Thursday, August 28, 2014

Al Sharpton, when are you going to Salt Lake City???

Al Sharpton, you are too busy with the Eric Garner chokehold death in Staten Island, as well as the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.    Heck, in response to the Ferguson matter, you even volunteered to fly over to the St. Louis suburb to meet with the Brown family.   I wholeheartedly agree that police brutality is a serious issue which must be addressed.  I also wholeheartedly agree that most blacks are victims of police brutality, especially the NYPD's treatment of minorities.  Rev. Al, I feel for you.

But did you know that 2 days after the Brown incident, there was a police involved shooting in Salt Lake City, UT where a parole violator was shot dead by one of the three SLC PD officers outside a 7-Eleven store- all caught on video by the officer wearing a bodycam - all because the recidivist was wearing headphones while the officers either ordered him to lie down or put his hands up.  Suddenly, two shots were fired by one of he three officers and minutes later, a man was laying dead in a pool of blood.  The man, Dillon Taylor was white.  The officer who shot him, was black - - just in case you wanted to know since the local news media ignored the race issue as well as a lack of national interest in the Taylor shooting. Men and women in Salt Lake City, the majority of them were overwhelmingly white, protested peacefully on the streets after the shooting.  Yes, this could be a case of police shooting another unarmed man, as is the case with most high profile incidents.  Yes, it's somehow "rare" that a black officer shoots and kills and unarmed white man in the rocky mountain region, 2,500 miles away from NYC.  But where is your big mouth, Al?  When are you speaking up for the family of Dillon Taylor?  Are you treating all police shootings as a police brutality issue or a race issue? Would you hop on the next flight and red eye it out to Salt Lake City to meet with the Dillon family?  You can travel 1,800 miles to Saint Louis, what's an extra 700 miles stopping you from rescheduling your week's itinerary and getting another flight from Saint Louis to SLC, meet with the Dillon family before coming back to NYC and continue on with your business with the Garner case?  Aw shucks Al, anyone of us (unarmed, of course), black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Muslim, etc,, could be shot by any officer for no apparent reason but being trigger happy or having a firm grip on someone's neck.

Like I said, an black officer shot and killed an unarmed white man while the news media flatlines on this controversial incident involving race.  When are you going to utter one sentence on this Dillon matter?   If the officer was white and the victim was black, I am sure you and the news media would be singing a different tune. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Mall at Bay Plaza - - what a mall shouldn't be.

The Mall at Bay Plaza  opened with huge fanfare on Thursday, August 14th - which is actually an addition to the existing Bay Plaza Mall.  This mall's opening represents the first indoor mall building since 1972 when Kings Plaza in Brooklyn and the old Queens Center Mall opened.  Technically, it is not the first new indoor shopping mall because Bay Plaza is already an outdoor, open air mall similar to Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers, NY.  The mall building sits on the south side of Bay Plaza, adjacent to the southbound side of the Hutchinson River Parkway and directly off Exit 11 of the New England Thruway, right in the heart of Co-Op City.  The mall is connected to the existing JC Penney building along with two new indoor parking garages.

My family and I went to opening day - - as much as going to a Yankees or Mets ballgame, there is a lot of anticipation and excitement.  Sadly, when we got inside the mall, we were disappointed - - and I don't expect a lot from NYC malls outside of Queens Center, my favorite mall in NYC.

The mall has 3 levels, the first two floors are the general mix of stores you would expect from a mall; Victoria's Secret (just had to put that at the top of my list), Bath and Bodyworks, Old Navy, Aeropostale, NY and Company, Zales, Forever 21, and the works.  Macys has a new store in the indoor mall, opposite JC Penney, This is Macys second store in the Bronx,.  The 2nd floor has some restaurants, such as Olive Garden and Joes Crab Shack, along with a large terrace over the "Mall Village" entrance to the east.

  The 3rd floor has the requisite food court.  The mall sits near two highways and three bus routes (Bx12/12SBS+, Bx29 and Bx38).  All other bus lines run along Bartow Ave are just outside the mall's outdoor parking entrances.

Now for what's bad about this mall - plenty.  The food court has only 3 open restaurants (only three), Subway, Sbarro (they are still in business) and a Chinese fast food place.  There is a sign that others will open but the mix is uninteresting, Dairy Queen among them.  The court's dining area is only a 1/3 filled with tables  - - it's mostly empty space. 

To get to the top 3rd floor from the stairs and escalators, you have to walk the long way around.  Restrooms?  Forget it - - maximum 3 stalls for each "bathroom" and some are not even open yet. 

