Category Archives: New York

Hooray for the High Line

Walking on New York’s greenery-lined linear park, a triumph of urban design

The High Line was built along Manhattan’s west side in the 1930s as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project that elevated freight trains 30 feet above the streets of what was then Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Its history reflects the industrialization and de-industrialization not just of New York but other American cities too. As urban manufacturing all but disappeared, the rail line became obsolete.  No trains have run there since 1980, and the infrastructure was threatened with demolition. Meanwhile, the dim streets and sidewalks under the elevated tracks were really creepy.

The infrastructure has come to life again, thanks to the Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group formed in 1999 when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line work in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park. Construction began in 2006. The first section between Gansevoort Street and West 20th Street opened in June  2009, and the second between West 20th Street and West 30th Street opened earlier this year. Think of it as the urban counterpart to a rural Rails to Trails project — but without bikes.

There are nine access points to the High Line, some with elevators.

New York’s newest park is also its most creative, taking an industrial wasteland and turning it into a paved strip lined with trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, lawns, seating areas. In a part of the city that is especially starved for greenery and recreational space (Chelsea Piers notwithstanding), the High Line is a godsend.

Near the north end of the High Line.
A combination of paid staffers and volunteers tends to the High Line and its plants.
Flowering plants with bulky warehouses nearby and soaring skyscrapers in the distance.
Tiered wooden seats make a perfect spot to study in the sun.
Most ot fht path is wide, but sometimes, narrow sections flanked by trees provide a more foresty feel.
The Standard Hotel straddling the High Line at West 13th Street was something of a sensation when it opened in 2009. Some guests intentionally or unintentionally left the drapes open in front of the full-length windows and provided peep shows to those strolling below. Let the record show that I saw nothing lewd or even titillating when I passed by in the late morning.
Without the High Line, this is about the best residents of this part of Manhattan's west side would still be able to do for greenery.

Special events, including this summer’s train movies, are scheduled along The High Line, but mainly, it seems geared for locals and visitors to stroll between street and sky and breathe (relatively) clean air. The High Line measures out to just under 1½ miles. I wish it were longer, and I’ll bet the locals do too.

The Big Soggy Apple

LaGuardia Airport & metro highways challenge travelers when it rains

When I arrived in New York last Friday (the 23rd), it was raining, as expected according to the forecast. My flight from Denver to LaGuardia Airport circled for a time before being cleared to land. No surprise either. That happens more often than not coming into any of the New York airports.

Gray, gloomy and very wet LaGuaria Airport last Friday around 3:00 p.m.

Even though my expectations of conditions at New York airports are not high, I was surprised that the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates the airports, hasn’t gotten around to fixing the roof in  a decade or more. I haven’t been at LGA for 2½ years, but it has been raining virtually every time in mid-term memory that I have flown in or out of there. And there have always been buckets or bus pans on the floor to catch the drips.

Looking back toward the gates from Concourse C security.
A pair of bus pans, just two of the several vessels on the concourse floor to catch the drips from the leaking roof..

I’m in Manhattan now, but my first destination on this trip was Fairfield County, where I grew up. The next transport from the airport to Connecticut was Prime Time, departing after a 40-minute wait. I expected a full van but was ushered to a cushy limo with just one other passenger. I was heading for Norwalk, where I grew up. She was going home to Westport, one town farther east. The vehicle was comfortable, which was a very good thing, since the ride took more than 2½ hours for something like 50 miles. It is usually about an hour.

The driver crossed the Triborough Bridge with no problems, butthen  the Major Deegan Expressway (Interstate 95 and a straight shot to Norwalk) was stalled. Totally stalled. He threaded through the torrential downpour onto a series of roads and parkways that I didn’t recognize, including a detour through the town of Rye, where he made  several false starts and U-turns due to flooded intersections. I would have taken pictures, but the dank day and the l

When all was said it done, it took longer to get from my arrival gate to my Norwalk destination than it did to fly from Denver to New York. The next day’s news reported that the New York area had received 2½ inches of rain on Friday, which the soggy ground could not absorb and which defied choked storm drains to handle.

 

SNOW! Northeast is Where England Was

Strollin' down a New York avenue.

Just before Christmas, transportation in the U.K. and much of continental Europe was paralyzed by too much snow. Airports were down, people camped in terminals, highways were snow-covered and often impassable and even railroads were affected. Then, I was glad not to be trying to into or out of London or Frankfurt or Amsterdam. Later, the Southeastern US, totally unprepared for snow because they hardly ever experience it, enjoyed a white Christmas and suffered similar transportation woes.  

