Buffalo as Hipster Kingdom

Photo Credit: Buffalo.com

Photo Credit: Buffalo.com

If you’re a western New Yorker with a Facebook account, you’ve no doubt seen a minimum of 10 shares of this Gothamist article entitled, “Millennials are Moving to Buffalo & Living Like Kings” In typical Buffalo fashion, a positive article from an out-of-area media outlet sends us all into a frenzy of self-congratulation, smugly pleased that our choices to live in what others consider to be a grey, snowy wasteland are recognized as “not insane”.

Unlike most of these sorts of writer-discovers-Buffalo-Niagara-doesn’t-suck pieces, this one took the time to include a wide variety of voices from different backgrounds and walks of life. Even more surprisingly, it even addressed Buffalo’s systemic segregation, and how the renaissance many of us who “live like kings” perceive to be happening isn’t extending at all to poorer, less white neighborhoods.

“Living Like Kings” is a misnomer, as well. I suppose it depends on the kingdom, but I’m not aware of any proper royalty that’s working on gentrifying a poor neighborhood, buying a cheap fixer-upper and spending months rehabbing it. On the contrary, what the article describes is how some young people and recent college grads can find a quality of life in Buffalo that is easier and cheaper than what they’d find in, say, New York City. The waitress who can clear her $150 rent in one weekend shift of waitressing isn’t living like a Duchess – she’s living in a way that enables her to work, keep a roof over her head, pay her bills, and maybe save a little. She’s living like a human being.

But what the mostly poor, pre-existing residents of neighborhoods undergoing gentrification need goes beyond ironic, hashtagged tchotchke shops and coffee outlets. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, per se, but they exist to fuel the newcomers who sport pockets deep enough to accommodate some disposable income. The vast majority of people who live in the immediate vicinity of Hydraulic Hearth or Resurgence Brewery aren’t the ones ponying up $13 for an individual pizza or $6.50 for a beer. These are destination places – on your bike or in your car you go. Sort of like in the suburbs.

It’s the data points that matter – home prices are going up, wages are going up, and the decades-long annual emptying of Erie County has stabilized. But the central thesis of the article is that young people are re-inventing the American Dream by choosing to gentrify poor, minority neighborhoods. The population data, however, don’t support evidence of a widespread residential rebound for the city of Buffalo. The emptying continues apace.

This is all anecdotal, and at least one person in the article couldn’t help but throw shade at people who have different choices or goals. No, not everyone dreams of a big single-family house and expensive car, but not everyone gets a TV show, a sailboat, and an annual week on Nantucket, either. Not to mention, it’s nothing new for young people and couples with no kids to stay in the city, and the “death of the suburbs” meme ranges from anecdotal to pure fiction.

What we’re talking about is nothing new – upward mobility, wealth, development, gentrification. But this Gothamist article is different because it tackles the flipside of the equation head-on. Turning to the question of segregation and inequality, Gothamist asks what this all means for poor African-Americans in Buffalo:

Not much, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor told me when I visited him at his office at the University at Buffalo. If anything, he said, it makes things worse.

According to his research, Buffalo’s renaissance has sped up the decline of Buffalo’s predominantly African-American East Side neighborhoods. On his computer, he showed me two maps. One traced the location of nearly $3 billion worth of new residential, commercial and medical developments downtown. The other showed African-American population losses and gains in surrounding areas. When the maps are overlaid, they show blacks leaving the East Side neighborhoods next to the concentration of downtown development, and moving to far-flung reaches of the city.

“I’m not convinced that most folks here are anchored by a larger vision of the type of city they want to build. They equate a revitalized city with a bunch of white people doing their thing in it,” Taylor said.

“I’m not anti-growth, but I think the purpose of growth is to build a city that is just and a good place to live and raise a family for everybody that is there,” he added. “And so I think you judge that city by what it does for the least of the members of that society and the extent to which it’s consciously attempting to develop all of these communities. I think Buffalo is trapped in a growth for growth’s sake model, and that model never looks at social consequences.”

This is the first time I’ve read that Buffalo’s re-development is doing palpable, measurable harm to residents of Buffalo’s near East Side. While the promised jobs at the medical campus or SolarCity have the potential to help the city-at-large, there’s not much there to combat the broken families, crushing poverty, hopelessness, and dysfunctional school system – now run by privatizers. It’s important to work to ensure that everyone is lifted up in this putative Buffalo renaissance, and to put things in their proper perspective.

The Gothamist article is worthy of praise because it doesn’t just stop at bespectacled youngsters making a life for themselves or coffee shops or chicken coops or breweries or skating rinks. It addresses the uglier truths and pervasive, persistent issues we face and haven’t adequately addressed. If it helps bring more people to Buffalo to make a life, that’s more economic activity, more tax revenue, and a better chance to help lift up every western New Yorker. There seems to be no real plan or concerted effort to ensure that our renaissance isn’t simultaneously exploiting other Buffalonians.

New GOP Congress to Destroy Canadian Border

Google Maps 2015-01-28 06-30-07Need to make an IKEA run? How about a show on King Street, an exhibit at the A.G.O., or maybe just a really good pizza here, here, or here? You might want to knock things off your Ontario to-do list if Congressional Republicans get their way.