The Mall at Bay Plaza lacks wayfinding signage - - finding a bathroom or other services will be difficult unless you come across one of these signs . . . . not on the center of the mall floors but off to one side of a wall - - pretty obscure location:

The mall has 2 garages - - are you would expect from typical malls in NYC, parking will be anything but free after Labor Day

You can still park for free at any of the outdoor lots, including the JC Penney/AMC Theaters and Pathmark/BBQ/Bob's furniture areas.  The Old Navy store was relocated from near Staples to inside the new Mall area.   Traffic is going to be the biggest problem, especially during season - - there is no entrance/exit ramp along the southbound Hutchinson River Parkway. Most traffic will have to converge on Bartow Ave to get on I95 north/south.  If you live in Co Op City then the Mall at Bay Plaza and the rest of BP would be great.  Plus it's now the closest mall from Westchester County where you can enjoy tax-free savings on clothing and footwear up to $110.  However, if you want less stress and better selection of stores, then go to Cross County Mall in Yonkers where parking is always free or take a nice ride up to the Palisades Mall in Rockland County where most everything sits in one monster of a building with free parking at the Mall's massive underground garage.  You can even take a spin on the Ferris Wheel in the food court - as well as rock climbing, play games at Dave and Busters and bowl.  Many stores in The Mall at Bay Plaza have yet to open so it clearly was a rushed job to open the mall - - and very poorly planned too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What's wrong with MTA NYC Transit? Part 3, what NYCT refuses to tell you.

It's 8 PM on a Friday evening and your home is near the Kings Highway subway station on the Brighton B and Q lines in Brooklyn.  You need to run this quick errand or meet someone in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and come back home before the snowstorm blankets all of NYC during the entire weekend.  You follow the advice of MTA New York City Transit and check their webpage for the latest service changes related to the snowstorm and you find out that B and Q service are running normal.  You want to make sure they are running normal by calling the Travel Information Center and speak to a live agent about the status of B service, he tells you that B service is running normally and even tells you the next two northbound departures from Kings Highway.

So you get to Kings Highway and wait on the platform in 10 degree weather, you rub your hands while brushing you face against the cold wind as you see lights on the northbound express track, visible all the way down from the curve south of Neck Road, 2 local stops away.  The "B" train approaches Kings Highway station when suddenly the train operator sounds his horn and bypasses you, with no passengers aboard the 8 car train.  You mutter in disgust as you wait a few minutes for a Q local train to stop at Kings Highway.  All the while, there are no announcements on the platform as the Q train approaches; as you start to board the Q train, you take one last look down the track when you see another pair of lights on the northbound express track.  You and other people get off the Q train to wait for what is presumed to be another B train until it passes by Kings Highway again, without stopping and no passengers aboard the train. Now you are ticked off at what is believed to be an absence of B service and you take the next Q train into Manhattan - - after waiting nearly 20 minutes for a B train which never showed up. 

This is not a rarity that NYC Transit does not meet it's goal in informing customers - - this is reality and the type of information which NYC Transit deliberately withholds from their customers is common in their day-to-day operations.  The above story was an example related to NYC Transit's winter weather operations, called Cold Weather Plans.  In this MTA Cold Weather poster, service on certain subway lines made be reduced, suspended or running on local tracks on the eve of a major winter storm which is forecast to dump 6 or more inches of snow across the NYC region or bring temperatures down to the zero degree mark.   The Cold Weather Plans are required to protect subway cars from freezing temperatures and or snow accumulations by storing them in underground tracks, usually on express tracks while lines running on express tracks such as the 2/3/4/5 lines in Manhattan would be running on the local tracks instead.  The winter plan is activated no later than 11 AM the day before a snowstorm or icy conditions hit the NYC area.   These plans are identified as Plan 1 through 5 with 1 being the minimal action needed with subway cars "topping up" or leaving them in yards with motors running, while plan 4 requires all subway cars stored in underground tunnels for the evening or all weekend.  Service on the A/D/E/F/N/Q/2/3/4/5 and < 6 > lines would run on local tracks at various locations.  Additionally, B service is suspended after 8 PM weeknights while a little known suspension on AM rush 5 trains from Nereid Ave also takes place (more on that later).    Plan 5, the most severe plan initiated, involves the complete shutdown of all subway service.   During the brutal winter of 2013-14, Cold Weather Plan 4 was in effect on the following days: December 13-16 (weekend), Jan 2-5 (weekend) 7, 8, 21, 22, 23 February 3,4,5,6 ,13,14-17 (weekend) 28-March 3 (weekend)   Of these nights when B service was suspended only three nights they posted that B service was suspended, these dates were Feb 4, 13, and 14.   B service can be suspended because there is sufficient service on other lines (A/C/D/Q) for customers to use.  If you are lucky, you might see these posters in B line stations, note the wrong departure time at DeKalb Ave towards Brighton Beach.
On the night when B service is suspended (and I have verified this information), they would post somewhat bogus service changes like this.  Note that this alerts was retrieved at 8:59 PM, when the above poster shows the last northbound B train departed West 4th Street

