Caught by the Willis Ave Swing Bridge

Two weeks ago, I was on my way home when I realized that the Willis Avenue Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is built to let ships through. It actually rotates on a central post, which is even more interesting than a drawbridge, and as annoyed as I was by the added travel time, at least I got to see something worthwhile.

An NYPD Highway Patrol (car 5525)

You see, I was already upset because I got caught in traffic on I-287 West in Brooklyn and I was 45 minutes behind on my trip home. I was very upset because I found out that the reason traffic was backed up and 45 minutes was added to my commute was because there was an NYPD Highway Patrol officer parked across two lanes of traffic… for nothing. No accident, no debris in the road. Nothing. He was just sitting there to sit there. Like a jackass.

Anyway, as I went up the ramp from the FDR to the bridge, I hit standstill traffic. Then I noticed the flashing lights and the crossing gates dropping into place to block traffic on both sides of the river. Gas is expensive and I figured I might as well utilize the opportunity to see something new (to me) and interesting, so I parked, walked over to the side of the ramp and watched for a while.

The Willis Ave Bridge rotating.

There was a small group of pedestrians and cyclists further up, gathering at the gates. I also noticed workers in orange vests on both ends of the bridge, as well as leaning out of a door in the central support structure below the bridge.

The barge being repositioned to be pushed through the gap.

The bridge rotated and a barge was moved through the opening with the help of a tug boat. Looking down from the on ramp, I saw that there was quite a bit of construction going on. I wonder what that’s all about, but I think it must have something to do with an extension of the Greenway around the island for jogging, cycling, and recreation. The city has been working on that project for quite a few years and one day I want to do a full circuit of the perimeter of the island. Not that I’ve ridden my bike any time recently, but one day.

A look south at the construction along the waterfront. The arm of the Triborough Bridge that connects with Manhattan is visible in the background.

I was still aggravated at the lost time, but at least I had a new experience to show for it. Most of the time, traffic in New York City is bogged down because of bad drivers that cause accidents, or broken down vehicles, which is more forgivable. But it seems so pointless sometimes, spending hours in traffic. At least there are audiobooks.

168th Street #1 Train Subway Station Renovations: Working Hard to Make NYC Worse?

168th Street Subway Platform With Open Vaulted Ceiling
168th Street Subway Platform With Open Vaulted Ceiling

Today I went down to the 1 train platform at 168th Street in Manhattan to catch the train to 137th Street City College for a Summer class I’m taking. I really love the station. There’s something cool about the high, vaulted ceiling and the old ceiling mount where it looks like an electric chandelier used to hang. I can almost imagine how it used to look, and how it might look if the vaulted ceiling were renovated and covered with murals depicting New York City’s past. But, even if they never renovated it (except for structural repairs) there’s just something cool about a subway station that has street lamps and pedestrian bridges that go over the tracks.

Steel girders covering the previously open vaulted section of the station.
Steel girders covering the previously open vaulted section of the station.

So, it was with great disappointment that I discovered earlier today that the city is renovating the station. By renovating, I don’t mean they’re improving on the already dramatic and exceptional appearance of the subway station. They’re covering the vaulted ceiling with a low ceiling instead. After the space and atmosphere the platform had, the low hanging girders make the space feel extremely claustrophobic.

Section of 168th Street Subway Station With a Low Ceiling
Section of 168th Street Subway Station With a Low Ceiling

One end of the platform already has a low ceiling and I always avoided it, because the vaulted ceiling helped me forget that I was so far underground I had to take an elevator to get there. This station has no stairs or escalators.

An old light fixture mount, probably for an electric chandelier.
An old light fixture mount, probably for an electric chandelier.

I suppose they’ll close in the pedestrian bridge and make it look like any other subway station pedestrian tunnel, with those cheap, small, public-restroom-yellow tiles. They’ll cover the vaulted ceiling and replace it with something low and plain. They’ll cover up a part of New York City’s history instead of bringing it into focus.

What are they planning on doing with that extra space? Are they just going to turn it into storage? Or seal it off completely? Sometimes things have to be done for the sake of progress, but I just don’t see the point here. It’s not like they have to minimize the space to install air conditioning. This isn’t Singapore or Japan, after all, and our fares are barely enough to pay the top executives, let alone improve the system in any meaningful way.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope they’re just setting up those steel girders for safety while they renovate the ceiling and improve the station, but considering how big the girders are and how they perfectly align with the bottom of the pedestrian bridge, I’m sure I’m wrong. Instead of improving the transit system, the city is only making my commute worse by turning a vaulted and spacious station into a low-ceilinged, claustrophobia-inducing crevice in the earth that I will have to endure daily during my commute. Isn’t it enough already that there are no stairs or escalators and we’re forced to use elevators to get out of the station?

NYC BMW Has Hood Crushed By Construction Backhoe

After a fine dinner at Pinche Taqueria, my wife and I were walking down Bleeker Street (between Lafayette and Bowery) and, well… this:

BMW with backhoe crushing hood
BMW with backhoe crushing hood.

I had to stop to make sure I was seeing it right, and sure enough, the hood of the car is being smashed in by the backhoe.

Close up of backhoe resting on (aka smashing) BMW hood.
Close up of backhoe resting on (aka smashing) BMW hood.

I suppose seeing me standing there taking photos was drawing attention, because by the time I left, there was a crowd of people looking at the car, people peering out of apartment windows, lots of laughing, lots of joking, and people calling “shotgun” on who gets to post this to Reddit first.