Although temporarily pulled for being too weak, the “Secure Our Borders First Act” (HR 399) would impose unprecedented restrictions on leaving the United States via our border with Canada.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, controls at the Canadian border were strengthened, and travelers were required to produce proof of citizenship in order to enter the US. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted to try and balance security and freedom to travel. A tattered birth certificate or simple driver’s license was no longer enough – now you need a Passport, NEXUS, or enhanced driver’s license. While arguably improving security, it added cost and time to crossing the border.

Congress’ latest idea is to require biometric testing – e.g., fingerprinting or iris scans – for people departing the United States via the northern border. Every person in every vehicle would be required to exit the vehicle and provide biometric information. As you might imagine, the impact that this would have on routine cross-border visits for business, tourism, or just shopping, would be catastrophic. It would quite literally shut the border down, and it would deal a devastating blow to the western New York economy, which relies heavily on Canadian shoppers and cross-border traffic for jobs and tax revenue.

The “Secure Our Borders First Act” is billed in national media as being a Republican bitch-slap at President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. But the affect on the Canadian border isn’t some inadvertent accident – it was a deliberate amendment brought forward by freshman Republican congressman from Syracuse John Katko. As the Finger Lakes Times reports,

Newly seated Rep. John Katko wants the nation’s northern border to get the same attention as the one down south. Katko, R-24 of Syracuse, introduced legislation last week to require the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a northern border threat analysis. The bill is Katko’s first since he took office earlier this month.

“As a former federal prosecutor on both the northern border in New York and the southern border in El Paso, Texas, I’ve seen first-hand the issues our nation faces countering drug trafficking and potential terrorist acts,” Katko said in a press release. “While great attention is justifiably given to the challenges of securing our southern border, ensuring the safety of our vast northern border is critical to our nation’s security.”

Katko’s district includes the Lake Ontario shoreline in Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties, which is part of the international border with Canada…Katko said he also added an amendment…to the Secure Our Borders First Act authoriz[ing] the deployment of the same type of technology and resources on the northern border as it does for the southern border.

The Secure Our Borders First Act also includes the language from Katko’s stand-alone bill. “I’m committed to enacting tough border security to ensure the safety of upstate New York and the sovereignty of our nation,” Katko said. “Requiring timely assessment of the threats posed by illegal entry on both the northern and southern border, and adequately responding to those threats, is crucial to making that happen.”

The Secure our Borders First Act would allocate $10 billion for border security. It has come under fire from both sides of the aisle, with some Democrats arguing that it does not offer real solutions and some Republicans arguing that it represents a prelude to amnesty.

Add to that criticism the fact that this is a fundamentally idiotic, pointless, and harmful piece of legislation. You picked a doozy, Syracuse. Requiring biometric testing upon departure from the US would require the construction of inspection booths on the outbound lanes.  Requiring every occupant of every vehicle to exit and provide biometric information would be time-consuming and accomplish absolutely nothing.  Every effort to better integrate the WNY economy into that of Southern Ontario would simply vanish. Erie County sales tax revenue from Canadian shoppers would plummet and put more pressure on WNY taxpayers.

The Peace Bridge’s Ron Reinas told the Buffalo News that this proposal would kill border crossings. Congressman Higgins reacted similarly:

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, predicted that people would simply stop crossing the border because of the biometric testing provision, which would require the government to take fingerprints from or do iris scans of everyone in every vehicle leaving the country. “This job-killing bill would effectively close the northern border and cripple key components of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing,” Higgins predicted.

When Rep. Higgins offered an amendment delaying biometric implementation until Homeland Security could determine whether it would impede border traffic, Republicans shot it down.

Republicans on the committee defended the measure, saying biometric tests at the border would go a long way toward securing it by giving the federal government a way of checking which foreign visitors had overstayed their visas. Currently, foreigners who travel to the U.S. from many countries must have a visa, but there is no system in place to discover when they have overstayed those visas. The biometric inspection system would create that system by giving the government a way of cross-referencing biometric exit data against the list of visas the government issued. Some 49 percent of the undocumented immigrants in America simply overstayed their visas, rather than entering the country illegally, said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. “This would give us a way to eliminate almost half the illegals that are in this country by knowing when they left and when they did not,” said Duncan, who noted that four of the hijackers who perpetrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had overstayed their visas.

There’s no exception made for citizens of Canada or the US, who don’t need visas to visit each other’s countries. Because a small percentage of visitors to the US on tourist visas stay longer than they’re allowed, we will effectively shut down the Canadian border. This is bad government, and it introduces exit controls rivalling what the Warsaw Pact countries concocted pre-1989.

It’s also a breach of contract with the Canadians, and completely unnecessary. The US and Canada share information on who is crossing the border. When you enter Canada and the agent takes your passport, that information is transmitted to the US, and vice-versa. We don’t need to construct a new infrastructure and biometric testing to secure the Canadian border. When did we abandon that careful balance between security and liberty?

…the provision appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “Beyond the Border” agreement between the U.S. and Canada, which aims to make crossing the border easier, not harder. What’s more, the Beyond the Border agreement appears to offer the U.S. a way of knowing who is leaving the country without installing a new biometric inspection system. “The Beyond the Border Action Plan committed Canada and the U.S. governments to put in place entry-exit information systems at the common land border to exchange biographical information on the entry of travellers, including citizens, permanent residents and third-country nationals,” said Christine Constantin, spokesperson for the Canadian embassy in Washington. “The system would allow a record of entry into one country as a record of an exit from the other.” Currently the system exists for exchanging data on third-country nationals, permanent residents of Canada and lawful residents in the United States at all automated points of entry, Constantin said.