Trip Planner will continue to list normal B  service departures at each station.  And a few calls to the Travel Information Center between 9 and 10 PM (well after B service ended) on the nights when Plan 4 went into effect, agents sometimes told me that B service is still running.  This creates a lack of communication to not only customers but the news media as well.  Media outlets, such as radio station 1010 WINS  and NY1/News 12 cable channels frequently provide traffic and transit updates every 10 minutes and they cannot be at fault when NYCT refuses to make these winter service changes public, then these news outlets won't be able to tell listeners/viewers about the B suspension.  It is also worthwhile to note that I haven't seen any service changes along the Queens Blvd E/F/M/R lines when E and F trains run local during cold weather plans - - I cannot say if it's a fact or not that all express service in Queens is suspended because I didn't go out there to make any observations.
FastTrack on the Queens Blvd E/F/M and R lines in Queens was scheduled for the week of Jan 21-24 - - the entire 4 nights were cancelled due to winter weather but nobody took down posters like these at Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights complex.
Another lesser known but equally important is the suspension of  < 5 > AM rush hour service from Nereid Ave.  All of these 5 trains come from the adjacent 239th Street yard just north of Nereid station.  Since all of the trains are stored in Manhattan underground tunnels, they will be coming up to the Bronx on the middle track and simply run to 241 Street before being placed into service e on the 2 line towards Manhattan.  Therefore it is not possible to run regularly scheduled 5 trains from Nereid Ave; NYCT never posted this service change due to the NYCT Cold Weather Plan.   Since customers at Nereid down to Bronx Park East normally wait for a Manhattan-bound 5 train, they wait in the freezing cold to find out there is no 5 service.  NYCT screws customer who go to work in the morning and use the 5 train into Manhattan.  No stations announcements about the 5 suspension were ever made either.  The screenshot below is a sample taken from MT's subway time application, which seems to be the ONLY reliable source of information.
In one more instance where NYCT refuses to tell customers, which happens all year, is the PM 5 rush hour services towards Nereid Ave.  Many weekdays, 2 and 5 trains become backed up on the upper White Plains Road line all the way down to Gun Hill Road.  To alleviate congestion on this line, NYCT will order some 5 train to Nereid on the express track north of East 180th Street, to Gun Hill Road/White Plains Road and terminate there.  This service plan I do like because it takes some 5 trains out of the northbound local track and reduces congestion, they can use the middle track to run from Gun Hill Road to 239th Street yard.  However, none of this service change is anywhere on the MTA website, not on the 5 line timetable, nor on the 5 service information.  Across the Bronx, the 4 line runs some northbound trains only to Burnside Ave (express 167 straight to Burnside) and, unlike the 5 PM runs to Nereid, the 4 Burnside runs are clearly shown on the 4 line timetable and are noted on destination signs in trains.  So what is the problem in NYCT refusing to acknowledge about a service change which makes 2 and 5 service more efficient?  Customers are so used to the musical chairs on the 5 trains to Nereid that they wait for 2 trains at East 180th Street anyway. 
NYCT has a duty to inform customers - - and they arbitrary disseminate certain pieces of information while withholding others.  This is unacceptable.  Customers need this information, not only for winter service changes or the 5 rush hour service, but all service changes in general.  Those NYCT employees who are responsible for distributing the information to other units - - and who intentionally withhold such information - - should look for work elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What's wrong with MTA NYC Transit? Part 2, the signs and posters

How bad and incompetent can NYCT make any type of blatant error in a website or map and leave it there for years?

So incompetent, the blatant error involved a hospital in the south Bronx which closed in 1966.

That's not a typo, I said 1966, at the height of the Batman TV craze and the television premieres of the original Star Trek and Mission:Impossible series, is when St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx closed it's doors.  There were pay phones instead of cell phones, Facebook and Instagram were never heard of.  But 48 years later, St. Francis Hospital is still on the neighborhood maps which were first designed in 1985 and "updated" in the early 2000s.  When the Weekender was introduced by the MTA in 2012, the same error appears in this webpage, see screenshots below - all taken directly from the MTA's Weekender application for Android phones.

It might be an abnormality if that was the only mistake in the neighborhood maps.  Sadly, there are over 100 mistakes, some of them really outrageous such as the NYPD 40th Precinct at the wrong location; NW corner of East 149th Street and Melrose Ave.  The 40th Precinct is unmistakably located on the NW corner of Alexander Ave and East 138th Street right by the full time entrances to the 3rd Ave/East 138th Street subway station on the 6 line.  Also note the wrong corner for Citibank

Looking for the Gateway Mall to do your shopping and the new Yankees/East 153rd Street rail station on Metro-North's Hudson Line?  Don't bother finding it in the MTA Weekender, the Bronx House of Detention (closed in 2000) is still standing there according to the  neighborhood maps.   


