Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I've earned my degree!

It takes 4 years to get through high school. 4 years to earn a college degree. And I think it takes 4 years of choosing to be carfree in Albany to embrace the challenges that go with it. Yup, I've earned my carfree degree!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ringin' Up My Bus Pass Savings

I've mentioned here and elsewhere that I find it very hard to resist a good deal.

Last Monday was Transit Awareness Day, and I was the rider representative hangin' with transit folks from around the state as we made visits reminding state legislators and staff that through all that's going on in their world, New Yorkers across the state depend upon affordable public transit to get to work, to medical appointments, to school and to the grocery store every day.

By about 1 p.m., I was in need of caffeine, and we were standing in the hall between appointments when CDTA's Carm Basile mentioned to me that the next day they'd be announcing a deal with Price Chopper and their AdvantEdge program. Carm said that customers would be able to use their AdvantEdge saving to get discounts on a few of CDTA's bus pass products. Golby's interest piqued.

It must have been 10 minutes later when CDTA's release about the Tuesday press conference hit my email - but the nitty gritty details of the savings were not included.

Still, the anticipation of potential bus savings was an energy boost in itself.

Tuesday's announcement sounded good to me, I'd been interested in fare media similar to the 31-day rolling pass since before the 31-day became available, but never interested enough to spend $65 on it, so this was my chance to check it out.

Tuesday night, I was at the Madison Theatre for a meeting of the judges of the Knickerbocker Film Festival, and I got out of the meeting with just enough time to get to Chopper's Customer Service Desk before its 9 p.m. closing. I whipped out my AdvantEdge card and told the clerk I wanted to buy a bus pass with the new discount. She told me that unfortunately, she couldn't sell me a pass because they were only sold between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. when the corporate business office was open, but she could tell me how much savings I had earned.

$38 in savings. Sweet.

Wednesday afternoon, I returned and made my purchase. The first 31-day sold at Madison Chopper.

As I mentioned on Roger's blog, I think this new partnership between CDTA and the Chopper is a win for everyone -- even for those of you with cars, who want to live life a little more green-ly once in a while. The 10-trip pass is a good vehicle to check out life as a public transit rider.

Now let's hope Price Chopper figures out how to sell the passes after 5 p.m. and on weekends, so that those who work 9-5 can take advantage of the savings.

UPDATE - 3/10: I stopped into Price Chopper yesterday afternoon and asked if they've been able to extend the sale hours for CDTA passesbeyond Monday - Friday from 8-5. The answer: YES. The helpful clerk told me they can also sell them on weekends from 10-4.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to the Blogosphere

Now that campaign season is over, and the mayor is back on the radio Friday mornings, I'm thinking it's safe for me to poke my way back into the blogosphere. I'll continue to post personal essays here about navigating our region without a car, and by January, when I begin my new job, I'll start up an additional blog - a digest of relevant news for Albany's 10th ward residents.

Here's a brief update of my life over the past 5 months:

I was sad to learn about hip hip hoo-Ray's sudden departure from CDTA and hopeful when the Board appointed long-time CDTA employee Carm Basile to lead the transit agency,

I managed to squeeze in a few bus, bike and car adventures away from the 10th ward,

my daughter hand-standed her way through the summer of campaigning,

the yearly battle against the crows began,

the trees turned all kinds bright colors

Now the branches lay bare, and they are perfect perch for the crows we love to chase away.

It must be November.

Albany's first bicycle master plan is complete. If you haven't yet submitted comments - do it now -- today is the last day to submit -- until 3 p.m., according to the new Bike Blog on the TU website.

Submit your comments here:

City of Albany
Department of Development and Planning
21 Lodge Street, Albany, NY 12207
Phone: 518-434-2532 x33

I only started riding a bike in Albany this past spring. I was terrified of cycling on Albany's streets. Now, I ride cautiously. Sometimes, I commute to work by bicycle. Up Western Avenue. That can be harrowing.

My friend Barry only rides on the sidewalk in Albany for safety reasons. As a pedestrian, sidewalk cyclists drive me crazy. Barry says he is very careful when he approaches a pedestrian from behind so as not to startle them. I haven't yet mastered that art, but there are times when I find the only way I'll get to my destination safely is by riding on the sidewalk as well.

A few months ago, I was speaking with an old friend who is part of this bicycle master plan process. I fessed up that while I know I'm not supposed to, I will sometimes ride my bike on the sidewalk because it's just too scary to ride on the street. He then told me about a poster he had seen and said to me, "Oh no, Leah - Don't be that guy!"