Our local Republican Congressman, Chris Collins has absolutely nothing definitive to say about any of this.

…while he thinks the nation needs tough legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, at the southern border, he has concerns about the biometric inspection requirement. “If implemented wrong, this could potentially create problems for the Western New York economy,” Collins said. “So, I will be working with my colleagues to protect Western New York from any negative economic impact.”

Potentially? This is a WNY killer. How could this be implemented “right“?

When the bill was pulled, the Buffalo News noted that Collins proposed an amendment not dissimilar from Higgins’ own.

Under Collins’ proposed amendment, the requirement for biometric tests would not move forward until after completion of a demonstration project aimed at testing whether the mandate would create traffic chaos. Collins’ measure would mean that the biometric requirement would move forward only if it “has not resulted in increased wait times at any border crossing that was participating in such pilot program.”

Calling himself a “doubting Thomas” on the proposal, Collins said: “What we want is just to make sure that anything we do, number one, works, and number two, doesn’t cause undue delays at our northern borders and for folks coming to Bills and Sabres games and going to the Galleria mall. We can’t have backups at the Peace Bridge or Rainbow Bridge or any of the others that would dissuade Canadians from coming into this country and also inconvenience Americans.”

It was never introduced because the GOP pulled the bill, but while Collins gives himself credit, the real reason might have to do with ultra right-wing Congressmen from the deep South believing the whole thing is too milquetoast. If you tend to believe in conspiracies, it might be reasonable to suppose that this whole thing is designed deliberately by Republicans to do harm to blue border states like New York.

Asked about Collins’ alternative, Higgins said he was concerned that the results from any biometric demonstration project might not tell the story of what would happen at every border crossing. “This doesn’t take into account the fact that every single border crossing is different,” Higgins said. A spokesman for Collins said, though, that the legislation calls for three demonstration project sites rather than just one, meaning that problems could well surface somewhere during the testing. Higgins also noted that the biometric requirement appears to be redundant at the Canadian border, as the U.S. and Canadian governments have agreed to exchange exit and entry information about travelers as part of their “Beyond the Border” initiative to make border crossings easier. “Why isn’t that being taken into account?” Higgins asked. “Is it ignorance? Is it arrogance?”

Higgins hits the nail on the head. This proposal is completely pointless. It adds an unduly restrictive anti-immigrant act to our grand security theater.

As I argued in this article, we should be making our border with Canada work smarter and better. Restricting the market for labor, goods, and services is silly, and there are ways to free up cross-border traffic while addressing security issues.

Requiring every occupant of every IKEA-bound and Galleria-bound vehicle to provide fingerprints or an iris scan upon exit from the United States is pointless, redundant, theater, expensive, and would reverse and devastate WNY’s fragile and tentative economic recovery. I can understand how some throwback fascist southern xenophobe might decide that exit visas or fingerprinting might be a great idea for the Canadian border, but we’re talking here about New York congressmen who should know better than to destroy their own districts.

The text of the bill where Congressional Republicans seek to ruin the western New York economy is here. To call it a disgrace is a collossal understatement, and the only one who gets it is Congressman Brian Higgins. Your liberty and wallet are under Republican attack.

(Side note: the voters in NY-26 dodged a huge bullet last year).

Lance Diamond

Lance Diamond was a Buffalo icon. He kept Buffalo dancing, he kept us singing, but above all things, Lance Diamond kept Buffalo funky.

 

Crappy 2014 Retrospective Post

For some reason, not all of my posts transferred neatly from Artvoice to here. Nevertheless, even though I already wrote that year-end retrospective posts suck, here is my sucky 2014 retrospective.

Tom Bauerle’s episode. Geoff Kelly and I didn’t think the story was newsworthy enough to run with, even though we had enough information to publish something. The Buffalo News ran it, and I questioned why it might be something for public consumption. Its abrupt relegation to “life and arts” seemed like vindication.

Dennis Gabryszak’s toilet video. Ew.

We had to vet a former Buffalo chef’s bullshit.  By way of reminder, his dad’s credentials to tell you the weather are “has looked out the window before”.

Here are some thoughts about how the country has moved away from its roots in the Enlightenment.

Eat chicken wings however the fuck you please, and call them whatever you want.

The NYS Thruway Authority is the worst. It is emblematic of what’s wrong with all NYS Authorities; mired in 50s groupthink, resistant to change, wasteful.

I posted this. It’s still accurate. Today is “elevated”.

WBEN is, generally, the voice of horrible things and people. Not Buffalo. Its operations director went so far as to fantasize about committing acts of physical violence against Hillary Clinton, and cheering street thugs harassing a peaceful protester. It came down to Tim Wenger’s WBEN basically being fascist.

Donn Esmonde is still an ass. Also, horrible.

Clarence resisted an effort to ban or otherwise restrict books on the ELA curriculum. Here’s the list, followed by my interpretation of it.

