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Wednesday, 22 February 2006
Running the gauntlet
Topic: urban issues
A few days ago, young Shawn Beach, a Brighton resident who commuted by bicycle to a job near Pittsford Plaza, was struck and killed by a motor vehicle at the entrance ramp to I-590 North on Monroe Avenue. As reported in the D&C, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said the obvious: it was “an unfortunate accident.”

And it almost goes without saying: All of us mourn this loss of life. Our hearts go out to Shawn Beach's family and friends and coworkers - and also to the motorist who unintentionally played a tragic role and now must live with that.

It’s hard to tell what factors came into play. Beach was reportedly wearing dark clothing, and the collision took place at 6:25 pm, one of the worst times of the day for visibility. No charges are expected.

The case prompts some reminders. While sharing the road as provided by law, bicyclists and motorists have certain responsibilities. Bikers must wear bright, reflective clothing and use proper lights. Drivers need to operate their potentially lethal machines with due regard for others.

But one actor here is evading responsibility. It’s the transportation system that creates inherently hazardous conditions – for the dubious goal of shaving a minute or two off someone’s commute or shopping trip.

I know the stretch of Monroe that took down Shawn Beach – and I know that bicyclists have to watch their backs there. Indeed, going through there this like pedaling a quarter-mile gauntlet.

Put yourself in the saddle:

Say you’re biking west on Monroe between Clover St. and Twelve Corners. You’re required by law and prudence to keep as far to the right as possible. But as you approach the I-590 on-ramp from the east, you find you can’t do this. To stay on the avenue, you must cross a right-turn-only lane that feeds high-speed traffic onto the on-ramp.

(There are many other local examples of this kind of thing. One I love to hate is in downtown, where Monroe Avenue crosses over the Inner Loop just south of the Strong Musueum. At rush hour, especially, a bicyclist understands how high this complex intersection/crossover sits on the sliding scale of unintelligent design. Particularly impressive are the TWO right turn lanes that cyclists must negotiate.)

So how do you cope with Monroe at I-590?

Well, you can dismount and walk your bike across the pedestrian crosswalk – in other words, adopt a “back of the bus” status as user of the public highways. (Not that this will totally protect you.) Or you can check your rear-view mirror for a break in the traffic flow, and then zip leftward across the right-turn-only lane to the travel lane up ahead.

In either scenario, you’re at the mercy of the motor traffic. And believe me, people tear through the Monroe-Clover area like crazy. Whether they’re going to stay on Monroe Avenue or turn onto I-590, their eyes are on one prize: spending the shortest possible time between points A and B.

Not to put the sole blame on motorists as a class. (Disclosure and confession: I don’t own a car, but I do have a driver’s license and drive occasionally.) They’ve had their enablers, a.k.a. transportation planners, agency officials, and oil/auto/construction corporate types – the panoply of horsepower fetishists that together have made the public highways a killing zone. And this is more than unfortunate, or even a crying shame. It’s an ongoing moral crime.

Remember that, too, as you remember the life and death of Shawn Beach.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:15 EST
Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006 17:01 EST
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Sunday, 19 February 2006

I'm still stunned about Dennis Monroe's passing. But through the disbelief and pain come so many memories of his music, his voice, and his unfailing humanity, and such strong affirmation of what he meant to Rochester.

For those who didn't have the good fortune to know Dennis - well, you missed one of the most genuine human beings around. He was a master of strings: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, you name it. And he sang up a storm, too, everything from lute songs to blues and rock. Above all, he was a man of community, one who lived for his students, friends, family. Certainly his kids and wife Joni are devastated by their loss. But hundreds, if not thousands of Rochesterians are in mourning still.

I knew Dennis for more than 30 years. In the early days, we played Renaissance and Baroque music together once in a while. There was a memorable Christmas concert in Mendon Center one year; I attempted a couple Polish carols, with Dennis accompanying on guitar. Now I think we didn't do enough of these collaborations. Nor did we hoist as many beers together as would have been ideal.

He and I shared a love of nature and the outdoors, too, and the hikes we took were spiritually the flip side of the music. On the trail, Dennis was as genuine as he was when holding a fiddle. I recall one hike especially (it became an in-joke). We were climbing up through the streambed in Clark's Gully, near Naples, and soon enough we found ourselves stuck above a waterfall that seemed impossible to go down, though we’d scrambled up the thing safely, or maybe foolishly.

