Progress on bike paths

July 8, 2020

A recent Time Union article highlights the opening of a bike path connector between the Corning and Helderberg Hudson paths.  I rode the connector a few times before it officially opened, and it’s a big improvement for people going from one path to the other (or, in my case, from Rensselaer over the Dunn Memorial Bridge to Delmar, a trip I often take).  I am sure at least some of the anticipated economic improvement for the South End will result from this project, and I hope that residents of the area as well as others support it and, most important, use it.


Museums made affordable

October 10, 2019

The northeast is awash with interesting and educational museums of all kinds. Unfortunately, many, especially in major cities, have become unaffordable.

Realizing this, many museums offer free admissions at certain times, which may or may not be convenient for prospective visitors.  But I’ve used two other ways to get free museum admissions:

Bank of America’s Museums on US program offers its credit or debit card holders free admission to museums throughout the country on the first full weekend of each month. I have used this program at the Cloisters and the Intrepid Air/Space Museum in New York, the Hartford Atheneum, the Albany Institute and Mass MoCa.  Participating museums change regularly, so consult the web page before you plan your trip.

More recently, I used free passes borrowed from local Upper Hudson Libraries to visit the Clark Art Museum. The passes, available for many museums, may be borrowed for up to to a week. The down side is that, at least for the Clark passes, each branch has only one – if you and a companion want to go together, you each will have to borrow a pass from a different branch, but that’s a minor inconvenience for a savings of $20 each.  To find out what branches have passes available, search for the museum in which you are interested in the UHLS catalog search page.

As a taxpayer who uses few other government services, I can’t say enough about the superb value UHLS libraries provide.  Engines of social mobility, these institutions provide services to those who can’t afford private alternatives, and to those who can.  All who benefit from them – in other words, all of us – should support our local libraries.  In addition to the books, other media and programs and services available at local branches, UHLS libraries offer an extensive collection of on-line resources for borrowing and downloading.  Even if you can’t travel to a branch, you can benefit form library services.


S*#!-hole country

August 7, 2019

I recently returned from a trip that took me by air to three Latin American countries – Panama, Argentina and Costa Rica (I also visited Uruguay, but by boat). At one airport on my trip, after 12 wearying hours of traveling, including seven straight hours in a coach seat, I was directed to a huge, dingy arrivals hall without air conditioning (and it was hot), where I waited over 40 minutes with hundreds of other tired, hot travelers to have a disinterested bureaucrat stamp my passport without asking me a single question. After another wait of 40 minutes (in a room also without air conditioning) for my luggage, I finally was able to go outside to look for a cab. One nowhere near the front of a long line of licensed cabs called out to me, so I got in. When I told him where I was going (a hotel near the airport, not the urban center) he cursed me and tried to hold me up for an exorbitant fixed fare, though local law requires cabs to use meters. When I threatened to report him if he didn’t turn on the meter, he acquiesced, muttering “it’ll be the same.” Of course, it wasn’t – it was just over half what he initially had asked for.

Can you guess the airport at which this scene took place?  If you guessed JFK in New York upon my return, you’d be right.  The three international airports in Latin America that I experienced were all modern, air conditioned, and the entry procedures were efficient and quick.

Smart governments know that good airports are huge economic drivers, and can shape visitors’ attitudes toward a place by the initial impressions they instill.  The local leaders who pushed through the renovation of the Albany International Airport a few decades ago knew this, and I believe their good work has paid off.  The Port Authority of NY and NJ, which runs the JFK airport, has promised a new JFK.  It can’t come soon enough.

 

 


End of an era

July 11, 2018

USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines will soon stop serving its iconic peanuts, in deference to those with allergies. I only hope this heightened awareness of the needs of its customers with allergies will extend to those sensitive to the fur of so-called “support” animals, as well as those whose migraines can be triggered by screaming babies. I’m not holding my breath.