Clarence School Curriculum Letter March 2014 by Alan Bedenko

The Clarence List by Alan Bedenko

In an astonishing display of self-parody, certain people were offended that Mark Poloncarz ceremoniously “pardoned” a butter lamb.

The dad of my best friend from grade school and college passed away this year, and this was my effort to pay homage to him.

Mark Grisanti so angered the gun-hugging right that they opted instead to elect a pro-union liberal Democrat. Thanks, dummies!

In the meantime, it was time to shame all those slutty sluts with their sex and whatnot.

Carl Paladino – a guy whom I got to meet in person for the first time this year – is also still horrible.

Kathy Weppner on ISIS and Ebola and Islam by Alan Bedenko

Did we ban the Ebola flights yet? We had a horrible outbreak of Obola, for real.

Horrible people made up lies about the local League of Women Voters in order to try desperately to score a political point.

I don’t think building some apartments and other buildings on the Outer Harbor is such an awful idea. Neither would a customs and immigration union / statutory harmonization with Canada.

Local Republicans practically salivated over the prospect of Donald Trump running for governor. Boy, that would have been awesome. Bob McCarthy got to fly in Trump’s jet and likely sharted from excitement. 

Electoral fusion is still corrupting everyone. (Again and again). Demand better from Albany. We deserve it.

Don’t let lunatics define you.

Correcting Weppner by Alan Bedenko

We might be getting some sort of justice, as it seems that AwfulPAC is under state and federal investigation.

What would a 2014 retrospective be without invoking Kathy Weppner, who kept us entertained all season long? Thanks for running, Kathy.

Happy New Year! Nice skating rink and stuff!

Send This to the NFTA

The NFTA is staring down a $10 million deficit.

Nevertheless, the authority is planning no layoffs or fare hikes – at least not yet – as it pleads for greater funding from Albany. All public transit systems require government subsidies to operate, but it won’t be enough for Albany simply to shovel more money in the NFTA’s direction.

There will also have to be a re-evaluation of what the authority’s mission is and what it should be doing differently to accomplish it.

The News suggests that the NFTA needs to figure out a better way to serve the growing medical campus, adding that,

For 20 years, it has used money meant for capital projects to balance its operating budget.

That money has now dried up. There is less money for maintenance, meaning broken escalators don’t get fixed and old buses aren’t replaced. That further discourages riders from using the system, further pinching the authority’s financial resources.

NFTA Commissioner Kimberly A. Minkel had it exactly right: Unless it’s interrupted, the NFTA is caught in a “death spiral.” The problems will feed on one another until only a skeleton of a transit system remains. That cycle, therefore, must be interrupted, and Albany is the only likely source of intervention.

The News notes that Buffalo’s urban poor rely heavily on the NFTA’s service. This is true, but limiting the NFTA’s scope to just serving people who can’t afford cars is self-defeating. Begging Governor Cuomo for more aid is hardly the solution to a longstanding, systemic “death spiral”.

The News’ editorial essentially rejects the notion that the NFTA could or should fix itself or aim any higher than the faded and tired service it provides to Buffalo’s underclass.

RochesterSubway.com

You don’t have to look too far. Rochester’s RGTRA was $27 million in the hole in 2004, with an annual budget of $70 million. It was, at the time, in “a crisis situation looking at service cuts and layoffs when the authority was looking for a new CEO.” Fast forward a decade,

RGRTA had a six-zone, complicated system and the fares were between $1.25 and $3.10. The cost recovery at the time was 28 percent and the on-time performance was 76 percent.

Today it is paying employees more, healthcare costs have gone up and fuel costs more, but despite that, it has become less reliant on taxpayer dollars than it was before.

It’s also grown to 840 employees, more than 400 vehicles, an on-time performance up to 90 percent, it’s eliminated the six-zone system and went to one fare for all rides. In 2008 the fares went from $1.25 to just $1.00 for a ride. And the cost recovery is up to 41 percent.

This strategic shift is something the team has been really focused on, [RGTRA CEO Mark] Aesch says. RGRTA has increased ridership six consecutive years, up to just shy of 18 million folks a year and it has had five straight years of surpluses and will have made $33 million over the last five years.

I don’t know if the NFTA has the brains or will to hire someone as effective as Mr. Aesch, but luckily he wrote a book about his experience. Basically, the RGTRA re-focused its goal from “save money” to “achieve excellence”. In this interview, he explains that the RGTRA board was, in 2004, in the same boat as the NFTA is now, and the board recognized the crisis, a business-oriented board with a clearly defined notion of success, and a willingness to make bold decisions. (Here’s another article about Rochester’s amazing success).

Instead of a survivor mindset, which would result in just cost savings, they pursued excellence.

“Some people would say we’ve cut service. No, we were looking to drive productivity,” he says. “We were strategically trying to become more efficient in our delivery to the community.”

He continues, “They look at other people and they say, ‘We’re going to cut service on some route.’ Well, there are two people riding it.

“You’re going to jeopardize 60,000 people a day over two people that you’re running a bus one way 30 miles for? I’m not sure that’s cutting service, I think that’s silly.” He stresses, “It’s all very strategically driven.”

There were two changes that were critical to this process. One was changing the thinking from customers to passengers and the other was becoming less reliant on tax dollars.

