Last Saturday afternoon a crowd of about 15 people gathered on the east side of Niagara Square’s traffic circle and did the same thing they’ve been doing in that space for a year now: holding a General Assembly for Occupy Buffalo. Once the meeting was called and the chatter of the various conversations subsided, a paper bag stuffed full of ginger-molasses cookies was passed around the circle and the members began planning their one-year anniversary, coming this weekend.
When Occupy Buffalo was evicted from Niagara Square in an early morning roundup on February 2, the Buffalo Police followed the “shock and awe” mold of action made popular by the same war the occupiers were motivated to protest, storming the square with dozens of squad cars and SWAT vehicles. By morning all that was left was a geodesic dome on loan from a supporter, which Occupy Buffalo successfully lobbied police to save from the payloaders and dumptrucks that followed the police cars.
The bill sponsored by State Senator George Maziarz and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger to create a new seat on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s much-beleaguered board has now passed both the Assembly and the Senate. The bill itself, however, is a compromised version of what transportation advocates have been calling for, which is voting representation for the people who actually use the transit system.
The bill sitting on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk will provide only a non-voting seat on the NFTA’s board of commissioners for a member of the “transit dependent and/or disabled community.”
When comparing the legislation that defines New York’s four upstate transportation authorities, the theme that emerges is that one of these things is not quite like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.
If you thought the NFTA’s aviation and real estate responsibilities were the only thing separating them from the other quasi-governmental public-benefit corporations in the state, well, you have at least one more thing coming.
It turns out the systems operating in the Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany metro areas have much different mechanisms in place to provide local input into the composition of their governing boards. All authority commissioners are appointed ultimately by the governor; the difference lies in how the governor is allowed to pick the appointee.
One quality for which transportation agencies like the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority have been stridently criticized by community groups throughout the state has been their ability to restrict and organizationally ignore comments, concerns, and input from the their ridership.
There are five heavily acronymed New York State transportation authorities (think major cities: Buffalo’s NFTA, Rochester’s RGRTA, Syracuse’s CNYRTA or Centro, Albany’s CDTA, New York City’s MTA), and each is managed by a board of commissioners appointed by the sitting governor. If you imagine that a governor would ever consider appointing to such a board a low-income mother who rides the bus to her job, well then bless your heart, that’s very sweet. Rest assured, it’s a political process.
Several lawmakers have attempted to impose change upon the NFTA through legislation. Most recently, State Senator George Maziarz and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger co-sponsored a bill that would put a single member of the “transit dependent/disabled” community into a non-voting seat on the NFTA’s board. The bill passed in the Assembly. However, Jake Carlson of the New York State Transportation Equity Alliance, or NYSTEA, an organization that seeks to reform the statewide omission of meaningful customer service in public transit, recently expressed concern that backdoor lobbying by transportation authorities threatens to derail the bill.
(originally appeared in Artvoice on 4/12/12)
One of Isaac Newton’s first experiments as a young student at Cambridge was an attempt to objectively describe color. To do so, he slid a “bodkin” into his eye socket between eyeball and bone, and pressed the tip until he saw white, dark, and colored circles. Next, he stared with one eye into a reflection of the sun for as long as he could. After looking at the sun, his senses were stripped down to two base colors. Light objects all appeared red, while dark objects appeared blue.
After spending three days in a dark room recovering from his experiment, Newton found he could reproduce this effect at will. Newton found red and blue to be primary colors, positioned at opposite sides of any color wheel, as any good art student will tell you by seventh grade, and the red-blue color dominance was firmly established.
Red and blue, besides being the colors of several prominent national flags and a certain local football team, are the dominant colors of amateur boxing. There’s always a red corner and a blue corner to which each fighter belongs, their respective allegiance demonstrated by the color of their gloves and headgear. In the first round of the Golden Gloves in January, there were two rings to accommodate more than 40 fighters initially in competition: a red ring and blue ring. Tomorrow, in the throwback ambiance of the Statler’s Golden Ballroom, the Golden Gloves final will take place, with 18 fighters competing for championships according to experience and weight class, and 10 fighters in non-tournament “match bouts.”
(originally published in Buffalo Spree, photo courtesy of Micheline Veluvolu)
One November Friday night in Rochester, New York—birthplace of soccer pro Abby Wambach and the garbage plate (that’s food)—I found myself, my brother-in-law, and my father standing along the Genesee River, walking under the new bridge that connects to the eastbound 490. In front of us: Blue Cross Arena, home of the Rochester Americans (colloquially known as the Amerks) American Hockey League team and Buffalo Sabres affiliate. Behind us: Nathaniel’s Bar and Grille, origin of the Caesar salad now in my stomach, and home to twenty flat-screen TVs showing Tebow highlights.
The Arena gates weren’t open yet, but the atrium was packed with people at six p.m., all looking like they belonged to a secret order of Rochesterians. I’ve been to Rochester more than a handful of times, but I can never get over how different the place feels from my hometown of Buffalo. Everything looks more or less the same, but the atmosphere inside social spaces feels very different. Where Buffalo invokes idealism and a confused depression, Rochester responds with pragmatism and a polite anxiety.
(article originally appeared in Artvoice)
When all the smoke of a game-changing service cut proposal had cleared, and the public furor it caused quieted, the NFTA was left with the diesel soaked rags and a book of matches in the form of the second significant fare hike in three years. Of course the NFTA has been quick to deny that the proposed service reduction was a threat designed to make a fare hike more palatable, but many riders still smell the fumes when they think of the NFTA and its Board of Commissioners.
And it was out of that toxic air, amid a multitude of voices from riders and elected officials, that the NFTA threw the public a bone. At its February board meeting, they announced the development of a Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP), a non-voting entity that could nonetheless provide a novel thing for the NFTA: the voice of the people who actually ride the bus. Currently, the board is functionally deaf to the experience of its customers. In the Board’s monthly public meetings, there is no allotted time for the public to speak or comment. For a business-heavy Board, they have ignored the number one rule of business: customer service.