Friday, October 11, 2013

Council District 7 Forum in Bloomfield: Deb Gross, Tony Ceoffe, David Powell, Jim Wudarczyk & Tom Fallon

Hashtag Special 2013.

Thanks to @NUNYAMAN

Action starts at 12:35. Introductions start at 8:50.

Unfortunately, Stevie Wonder suffered some collateral damage during introductions.

 1. On potholes, litter and graffiti: Ceoffe would reassign his predecessor's Council staff position for an "executive assistant" and re-program it as a "community services liaison" dedicated to partnering with community groups, which help organize requests for action. Gross promises to seek more funding to "get back" the Graffiti Busters program, and is demanding new management "at the top of 311" and more predictable, accessible information in planning street paving into the future. "It's a political process that's trying to curry favor. It's not okay."

2. On the police force: Gross echoes Peduto's calls for more resource differentiation among police zones with deference to the knowledge held by each Zone Commander; however she "differs with Mayor-Elect Peduto" in that she believes Pittsburgh's officers should remain City residents. Wudarczyk believes a national search for a new Chief would waste resources and destroy morale, yet/and he is also highly concerned about Pittsburgh's "three federal investigations" and notes "issues with corruption". Powell agrees with the move toward unburdening uniformed officers from scheduling police overtime and secondary details, but accuses proposed outside vendor Cover Your Assets of "incompetence or malfeasance" in its own right, and would rather "hire a civilian". Ceoffe stands up for most officers on the force and its current Acting Chief (though he agrees with the need for a national search for permanent Chief) and he seems to indicate that in order to "incentivize" officers to remain on Pittsburgh's force and give it their all, he would waive the City residency requirement.

3. The Bureau of Building Inspection, and absentee landlords: Gross kicks things off by pointing out BBI's lack of a boss, lack of basic technology for staff such as cell phones or email accounts, and lack of willingness to pick up a desk phone. Wudarczyk points out that Pittsburgh is also one of those neglectful absentee landlords. Powell segues into his proposal for a land-value tax as a way to discourage slumlord speculation. Ceoffe desires expanding community landlord training programs by working with the justice system.  Powell thinks BBI is doing "the best job they possibly can", that its Acting Director "is doing a phenomenal job," that the computers in the closet were "antiquated" and that a main problem is that magistrates let deadbeat landlords off the hook.

4. Public schools and what, uh, we might do about them: Powell is for market-based solutions to education. Ceoffe promises to attend school board meetings, bring all sorts of attention continually and will seek  "qualified" board members. Gross mentions in regards to candidate qualifications, she is the only candidate who has been "hired in a leadership position," and seems offended by the magnet school lottery and wants to focus more on the feeder schools, like "successful districts are doing."

5. Seniors, housing and affordability:

David Powell emphasized his lack of all relevant expertise, yet hazarded that the occasional "tax break or subsidy" based on "good" ideas that are out there would probably be fine. Warns about the cost such investment however versus the cost of City pensions. From pensions Powell segued further into a closing statement about corruption and "lining the pockets of the well-connected", finally cultimating on a short, quiet promise never to expand the drug war.

Afterwords, forum moderator Andy Sheehan reminded everyone that closing statements are right out.

Tony Ceoffe noted that affordable housing dovetails nicely with his recent work as a specialist at the Housing Authority, witnessing first-hand the effects on seniors of gentrification including transition to high-rises due to long waiting periods. else the care with which we must use Section 8 allocations, rather than doing it just to make the numbers work like at Doughboy Square, and the tragedy of pushing anybody out of their neighborhoods.

Tom Fallon affirms that we want to be able to "age in place," and that we need senior housing in every community. He impressed on us the collateral roles of community block watches in keeping neighborhoods seniors-friendly. Says goodnight.

Deb Gross says that you need "a plan people can understand" with regards to seniors housing (as well as with anything). Thinks transportation through a seniors-lens is also very important, because seniors tend to have as many responsibilities and as active social lives as anyone. Thinks we need to get together and tell developers what we need. Says that one day retiring to Bloomfield, as had a friend, might be personally ideal.

Jim Wudarczyk thinks before we spend on new programs we should appoint an all-volunteer Budget Commission, trimming the fat, paying our down bills, so we might have money to spend later. Understands that the biggest problem is property "assessments". Safety is also a concern, as well as public transportation. Criticizes the idea of having Downtown "free of buses". More closing statements, and "no new taxes".

EDITORIAL: Yes, it's true. Ceoffe more often emphasizes the roles that community groups can play as partners, next points of contact, go-betweens with government; whereas Gross more often emphasizes that we can and should expect government to do much better, to plan and to act more strategically.

The Grossie in me wonders what happens if a neighborhood has no community groups, or a dud group, or feuding dramatic groups or a very political community group -- as well as how we can hold community groups accountable for the responsibilities and resources we entrust to them.

The Ceoffee in me wonders whether Deb is likely to do a better or worse job than BBI, of picking up the phone when I call.

PERSPECTIVE?:  A look at neighborhood concerns in 2007.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Munich, Amsterdam and Pittsburgh: Differences as seen through Bicycling N'at


Bicycling is popular in both Munich and Amsterdam. In Pittsburgh, we see a newly encouraging number of brave, lonely souls pedaling amongst cars and pedestrians.