I didn't realize until my friend Brian sent me this article that in the world of cyclists, there is a big debate about sharing the road with cars vs. designated cycling sections.

For me, it's about feeling safe. This past Sunday morning, at 9 a.m. when traffic was slow, I was running an errand on my bike and I felt safe to ride on the street. I was riding with my left arm stretched out signaling as I approached the intersection to make a left turn from S. Main to Myrtle Avenue. A motorist behind me thought that it would be a good idea to go into the oncoming traffic lane to pass me immediately before I made my left turn.

Screech of brakes.

He managed to slow his vehicle and not hit me as I made the left turn and didn't lose my balance. Phew.

After my heart settled back into my chest and I was peddling home, I thought to myself, "Does this guy really not know his hand signals???"

The folks in the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association have been advocating for changes to Madison Avenue to be part of the Bike Master Plan. I would love to see the Madison Avenue traffic calming plan implemented as an early part of the bicycle master plan -- it would improve walkability, traffic safety and bicycling in my neighborhood.

Until we do something to calm the traffic, I'll continue to be "that guy" ... riding my bike along the sidewalk on Madison.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Campaign Season

I pay attention to politics.

I get involved. I work on campaigns.

And now, I've decided to run for office myself.

This is a personal blog - not a campaign blog. For a candidate, on the campaign trail... the line that separates personal and political can be very fine.

In an attempt to make things clear and simple, I won't be writing blog entries here during campaign season.

I do hope to...

see you on the bus,
or the bike
or at the Normanskill!

- Leah

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Memorable Memorial Day

Puzzle: You have 5-day Swiper (valid Monday through Friday-- all month long). It's a Monday holiday and buses are running on a Sunday/ Holiday schedule -- does the pass work?

Now that it's spring and I have a bike and those 7-day CDTA monthly passes are so very pricey since the fare hike was implemented in April, I experimented in May, and purchased a 5-day monthly Swiper (valid Monday through Friday for the month of May).

Getting around with a 5-day pass hasn't slowed me down a bit. I use my bike on the weekends, and sometimes I walk. Not taking the bus has in fact, helped to make life less stressful on weekends since I don't incorporate CDTA bus schedules into my planning.

I have run into a bit of a fashion dilemma though.

Riding my bike so much has left me wondering how to incorporate skirts and dresses into the new travel system.

A few weeks ago, I saw a woman wearing a long skirt and pedaling on her bike with no problem. Looked simple enough. It didn't appear that she had any particular riding strategy.

On Memorial Day I decided to just go for it. I wore a tried and true black summer dress that I adore,

and put a pair of bike shorts on -- just in case the wind blew the wrong way.

Well, that woman I saw happily pedaling with her pretty skirt must have had some strategy -- or special fashionista bike -- or something because by the time I got around my corner, my dress was caught in the back tire and before I had the chance to pull over and check things out -- the dress had knotted and worked itself into a tight little ball.

I managed to get myself untangled -- and worked out a strategy of tying up and holding onto the dress and handlebars simultaneously so I could hop back on and get over to my friend's house.

I was on my way to Garden Street. It's a great little street behind the Spectrum. The first time I visited, I felt like I was in a different time and place. It was after I'd locked up my bike and after I'd rung the doorbell, that I stopped and examined the damage I'd done to my dress.

I was determined to continue with the plan. Good thing I had those bike shorts on at least....

See, my friend Barry and I had been talking for a while about walking from the Delaware Avenue side of the Normanskill across to New Scotland Avenue, then catching a bus back into the city. Memorial Day, we decided, was the day to go for it. The weather was spectacular.

We needed to be mindful of the time so that we could catch the very last Number 13 bus of the day back into town. That bus was scheduled to depart from the Slingerlands Price Chopper at 5:40.

Buses were running on a Sunday/ Holiday schedule.
I'd get to test out my 5-day Swiper to see if it worked.

I like the outdoors. I like nature. As a kid, I dug for worms and played with frogs, I'd spend hours and hours playing in rural upstate NY all summer long. But, Barry -- he's in a whole different category. He not only loves the outdoors -- he studies all of the stuff outside that he loves.

Barry's got field guides for birds, plants, insects, trees and shrubs throughout the seasons...and he uses them regularly. He's got binoculars to see things far away and little lenses to look at the details up close. When Barry takes a walk, he is equipped and it's always an adventure to join him.