Now it appears to be the Northeast’s turn, with New Jersey, the New York  metro area and coastal New England slammed by a blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow, +/-. All three New York metro airports, plus Atlantic City to the south and New Haven to the east, were closed. Amtrak suspended the New Haven Line’s New York-Boston service. Highways and city streets were blanketed in snow. Even New York Transit’s subway service crumbled under the weight of the white stuff.

I’m glad I’m not trying to get into, out of or around New York. I lived there through a two or three blizzards. When each one subsided, the city was a place of clean and quiet beauty, but once the snow started to melt, the slush, muck, ice at night and piles of filthy melting snow were anything but beautiful. I hope that it’s not too hard on holiday visitors — 4 or 5 million were expected this Christmas-New Year period. New Yorkers will endure. They always do.

Southwest to Expand Newark Services

 More flights from this New York airport coming in March 

When I lived in New York and then New Jersey, Newark (EWR) was my airport of choice. It was easy to reach by public transportation (PATH train or airport bus), and it was might off the New Jersey Turnpike and US 1/9 if driving. Back then I was Continental loyalist, because it hubbed there. Then I moved to Colorado, but I remained a Continental loyalist until the airline slashed its Denver service when Denver International Airport replaced the old Stapleton.

After 22½ years in Colorado, Newark remains my choice among New York airports, with J.F. Kennedy the runnerup. I avoid LaGuardia if at all possible. I hate the delays, terminal congestion and little choice of transportation to and from.  To me, Newark remains the best of a bad lot, and with all that backstory, I was interested to learn that Southwest Airlines will offer 10 additional daily nonstop flights from Newark (EWR) with three daily nonstops next year to Baltimore/Washington International (BWI), three daily nonstops to Denver International (DIA), two daily nonstops from Houston Hobby (HOU) and two daily nonstops to Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX), all beginning on June 5, 2011. Previously announced new nonstops were  service from Newark to Chicago Midway (MDW) with six nonstop flights, and St. Louis (STL) with two nonstop flights–which begins March 27, 2011–providing Newark a total of 18 daily Southwest Airlines departures.

To keep up with projected expansion and growth, my favorite domestic airline is taking delivery 20  Boeing 737-800 aircraft 2012.

A New Rail Tunnel Through the Alps But None Under the Hudson

Switzerland gets a loo-o-o-ong railroad tunnel; metro New York/New Jersey gets a writeoff

Breaking through on October 15, 2010

Switzerland, with a population of fewer than 8 million and a genuine commitment to keep rail travel and goods transport alive and thriving, has completed the excavation for the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, at 35.4 miles the world’s longest railway tunnel. With the precision of a Swiss watch, the deviation from the plan was 8 cemtimeters horizontally and 1 centimeter vertically. The conversion is 2 1/2 centimeters per inch, so that deviation is miniscule.

Close to 20 years ago, Swiss voters approved the $10 billion tunnel by nearly a two-thirds majority, and it didn’t take long for workers to begin boring it under the Alps.  The tunnel, which is designed for two railroad tracks, took 12 years and eight workiers’ lives to bore from first bite of a drill in 1996  to breakthrough on October 15. I was in Europe at the time, and this engineering and construction triumph was covered on live television and made headlines. When trains start running in 2017, it will cut one hour off the current 3 1/2-hour trip between Zurich and Milan. One portal is in the German-speaking canton of Graubünden (Grisons) and the other in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, a major tunnel project between Manhattan and New Jersey appears dead. In a metro area of 20 million or so, a shorter but comparably priced tunnel project was killed by slash-and-abandon New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who pulled the plug on the $8.7 billion project that has been in the planning stages for some 20 years. Christie’s reason? New Jersey had committed $2.7 billion for this tunnel plus cost overruns that were expected to run as high as $3.5 billion, and Christie claims that his state lacks the funds to cover them. New Jersey is already in hole for $350 million (or is it $500 million?) for the tunnel that won’t happen.

Expected cost overruns? The Swiss would be astonished. Heck. They could have built half-a-dozen tunnels under the Hudson in that time and probably pretty close to budget. After all, if they can drill a 35.5-mile tunnel wide enough for two trains and bore within single-digit inches, they’d most likely complete the dinky Hudson River tunnel on time and on budget too.

Airline Shake-Up at Newark Airport

Southwest adds EWR Its schedule as Continental and United prepare to merge

When I lived in New York and then New Jersey, I used Newark International Airport (EWR) more than any other. Only when flying internationally did I trek to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), which for a long time was the only metropolitan airport that really merited “International” as its middle name.

Even then (and this was in the ’70s and ’80s), I avoided LaGuardia with its congested terminals and rare on-time flights. Back then I was fanatically loyal to Continental, which hubbed at Newark. I stayed faithful after I moved to Colorado, because Continental also hubbed in Denver. But the airline betrayed my trust and let me down when Denver International Airport replaced the old Stapleton, and my formerly favorite airline pared its Denver service to just a few daily flights to a handful of cities.