Health care conundrums

February 17, 2017

As I advance in age, I am exposed more and more to the health care industry, despite having enjoyed relatively good health until recently.  As a retired New York State employee, I am blessed with excellent health insurance that covers most doctor visits, medical tests and procedures, as well as prescription drugs, with only a relatively modest co-pay. Here are a few observations:

First, it appears that many of our health problems are what a friend of mine calls “diseases of affluence.”  More appropriately, they should be called “diseases of lifestyle,” since they affect people of all socioeconomic strata.  A lot of these are directly influenced by government policies.  For instance, our auto-centric physical infrastructure minimizes the opportunities for and pleasures of walking and cycling, and cannot help but contribute to obesity and other problems based on lack of physical activity.  Our government subsidies to cane sugar and corn (the main ingredient of high fructose corn syrup) help make junk food and sugared soft drinks attractively priced.  This is especially so for the poor, since the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) allows their purchase with SNAP benefits.  If we collectively spent more on complete streets that were friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as cars, how much could we save on health care (not to mention on school transportation)?  How about if we stopped subsidizing sugar?  I think it would be worth a try.

For all the criticism leveled against it, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has achieved something great — it has shifted the dialog from whether health care insurance should be extended to many of those who don’t have it to how the present system should be replaced or improved.  Neither Trump nor his minions are suggesting that those who obtained health insurance through Obamacare should lose it, meaning that they recognize that there is no going back on government’s commitment to growing numbers of its citizens.  Whether things actually get better or worse remains to be seen, but at least no one is talking a bout a pre-Obamacare “reset.”  To me, that is yuge.


Traffic management

January 21, 2017

The delays occasioned by traffic jams, red lights and other things that slow our automotive travel are a major source of frustration to most of us.  As individuals, we can mitigate this frustration by choosing our home and work locations, and the times at which we work.  We may be able to telecommute, walk or bike, or take public transit (which has its own frustrations).  But in today’s automobile-dominated society, most of us have to use the private automobile for most of our travel, much of which must be done on a rigid schedule.

We deal with this frustration with fancy sound systems, luxury seating and blue tooth connections that allow us to use some of our automotive downtime productively.  However, those measures do not address the tremendous waste of oil-based fuel and its concomitant pollution. Government, on behalf of us all, can do more to manage traffic and its related delays, but in our geographic area it has largely failed to act.

While I was driving down Washington Avenue in Albany recently, hitting red light after red light, my frustration triggered some early memories — from the 1960s — of driving up and down avenues in Manhattan with my father, watching each light turn green as we approached it.  My dad explained to me that the lights were timed so that you would rarely have to stop, if you maintained a steady speed at or around the limit.  I am aware of nowhere in our area that employs this proven (and by now, probably more affordable), technology.

Another local failure, on the part of the Thruway Authority, is its lagging behind the Mass Pike in eliminating toll plazas at exits and entries to its highways, with all tolls being tallied by gantries over the road that read E-Z Pass transponders without the need for cars to slow down (a few such gantries do exist on the Thruway, most notably near the Harriman exit, but they have not replaced the toll plazas at the entries and exits).  Although the demolition of the toll plazas and barriers on the Mass Pike is not complete, travel time savings already have been noted.

While we now do have electronic signs on many of our primary roads advising of travel time to various points, these signs do not offer alternatives when delays are indicated, and in most cases no alternatives exist.  While information may reduce frustration during times of congestion, expenditures aimed at reducing congestion would be a better use of taxpayer funds.

Money spent on reducing traffic congestion, as well as on things like bike paths and libraries, benefits everyone by making the area a more attractive one in which to live.  Unfortunately, in New York, “everyone” is not a special interest, which may be why government under-spends in many of these areas.


Dealing with vehicular terrorists

June 1, 2016

Has this happened to you?  You’re driving along an expressway at or slightly above the speed limit and, without warning, a car passes you and cuts in front of you, missing you by inches, and continues on at a speed so excessive you feel you are standing still, and it repeats the process each time it approaches another vehicle.  I have to believe that  drivers of these vehicles cause far more than their fair share of accidents, some being immediately due to the terror they strike in other motorists, who may react erratically, and others because they misjudge and hit other vehicles and fail to negotiate turns and other hazards more often than most drivers.

In Ontario recently, on the Queen Elizabeth Way, a major highway, I noticed large billboards advising that drivers exceeding the speed limit by 50% would be subject to a CAD 10,000 fine (about $7,700 US) and immediate license suspension and vehicle impoundment.

Whether such a policy here would withstand a due process challenge is not entirely clear.  The fine, presumably imposed by a judge after a trial, could be challenged as excessive, but evidence of the disproportionate danger speeding at that level produces would probably justify it.  The immediate license suspension and vehicle impoundment gives a single officer a lot of discretion.  However, if a radar speed measurement is required, and immediate judicial review provided, that might be enough, given the great danger to which the penalty is directed and the high excessive speed required, for which it is hard to imagine any motorist having a valid excuse.  New York courts have upheld a “prompt suspension” law for those charged with DWI, but it is not as prompt as the Canadian measure, calling for a judge to first sustain the validity of an accusatory instrument.  Whether the courts here would approve a measure as strict as Ontario’s is not clear, but it may be worthwhile to find out.