On previous walks near the Normanskill we'd seen a bluebird, a pileated woodpecker, and curious animal tracks in the snow.

We've found quartz
which Barry told me had grown from the vein of hot fluids that forced themselves into cracks in the rock.

...and gloppy slimy stuff

which he said were algae colonies living in the waterfall puffing themselves up with oxygen they produce inside the colony.

It's handy to take a walk with Barry because even in the winter he can identify poison ivy vines. Yes, there is poison ivy at the Normanskill. He'll make an icky face when he sees it and animate his voice when I ask him how he knows it's poison ivy "You can tell poison ivy vines because they're gross and fat and covered in little red hairs."


Catching on, I spotted a vine on one of our winter walks, and asked cautiously, "Is that poison ivy?"

Barry replied, "That? No, no, no. That's a grapevine. It's happy -- not all covered in those icky red hairs. A grapevine... good for swinging from tree to tree!"

Grapevine or poison ivy -- I really couldn't tell the difference. Happy to have Barry as my guide.

Back to fashion.

In addition wearing my summer dress on Memorial Day, I did not wear socks and hiking shoes (well, I don't even own hiking shoes), rather, I had bare feet with little slip-on sneaker things that work great for walks. But, really are not ideal for traipsing through the woods. If it weren't for the poison ivy (and the tics) - I would've been fine.

We weren't far into our walk when I asked Barry to keep an eye out for poison ivy for me. I should know how to tell poison ivy in the spring. Three leaves. Pointy. There's even some poem that I'd heard uttered, but never committed to memory. But still, there are other plants with 3 pointy leaves -- and he knows his stuff, so it just seemed easier to ask him to look out for it.

Well, Barry wasn't going to let me get away with being lazy on Memorial Day. He's one of those natural teachers. We walked a few feet, he stopped and pointed to a plant and asked me, "Is that poison ivy?"

"That, ummm... no, it's thorny. Poison ivy isn't thorny, " I replied.

Twenty feet later, he was asking me again, "How about there? Is there any poison ivy there?" as he pointed to a square yard of earth covered with many different plants.

"I don't know," I responded, "wait... is that poison ivy?"

"That? Well, let's see, ... the leaves are opposite"

Leaves are opposite? What is he talking about?

"Poison ivy leaves are not opposite, so no - it's not poison ivy," Barry told me.

I fessed up and told him that I had no idea what he was talking about, "opposite?", and got myself a quick lesson.

Thank you, Barry.

We had made it down to the Normanskill. And at the same time, we noticed a whole bunch of ...


Along we walked... and we saw more and more tadpoles.

There were lots of 'em. I asked Barry if he knew how long the tadpoles were tadpoles. He told me that it varied depending upon the species -- some a few months -- while bull frogs could be tadpoles for a year or longer. Wow.

We waded through the Normanskill for a while walking along. We ran into a family walking the opposite direction who had stopped to play on the long trunk of tree that had apparently floated downstream at some point and pitched itself there -- it was perfect for kids to climb on -- and that's exactly what they were doing.

We got ourselves back on land, and Barry continued to ask me periodically whether there was poison ivy in this patch or that patch.

"Leah, is that poison ivy?"

I stopped, I looked, I pondered. Three leaves. Pointy. Leaves aren't opposite. "Yes, I said, that is poison ivy!"

Since we had now positively identified some poison ivy, we examined it so I could try to learn additional features. Barry explained poison ivy is often oily and the leaves sometimes have a red tint. I saw the oily shine and the red tint. I noticed the leaves... they weren't all shaped the same. Exactly, he said, the leaves are not regular, some have teeth, the teeth can vary, and others are almost smooth.

It seemed, I was now on my way to being able to recognize poison ivy on my own.

And we walked along the path of the Normanskill trail that we often take.
We saw birds. Robins, swallows, goldfinches and of course, red-winged blackbirds... perhaps a bluebird...though we weren't quite sure this time.

And there were lots of wildflowers growing... I snapped a few with my camera phone...

Above is fleabane - some species of Erigeron - part of the aster family.

And that purple flower above is Dame's rocket - Hesperis matronalis - it's in the mustard family.
Well, my camera phone didn't do a good job of capturing the very fun-looking flower above which Barry tells me is Ragged Robin - Lychnis Flos-cuculi - and it's part of the pink family.

We walked through the woods, (still looking for poison ivy) and down a steep hill, and then suddenly we were no longer among the leaves and trees, but on the manicured green of the Albany Municipal Golf Course.