Since moving to Colorado in 1988, I have been going back to the New York now and again. Over the years, I have used both LaGuardia and Newark, and flown Continental, United and occasionally Frontier when New York-bound — depending on the schedules, the fares and whether I was heading for the East or West Side of Manhattan. Come March, I’ll bet EWR and I will be good friends again.

United and Continental due to merge on October 1, making room for another carrier at EWR — and Southwest is poised to fill the gap, initially with 18 daily flights, hopefully including non-stop service from Denver. While the merger is predicted to raise fares in general (hello-o-o-o Justice Department!), some industry experts have predicted that EWR fares will buck the trend and actually drop, perhaps by 20 to 25 percent, when Southwest enters the market.

TSA Tightens Policies — After Bombing Suspect Slipped Through

Terrorists are creative; security agencies need to be as well

Little old ladies, families with toddlers and harried road warriors better be prepared for closer scrutiny by the Transportation Security Agency. After permitting Faisal Shahzad, who was charged with last Saturday’s (fortunately) unsuccessful attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, screeners permitted him to pass through security at JFK International Airport on Monday evening, and Emirates Airlines let him on the plane.

Shahzad’s name had been added to the no-fly list a few hours earlier, but it appears that no one (or at least no one with both responsibility and a functioning brain) at the agency or the airline had bothered to look at the list. He reportedly purchased his one-way ticket with cash in the last minute.Isn’t that supposed to be brightest of all red flags? He could well have been winging his way to Dubai International Airport andthen on to Pakistan efore anyone looked at the list. Things changed fast after the close call.

Even though TSA personnel are supposed to match names on airline tickets with photo IDs before letting them proceed to the metal-detector and X-ray of carry-ons, airlines are responsible for monitoring the no-fly list. Everyone involed has gotten a wake-up call.

The government is now requiring airlines to check the no-fly list within two hours after being notified that the list had been updated. Until this new policy was instituted, airlines had had to check for updated every 24 hours. In 24 hours, a passenger boarding an international flight could be anywhere in the world. While TSA agents missed Shahzad at the security checkpoint and Emirates missed him when he checked in, Customs and Border Protection spotted his name on the passenger list and apprehended him before the plane took off for Dubai, Emirates’ home base Meanwhile, since the incident,.Emirates, an enthusiastic proponent of Open Skies, does not mention a word of new alertness on its website.

According to a report in Travel Weekly, a travel trade publication, “The U.S. government’s plan is to eventually take over the task of watch list matching. In 2009, the government began phasing in domestic flights. International flights aren’t covered by the government yet.”

Like the Army is often accused of “fighting the last war,” the TSA has been obsessed with the America’s big airline incident, namely 9/11. The hijackers took over aircraft on domestic flights, so the security efforts have been directed there. A U.S.-bound Nigerian with explosives sewn into his underwear and a troubled Pakistani-American on the lam for a failed midtown Manhattan car bombing just wasn’t on U.S. security’s radar screen.

Good that someone was paying attention. And I hope that the TSA can keep its collective eyes and minds open, look for something else “unusual” and lay off little old ladies, families with toddlers and harried road warriors.

West Virginia Coal Miner Play

Current coal mine tragedy brings poignant play to mind

Back in 2005, the Denver Center Theatre Company put on “Fire On The Mountain,” an achingly poignant musical drama about about the lives and hardships of coal miners in the Appalachian Mountains. Amid the poverty, the heartache and the tragedy, the performers celebrated the mountain culture, lifestyle, challenges and heroics communicated by Appalachian bluegrass music and dancing that revealed its Celtic roots. With soaring voices, fiddles and banjos, the cast communicated the indomitable spirit of the miners and their families.

“Fire On The Mountain” has played in a few other cities besides Denver — Chicago, Louisville, maybe some others that I couldn’t find and New York. Here’s a description of the off-Broadway production as seen through New York eyes:

“From the creators of MET’s runaway hit Hank Williams: Lost Highway — is a masterful blend of musical theater and oral history. Drawn from interviews with Coal Miners from West Virginia and Kentucky, Fire on the Mountain’s text is intertwined with some of the greatest traditional music and union songs to come out of America in the 20th Century. Actors and musicians (all from Appalachia) share the spotlight, with the latter made up of some of the finest pickers and strummers to ever grace a New York stage at one time.

Powerful social history, moving family drama, and incredible songs (think O Brother, Where Art Thou?) make Fire on the Mountain one of the most unusual and exciting entries of the upcoming Off-Broadway season.”