Anyway, we had to improvise a way up and out via a steep, gravelly wall dotted with foliage. Dennis started up the wall up first. The gravel gave way a little, but soon he found some handholds and called back down to me: "No problem. There's plenty of stuff to grab onto." I followed tentatively. A minute later it was smooth sailing. But suddenly we realized the handholds were clumps of poison ivy. We stuck to the upward path, though. What else to do? But at the top, we had to furiously scrub our hands and arms with soil to remove the sap before it could do its dirty work. Then we laughed like crazy, as we did many times afterward, thinking about that Laurel and Hardy moment.

Well, I can’t say why this sticks in my mind. I do know I always admired – and tried to learn from – Dennis’s humor, his sense not so much of the absurd but of the delights of silliness, boyishness. He had a way of breaking through the small stuff. I’ll try to keep my eyes on that prize, as Dennis would want.

All of us can seek comfort in the music, of course, which, as Dennis knew, means a lot more than notes on a page or physical sounds.

(I urge you all to check out the tribute page soon to be at

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 06:48 EST
Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006 15:25 EST
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Sunday, 5 February 2006
At war with ourselves
Topic: economy
The Republican right wing’s economic promises long ago became tangible threats, even to its geographical base. I’m sure plenty of Louisianans in the lowland suburbs woke up to this fact even before George Bush slighted them in his State of the Union last week. Everyone an entrepreneur, says Bush. That means you’re ultimately responsible for digging yourself out of the muck, and never mind reconstruction of the levees and floodwalls. New Orleans and Fallujah: two faces of compassionate conservatism in action.

And now comes the president’s budget proposal, with severe cuts in domestic spending across the board, except for defense of the Fatherland, I mean Homeland Security. The Washington Post reports Bush wants to slash Medicare funding by $36 billion over the next five years. He’d also take the axe to Medicaid. Overall, says the Post, 141 programs would be eliminated or cut back. Over at the Pentagon, of course, things would be rosier. Bush proposes a five percent increase in military spending, up to $439 billion, a new world record. That’s not counting tens of billions for the criminal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The full obscenity of this is not being reported, however. The War Resisters League calculated that last year the nation spent $643 billion directly on the military – the sum of the Pentagon budget, military-related parts of such agencies as NASA and the Department of Energy, and the off-budget outlays for Afghanistan and Iraq. And as WRL says, for a fair accounting, add another $384 billion for the fraction of the national debt attributable to past wars. So that comes to more than $1 trillion for “defense” in just one year.

Meanwhile on the home front, where Monroe County and Rochester both face huge budget deficits the next couple of years and federal cuts in revenue-sharing already are being felt, what are politicians asking for, Democrats prominently included? Local leaders are toying with a plan to spend $300 million, much of it from federal transportation funds, for a rapidly metastasizing complex of structures downtown: a combo bus terminal, college campus, and performance center at Main and Clinton, plus a couple more performance halls just to the east.

Maybe they’ll call it Renaissance Squared, a bad idea that seems to grow exponentially – and again the R word seems appropriate, evoking the urban policies of, say, 16th-century bourgeois who lived large while sharing just enough with their slum-dwellers to prevent revolution. (Luckily, the servant class didn’t always cooperate.)

Why aren’t the locals protesting what’s happening in Washington? Why do they keep pretending that “all politics is local”? Why aren’t they drafting realistic strategies to deal with the urban landscape, starting with a Northeast inter-urban collaborative to force change in Washington?

If Rochester saves itself, it won’t be by going it alone, and certainly not by building redundant arts complexes. Check out a recent AP story the Buffalo News carried on the front page. With the suitably Dickensian (though clich?d) headline “A Tale of Two Cities,” the article told the story of Detroit as it welcomed this year’s Super Bowl. Detroit is Rochester writ larger and lower - the world’s premier blue-collar metropolis now depopulated (down to 900,000 from a height of 2 million) and depressed, except for its grand downtown architecture, an off-color Emerald City of casinos and stadiums.

Poor Detroit. Poor Buffalo. Poor us. It’s enough to make you mix some oil-and-water historical allusions. “I have seen the future, and it works [for a few].” And “After me, the deluge.”

But enough pouting. Some day you'll see me in the ticket line for the inevitable road-show production of Les Miserables – at spanking new Renaissance Square. Can't wait.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:24 EST
Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006 15:35 EST
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Sunday, 15 January 2006
Buffaloed by local boy - again
Topic: media criticism
Hometown loyalty can be treacherous. Look what it’s done to many Buffalonians, who go on and on about NBC newsman Tim Russert, the biggest mediocrity to come out of the Queen City since Grover Cleveland.

