The trouble with creating a ‘new MTA’

NY Post

It’s tempting, if you’re sitting on a stalled subway train, to wonder: Why don’t we chuck the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority and start over?

Last week, the nonprofit Regional Plan Association proposed a mild version of just that, a spinoff for the subways. But it’s hard to make a fresh start with politicians as cynical as ours.

The RPA says what is self-evident: The MTA “is not capable of rebuilding the subway system.” For one, the MTA has too much to do: managing commuter rail, buses, bridges and tunnels in addition to the subway. And it’s never clear who’s in charge: the governor appoints more people than anyone else to the MTA’s board, but many New Yorkers think the mayor runs the subway.

Plus, the MTA builds stuff too slowly, and for too much money.

“Contracting, procurement and labor practices required by the MTA are inefficient and out-of-date,” the RPA says. “Work rules . . . lead to excessive staffing and unproductive work time,” and “requirements to use the operations workforce” — that is, day-to-day subway workers — “on construction projects . . . increase project costs and delivery times.”

Finally, “the MTA is $40 billion in debt . . . with expenses growing 30 percent faster than operating revenues due to rapidly escalating employee-benefit costs and debt.”

It’s broke.

But we can’t just give up, either. “Let’s just not accept that it will take us 50 years to improve the subways,” says Tom Wright, RPA president. “The idea is you create a corporation that is not encumbered by these rules before you commit billions of extra dollars.”

The RPA wants to save the subways by taking them away from the MTA. It proposes a new “subway reconstruction public benefit corporation,” which would have just one job: to “completely rebuild the subway system.”

To do that, it would have more freedom than the MTA to set work and contracting rules. And the public would know who’s accountable: the governor. Although it would have a board, the governor would appoint most members.

There’s merit to starting over. New York does lots of new transportation projects — Citibike and the ferries — well outside of the MTA, to avoid the mess and keep costs down.

But there are also big questions.

First, this new corporation would need lots of new money. “Rebuilding the subway” even while cutting costs “would still significantly increase capital construction budgets,” the RPA notes.

The catch is that the politicos would expect New York City taxpayers to pay this tab . . . while also funding the “legacy” MTA. The “old” MTA’s debt is not going away.

The MTA already gets 76 percent of its fares from New York City riders, plus 61 percent of its tax funding from the city, and much of that money goes to projects that don’t benefit city commuters. From 2003 to 2019, the MTA will have spent more than half of its expansion investments on commuter rails, not on subway riders — even though commuter-rail customers are only 7 percent of total ridership.

The risk is obvious: The governor would expect the city to keep paying for all of this “old” stuff, and pay directly for “new” subways. You will pay, effectively, twice.

Speaking of the governor, it’s not clear why the state should be in charge. The money is coming from the city. And Gov. Cuomo has shown no interest in cutting costs when doing so annoys labor unions.

The new subway corporation, remember, is supposed to eliminate the problem of having the MTA’s workers do construction work at a high cost. But the MTA recently OK’d an agreement by which those workers will do lots of Con Ed electrical work underground.

“When the union that represents subway workers discovered that outside contractors would be conducting maintenance work,” it was “incensed,” reported Politico New York. The union struck a deal to be “partners,” watching Con Ed do only “small stuff.”

Finally, though the new entity would rebuild subways, the MTA would still run them. But without discipline over pension and health costs, that means even more money would go to higher benefits and not better service.

A new subway authority won’t be immune to the union pressures that keep these costs high. Smart politicians like Cuomo would create it — and shape it to suit them.

Met opera suspends conductor after sex abuse accusations


New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Sunday said it was suspending its relationship with longtime conductor James Levine pending an investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

“Mr. Levine will not be involved in any Met activities, including conducting scheduled performances at the Met this season,” the Met said in a statement.

The Met also said it has appointed attorney Robert J. Cleary, a former U.S. attorney and the current head of the investigations practice at the Proskauer Rose law firm, to lead the investigation into the allegations that took place from the 1960s to 1980s.

The move to suspend Levine came a day after the New York Post first reported that one of Levine’s accusers claimed he had sexual contact with Levine as a teenager. Met officials said they were launching an investigation. Then on Sunday, The New York Times reported similar accounts from two other men accusing Levine of sexual misconduct.

One of Levine’s accusers, Ashok Pai, also spoke to The Associated Press in recent weeks but declined to tell his story on the record at the time. He declined to be interviewed again when contacted this weekend.

According to the Times, Pai said he was sexually abused by Levine starting in the summer of 1986, when he was 16. He reported the allegations to the police department in Lake Forest, Illinois, in October 2016. Details of the police report were first reported on Saturday on the New York Post’s website. Met officials said they learned of the police report last year.

Pai said he reached out to police in Lake Forest because some of his encounters with Levine took place there in the mid-1980s. Levine served as music director at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, from 1973 to 1993.

Chris Brown played principal bass in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for more than 30 years. He told the Times that he and Levine masturbated each other when Brown was 17 at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan, where Levin was on the summer program’s faculty.

James Lestock described a similar account there when he was a 17-year-old cello student.

“Based on these new reports, the Met has made the decision to act now, while we await the results of the investigation,” said Peter Gelb, Met General Manager. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”

An email to Levine’s manager seeking comment on the accusations was not immediately returned.