There's supposed to be a trail. But where? We saw something that could have been a trail going along the power lines, but Barry, looked for a marker and didn't see one. He was concerned about us starting off along the power lines without knowing that following the path would actually lead us someplace...and not stranded. Hmmm...

It suddenly dawned on me that (a) I was on a golf course, and (b) I was clueless about golf course etiquette.

I was wearing a torn dress. Barry had on a tee-shirt. We were clearly out of place. And what about golf balls soaring through the air?

I'd only been to the golf course for winter sledding. Never for golfing.

We walked along the course hoping to see signs of the trail. It wasn't really crowded, I think most regular golfers were probably busy with Memorial Day barbecues. Eventually we saw some golfers, and one of them, before moving on to his next shot, took a moment to walk over to us and said, "You know you really shouldn't be walking along here. It's dangerous."

"Yeah, we know, we were looking for the trail, but couldn't find it."

"Ah," he said, "Well, the trail is along the power lines."

At that point, the power lines were no longer in sight and we had walked quite a while. The three of us looked around.

"There, " the golfer said pointing, "See that path over there, if you follow it, it will take you to the power lines. Then you can follow the trail."

We thanked him and were on our way.

We walked along the path until Barry stopped suddenly. He was staring at a huge pile of dirt.

(Again, the camera phone -- didn't quite capture this) This pile of dirt was the biggest anthill that I'd ever come across. Ever. And the ants were busy. Barry told me that these were of the Formica Rufa group, called wood ants in Europe and they are protected species because they control caterpillars that defoliate spruce trees.

Barry knows his ants.

He put his finger on the anthill and they started biting him. Protecting their territory, I guess.

We continued along the trail. Barry, in true Barry fashion, continued to periodically keep me on my poison ivy searching toes. We seemed to be doing ok with the time, though it was tricky to really gauge. Not knowing quite how far we had to go, and hoping we would catch the last bus.

At one point Barry paused and held his finger to his lip -- in that way to signal, "be quiet, very, very quiet." "Hear that?" Barry asked, "It's a wood thrush."

The sound was beautiful.

"I've never seen one," he told me. That surprised me.

Eventually, the trail ended and we could tell we had made it to the other side.

Starving. We were both really, really hungry.

"Oh, that's gotta be Martel's," I said to Barry pointing to a building and knowing he had no idea what Martel's was, "it's a restaurant."

We had a little time before our bus. Not a lot of time.

... and guess who we saw enjoying a relaxed late afternoon out on the Martel's patio?

I smiled and waved hello as we walked by. Then Barry asked who it was.

You see, Barry knows a lot about bugs and plants and birds and science. But, unlike me, he really doesn't pay attention to politics.

Before I answered, he asked, "Wait... was that the ORANGE guy?"

Starving - we walked inside Martel's, and ordered some food to go. We considered eating there, but didn't think we had enough time. We figured sandwiches would be quick --so we asked for a couple of easy sandwich-type orders.

We waited and waited. We waited so long that we saw the mayor and his wife again as they walked through on their way out and said his good-byes to everyone. "Good night, Mayor," I said.

"Does he know you?" Barry asked.

"No, he might recognize me as one of those City PTA people or something...but he doesn't know me," I said.

We started to get anxious thinking that we might not make our bus.

Finally, with food in hand, at about 5:30, we ran out, and walked quickly towards New Scotland Avenue where we found the bus stop easily.

When the bus pulled up, I asked the driver if my 5-day Swiper would work - he said it would, and it did.

Puzzle solved.

What a day. Seeing tons of tadpoles, finally learning to recognize poison ivy, wandering out of place on the golf course and bumping into the mayor at Martel's.

Even with my mangled dress, I couldn't have asked for a more satisfying Albany adventure.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just in time...

I'm getting ready for a busy week of holding rehearsals at New Scotland Elementary all in preparation for the 3rd annual Turnoff Week Talent Show this Saturday night. I take Turnoff Week seriously and don't use the computer for recreational use - this blog -- well, it just doesn't count as work.

I couldn't let myself start Turnoff Week without sharing the great news. Here it is:

I have a bike!
(it's the one on the right - the teal one-- first trip to the Normanskill for my new bike today)

After relying on my sturdy feet, CDTA and not using a car to get around regularly for almost 2 years, to finally have a set of wheels is incredibly liberating. I haven't stopped smiling.

(My bike on its first bus - at least in its new role as my bike)

I've zipped around town every day since picking up the bike (and helmet) Wednesday after helping to repair it on Tuesday down at the Troy Bike Rescue here in Albany.