There he was this past Sunday morning – Russert, not Cleveland, unfortunately – enlightening a colleague on the narrow policy options facing the US and allies in their moves to stem Iran’s nuclear program.

According to TR – Russert, not Teddy Roosevelt, who rushed to William McKinley’s Buffalo deathbed in 1901 to grab that era’s oddly familiar imperial torch – we can do one (or more?) of three things. The US can pursue diplomatic action against Iran, with one and only one tolerable outcome, Iran’s capitulation. Or the US can attack Iran’s nuclear facilities as Israel did with the Iraq’s French-built nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. Or the US can unleash Israel to attack Iran’s facilities.

End of story. No mention of alternatives like these: true diplomacy by the US, i.e. without implied threats of force; US support of multiparty negotiations toward general nuclear disarmament in the region and beyond (with unilateral removal of US nuclear-armed or -capable naval vessels from the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean as a nice opening gambit); US (and hopefully multiparty) rejection of "peaceful" nuclear power, with quick moves toward safe energy technologies to be shared with Iran and other developing nations.

None of these, though, are for Russert, who in a nice-guy, teddy-bear kind of way offers rationales for the raw projection of lethal force. Oh yes, the diplomatic option comes first on his list, but it's made clear that this is pro forma. When push comes to shove, might makes right.

In other times and places, such journalistic behavior has been described as collusion with war criminals. So it will be again, if justice makes a comeback.

Russert has invaded some liberal hearts by sounding tough, including that of The Nation’s David Corn, who’s described him, with reservations, as Sunday morning’s Grand Inquisitor.

Russert does often sound persistent. For example, last December he grilled (the word is relative) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on presidential wiretaps and the “inaccurate” (his word) intelligence that led to the US invasion. He tried to pin Rice down on the naked illegality of wiretaps that Bush could easily have gotten authorized through the FISA law, a framework that allows almost total leeway. And he did cast doubt on the administration’s internal processes.

But did he challenge Rice on the legality of the invasion and occupation?

Are you kidding? He wouldn’t dare. His NBC bosses would have his head for thus alienating the dear Secretary, who would never cross the NBC threshold again.

So on and on Russert goes, every bit the noble pundit, sometimes the boy next door, sometimes sounding like an inquisitor but acting more like a courtier when the chips are down.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:07 EST
Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006 16:39 EST
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Thursday, 12 January 2006
Rochester's past ferry
Topic: environment
The trip was short and expensive, and the passengers – a whole community taken for a ride – are feeling the pinch.

However you cut it, the fast ferry that was originally sold as an “economic engine” will leach tens of millions of dollars more from the public purse - and some ancillary private businesses - before this transportation fiasco is over.

How could anyone have failed to see this was the final destination?

Even before fuel prices spiked, the ferry was simply too expensive to run. Every round-trip to Toronto burned up more than 7,000 gallons of marine diesel – roughly $10,500 worth a couple years ago, and $14,000 today. Let’s assume each passenger paid $100 for the round-trip: this means the ferry needed the proceeds from 140 passengers just to pay the fuel bill. But as winter began, the ferry was reportedly carrying fewer than 100 – sometimes as few as 40 - passengers per trip. So if the ferry was financially viable, it was only during the warmer months. And you can’t maintain an operation like this year-round on the strength (if that’s the word) of its fair-weather performance.

Local commentators are now lamenting the loss to Rochester’s image. Seems we needed a flagship project to boost our self-confidence. But I think that line of thinking is as off-track as the ferry project was.

Never mind images – we’re talking transportation here, the most down-to-earth of basic services. What the region needs is not confidence building, but real-world engagement with projects that will simultaneously improve mobility and preserve the environment.

The starting point is a comprehensive transportation plan that deals with everything from sidewalks and pedestrian routes to streetcars and inter-city rail. And such planning starts with service within the community: i.e. developing the most efficient, most environmentally-friendly ways to get people where they need to be for work, leisure, and culture.

Is it too much to ask that we get on with this - instead of succumbing to the next razzle-dazzle fantasy that drops anchor here?

Sidebar: A couple of weeks ago, WXXI talk-show host Bob Smith took yet another call about Rochester’s need to develop light rail. And once again, Smith bleated in response (I’m paraphrasing): Fine, but where are we going to find the several hundred million dollars? Well, Bob, we’ll divert some of the money that now goes for unnecessary roadways, ill-fated boats, decorator bridges, and (worst “transportation” scheme of all) expeditionary military forces. Radio personalities can help by acknowledging the possibilities, not drowning them with the flip equivalent of “We can’t afford it.”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:52 EST
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