Thursday, October 12, 2017

Opinion: Noisiest of the Night, Let's Put The Brakes On Jake Brakes in NYC!


New York City is often called "the city that never sleeps". While the slogan reflects a city that is vital and dynamic 24 hours a day, for many city residents the phrase is taken literally because there is a constant racket! Local politicians have taken notice and sound pollution has seen increased attention in the City Council. Ben Kallos, Representative for District 5, for instance, has introduced legislation that would require that all noise complaints are addressed within 2 hours. But how about regulating the noise?

Who are the culprits? Bars, clubs, construction sites and garbage trucks are frequently cited irritants. However, I believe that the noisiest of all is overlooked- trucks that use compression breaking systems, otherwise know as "Jake Brakes". Jake Brakes use the engine itself rather than a conventional brake to slow a truck down.  They are intended to slow a truck faster in the event of emergency, but are overused by truckers as they also reduce wear on the conventional brakes. The result from the compression of a Jake Brake is an ear splitting, window shaking low frequency rattle often described as a fast succession groan of "bap,bap, bap, bap, bap." How loud is this noise? An improperly muffled truck jake braking can be as loud as 105 decibels perhaps even louder, properly muffled, 85 decibels. For context, a garbage truck compacting trash during overnight hours is limited to 85 decibels. An increase of 10 decibels is 2 times louder, an increase of 20 decibels is 4 times louder. So, that semi rolling down your street utilizing the jake brake can be 4 times as loud as a garbage truck at full throttle. More examples of decibel levels for context: lawn mower 85 dB, motorcycle 88 dB, train 100dB, jackhammer 110 dB. So, if you are trying to sleep with the windows open, and you have survived the garbage trucks and the local drunks kicked out of the pubs, the trucks with jake brakes could be the last straw.

Why should the Jake Brake be banned in NYC with the exception of an emergency? That answer is easy. They are loud as all hell, they shake windows, disturb our sleep, and if trucks actually comply with the 25mph they are almost entirely unnecessary. Give us a break, ban the Jake Brake!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

East 86th In Pictures: Construction Chaos Climaxes, Sanity To Soon Prevail!

Anyone who has seen East 86th Street over the past two years can likely do more than simply shake their head. It has been a mess, an absolute mess! There has been water main replacement, gas main replacement, building demolition, and 2nd Avenue Subway construction. They are done, but wait, there are two last big projects that are being worked on- the restoration of the street after the various mains were replaced, and the East 86th Street Streetscape revamp.

The "restoration" involves tearing up the street where mains have been replaced, tamping down the soil, filling with concrete and paving over with asphalt. The "streetscape plan" (long advocated by the East 86th Street Association of which I am a member) replaces all curbs from 2nd Avenue to Park Avenue, expands sidewalks for bus bulbs, construction of pedestrian-friendly corner bump outs, expanding the size and number of tree pits, adding new trees, adding decorative tree guards and plantings to all the pits from 2nd Ave to Park, and adding planters and new street furniture. The numbers are impressive:

-15 new trees
- 3 trees replaced
- 304 Shrubs (18"-24")
- 37 Shamrock Inkberry Bushes (30"-36")- 2759 flowering bulbs- 301 ornamental Grasses (3 gallons each)- 204 perennials - 10 citibenches w backs- 58 new, matching tree guards



Fortunately, the last two projects are in the final stretch and all work is due to be completed by the end of November. If you want to keep track, the work is completed on the south side of East 86th, and they are now progressing with curbs, sidewalks and tree pits on the north side of 86th heading from east to west. They are approaching Lex, so a little more than a block to go. Or, follow @East86th on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Residents on or near East 86th Street, who have endured so much, are about to be repaid with plenty of green!