Met officials said in an earlier statement that Levine has denied the charges.

On Saturday afternoon, Levine conducted a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” that was broadcast on radio worldwide. It was expected to be his last appearance at the Met for at least the rest of this year and possibly the foreseeable future. Levine was scheduled to conduct a New Year’s Eve gala performance of “Tosca.”

The opera company honored Levine with the title of Music Director Emeritus after the end the 2015-2016 season.

The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward with their allegations. In this case the three alleged victims agreed to have their names published in the Times.

The accusations against Levine, among the most prominent classical music conductors in the world, are the latest in a stream of sexual misconduct charges involving high-profile men in entertainment and the media that have rocked the nation since accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein were reported in October.

Levine served as music director of the Met from 1976 to 2016, when he assumed the position of music director emeritus.

Levine has struggled with health problems including Parkinson’s disease in recent years but was scheduled to conduct several productions this season.

Facebook “Messenger Kids” lets under-13s chat with whom parents approve

For the first time, Facebook is opening up to children under age 13 with a privacy-focused app designed to neutralize child predator threats that plague youth-focused competitors like Snapchat. Rolling out today on iOS in the US, “Messenger Kids” lets parents download the app on their child’s phone or tablet, create a profile for them, and approve friends and family who they can text and video chat with from the main Messenger app.

Tweens don’t sign up for a Facebook account and don’t need a phone number, but can communicate with other Messenger and Messenger Kids users parents sign-off on, so younger siblings don’t get left out of the family group chat. “We’ve been working closely with the FTC so we’re lockstep with them. ‘This works’, they said” Facebook product management director Loren Cheng tells me. “In other apps, they can contact anyone they want or be contacted by anyone” Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus notes.

Special proactive detection safety filters prevent children from sharing nudity, sexual content, or violence, while a dedicated support team will respond quickly to reported or flagged content. Facebook even manually sifted Giphy to build a kid-friendly version of the GIF sharing engine. And with childish augmented reality masks and stickers, video calls with grandma could be a lot more fun and a lot less silent or awkward.

Something like this would have gone over with me like a “fart in the church”. My boss likened it to “going to a D.A.R. meeting with Mom”

Facebook won’t be directly monetizing Messenger Kids, automatically migrating kids to real accounts when they turn 13, or collecting data so that it complies with Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) law. But the app could prime kids to become life-long Facebook users, and lock their families deeply into the platform where they’ll see ads.

“When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents” say Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus. “But the side effect will be that they use Messenger more and create family groups.” Marcus tells me he’s excited about getting his 8-year-old into the family chat alongside his 14- and 17-year-old children.

How Messenger Kids Works

It’s important to understand that kids under 13 still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, parents download the Messenger Kids app to a child’s iPhone or iPad (Android coming soon). Once the parent has authenticated in with their own account, they set up a mini-profile with their kid’s name and photo. Then, using the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app, parents can approve anyone who is friends with them as a contact for their kid, like aunts and uncles or godparents. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don’t actually have to download the Kids app.

Kids still can’t be found through Facebook search to protect their privacy. So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid’s parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult’s child as contact for their own kid. This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids, and something Facebook might be able to improve with a way for Messenger Kids to let children perhaps photograph a QR code on their playmate’s app to request that their parents connect.

When children open the Messenger Kids app, they’ll see a color-customizable home screen with big tiles representing their existing chat threads and approved contacts, with their last message and the last time they were online. From there, kids can dive instantly into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. No message content is collected for ad targeting (same as Messenger), and there’s no in-app purchases to worry about. Kids can block and unblock their parent-approved contacts.

A Clean Break: The Freight Village Concept

The Sidewalk

Sustainability is big business in building, but what can be done to reduce environmental impacts of the freight transport sector to make it more sustainable?  Currently, freight emissions and noise pollution are a big problem in and around the port areas.  To make matters worse, greenfield areas are threatened as the demand for more warehouse and distribution space grows.

The Freight Village

A concept called the ‘freight village’ has been successfully trialed and adopted in locations in Europe and Asia.  Within a central urban area, goods are consolidated and then transferred into “clean” vehicles for the last mile delivery.  Last mile delivery is a term used in logistics for shipment of goods from a transportation hub to their final destination (the business or the home).

3048031457_9857c6b1a9_zHuw Lynes. Electric Truck

Examples of clean vehicles include hybrids, methane-powered vehicles and electric vehicles charged by a renewable energy source.

The main objectives are…

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Dangerous Design: Walking in Suburbia

OUI! To be in a “car culture” neighborhood BUT do not drive

The Sidewalk

Cities are hot stuff these days.  After a half a century of people fleeing the nation’s cities for a “better life” in the suburbs, they are coming back.  As city centers are becoming more and more desirable places to live, rising property values are making it impossible for the less fortunate to stay.

Those who are being priced out of the cities are migrating into suburban and exurban areas where living is more affordable.  Many of them do not have cars.

Suburban Poverty Surpasses Urban and Rural

Many suburbs and exurbs, particularly those which developed over the second half of the twentieth century, are laid out in a patchwork of developments cobbled together by rural highways or arterials, and they do not support safe walking.

It is an unfortunate reality today that the very places that were designed for heavy vehicle use have a growing population of those who cannot afford cars, according to…

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