Monday’s Headlines: How Do You Sleep Edition

Russian literature explains a lot.
Russian literature explains a lot.

It’s first-person time again. Apologies in advance.

I studied Russian in college, and it has served me well … in barbershops or when some old Soviet emigré tries to swipe the last jar of garchitza from the shelf at Exotic Foodland on Brighton Beach Avenue.

But I was reminded of a particularly pungent Russian idiom on Saturday when I was covering the death of Jose Ramos. The hard-working father was killed by a speeding driver on Atlantic Avenue in forgotten East New York, but years of apathy and incoherence by city officials also played a role in the death. The expression that came to mind is “kak vam ne stidno,” which can be translated into, “How are you not ashamed?” (WordPress won’t let me use the Cyrillic characters, which is too bad, because the final word — shame — includes a Russian vowel, untranslatable into English, that requires the speaker to basically spit out the word while compressing his gut in revulsion.)

City officials will likely say they have no cause for shame because they spent $48 million between 2018 and 2020 to add a planted median and a few curb extensions to Atlantic Avenue. But the basic design of the three-lane speedway was not changed. At all. No bike lane. No three-to-two road diet. No full-block sidewalk widening. Forty-eight million dollars was spent for a planted median and new water mains to protect an LIRR tunnel.

How is the city Department of Transportation not ashamed? Well, for one reason: the city’s newspapers don’t even try to hold the agency accountable for the way it fails to fix killing fields in East New York and so many other neighborhoods in town.

Yes, all the papers cover crashes, but never the causes. They cover the bloodshed, but not the background. The Post version of the Ramos story didn’t even mention the city’s decade-long failure on Atlantic Avenue. Neither did amNY nor the Daily News (though the News at least mentioned the 92 pedestrian deaths citywide this year, up from 69 over the same period of 2020. And Gothamist also mentioned what a generally deadly year it’s been.) But none of the outlets (and you can forget about the Times ever covering this kind of thing) explored the systemic ineptitude and apathy that contributed to Ramos’s death under the wheels of a speeding car. As long as the weapon is a recklessly driven car and not a gun, the local papers don’t care.

Another case in point? The Post covered a fatal car crash on deadly Third Avenue in Brooklyn, but didn’t even mention that Third Avenue has been deadly for years … the result of more city failure, which has been documented here, here, here and here. The Daily News coverage at least quoted someone complaining of the roadway, but that left a lot of money on the table, as always. (At least Kevin Duggan of amNY pointed out the bloodshed on Third.)

Is it asking too much that reporters know stuff about the city they cover?

In other news:

  • Ugh, this virtually brand new, but unusable, bus dispatch debacle is a huge unforced error for the MTA. (NY Post)
  • Another firefighter was arrested for drunk driving. (NY Post)
  • Meanwhile, another delivery worker was stabbed and killed, and had his e-bike stolen. (Gothamist)
  • The C train is really struggling. (amNY)
  • In case you missed it, Bloomberg City Lab did a great story about how badly the de Blasio administration is policing the police, whose overtime spending is excessive.
  • It seems that QNS was the only outlet to cover last week’s protest against the city’s gold standard open street on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights — but the reporter didn’t realize how good a story she actually got. Both the DOT and Council Member Danny Dromm went public for the first time with their frustrations at the hateful, violent ranting by the tiny minority of car-owning resisters. Seth Stein of DOT said, “These protesters are welcome to make the case about why they are opposed to increased access to open space, enhanced safety for hundreds of students in the six nearby schools, as well as community-centered activities.” And Dromm revealed how angry he’s become at seeing racist rants against the open street on Facebook. “The protest by 30 people last Saturday, their unwillingness to identify themselves and the vitriol they are spreading on Facebook is harmful to the community,” he said. “The 34th Avenue open street is here to stay.” (Let’s hope he’s right; DOT is coming to anti-open street Community Board 3 tonight at 7 p.m. to present its long-overdue vision for transforming the roadway into a permanent open space. Details here.)
  • Cuozzo, being Cuozzo, hates any effort to speed buses through a congested area, but his column on Saturday in opposition to the city’s watered-down transit plans for Fifth Avenue was more unhinged than normal. Put aside for a second the demonstrably untrue assertions (e-bike riders, for example, have not killed seven pedestrians since 2020, and as much as we might wish, Transportation Alternatives does not have a “stranglehold” over DOT), but the column was burdened by multiple inconsistencies. For instance, Cuozzo points out that Fifth Avenue is currently “marred by dozens of vacant stores,” yet hails the current, business- and bike-unfriendly design as a “time-tested traffic pattern.” Plus, Cuozzo claims that advocates who support a bike lane on Fifth Avenue are elitists and car drivers just put-upon working class heroes — but if the goal is to help Fifth Avenue’s ritzy merchants, then, by Cuozzo’s logic, we should encourage cycling to that business district. (We reached out to the DOT to debunk Cuozzo’s other myths, but the agency didn’t respond; could you imagine NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea being so personally attacked about a police strategy and then not going on every TV and radio station in town to rebut it? Come on, Hank, grab a mic.)
  • I went after the Times for its egregiously bad coverage of the city (specifically transportation), so it was refreshing to see I’m not alone. Check out this essential thread by Alec Karakatsanis on the Times’s elitist and Establishment-friendly crime coverage.
  • Meanwhile, the Times turned subway videos into a Style section story.
  • But this Times opinion piece on Uber and Lyft showed why you should always look a gift tech company in the mouth. Now, will the paper pay such attention to food app tech companies, please?
  • It looks like Cuomo’s henchmen (the fat at the top of the MTA) are being sent to the exits. (NYDN)
  • And, finally, for the second straight week, American culture is once again subsidized by car culture. Will there come a time when culture organizations see car makers like an earlier generation saw the tobacco companies? The parallels are so similar — both cars and cigarettes are legal, popular products that are part of American culture for decades and helped many individuals define their lifestyles. And both were responsible for millions of easily preventable deaths. The media and Hollywood eventually weaned themselves off of tobacco money, so is it too much to ask that they divest from all this carwashing?

Filed Under: DOT

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Edwin Ajacalon's uncle, Eduardo Vicente, broke down before he could speak at last night's vigil. Photo: Dave Colon

Brooklyn Electeds Pay Tribute to Edwin Ajacalon and Call on Albany to Prevent Deadly Speeding

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At a vigil last night, elected officials and street safety advocates paid tribute to Edwin Ajacalon, the 14-year-old from Guatemala who was killed by a teenage driver in Brooklyn Saturday night. Calling Ajacalon an "all-American boy" and "a vital thread in the beautiful tapestry that is New York City," they pressed for street safety improvements and a culture change among drivers after yet another death of a cyclist, the 20th in 2017.