“We wanted to get us to no longer pick up passengers but to pick up customers,” Aesch says. “You can easily get people to just parrot that. ‘Fine, if the boss wants us to call them customers instead of passengers, that’s what we’ll call them.’

“But it’s getting people to culturally think of it differently.”

 

Specifically, the change in language was key to changing the corporate mindset – a passenger is someone with no choice, Aesch says.

In “Driving Excellence,” he says he tells the story of one of their employees that he had an encounter with. “He essentially said, who cares if we get the buses cleaner, they were riding before, what difference does it make if we make them cleaner?”

A big difference, as it turns out. Bus cleanliness is important to the customer. Even the very poor customers who have no choice.

What changed it at RGRTA was putting together a plan with a vision, strategies, operating tactics and a measurement system so that everybody can follow where the agency is headed.

And in six years Aesch says they haven’t adopted a budget, they adopt a plan.

The plan is the vision statement that he says tells them what they are trying to be “when they grow up.” The plan also outlines the strategies needed to implement to achieve that vision.

The last piece, he says, is aligning the money to realize those operating tactics and then building a measurement system to outline whether they are successful.

“One thing I just love about the plan more than anything, this is very transparent, we put this out in front of everybody so for each one of our four strategies … we say 14 months ahead of time on March 31, 2011, ‘The authority is successful if,’ and there are numbers with each one of these things.

Vision and plan? On Planet Byron Brown? Is this even possible? Is this real life? Aesch went on to rally the troops and hold a pep rally when things started to look up.

“What I said to the employees was, if you felt like you helped this year, to dig us out of this massive hole to succeed, you can come up now and we’re all going to sign the letter submitting the plan to the board for the coming year. “

He explains how they ended the pep rally, with U2’s “Beautiful Day” playing in the background, the high energy and excitement in the garage and employees coming up and signing their plan.

One of the drivers that had challenged policies when Aesch came on board, came up at the rally and said he wasn’t going to sign the letter.

“He’s looking down — tall guy — and I said, ‘That’s OK, Caesar, don’t sign the letter.’” And Aesch says he was thinking at the time, “Don’t bring me down on a day that’s exciting.”

The driver said he couldn’t sign the letter. “I kind of hesitated for a minute thinking if he can’t read or write, that’s not why he’s going to sign?

“He says, ‘I’m not going to sign the letter because I don’t deserve to. I didn’t help, I was in the way, I was an obstacle, but this coming year I will help, I will do the right things, I will advance the organization and next year I’ll be able to sign the letter.’”

I’m pulling so many quotes because I love everything about this whole story about how Rochester’s mass transit system pulled itself out of mediocrity, and wishing to God almighty that the NFTA takes a cue from the people 60 miles to the east.

They recruited RIT to help test everything that the RGTRA uses.

One of the areas they’re working together on is with the vehicle diagnostic testing pre-breakdown so when testing equipment, it will send an automatic signal back to radio control before the bus breaks down, telling them the bus is thinking about breaking down.

And this – the NFTA could, at the very least, do this.

rochesterhomepage.net

rochesterhomepage.net

And when he talks about technology advancements, Aesch stresses that it’s all about achieving a strategy. Another that they’re in the process of is rolling out signage at stops to let riders know when buses are coming.

“We’re not putting them up because they’re cool,” he says. “About 70 percent of our customers who call our call center are looking for information on timeliness of when the next bus will be. Seventy percent.

“We’re doing this investment to help reduce the number of incoming calls to the call center so that we will be able to address that from an efficiency perspective.” He stresses, “It’s a very specific investment that we’re making.”

When you stop thinking of riders as mere passengers and start thinking of them as customers with a choice to take – or not take – the bus, you improve service and results. The service started partnering with schools and businesses to get subsidized routes.

Talking about their partnership with RIT leads to a discussion of how RIT subsidizes the route and that it’s not the typical “paying for passes” that many educational institutions have with transit properties.

“Businesses would typically say, ‘Well I pay taxes, so run a bus, bring me customers, bring me employees.’ Our reaction to that is, you also pay taxes to have water lines put in but you don’t expect to just get your water for free, you’re clearly going to get a water bill at the end of the month for the water that your company consumes. So if we’re going to extend a bus line to bring you customers to shop at your mall or employees to work at your nursing home or students to go to your college, we will enter in to a business relationship to deliver that to you.”

When providing service to the community, RGRTA questioned whether the responsibility of the agency is to provide a bus to provide service to people who ride it or if it’s to take as little money from the taxpayers to support it.

“After chewing on that for a couple months, we decided the answer was, ‘Yes,’” Aesch says. “What we did is we took and built a measurement system which takes the service side: how many people are on board a bus, and we give it a score. Then we take the cost recovery side: how much does the taxpayer have to put in, and then we give the bus a score.

“Then we add those two together and that tells us the answer to how are we doing and rather than ‘cutting service,’ as so many folks are apt to do, we’re able to go in with a microscope and then a scalpel.”

As he explains, if there are a lot of people on board a bus but very low cost recovery, there is a service obligation to provide that service. Conversely, if there are only a handful of people on board the bus but it has a high cost recovery score because it’s a subsidized route, the taxpayer’s not putting money in.

