Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This Mourning is Getting Regular

Albany is a small city.

At 11:20 on Monday night, I was sound asleep. I heard nothing.

I know a lot of people in my neighborhood, but I didn't know Richard Bailey -- even though he lived a block away from me.

South Lake and Yates Street -- I pass by often. Very often. Two blocks from home. It's on the way to the Number 3 bus and the Number 4 bus, and glorious Washington Park. We often dribble a basketball down South Lake as we head to the park to shoot hoops.

Last night my daughter announced she wasn't walking to the school bus stop alone any more. She had been going solo there for a while now because I'm always running behind in the morning. And because she's 9 1/2 and there are no streets to cross. It had seemed a good building block towards independence. But Richard Bailey was murdered in our neighborhood, very close to our house, and I was picking up what she was putting down. Even if she hadn't made that announcement, I'm sure I would have walked her there myself this morning.

Still, my daughter's fear is heart-breaking.

Albany is a small city.

I came here from downstate as a SUNY student -- just like Richard Bailey did. I've walked alone on Albany's streets -- in this neighborhood, and in other neighborhoods -- late, late at night.

This morning, I had an appointment downtown. I took a candle with me and some matches. When I got to the spot on South Lake where Rick was shot, there were two burning candles, and some that had gone out in the rain and the wind. I tried to light my candle, but the matches didn't work. I decided to leave the candle at the spot, and I'd bring some better matches by later.

When I got on the Number 3, the driver, who used to take me to work every day, asked how things were down the block. Of course I knew what he meant. Quiet, as usual, I told him. We talked about how we're each grappling with this. He told me that Albany had always been a pretty safe city - that fifteen years ago, when he started this job -- these kind of things were really unheard of -- and now, along his route he's passing a number of serious crime scenes fifteen times during his workday. I told him that I came here as a SUNY student, and he said, "Oh, so you really relate to this," I replied, "Yes, I do. It resonates with me -- just as Kathina Thomas resonated with me in May -- and Jamaz Miller who was shot in broad daylight on Judson Street less than two weeks ago resonates with me." I told him I thought there was a growing problem in this city, and we really need to deal with it. He agreed.

A few hours later, I caught the Number 3 going in the other direction. I don't really know this driver. We had an almost-incident not too long ago. I didn't like the way she was talking to a middle school student who got on the bus without a bus pass -- the student said the school hadn't issued one yet, she told him if he didn't have a pass the next time he got on her bus, he'd have to have a dollar. She has a job to do, of course -- but I didn't think it was necessary to speak in the tone of voice she elected to use... and I got up to say something to her about it. She saw me coming, and told me to sit back down. I let it go. Today, she was talking with another passenger about Richard Bailey, and how sad it all is. They talked about how he should be graduating school in January -- how he wanted to be a police officer. The driver threw in her two cents about what the problem is, "Too many kids with parents who aren't raising them together. Too many single mothers who have to work and can't be home with their kids," she was saying. When I pulled the rope to signal I was getting off at Madison Avenue and South Lake, she said, "Oh, you live around here," with an air of sincerity -- we exchanged looks of hopelessness.

When I walked by the candle I had left at South Lake near Yates Street, it was burning.

Kathina Thomas was killed sixteen blocks from my house.

Richard Bailey was killed two blocks from my house.

Albany is a small city.

As many before me have said, and as I told the Common Council on June 2 -- this has got to stop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tragedy in the neighborhood

Crime is down, yet shootings inch closer to my doorstep.

My heart goes out to the friends and family of Richard Bailey.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Light Rail Imaginings

Apparently, there's something in the air in Pine Hills. Another resident of my 'hood reported his musings of light rail after our mayor uttered those two sweet words at last week's AMD hoopla.

Here's what Casey Seiler had to say in his TU commentary the other day:

I asked Jennings what the announcement would mean for my beloved Pine Hills neighborhood.

"This is going to be great for Albany," said Jennings, who expressed hope that the construction in Malta would make the Harriman Campus the next likely site for a cutting-edge research facility. He added that the time was ripe to revisit plans for a light rail system connecting the Capital Region's urban centers.

Seiler continued:
I tried to imagine a light rail line running south from Malta parallel to the Northway and then taking a wide, smooth turn onto Western Avenue, making a stop a few blocks from my house. Who was that stepping off the train? Why, it was my son, now grown to manhood and gainfully employed as a top engineer.
I chuckled to myself on my morning bus ride heading up Western Avenue. Surely , if Seiler's son was going to be aboard any light rail train from Malta, TQL's daughter would undoubtedly be his engineering colleague winding along that same Pine Hills Express.

He closed his piece with the following:

Several who spoke at the press conference said the Malta plant could herald a new dawn in manufacturing for New York, comparing it to the Erie Canal.

A project which, as my son could tell you, was the light rail of the early 19th Century.

Well, the positive vibe up in Malta last Tuesday didn't seem radiate down to Wall Street throughout the week. It's really too bad that my transit-riding superhero powers only work on public transportation that already exists. In order to turn our collective upstate light rail dream into a reality, the formula will need to include hard cash flowing back into our state's coffers and many more voices clamoring for sustainable transit options beyond the NYC metro region.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rochester: The Elephant in the Living Room

Has anyone in the local media asked CDTA executives, their board and government officials how it is possible that during the same month CDTA announced an upcoming 50% fare hike from $1 to $1.50, Rochester dropped its fare down to $1?

Rochester Transit's website might be so 1995, but hey now its bus fare is too. I happen to have an unabashed preference for CDTA's site, and for Rochester's bus fares.

The folks at CDTA might call my newfound fascination/nagging about Rochester an apples to oranges comparison, but is it? If so, please explain. I really want to know.