In Pittsburgh, the bicyclists wear helmets. And some loose approximation of athletic-styled gear.

Vanishingly few helmets are glimpsed in Munich; in Amsterdam, a helmet would look positively ridiculous. And it being October, most persons on bicycles in our two European experimental-groups are merely "dressed for autumn".

But this is where obvious similarities between Munich and Amsterdam bike culture end.

Munich at any given location carries perhaps four times as many bicyclists as the 'Burgh does at its most prime location and on its best day.

Munich also boasts about 4,000 times as many bike lanes as Pittsburgh, or three times more than seem warranted as a practical or political function related to its true number of bikers. And it may be misleading to call them "bike lanes", they're really "bike tracks" and they're omnipresent.

Pedestrians be aware! The Munich bike tracks are usually raised up right even with the sidewalk, yet only painted or labeled in intersections. The trick is, milled asphalt is for bikes whereas tile, brick or stone pavement is for pedestrians. And these bike tracks are not just on "major" streets but on most secondary residential streets as well. Near any significant intersections, the Munich bike lanes acquire burgundy paint and sprout whole new left-turn lanes in most busy intersections.

Bicycling in Munich
Zoom they go! Munich bikers enjoy utilizing their clear right-of-way along the bike paths, and in all sorts of intersections, unless a traffic signal tells them to halt. (A traffic signal with a picture of a bicyclist on it next to a pedestrian.)

Amsterdam biking on the other hand is an entirely different kettle of fish

I'd say there are actually about four times as many actual bicyclists on Amsterdam streets than on Munich streets, or sixteen times as many as Pittsburgh. It doesn't take much to have more bicyclists than Pittsburgh, but in Munich they're still a supporting player on the grand stage of cars and pedestrians.

We can illustrate it like so: in Amsterdam, there are simply piles of bicycles along the side of streets.

"Where did I park my bike?" "Oh jeez, I just threw it in that pile of bicycles, and now that pile is so much bigger! Boy, this reminds me of that Seinfeld episode, only different."

(Is how I imagine it must go. I'm a Pittsburgh bicyclist. A green one. The riverfront trails are nice...)

As an American might presume from their respective national and civic reputations, there is a lot more order in Munich, Bavaria (clear lanes for all modes of transport, traffic signals, traffic signs, clearly and uniformly market street signs, all individuals moving quickly, less eye contact, a little like New York that way) and a lot more free flow in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (boats are about the only thing with a convincing right of way along the canals; most modes of transport seem equal before the law assuming there is a law, cars seem perpetually outnumbered.)

Speaking of the law, I believe I saw the cops once in Amsterdam. They were wearing blue uniforms trimmed with white, and with geometrically precise hats and badges on their breasts. The possible cops were traveling in tight formation, the four of them on their bikes, two women in front and two men in back.

Munich police I think I also only saw once; they were wearing olive green leather jackets, ferocious boots, and were calmly but curiously addressing what might have been an alleged trespass of some kind at Oktoberfest.

Bicycle Dutch
Getting back to bicycle infrastructure, Amsterdam does possess a lot more of it than we are accustomed to, but mainly just at significant intersections. Red bike lanes will spring into being. Curbs slope at right angles. White lines appear to signify things on the ground. The difference is, Amsterdam bicyclists are more likely to ignore the bike infrastructure, even the ones toting babies.

And Amsterdammers rarely put as much effort into speeding around as the M√ľnchners. Unless, of course, they are on a scooter or a motorcycle, which is a somewhat common way to avail of the civic bicycle infrastructure yet enjoy some of the deference instinctively paid to armored, motorized machines.

One way Amsterdam cyclists cope with their communal, multi-modal organized chaos is to chime. It's a very soft chime, a demure "zhing zhing". Just enough for somebody to sense, "Hmm, it's almost as though there is a bike somewhere in roughly that direction, and he or she seems mildly mindful of a traffic situation." It's my belief that every time it looks like they might come within 8 feet of another sentient life form unaware of them, Amsterdam bikers "zhing zhing". They might even be using echolocation. ("Them bikers is smart, they use radar.")

And when I say multi-modal, I mean all major modes. Don't get me started on the light rail differences (European rail goes directions other than South) or the rest of public transit.

In conclusion, we see that "bike friendly" can mean any number of different things, that is, express itself in personalities organic to many cultures. Just like "business friendly" or "technology friendly".

And we also see that, suffice to say, the next time someone tells you Pittsburgh is a "world class city," they are talking about natural beauty, history, sports, friendliness, or access to the global stage -- all of which are fantastic amenities. But right now it's impossible for Pittsburgh to measure up in terms of things like population density, high-end shopping options and all manner of transit systems and infrastructure*. For anyone who appreciates either biking or simply getting around without a car, these must be very major disincentives to invest very much time here.

+ UPDATE: Null Space finds a good recent video about cycling in the US by a Dutchman.

(*And perhaps in terms of other forms of "infrastructure", period. I have a strong impression these cities aren't still flinging their poop in their waterways. A topic for a future post, and a project in a future pipeline.)