 


A welcome addition

April 14, 2016

20160414_144125

Today I had a chance to walk the paved portion of the new Albany County bike path between Delmar and the Port of Albany. The path is great — newly paved, and therefore smooth, and not too crowded, at least on a weekday afternoon. I look forward to riding on it with my bike, and to trying out the new sections heading toward Voorheeseville as they are added.

Unfortunately, the paved section is only about three miles long at present, but it’s a lot better than nothing. What would really help would be a nice marked bike route connecting this trail with the Corning Preserve bike path, and maybe some better parking at the Delmar end (there’s a nice lot off South Pearl on the Albany end).20160414_150247


Too loud and too sweet

August 12, 2015

I just returned from a trip to, among other places, Las Vegas, and I was very bothered by the volume of sound in several places I visited.  While I may be over-sensitive, I can’t believe that ear-splitting sound levels are good for the health of either the patrons or the employees of these loud establishments, and I question whether they are good for the bottom line.  When time permits, I’ll look for studies, but I find it hard to believe that sound levels I find uncomfortable to be present in are enjoyed by anyone.  Loud noise in other public places has become endemic — in addition to the dreaded airport CNN monitors, about which I’ve previously written, I often find televisions — usually competing with other background music — blaring in restaurants and bars.  In an age when everyone has a smart phone or other device that allows them to listen to whatever they want, is it really necessary for airports and other public places to bother those of us who prefer silence?

My trip exposed me to another of my pet peeves — screaming babies on airplanes.  Ear plugs are not a complete solution; what also would help would be to ask families who travel with young children, in exchange for the preferred boarding and the ability to bring infants along for free they now get, to sit in the last few rows of the plane.  It astounds me that Southwest, the airline I usually fly, will require a “Customer of Size” to purchase an extra seat if he or she intrudes on the space of one other passenger (the cost of which is reimbursed if not every seat on the plane is taken), while a screaming infant can terrorize dozens of people with impunity.  If the airlines really care about the comfort and well-being of their customers, they will pay more attention to the screaming baby issue.  I for one will gladly shift my patronage to any airline that does.

Further on the theme of too much, why is everything over-sweetened?  I have read that a can of regular Coke contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar, which seems objectionable on health grounds.  Why not offer an alternative containing about half as much sugar, which might be more pleasing to adult palates and less objectionable than artificially sweetened alternatives, most of which also are cloyingly sweet.  Reduced sugar drinks would appeal to those watching their calories and would result in good public relations for their makers, something the soft drink industry could use right now.

Oscar Wilde admonished “everything in moderation, including moderation.”  Time to return to the time when moderation is the general rule and not the exception.


Third World New York revisited

March 29, 2015

Sitting through my second extended water main break-induced dry spell of the week, I am reminded of my post a few years back bemoaning the poor quality of basic physical infrastructure and government services in this area.  Although millions have been spent locally on replacing curbs, sidewalk and street lighting in downtown Rensselaer, not to mention on the construction of our rail station, we can’t get through a winter or cold spring season without being deprived of water, a basic need.  It’s easy to complain, as do all public officials, about a lack of resources (and some, but not all, of the complaints have validity), but the job of our public officials is to prioritize the spending of the available resources to provide the greatest good for all.

Many forces conspire against good prioritization decisions.  Politicians know, for example, that they will be remembered for grand, visible public works far more than they will be remembered for insuring that services are provided without interruption and that existing infrastructure is maintained.  No one named a filled pot hole after a mayor.  Similarly, more federal and state funds are available for new construction than for maintenance.

In places like Rensselaer, where I live, the availability of sufficient resources also is a problem.  The tax base is low, as is the political clout to extract money from county, state and federal governments.

What’s the answer?  Unfortunately, there is no easy one.  Until things get so bad (which, judging by what people here have been putting up with for years, will have to be pretty bad) and start demanding better basic services by voting for candidates who promise them, or unless the economy improves enough to provide more resources, I don’t see things getting much better in the short run.  If enough people feel that way and start voting with their feet, the downward spiral could get worse before it gets better.