“What we’re looking for is, where do we have very few people, or nobody, and where is the taxpayer paying and that’s where we get the microscope and the scalpel to find those kinds of trips. We’re looking to balance all the time,” he says.

So please send this to the NFTA board and urge them to learn the lessons and implement the strategies that improved service and saved the RGTRA from an identical crisis a decade ago. There are no excuses – Rochester is similarly situated to Buffalo in every conceivable way. By 2011, the RGTRA had been running five consecutive years of surpluses, while ridership and revenue both improved.

[Aesch] suggests to other agencies: Build a road map, have a plan and have a measurement system which tells you whether or not you’re being successful in the implementation of your plan. And the last piece he says is to have the courage to make the right decisions.

Aesch will be leaving RGRTA at the end of the year. He really likes what he does and he says he’s really proud of how they do it, but the part that really excites him, that he’s really passionate about, is the public sector management piece.

He says, “It happens to be public transit today, but whether it’s a hospital, a school district or a sewer system, I like being able to take what people traditionally see as stodgy, tired government bureaucracy and turn that into a lean, mean efficient, less-taxpayer-dollars-needed business mindset organization.”

The NFTA can do it, if it wants to.

Carl Paladino Has Important Things to Say About Things

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Carl Paladino ran for governor of the state of New York.

The market has improved for residential development. It’s fairly good right now for apartments…Young people – and it’s just a trend thing – they’ve had it with … mowing lawns and all that. They want the urban life they see on TV, and to live approximate to things

Carl Paladino is a wealthy developer who is well-respected in the community.

Paladino said he hopes the mostly vacant Commodore Perry housing complex nearby will eventually be torn down.

“We’re just praying that they don’t rehab those apartments and put people back in them. Hopefully, they will get rid of the whole thing and tear it down. That Perry Street has caused a lack of interest in any development there.”

Carl Paladino is an elected school board member who has his finger on the pulse of goings-on in WNY.

“They made a big mistake by making [Ohio Street] into a two-way highway when it should have been a four-lane. It’s a terrible mistake. You can’t park a car. And if you’re on it and stuck in traffic, you can’t even turn around. And they’re talking about it being one of the feeders to the Outer Harbor,” Paladino said.

Carl Paladino is on the board of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps, which is so forward-thinking and consumer-oriented that its ramps take only cash, even in 2014.

“How many people are riding bikes in this community? For four or five months a year you can’t ride a bike in the snow. If you want to ride a bike, do it on the sidewalk. That’s why they have sidewalks,” he said.

It is against the law for adults to ride bicycles on the sidewalk. It’s a sidewalk – not a sideride. Just shut up and run your company. No one gives a shit about your lunatic crackpot opinions.

Republican Infighting Over the Erie County Legislature’s Leaked Email

Logo_ErieCo_tpThe Erie County Legislature has one elected member of the Conservative fusion Party – Joe Lorigo, whose father happens to be the chairman of the county committee. This particular fusion party is very influential in New York politics because it helps both Democratic and Republican candidates burnish whatever “conservative” bona fides they think might be necessary to win a general election. In conservative towns like Clarence, Democrats have a tough (read: almost impossible) time getting elected without the Conservative Fusion Line.

Lorigo caucuses with the Republican majority coalition, which also includes Independence Fusion Party member Lynne Dixon, and they hold their majority by one vote. John Mills is the chairman, and Lorigo is majority leader.

A few articles appeared recently (Buffalo News; Bob McCarthy column; Daily Public) concerning an incident whereby an email was leaked from someone likely associated with the Republican caucus. The email, written by the Republican chief of staff, was critical of the Democratic minority and its staff, and was over the seemingly minor issue of flexible time – employees seeking the option to work 8 – 4 instead of 9 – 5. Here’s the email thread:

The GOP Leg Leak

It’s sort of funny. How is 8 – 4 lazier than 9 – 5? I think you could argue the opposite. The, “news…writing stories” about all this was somewhat prescient, albeit for different reasons.  Nice of the legislature to hand out 2% raises and I’m pleased to see that even Republican hacks think that “phenomenal health care” [sic] is a good thing.

Nevertheless, whoever leaked it was smart in one specific way – if you’re going to leak an email, do it by US Mail, because it’s going to be impossible to trace back to the source. If you were to just forward it – even a few times, via your personal email address – there would be a way for savvy IT people to trace the computer from which it came.

So, that’s what the leaker did – sent the email by regular mail to Democratic legislators’ field offices. The News and Public reported that an aide to Republican legislator Kevin Hardwick was implicated as the source of the leak, and suspended without pay. The aide – Susan Gregg – is a longtime friend of Hardwick’s, and her anxiety over the whole thing has adversely affected her health.

Hardwick reacted angrily to the suspension, and expressed to people that he thought it was untrue at least, and unproven at best.

There has been speculation that this is Lorigo’s payback against Hardwick over the shutting down of Amigone Funeral Home’s crematorium in Hardwick’s district over pollution concerns. In a telephone interview with me last week, Lorigo denied this, citing the Amigone issue as just a routine legislative defeat, unworthy of revenge.

Earlier in December, the legislature considered the 2015 county budget. Lorigo and the Republicans had a package of about 60 amendments that they intended to present and have the legislature consider, but refused to let the Democrats see any of the amendments they’d be asked to vote up or down.