The MTA may have renamed the newest station complex name in to Court Square and added the Q/M lines in Long Island City but they haven't touched the Municipal Parking Garage at Queens Plaza, now an office building which houses the NYC Department of Health.  The garage was razed in 2010.

Coney Island has Luna Park. not Astroland Park.  The Brooklyn Cyclones play at MCU Park, not Keyspan (even though it's the same ballpark)

Where is the Barclays Center?  This arena is 2 years old and not on the "latest" neighborhood map.  Also note the old B63 bus routing before 5th Ave was permanently closed between Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave.

The 44th Precinct in the Bronx is at the wrong location,  Also (not shown) the 43rd Precinct on Ryer Ave, near East 183 Street is missing.

There are a lot of other errors to list such as old exits along certain stations on the B/D Concourse lines in the Bronx, Eastern Parkway on the J, movie theaters such as the Loews Elmwood and Trylon theaters in Queens as well as the Allerton theater in the Bronx, and Prospect Hospital, closed in the early 80's.   Recently, the MTA and NYCT collaborated with NYC Department of Transportation in producing the next generation Neighborhood maps  based on NYC DOT's successful WalkNYC wayfinding neighborhood maps with a maximum 12 block radius for each station.  Paul Fleuranges, Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications claimed in the linked MTA story that "Though we’ve kept the MTA’s neighborhood maps up-to-date,..." the pictures I posted show that Mr. Fleuranges statement is false as nobody corrected them for years.  The same neighborhood maps with the mistakes can been seen on the MTA Weekender's pages online.

Signs are wrong too, like the recent job fair held at the NY Transit Museum on May 19th, the E train hasn't run to Jay Street since the early 1970s.  Dozens of NYCT employees installed them and nobody caught this mistake.

 Here's a mind-boggling location to place a sign - - not just wrong station - - wrong line, borough
AND division.  This sign (installed around 1999) was to inform customers about signal system modernization on the West End Line in Brooklyn, part of the current D line, along with a proposed completion date of 2002. 

The sign was mistakenly placed at Central Park North-110th Street on the West Side 2 and 3 lines in Manhattan instead of  a station on the West End line (sounds alike) and sits unnoticed (or just ignored) by NYCT employees for over 15 years.  So we have wrong line (West Side instead of West End), wrong borough (Manhattan, instead of Brooklyn) and wrong division (IRT instead of BMT)
Sometimes reading signs can be confusing.  How about the set of posters at Gun Hill Road/White Plains Road station on the 2 line?  Which poster is correct? 
In January, 2013 when the highly successful FastTrack nightly work program made it's only appearance on the 2 line in Brooklyn, the information about 4 trains replacing 3 service in Brooklyn was really hilarious - - especially when 4 trains from Borough Hall and Bowling cannot stop at the Hoyt Street-Fulton Mall station due to the existing track layout.   If NYC Transit managers really know how their own subway system works, they would realize that they need to add two sets of switches north of Hoyt Street.    
Sometimes signs can have the right directions but in the most time consuming and circuitous manner.  This poster was taken at East Tremont/West Farms Square.  The robotic instructions on this poster tell you to take a downtown 2 train all the way down to 149th Street/Grand Concourse then double back up, when a 5 to 10 minute walk to East 180th Street will allow you to catch uptown 2 (and 5) trains there.   Sorry for the blurry picture
 The MTA website has improved in their accuracy but still suffers from years of neglect to correct their mistakes.  The current subway map  doesn't note that there is no elevator service at 63rd Street-Lexington Ave station through February,2015 due to all elevators being replaced at this station.  Other mistakes I found on some webpages are the Q18 and 64 bus route errors in the Flushing, Main Street LIRR page as well as missing the Q20A/B.  Funny part of this error is the QBx1, listed on the NYC Transit bus list, was replaced by the Q50 (and Bx23 in the Bronx) which is shown on the same page within the MTA Bus Company list.  The joint LIRR/Metro-North Cityticket map shows weekday services when the discounted program is not in effect, such as the Hudson River bus connections, the M train at Forest Hills, the 5 line at Atlantic Terminal and the M98, Q26 bus routes. 
The above examples show a complete ignorance of NYC Transit of correcting these errors.  NYC Transit should take a pro-active approach in fixing mistakes instead of ignoring them.  I will watch closely the new neighborhood maps and will post an upcoming blog about them when I see more of these maps at stations.  As for the other errors I posted, that is why customers get confused about the service changes.  On the other hand, very few customers actually read the service notices.