knows the rules. The subway and elevator are perfect examples: generally speaking, people stand aside to let you off the train before they get on. Same for elevators. People are so good about this that you get spoiled. I had the misfortune of working in Hoboken for about a year, and the most frustrating part of the horrible commute was relearning every morning that people who live in Hoboken do not know the rules. You’d think that they’d pick up a thing or two working in Manhattan every day, but no: every morning, to get off the PATH train in Hoboken, I had to push through a crowd of people trying to get on before I got off.

The one rule that not enough people follow in New York is the escalator rule. Maybe it’s because we’ve got too many elevators and not enough escalators so we’re not getting enough practice, but whatever the reason, not enough of us know that if you’re going to stand on one step of the escalator, you should stand to the right so the walkers can pass by on your left. This is a great rule. It’s simple, it allows for variety (lazy people in no hurry, right lane; restless and/or late people, left lane), and it turns escalators into mini pedestrian highways.

I had a friend who took a two week vacation to London, and when he came back one of the first things he said about his trip was how impressed he was with how everyone in London follows the rules, and stays to the right when riding escalators. I’ve never been to London but is sounds like paradise.

No discussion of escalators would be complete without mention of Mitch Hedberg, the late comedian who said:

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.’”

I couldn’t find a video clip of his escalator joke, but here’s a couple of minutes of Hedberg on Letterman.


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