Here we go again . . .

July 8, 2016

This recent Times Union story shows the persistence of unrealistic, grandiose thinking in relation to our local Amtrak station. The proposal to study spending $20 – $30 million, and who knows how much time, building an aerial tramway to transport a few hundred people a day across the Hudson, in all likelihood at significant public expense, is another example of the thinking that got us the present bloated, cavernous station that leaks money and water, and whose large outdoor clocks never tell the same time. Here’s something to try first, if there’s really a need for an alternative to the existing taxicab service most railroad passengers use (there is):

Realign the two bus routes that serve the station so they both stop at the same place on East St. for trips in each direction. Coordinate bus schedules with train schedules. Have a covered walkway from the station exit to the bus stop. Sell one way or round trip bus passes at the railroad ticket windows or at nearby kiosks. Have “Amtrak connect” schedules printed up that show when busses leave the station for popular downtown destinations and when they return, with a large map on the back showing the locations of bus stops and downtown landmarks.

If the above does not work, thousands, not tens of millions, will have been wasted. Then you can say “I told you so,” and try the gondola.


Where shall it be?

November 7, 2013

Now that a casino is coming to the Capital District, where shall it be located?  The present favorite appears to be the Saratoga racino, but I wouldn’t put it there if it were up to me.  Here are the siting criteria I’d employ:

1.  It should be as close as possible to major population centers of the area, but not too close, and located a little bit out of the way, so that people don’t usually pass it on their way to and from work, shopping and other regular errands. It should have plenty of on-site parking.  Look to the Casino de Montreal for an appropriate location in an urban area.

2.  It should be accessible by public transit, both to limit its environmental and traffic generating impact, and so that the service jobs it provides will be accessible to the urban residents who need them and who may not own their own cars.

3.  It should be located in an area with as much existing infrastructure as possible, and it should not be built in an undeveloped area where it will gobble up open space.

4. It should be located in an area where it is wanted by the local population and where it will not adversely impact existing local business.

I propose the Port of Rensselaer, which meets all the above criteria.  Rensselaer County, unlike Saratoga and Albany counties, voted for Proposal 1, indicating it would welcome a casino.  Rensselaer is centrally located, near Amtrak and Megabus, and is served by CDTA.  It can use the increased property tax revenues a casino would bring, and the Port location would impact few local residents and businesses,  Its central location and existing road structure would minimize the traffic and environmental impacts caused by travel to the casino.  Shuttles between the rail station and the casino could help make it an attractive destination for gamblers from the New York City area, and existing CDTA routes could be slightly modified to make casino jobs accessible to Albany, Troy and Rensselaer residents who rely on public transit.  If the City or County owns a parcel in the port area that could be developed and placed back on the tax rolls, so much the better.

The existing racino in Saratoga does have the basic infrastructure in place and, as an existing gambling venue, is less likely to attract local opposition, especially given the area’s historical acceptance of all sorts of gambling.  However, taking the path of least resistance would forgo a tremendous opportunity to provide jobs where the people who need them most, and where potential customers from the largest population center in the State, could actually get to them, to give a struggling city a chance to get back on its feet, and to minimize the environmental impact of a venue to which many people will travel by automobile.

Railroad parking

January 24, 2013

The CDTA has announced it is considering raising parking rates (to match those at the airport and Empire Plaza) to provide additional funds for station maintenance.  Public comments were invited.  Here’s mine:

I just read in the Times Union that CDTA is seeking to raise parking rates to generate more revenue to keep the white elephant patched up. In other words, you are asking the public to pay more for the poor design, construction and oversight of this facility. Maybe you should instead start thinking about how to seal off some of its vast unrented spaces to save on heat and other costs before giving your patrons another excuse – as if Amtrak’s high prices and third world service aren’t reason enough – to forgo using public transportation and therefore the rail station and the few businesses inside.

The regular users of the station I know all wax nostalgiacally over the good old days of free parking (the only semi-valid reason for having our rail station anywhere but downtown Albany) and wish the present boondoggle had never been foisted upon them.

Although it probably is too late for anyone to stop this “gift” to our city from hemorraghing cash, maybe CDTA should think about getting out of the station management business and redirect all its efforts to its main mission of providing frequent and reliable bus service, a task that easily could employ all your energy and resources.

Thank you for considering public comments on this issue.

Third World New York?

September 14, 2012

A cyclist breaks a wheel on a potholed street in a major city near the State’s capital.

A lawyer goes to the State Library to conduct legal research, only to find that several of the treatises he consulted had not been updated for several years, rendering them virtually useless.  The other public access law library in Albany is open only three days a week.

A person living in a city, two miles from the Capitol,wants to go to downtown Albany by public transit.  She will have to walk a half mile to the nearest bus stop, and even during rush hour, she may wait up to half an hour for a bus.  It may be quicker to walk, except in the winter, when the walkways on the bridges over the railroad tracks are not cleared and become icy.

Compared to what I saw in Sweden this summer, our public sphere is definitely third world.  I  think we have a right to demand — and government has an obligation to provide — basic services of decent quality.  If it can’t, we need to find out why and correct the problem, and it may not be as simple as throwing more money at it.