Here are the pictures from October 3rd, 2017. (Sorry, haven't figured out the slideshow function on Blogger yet!):


Bump out at Papaya King (86th &3rd)

Rubble on Lex & 86th

Expanding Sidewalk 86th & Third Ave

Ulta Beauty In A Box (86th & Third Ave)
Ulta Beauty In The Works (86th & Third Ave)

Working On A Gas Leak, Whoops! (86th & Third Ave)


Curb Work 86th Between Third Ave and Lex

Curvy Curve 86th Between Third and Lex

Bus Bulb On 86th Between Second and Third Aves
Bus Bulb Planter 86th Between Second and Third Aves

New Stairs For Lexington Ave Station

Bigger Tree Pit Awaits Guard and Flowers


Friday, May 26, 2017

Major East 86th Street Association Sanitation Initiative Backed and Funded By Ben Kallos

From Left: Stephen Calder (Deputy Chief DSNY), Council Member Ben Kallos, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Fine (East 86th Street Association), Ricky Cyrus (DSNY District 8 Chief).

From East86th.org, By Andrew Fine, May 26th, 2017.
We are pleased to announce that District 5 Council Member Ben Kallos has secured funding to transition all 5th District corner trash receptacles from the old wire baskets to the new, larger cans housed in green metal cases. The new cans with domed top and smaller opening increases capacity, prevents spillage and deters rats. The 284 new cans announced today is in addition to the 38 announced last June and the 13 recently lobbied for by @East86th along Lexington Avenue. 
For the past several years, the East 86th Street Association has lobbied local officials and the Department of Sanitation for larger cans and increased pick-ups in the neighborhood. We are happy that these efforts are now bearing fruit.
Council Member Kallos adds ""It is a pleasure to have partners like the East 86th Street Association, they are a true asset to the community, " Its board members have been crucial in keeping me up to speed on the cleanliness of the neighborhood and have pushed for more trash cans. Thank you to the East 86th Street Association for their support and commitment to keeping Upper East Side streets as clean as possible."
On behalf of the East 86th Street Association we extend a very well deserved thank you to the Council Member and Commissioner Garcia. We greatly appreciate your receptiveness to our common concerns and especially appreciate that you have taken decisive actions to address those concerns. Many of the new cans have already been deployed in recent weeks and the improvement in local sanitation is noticeable. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Project, East86th.org is Born!

East86th.Org

Hey folks, I know it has been a while, and I miss you all! It has been a busy year and a half, if I have the count correct. First, I had a bit of writer's block. Second, I was busy with business. That's not a bad problem to have. I have also been busy with community activism in my local neighborhood of the East 80's on the Upper East Side.

I'm not sure where to start. A Fine Blog, put me on the path to community activism. The following was immense. I've had over One Million unique viewers over the years. The blog gets attention, and I had issues that I wanted addressed. It worked. The blog drew attention to all sorts of issues from crazy rules at Chuck E Cheese's (which eventually ran the viral gauntlet all the way up to Weekend Update on SNL) to piles of garbage on the Upper East Side. The latter, and specifically local sanitation issues, is one that I am uniquely obsessed with. In any case, the blog worked. Local news media picked up my stories and drew attention to my issues and brought them into the spotlight, and forcing them to be addressed. I'll admit, as a blogger, I grew somewhat frustrated. There were several instances where my stories were big hits, but there was zero attribution to the source, A Fine Blog. There were instances where my words on grifted virtually word for word and ended up in local tabloids and claimed by the writer to be his/her own. There were news crews showing up on the same day shooting video of the precise location of a quality of life infraction that I only shot photos of earlier in the day. Again, no attribution. On the other hand, publications like Curbed, The Real Deal, and reporters with integrity, like Tom Llamas, were more than willing to share the source of a compelling story. I guess I have digressed from the story here though. All of this comes with the territory of blogging, and the greater good or purpose of drawing attention to issues was served. On balance, I will settle with this result any day!