As each amendment came to the floor, Democratic legislator Pat Burke would immediately move for a recess to have a chance to review each one. The first time, he asked for an hour. Hardwick crossed party lines and voted with the Democrats for the recess.

This continued on for a few amendments – each one would come up, Burke would ask for a recess (he requested 15 minutes for subsequent ones), and Hardwick would vote with the Democrats to give the minority a chance to read and consider each one. In the end, a deal was struck giving Democrats a half-hour to review all remaining amendments. Some of them were important – for instance, the Republicans mistook a merger of two part-time library positions for the creation of a new full-time position and intended to eliminate it, until the Democrats advised them otherwise. In one instance, the Republicans almost eliminated a measure put in to settle a pending employee grievance.

Democratic sources at the legislature, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, characterize the Republican caucus as “hating each other”, and point the blame squarely at Lorigo. Some at the legislature have begun to refer to Lorigo using fictional or historical pejoratives. Despite this, his behavior is excused by people who covet his father’s club’s endorsement. The word “enablers” was uttered by more than one person with whom I spoke.

In the end, the legislature passed the budget unanimously, and Hardwick thwarted Lorigo’s efforts to jam the amendments through without review or debate. As one Democratic source said, “[Lorigo needlessly] violated his own rules to fuck the Democrats in the budget process.”

When I specifically asked several people at the legislature whether Joe Lorigo is given wide berth so as to not piss Ralph off and lose a future Lorigo party endorsement, the answer was strongly and uniformly affirmative.

News reports have focused on Lorigo’s efforts to find out the source of the leak, going so far as to demand the email passwords of Republican staffers. Susan Gregg has retained the services of attorney Jim Ostrowski, who told me that he had served the County with a “notice of claim”; a statutory prerequisite to filing suit over this personnel matter. Lorigo refused to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Republican sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, counter that Gregg has been a “disciplinary problem” and a “shit-stirrer” in the past, so they argue that it’s not far-fetched to suspect her as the leak. Lorigo interviewed everyone in the email string and asked for their login and password to see what was sent and received, and rumor has it that there was an agreement among Republicans at the leg to terminate whomever was determined to be the leak, but that Hardwick balked when Gregg was accused; hence, the suspension.

Hardwick was extremely angry, and claimed that there was no proof whatsoever of Gregg’s guilt – there was no way of knowing when or from where the emails were copied or printed, but Gregg had allegedly forwarded that email to her personal email address. When the letter hit Democrats’ mailboxes, Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams were upset, and Republicans were embarrassed.

Hardwick asserts that he doesn’t know who sent the letter, but he’s convinced it’s not Gregg, who denies having done so.

It takes special skill to mess up an historic majority, but it would seem that infighting isn’t a disease that affects only Erie County Democrats. It can, however, have the same deleterious effects.

Why Snow Tires Matter

(An Annual Post)

Get yourself some snow tires.

Your pickup or SUV? Its 4 or all wheel drive will help you get un-stuck, and it’ll help you get going on some #sloppery stuff. Its ground clearance may occasionally help you ford a river or drive over a big snowball. But its mass is such that it makes it especially difficult to stop.

Your anti-lock brakes? They’ll help you avoid a skid by automatically applying and releasing the brakes in quick succession, but they won’t help you avoid an accident if you’re going too fast.

Or if your tires suck.

Thursday morning’s commute in Buffalo was your typical rush hour first-snow crawl. (Snowvember doesn’t count because most everything/one was closed that day). Just about every route was packed in, at a standstill. A 40 minute commute took me – no joke – 2 1/2 hours.

Aside from all the dummies who thought it was good enough to just brush the snow off the windshield and nothing else, there were myriad people blocking intersections, sliding around, and getting stuck because they have crap tires. Even if you have a brand-new set of decent all-weather tires, they might as well be bald in the kind of wet, slushy snow we got yesterday morning.

The best of all possible worlds? AWD or 4WD with snow tires. If you have a Subaru or Audi Quattro with a good set of snows, your car will be bulletproof in the ice and snow. But the big secret is that you don’t need the extra cost, heft, and maintenance that comes with powering all four wheels – not in WNY, where the main roads generally get cleared pretty well.

Get yourself some snow tires, instead.

For instance, some local tire stores will store your summer tires in the winter, and vice-versa. For free. Go in, pay about $100, and they’ll do the switchover, usually installing snows in November and summers in April. You extend the lives of both sets of tires, and you’ll have the appropriate shoes on your car.

You don’t wear flip-flops in 6″ of snow. You don’t wear snowboots when it’s 80 degrees out. Why do that to your car?

winter_tire_snowflake_symbol

Make sure your winter tires have this symbol

In some countries, snow tires are mandated. This is a smart idea and something that snowy climates should seriously consider. Driving is no joke, and if you’re hurtling a 2-ton piece of rubber and metal down the street in a snowstorm, other drivers should have some semblance of assurance that you’re appropriately equipped. Snow tires are different from summer or all-weather tires in that they use a softer rubber compound, and feature deep sipes that literally help the car dig into the snow and ice. The best set I ever owned were Finnish-made Hakkapeliitta 2s, which rendered a car that had no traction control into a snow tank.  I always had to get them online, which is a hassle, but I haven’t not put snow tires on a car since my second winter here. You can get a set of Blizzaks, which are very good, or whatever your local tire shop offers, which will be fine, too.