(The check-in sheet that we diligently completed when making sure my bike was ready to roll)

Thanks to Mary Lou and Chris and all the other volunteers down on Trinity Place.

So, just in time for Earth Day and even before Bike Month, I have a bike.

Living in Albany without a car just got a whole lot easier.

3 Days with a Car

I've just about made it through spring break.

My almost 10-year old daughter, Sierra has an hourly mantra. It goes like this: I'm borrrrrred!

I've built up an immunity to the whiny sounds that periodically spew from her mouth. I think it's the only way I'll survive the next few years.

Sierra wanted to go someplace during spring break. Fair enough. I'd love to go someplace too.

One of her friends ventured to California for the entire break. Another took a two-day holiday to Mystic, Connecticut.

The first night of school vacation, Sierra asked if we could go to New York City. That can be a pretty economical trip considering my sister still lives in the apartment we moved to when I was 10 in the West Village, my awesome uncle is in the apartment in Brooklyn Heights that he's had since I was younger than my daughter, and my mom is in those co-ops in the 20s on the west side built in part by the ILGWU. Always a place to stay, and always a good meal.

I checked the Mega bus to see if I could get any deals -- nothing great.

I checked Enterprise to see if they had any of their weekend deals. Yup. 50% off for three days.

Then, I checked the weather forecast for the weekend in the city. Pretty grim. I told Sierra I was still up for the trip, but she decided since it wasn't beach weather and because I erroneously thought Coney Island was now closed, Sierra preferred that I rent a car and we use it to do things around here that we don't usually do together.

When I stopped to think about it, I realized it had been more than a year since I'd rented a car to just hang out around town.

Friday morning, the Enterprise employee pulled up on our block and drove us to their Central Avenue location. The total 3-day rental costs including the damage waiver insurance came to under $90. I wound up spending about $20 on gas --total. Not bad.

Sierra wanted to see a movie. Okay with me, but the weather was beautiful and I wasn't setting foot inside a movie theatre until it started to get rainy. We went to Colonie Center in the early afternoon to purchase tickets for the 6:40 show, and since we were out that way, I suggested we check out the Pine Bush Preserve and/or visit the Pine Bush Discovery Center.

There wasn't really enough time to do both since we were scheduled to pick up one of her friends in about an hour and a half. Since we were close to the only preserve location that I knew of without looking anything up, I pulled into the parking lot off of Fuller Road. As it turned out, we were there to witness the lake being stocked with trout. I don't find that particular section of the preserve peaceful -- the whooshing sound of cars all around me was a bit unnerving.

We left to pick up her friend.

I gave them a choice.

Central Park in Schenectady or the Crossings in Colonie. Schenectady was the winner. I was happy with that. I hadn't looked for groundhogs playing in the grass on Thruway along the drive to Schenectady in a long time.

Some of the equipment at Central Park looks like it's been around since I was a kid.

Big and sturdy and lots of fun.

I like the fact that there are huge trees amidst the play equipment at Central Park.

The ice cream truck showed up while we were there -- so for the kids, it was a winner of a choice.

And then it was time to go. Short and sweet trip to Schenectady's Central Park.

I survived the movie -- though my wallet was significantly lighter when we left Colonie Center that night --ouch.

The next day Sierra decided she wanted to go to Hancock Shaker Village. She's a sucker for baby animals, and yes, it's that time of year.

And she still likes playing dress-up.

When I got home that night I was wiped out. Driving. Baby animals. More driving. I'm not used to it.

The next day it was time for me to have a play date -- it was so weird to drive over to Barry's house. Oxymoron in action. Barry has told me more than once that he hates cars.

He recently discovered the Mohawk and thought it would be fun for us to drive to Vischer Ferry. And so we did. I'd never been there.

I always thought Clifton Park was nothing more than suburban development, big box stores, and a mall. Alas, I was wrong. There are parts that are quite beautiful.

And we saw a whole bunch of birds.

But the driving was bizarre. Barry and I usually have a comfortable rhythm and rapport when we hang out. But, as I took him up the Northway and we looked for places to pull over and check out the water with my foot on the gas pedal making the car go "whoosh", I found myself feeling out of sorts.

Once we parked and our feet were firmly planted on Earth -- I was much more at ease, and we returned to our normal outdoor exploring rhythm -- looking at lichens and birds and all kinds of plants.

I think it's all about what you're used to. And it has happened. I am now very used to getting around this region without driving a car.