So, I went away from the blog, but that didn't mean that I wasn't busy. Actually, I got busier. I started attending Community Board 8 meetings, City Council meetings, meetings with my local (and admirable) Councilman Ben Kallos. I started getting tangible results. I was invited to join the board of the East 86th Street Association, where I serve with pride. My interest in reviving the blog grew, but before I could tackle that project, I had one big project in mind- to completely revamp the website and social media presence of the East 86th Street Association. I started in December and it turned out to be a much bigger project than I anticipated. Sure, I've authored a Blogger-based blog for a decade, but I hadn't built a website from scratch since the early 90's. We are talking way back with Microsoft Front Page, before there was social media! Anyway, it was a beast of a chore, and I could only do it in my spare time. I wanted to build the best community organization website around, which made the task even tougher. I was fortunate for three things- my friend William Mallick, a coder that I hired to help, Squarespace, and a friendly bar with decent wifi and a tolerance for geeks sitting around over laptops on a regular basis.

The end result, East86th.org is alive, and thankfully finished! Well, the base site is finished, it will remain a work in progress as new content is loaded on a regular basis. Items that relate to the East 80's will also appear here. Items that don't relate to my local hood will only appear here. I have also revamped East 86th Street Association's social media platforms- Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, all easily found under the moniker @East86th. Please have a look!

So, next up, an A Fine Blog makeover and reboot. Again, this will be a work in progress, but I hope you enjoy all of the insights and content. It is great to be back!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fed Flash: Rates Increase 1/4 Point For First Time Since 2006

My rate forecast back in March has been fulfilled as the Fed finally, in a widely anticipated move, raised the Fed Funds rate 1/4 of a point today. The current Funds rate is now a target range between .25% and .50%. So, with slight bragging aside, 2016 seems to be far more difficult to forecast than 2015. The economy is relatively healthy, but far from robust. There is very little inflationary pressure, and wages are just now starting to see an inkling of acceleration. GDP forecasts are in the 2.5% range for 2016. Those forecasts would have to be topped for the Fed to do anything dramatic on the interest rate front. From this vantage point, I think the Fed will gradually try to put a couple of bullets back in the holster, so I see a gradual increase in rates for 2016. My forecast, three rate hikes in 2016 of a quarter point each.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On East 86th Street, Sanitation Improvements and Street Vendor Challenges

86th Street, Before(L), After (R) (A.Fine)
First the good news: East 86th Street is getting cleaner! As we all know, East 86th Street has been a mess the past few years. "Ready, Willing, and Able", the charity that employs homeless to clean while they train to re-enter society, left in 2011 and trash cans have been overflowing into the streets ever since. Until now! I highlighted the problem on March 16th with a post titled "Garbage Problems On East 86th Recall Bad Old Days." That post seemed to have prompted a copycat report on WCBS-TV news the next day: "Residents, Business Owners, Want City To Curb 86th Street Trash Problem." While there was no credit attributed to A Fine Blog, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the point was to get the word out and draw attention to the problem. This had an immediate, but far from long lasting impact. Tickets were written the next few days, and the Dep't of Sanitation quickly cleaned up the mess, but the problem came right back a couple of days later. So, more perseverance was required. I took my complaints to our receptive councilman, Ben Kallos. I kind of feel sorry for him, as I'll admit, I'm persistent, and to this day maintain a healthy back and forth with his office. I complained to Sanitation, the Health Department, Consumer Affairs, 311, the Mayor, the Borough President. And, I have encouraged friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. Finally, we are seeing progress! A week back I noticed that the garbage cans were no longer overflowing, rather, there were full green garbage bags alongside the cans that were suddenly being emptied regularly. As it turns out, Sanitation has partnered with local merchants and the merchants are now helping prevent the mess. The difference is significant. Because the cans are now being emptied more often you can tell that there is a lot less litter on the streets and there is no longer the unsightly "snow cone" of garbage on every corner. Additionally, more and bigger garbage cans are coming to the area.
Big Belly, 86th + Lex
This morning I was heartened to see two brand new "Big Belly" solar-compactor garbage vessels on the SE corner of 86th and Lex. It also comes on good information that lager garbage can trios (includes a regular refuse can, a can for paper, and another can for cans and bottles), should be deployed on or near Third Avenue in the mid-80's. Fingers crossed! Three times the garbage cans will hold three times the garbage! So, that is the progress. 86th Street is looking cleaner. We have a way to go, but I want to thank Councilman Kallos' office for being responsive and actually getting results. I would also like to thank everyday citizens who have joined in the cause to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease!