Even the relatively affluent cannot escape bad roads, traffic delays and, in some cases, poor public schools.  While some of the Republicans’ ideas have some validity, I absolutely disagree with their disagreement with the Obama and Warren observations that no one’s success is due to solely to his or her own efforts.  We all benefit from public services.  Why such an affluent country puts up with such poor services is beyond me.

Walking vs. transit and driving

March 17, 2011

One of the things I like about the warmer weather that’s coming to the northeast is the opportunity to walk more.  It’s a good non-impact exercise, and it can be purposeful, getting one to where one needs to go, so it serves the great god of the twenty-first century – productivity – and its acolyte – multitasking.


But how practical is walking?  It depends.  If you want to walk to Target or Wal-Mart in East Greenbush, lots of luck.  Not only does Third Avenue extension lack sidewalks, for large parts there is no shoulder to the right of the fog line – the driving lane is all there is to the road.  If you want to walk around Rensselaer, wait until all the snow has melted.  The city sees no need to clear the sidewalks of its two bridges that span the railroad tracks (in dramatic contrast, the State does a great job on the pedestrian walkway of the Dunn Memorial Bridge between Rensselaer and Albany).


Leaving aside bad weather and impassible routes, I have found that, for trips of as much as two miles, a walk can compare very favorably with CDTA in terms of actual time spent getting from point A to point B.  The infrequency of CDTA service often leads to long waits for the bus, which may be compounded if the bus is running late.  Frequent stops and circuitous routes lengthen the journey once travel has begun.  When you walk – in addition to saving $1.50 each way and feeling good about the health benefits you are providing yourself – you leave precisely when you are ready,  and you usually can take the most direct route.  If you’re going shopping, walk one way and take the bus home with your packages.  Give it a try – you’ll feel better and save money.


Driving, alas, is another story.  Most of our suburban environment is inhospitable to walking and transit, and the distances between homes, workplaces and shops can be too great to allow walking by even those whose tolerance for delay and danger is greater than average.  Shame on the developers who built our sprawling environment, and shame on the government zoning and planning officials who let them.  I remember when, I few years ago, my employer temporarily relocated from downtown Albany to a suburban office park while our building was being renovated.  Getting in my car to run to the bank or post office at lunch time – and often getting stuck in traffic while trying to do so – got me so angry, not just at the waste of my time, but at the collective waste of untold hours of human productivity and gallons of precious, expensive gasoline.


Our land use situation is toothpaste that will be very difficult to put back in the tube, and most people seem to tolerate if not prefer the suburban, auto-dependent life.

Two minor annoyances

March 11, 2011

Bagging groceries is not rocket science.  I know, because I did it for several years while I was a high school student.  The organizing principle is to evenly distribute the items, heavy on the bottom, light and fragile items on the top.  If done correctly, each bag will in the customer’s order will weigh about as much as each other, and things like bread, eggs and bananas will be at tops of the bags.  Why, then, at almost every store I patronize, do the cashiers or baggers operate under the incorrect assumption that similar items should be placed together?  Carrying a bag full of paper products isn’t a problem, but carrying a bag full of canned goods or two-litre soda bottles is difficult and potentially dangerous.  I wrote  to one of the area’s leading supermarket chains about this problem, and I received a response that bagging personnel would be reminded of the correct way to pack bags.  So far, I haven’t seen it.

Although I wish I didn’t have to, I own and drive a car.  To express both my patriotism and my parsimonious nature, I purchased a very small, fuel-efficient car, which has a 12-gallon gas tank.  When a local supermarket chain started advertising it would grant a ten-cent-per-gallon discount on gas at certain local stations for each $50 in purchases at its stores, I was mildly excited, until I found out that each earned discount could only be used on one fuel purchase of up to 20 gallons.  As one who only needs to buy about half that amount to fill my vehicle, I can receive only half of my earned discounts.  I wrote the company about this, and received the usual canned non-response.  There are ways around this, I’m told, though most seem to me not worth the trouble.  One can bring a fuel container and fill that, if one can find a safe place to store it  One can split the discount with another vehicle if both can make and keep an appointment to meet at a participating filling station.  Since I still occasionally ride the bus, despite CDTA’s best efforts to discourage my patronage, I’ve found the easiest way for me to realize the full value of the offer is to apply my earned discount toward the purchase of a bus pass.

CDTA strays from core mission — again

September 24, 2009

Next week, the no. 24 bus that I and many other apartment dwellers on lower Third Ave. Ext. in Rensselaer use will case to exist. Its replacement will in essence offer express service between downtown Albany and the Defreestville park and ride and HVCC.
I knew service cuts were coming, and was expecting less frequency (if that’s possible) and maybe the elimination of the last run or two at night. I was stunned, however, at the elimination of service to people who walk to the bus in favor of those who drive to a park and ride lot. Yes, park and ride patrons deserve to be served, and served well, but not at the expense of those who need transit the most — those who can’t drive or don’t own cars.

I see what CDTA is dong to the route 24 bus as another example of its tendency to stray from its core mission of providing transit services to those who don’t have many other options. The route 24 change is is not as bad as the colossal and costly Rensselaer Rail Station debacle, but it is disturbing nonetheless.