Quebec mandated that all vehicles registered there are equipped with winter tires Between December 15th until March 15th, or else risk a $200 – 300 fine. Despite the fact that Quebec had a winter tire adoption rate of 90% before the law was passed, since its passage wintertime accidents have decreased by 17%, and accidents causing serious injury or death dropped by 36%.

Snow tires also help immensely with lateral traction – in other words, they’ll help you navigate turns.

You can’t leave them on all year, because the rubber compound only works well in the cold weather. But if you, for instance, go from no snow tires on a slippery day to snow tires, you’ll be astonished by the difference in traction you have. Not just start and stop traction, but especially lateral traction, when you’re turning. Traction / stability control will help, too.

We’re known for snow. We get snow. You drive in it. If you enjoy having control over your car in the snow, ice, and slush – the ability to start, stop, turn, and drive with some modicum of safety – pay your local tire guy, car dealer, or mechanic a visit. Maybe go to Tirerack.com or some other online retailer.

But whatever you do, get yourself some snow tires.

What’s Up, Larry Quinn?

Courtesy of Sean Crowley at the B-LoEdScene blog, Larry Quinn made an ass of himself during a recent Buffalo Board of Education visit to the beleaguered Lafayette High School. Carl Paladino, of all people, comported himself professionally and respectfully, and stayed after the visit to try and smooth things over, leading to an unexpected thank you call from the Buffalo teachers’ union boss, Phil Rumore.

Quinn was reportedly dismissive and rude to teachers and staff at the school, and Crowley contrasted Paladino’s reputation with Quinn’s,

…now that we’ve seen Quinn’s petulance — saying of the faculty “I only came here as a favor to Carl I didn’t want to meet with these clowns” his disdain for working people, calling teacher leader Pat Foster “an idiot” you can be sure Larry will make some half hearted obligatory attempt to reign in his tongue. But we all know better. A guy like Quinn is not going to negotiate these waters with grace or skill. He’s going to be spending a lot of time out of his boat getting bounced around in the rapids. The peek he gave Buffalonians of his true self at Lafayette is just the beginning of Larry Quinn’s unraveling. Carl tried to apologize away Quinn’s boorish antics when pressed about it by a news reporter. He admitted Quinn was rude and unprofessional in his dealings with school officials and teachers. He then tried to slip a card from his sleeve hoping nobody would notice describing the performance as “a bad hair day.” He should have said “That’s just Larry Being Larry.”

and from the News’ account,

Teachers also said Quinn acknowledged attending the meeting only out of respect for Paladino, who had asked him to come, and even said to Paladino, “Why would I want to go there and talk to those clowns?” He also reportedly referred to a teacher and BTF representative who had left the room as an “idiot.”

Finally, Quinn questioned [Principal Naomi P.]Cerre’s leadership in front of her staff, pointing out that the district clearly has qualms about her leadership since the administration did not grant her tenure this year, instead only offering her an extension of her probation.

 

Even Carl Paladino was embarrassed,

Paladino, however, did not disagree with Rumore’s account of what transpired and agreed that Quinn’s behavior was “rough” and “harsh.”

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Paladino, who described Quinn’s behavior as an exercise in self-induced frustration. He added that Quinn’s remarks were not badly intended and chalked up his behavior to “having a bad hair day.”

After Quinn left, Paladino said, he stayed behind and worked to smooth over hurt feelings. That earned him a thank-you call from Rumore – a first-of-its-kind event for two men with a history of animosity.

Paladino said he was so surprised to hear from Rumore that he initially thought someone was pulling a prank on him and demanded to know if it was really the BTF president on the phone.

Rumore said he was genuinely appreciative that Paladino listened to Lafayette’s presentation in a thoughtful and open-minded manner.

What bizarro world is this?

“He actually was there to listen,” he said, “and the teachers felt he was really interested in what they had to say.”

Wha? After the News pressed Quinn on the matter, he gave a classic ‘sorry, not sorry’.

“If I offended anybody, then I was probably stupid because I know we’ve got a big fight on our hands with people who don’t want to change anything,” Quinn said. “So it’s my fault. My point is, I should be smarter than that.”

Well, you were elected to be smarter than that, so your conclusion is spot-on. You were elected to be a trustee for the school district, and these people may be answerable to you, and they may be employees of the entity you serve, but they’re fallible human beings who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.  One thing they probably don’t need is a preening, monied, rookie know-it-all to tell them all how badly they all suck, and how they’re all idiots.

Quinn signed up for a job that puts him in the same damn boat as all of those teachers, students, and administrators.  If he doesn’t like they way others are rowing, then he should take the oars himself.

Cuomo: Epic Trolling of Paladino

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo’s official Facebook page displayed this message:

Governor Andrew Cuomo - Google Chrome 2014-11-26 11.36.45

 

An observant local Twitter user identifies the house on the left as that belonging to Carl Paladino.

Indeed, a check of relevant records, and of Google Maps reveals that the house on the left in this image is the one belonging to Paladino – you can tell by the flags and political signs.

An epic troll by Governor Cuomo of his 2010 rival and consistent critic – using Paladino’s house to raise money for the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.

slow-clap

 

Slow clap.

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