86th + Third Avenue, Early Morning
We still have plenty of challenges on East 86th Street. The vast proliferation of Street Vendors is at or near the top of the list. The problem is obvious. They take up an incredible amount of sidewalk space in perhaps the most congested residential areas in NYC. They take valuable parking spaces (all day long) from customers who might otherwise park and shop at rent paying, tax-paying stores in the neighborhood. They have no concern about litter or regulations, and there is no uniformity to their stands. In short, they are a blight. In getting started on this issue, I've read up on the rules and regulations, and I attended my first Community Board (CB8) meeting on the problem. I was stunned at my findings. Among them:

- The City Council is considering increasing the number of vendor permits. Shortly after the meeting, CB8 has come out opposed to these increases.

- The City allows vending in front of residential buildings that are zoned residential with a commercial overlay. In other words, buildings zoned for apartments and stores. Yet, in my book, the commercial overlay relates only to the building use, not the use of the sidewalk!

- Aside from in front of the Metropolitan Museum, no street vendors are allowed on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. Hmmm, convenient.

- Apparently, there is a very influential street vendor lobby that both the City Council and CB8 appear to be intimidated by. Who knew?

- There is a widespread myth that street vending is some magical, entrepreneurial path to larger business success. The truth is, that might have been the case on Orchard Street in 1915, but today entrepreneurs can utilize street fairs, flea markets, and that thing known as the internet if they want to start a business.

- The three agencies that are responsible for enforcement (Health, Consumer Affairs, Sanitation) are all understaffed with inspectors combined numbering in the dozens, total.


86th bet Third and Lex
Oddly, it seems that our quality of life and our common space are being held hostage by a very small group- the street vendors. There are only a couple thousand permits for all of NYC, yet they practically own the streets. Personally, I would be perfectly happy if there were none of them. The sidewalks would be clear, parking more readily available for businesses that pay rent and taxes, and the streets would be cleaner, more pleasant and more passable. If we are forced to live with vendors I have a couple of ideas. First, the physical stands should be standardized. Second, there must be enforcement. Did you know that street vendors cannot be within 10' of the edge of a crosswalk, within 15' of a fire hydrant, or within 20' of the edge of a door? There is very little enforcement and hence virtually no compliance. Since the agencies responsible have no man power, perhaps it is time to empower traffic agents with the authority to write tickets to non-compliant vendors. There sure is no shortage of them.

Let this be said. I am not against people trying to make an honest living. I don't even have that big of a problem with food trucks so long as their numbers are limited and they are diligent about keeping the area near the truck clean. Who doesn't like a decent truck Taco here and there? What I do have a big problem with is complete disarray on our sidewalks. The problems are numerous, pervasive, and need to be addressed. The sidewalks belong to all New Yorkers. We should not be forced to live with unsightly filth, and unnecessary congestion in densely populated residential areas. 86th Street is finally making progress, let's make this a trend!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A New Place to Watch Notre Dame Football On The Upper East Side, Gael Pub!


Notre Dame is a big school with big tradition, but no real home to watch the games on the Upper East Side. That all changes this Saturday with the Fighting Irish squaring off vs. the undefeated Navy Midshipmen at 3pm. Noticing the lack of a home on the UES, I helped enlist one of my favorite locals, the Gael Pub (an Irish Pub no less), to be that new home that Irish fans on the Upper East Side have been yearning for. Every Notre Dame Football game will play at the bar on Third Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets. There are plenty of TVs, the sound will be on, drink specials offered ($12 bud lite pitchers for example), and they have a tasty food menu as well! As a fan, I couldn't be happier. Way to go Gael Pub! Go Irish!

Gael Pub, 1465 Third Avenue