A number of questions come to mind.  Whose car is this?  Why did the person driving the backhoe do this?  Was it intentional?  Did the BMW driver piss off the backhoe operator?  Was it stupidity?  When will the lawsuit drop and who’s going to pay for this?

Work Permit at construction site for BMW with hood crushed by backhoe.
Work Permit at construction site for BMW with hood crushed by backhoe.

Regardless of whether this makes the NYC news or not (I’m sure there will be too many stories about Honey Boo Boo or something equally stupid to show this), I’m sure the driver of the construction vehicle will be fired, but the work permits were applied for by a guy named Martin Donovan, so I guess he’ll be held ultimately responsible for footing the bill.  (Update 2: Noticed that both vehicles were parked illegally in a spot that has no parking b/t 7 am and 7 pm, Mon – Fri.  Makes the question of legal responsibility for the damage a little more muddy, doesn’t it?)

Vehicle information and more photos in the gallery:


Found this photo on Reddit of the car earlier today, before the backhoe dropped onto the hood.

The BMW, before the backhoe dropped.
The BMW, before the backhoe dropped.

The Med at Orchard Central, Almost Ready For Business

At the beginning of November my wife and I went to Orchard Road to look at the Christmas decorations.  While we were there we walked through Orchard Central.  A lot of the good decorations are inside the malls after all!  While we were exploring, we noticed that the very bottom level of Orchard Central was still closed off.  It was still under construction.  The decor looked fascinating though, so I took some pictures. (Scroll to the bottom of that post to see them).

Well, it turns out that as of this past weekend (at least) it’s open for people to go down and look around.  There’s still nothing open down there, but it was neat to see what they’ve already done with the place.  In keeping with the rest of the mall’s appearance, the decor and style that’s gone into the basement level is impressive.
The whole floor will be called “The Med” and it’s going to be a Mediterranean style eating area.  So, I’m assuming there’ll be a lot of Italian food.  I’m hoping it won’t be that bland though.  I’m hoping they’ll be bold and have restaurants serving Greek, Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes, among others.  Just going by the way looks, I have a feeling the prices will be a bit steep.  Let’s hope it’s worth it!  I’m looking forward to trying the restaurants out once they’re open.
Speaking of the class of people the area will cater to, I laughed when I saw the sign down there showing the concept picture of the finished area.  It was packed with Caucasian people.  Do they think no locals will eat or shop there?  Is it only to cater to tourists?  Here’s an image of the part of the sign I’m talking about:
And a few photos of the area:
Even the bathrooms are well-appointed.
These last three photos are of a mural painted on the wall directly across from the escalators.  It’ll be the first thing you see when you enter the level, assuming you don’t use the stairs that go directly to it from street level.  I was really impressed with it.  The colors are very vivid and attractive.  It’s not a sticker or a poster either.  It was actually painted on.
Hopefully in about a month or so the restaurants will open their doors to customers, but for now it’s still worth it just to go down and have a look at the level of work and attention to detail that’s been put into creating a Mediterranean atmosphere in subterranean Singapore.

Montage of Poverty and Upscale Construction

While we were commuting back and forth through the Philippines I noticed something that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  The Philippines is like a montage of poverty, middle class, and upper-class establishments and homes.

What I mean is that in, say, the US, you have neighborhoods that are well-to-do.  The houses are all very nice.  Then you have middle class neighborhoods, lower class neighborhoods, and poverty level neighborhoods.  In the commercial areas, everything is fairly well put together.  Everything has a sort of continuity to it.  You see what you expect to see for the area of town you’re in.  Maybe it has something to do with zoning, or with developers buying large plots of land.  I don’t know.

In the Philippines, however, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of zoning.  There doesn’t seem to be any sort of building code either.  You might be standing in front of a popular mall that’s as modern and attractive as any mall in the US or Singapore, but right next to it, or across the street, are buildings that look like they were constructed entirely of plywood and sheet metal.  You could be standing in front of a McDonalds, but when you look down the alley next to it, you see shanties that would make the Red Cross cringe for the lack of quality of life.  It’s an incredibly jarring experience.

This seems to be common to almost every part of the Philippines.  The old and the new, the ultra-poor and the ultra-posh, set up right next to each other.  You can even see this in the housing areas, such as they are.  You might have a nicely built home right next to a house that even bums wouldn’t want to live in, in the US.  From what I can see, as long as the land is yours, you can put whatever you want to on it, of whatever quality you want.  There was one instance where I wondered about whether or not the homes were built legally.  We were riding a bus on the highway between Angeles City and Manila.  The portion of the highway we were on was raised about two stories above the ground.  I’m not sure why it was raised, except maybe that there were quite a few little streams passing below the road.  What caught my attention is that people who were farming the land had set up their houses below the road, in the shade it created.  Maybe laws are different in the Philippines, but I assumed that doing something like that would be considered unsafe and illegal.

There are areas where land developers seem to be trying to build a more modern type of sub-division.  One in particular comes to mind, near the housing area where my wife’s family lives in Antipolo.  It’s walled off, gated, and the houses inside have a modern construction to them.  Just outside the wall, though, is the normal eye-jarring experience.  I’ve also seen posh, walled and gated apartment complexes situated in the middle of an area that looks like a slum.

On my next trip I’ll try to take a few pictures to add to this post as examples.