When my husband and I saw it in Denver, we stayed for a talkback with the actors following the performance. The exchange between cast and audience was both beautiful and sad. Many many audience members came from mining families — some current, some reaching back into Colorado history — and all were able to identify with what happened on stage. If “Fire On The Mountain” comes to a theater near you, go see it. If it returns to  this area, I’d gladly go again.

Daily Beast’s New Airport Rankings

The Daily Beast studied, rated and ranked 27 US airports

The Daily Beast’s provocative headline, “Airports from Hell,” is affixed to an analysis of 27 top airports in the US in eight specific areas, including on-time arrivals/departures so far in 2009 and a separate evaluation of holiday arrivals and departures, which is oh-so timely. The subtitle is “first to worst,” which means they can’t all be “from hell.”

The best, according to The Beast, is Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 

On-time departures 2009: 86.19%
On-time arrivals 2009: 84.73%
On-time holiday departures: 90% (ranked first)
On-time holiday arrivals: 86%
Average security wait time: 6.1 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 22nd out 27
Safety: 5th out of 27
Amenities: 8th out of 27

The worst is Newark International Airport (EWR)
On-time departures 2009: 73.76%

On-time arrivals 2009: 64.14% (ranked last)
On-time holiday departures: 70% (ranked last)
On-time holiday arrivals: 75%
Average security wait time: 7 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 23rd out of 27
Safety: 25th out of 27
Amenities: 15th out of 27

Denver International Airport (DIA) ranked 17th
On-time departures 2009: 79.23%

On-time arrivals 2009: 80.84%
On-time holiday departures: 84%
On-time holiday arrivals: 80%
Average security wait time: 11.3 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 9th out of 27
Safety: 23rd out of 27
Amenities: 24th out of 27

According to The Beast, getting through DIA’s security lines took several minutes longer than at the speediest airports, on average, and its “Safety” was downgraded significantly after an incident last year when a Continental plane skidded off a taxiway into a shallow gully (often described as a “ravine,” making it seem far deeper than it is), injuring 30 people. A hotel at the terminal, fancy Gucci-esque shops and a better selection of more interesting restaurants might have elevated it in the Amenities category. The Beast quoted Matt Daimler of Seatguru.com who said, “It’s one of the better airports to experience.” As for on-time arrivals and departures, IMHO, when there are delays in Denver, more often than not they are due to delays elsewhere in the country’s obsolete air-travel system. The Beast’s  report is accompanied by a gallery of airport pictures three screens, nine airports to a screen, or as a slide show.

Why Can’t an Airline Be More Like a Bus Line?

Washington Post compares eight Washington-New York bus lines. Wow!

I was living back East in the last century when Eastern Airlines launched its then-revolutionary Shuttle between New York’s LaGuardia and Boston to the northeast and Washington-National to south. Low fares. Hourly flights in both directions. No strings. No TSA screening. Except in the heart of the rush hour, quick cab ride to close-in airports. Business travelers embraced it. And it soared. In those pre-Amtrak days, rail travel on antiquated trains (the New Haven Railroad to Boston, the Pennsylvania Railroad to D.C.) seemed tedious, and buses, for business travelers, seemed déclassé.

Fast forward to this century, and buses seem to be a fantastic way to travel between these two cities. Washington Post reporters rode 10 different buses operated by 10 different bus companies, and all I can say is: with the arguable exception of Southwest, the worst bus line sounds preferable to the best airline these days.
The Post’s motorcoach comparison shopping, assembled into a chart called “Rolling With It,” reveals low fares (the lowest reported as $1*, the highest one-way fare is $30), convenient center-city stops, online booking with no or modest change fee, walk-up service with no or modest surcharge (but usually cash only) and often amenities that airline passengers can only dream about. Depending on the bus line, these can include free WiFi, electrical outlets, leather seats, free bottled water and free movies that in one case passengers vote on. Most have some kind of frequent-rider deal, with a free trip after as few as four paid trips. Amazing!
*There must be strings to a dollar fare, but I don’t know what they are.
The most stinging criticism the Post had was for two lines. MVP was described as, “Our non-MVP bus was pretty dismal. Hindsight lesson: MVP runs its own vehicles Monday-Thursday but uses others on weekends. No WiFi, broken reading lights and the restroom was like an indoor outhouse, unclean and lacking toilet paper and hand sanitizer.” Of New Century Travel, the paper commented, “The boarding was unclear — we were instructed to board the Philly-bound bus, but then what? — and the ride was harrowing from start to finish. We want our 20 bucks back!”
I suppose that those Continental Express passengers stranded overnight on the tarmac in Minneapolis last month would have been ecstatic if such had been the worst of their experiences. Click here if you’ve forgotten that awful true story.
If you are traveling that NYC-WAS route, check the Post‘s chart with prices, policies, phone numbers, websites and ratings from four buses to a half-bus. If I were still traveling the Northeast corridor, that’s what I would do.