Thanks to NYC Cowboy, I noticed this editorial in last Sunday's Gazette calling for increased federal funding for public transit. Good. But no mention of Rochester.

I saw this article in the Business Review which I don't think gave me any information I didn't know 10 days earlier. Certainly no mention of Rochester.

The TU reporters have told us about the fare hike, and the TU's editorial board weighed in with an opinion. Yet, I haven't seen the words "Rochester," "CDTA," and "transit" in the same story in my daily local paper, have you?

A little hard to believe TU reporters don't read the NY Times, isn't it?

We know they read AOA -- which is how I found out about Rochester dropping fares to $1.

So c'mon, let's talk about that elephant.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Food and Neighborhood Planning

My all-time favorite cuisine is Indian food. Love it. Here's the back story:

My mother traveled to India a few times when I was a kid. They were business trips, so my sister and I didn't tag along. Nonetheless, the savory spices of India made their way into our home when I was young and impressionable. This was long before the explosion of inexpensive Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants along East 6th Street in Manhattan, though you could still find a spattering of Indian restaurants in the 1970's, and we did. I have recollections of attending outdoor Indian festivals with sitar music, bright colors everywhere, and the smells coriander and cumin wafting in the air. Visits to the homes of family friends usually included the staples of chapati and daal with samosas for fun and sweet, honey-laden desserts that I ate too quickly to ever learn what they were called. My mom seemed to be the only adult woman not clad in a sari, yet she dressed in silk-screens and batiks made in India, that reflected the fashions of our friends.

Looking back, it doesn't surprise me that Gopal, my very first boyfriend in high school, was from an Indian family. He was a total New York village kid just like me -- but a bit more traditional considering both parents were academics, and they were still together, unlike mine... and unlike about 80% of my friends' parents. We took the D train to school each day, yet our courtship did not begin on the train, but in 9th grade Social Studies class, where I found him irresistably funny - I'm a sucker for intelligent humor. Freshman year, Gope had these huge glasses that covered 1/2 his face, but I could tell hidden under the glasses was a really, really cute boy. On our first date he took me to see a pretty bad horror movie, while most time together was spent hanging out on Greenwich Village stoops, and eating felafel on MacDougal Street.

I was invited to spend a lot of time with Gopal's family. Somehow, it was his Hindu family that introduced this girl of eastern European Jewish stock to the 2nd Avenue Deli's fantastic pastrami -- only in New York. While getting invited to the boyfriend's house did sometimes include kosher food, more often than not, Gopal's disco-dancing mom found the time to cook delicious dishes from her home coastal city of Chennai, the thought of which still makes my mouth water a quarter of a century later.

I first came to Albany in 1986 for college, after graduating, I stayed in town for a while. During my early Albany years, there was only one Indian option in town -- and it was outrageously priced. I was living in Center Square when Shalimar, the first affordable-for-just-out-of-college-folk-without-a-real-job Indian restaurant opened, and I became an immediate regular customer.

Fast forward to the 2000's.

In 2001, I bought a house in Pine Hills. So, where do I find myself going whenever I can afford to soothe my craving for Indian? Most times -- Curry House, though I also love Tandoor Palace. Happily, I live just about 1/2 way between the two. When I sat down with the TU on Sunday, I thought about getting to both of these locations as I read this article about a great proposal to make Madison Avenue between South Allen and Lark Street more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. Fantastic. From the article:

Now, some residents and business people in the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association want the road reduced from four to two traffic lanes from South Allen to Lark streets with a turning lane and a bicycle lane.
"It's been done in a lot of cities to great effect," said Virginia Hammer, a member of the subcommittee that made the recommendation. "It's time for Albany to get on board with some enlightened ideas. What we need is a more pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly city."
Right on, Virginia Hammer! I walk up and down segments of this stretch of Madison at least twice a week, and I can attest that crossing at intersections is quite a challenge because there's always a turning car. My very unscientific observations also tell me that foot traffic along Madison is on the rise. And while I haven't worked up the guts to bike Albany yet, I recently saw a well-trained biking family I know riding along the sidewalk of Madison Avenue -- clearly because riding in the street is just not safe.

Meanwhile, Muddy Cup owner Jim Svetz, speaks to the frustration of trying to park on Madison in the article:
Jim Svetz has a bird's-eye view of the road from the Muddy Cup, his coffeehouse next to the Madison Theater.
"Everyone who has tried to drive on this road, park on this road, make a left-hand turn on this road, knows it's a good idea," he said. "When you park, you have to wait to get out of your car. You're trapped until all the cars go by. When you try to parallel park, you're doing it in the middle of a high-speed lane."
Exactly. Back in my larger-carbon-footprint-making everyday driving days, I often tried to park on Madison between South Allen and South Main usually to go to Curry House, Muddy Cup, or the CVS. Hard to find a spot. Hard to get out of the car when cars are whirring past you at 30 mph.

If you don't know which official Albany neighborhood you reside in, you can always check the Council of Neighborhood Association (CANA) map here. Pine Hills has this colorful map on their website:

The map doesn't quite match the boundaries on the CANA map, but you know... we're a big, happy family, and I think you can actually join a neighborhood association even if you don't live within its boundaries, but don't quote me on that one!

Come out to view the slide show announced in the TU article:
A slide show on the proposal will be shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association meeting at the LaSalle School, 381 Western Ave. The association's members will decide whether to endorse the idea. If they do, the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations will be asked to back the plan.
And, don't you go thinking that I've forgotten all about CDTA's steep fare hike. I completely agree with this article written by someone who ummm... rides the same bus I do.