Some Thoughts On Planning And Life

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THE COMMUTE: My sister passed away this week. What does this have to do with The Commute you ask? For one thing, I told Ned there wouldn’t be any this week and he was fine with that. Then I got to thinking.

I received this awful news just after boarding a bus for Atlantic City. With the help of a cell phone, the Internet, a few signatures, and the cooperation of a lot of people, the funeral had been arranged on the bus  (except for the signatures part) without a single hitch and there was virtually no stress involved. When I got home, I notified some people and they notified others. I asked myself “Why can’t life be so simple and easy?”

We spend too much time arguing and bickering. Relatives not speaking to relatives, and neighbors not speaking to neighbors with the other side always at fault. I am reminded of an episode of “The Danny Thomas Show” where Uncle Tonoose’s family had been fighting for centuries and no one even knew the cause of the original dispute. All they knew was that they weren’t supposed to talk to each other. Extend this thought to countries and it is easy to see why we have wars.

My sister worked for the Department of City Planning for more than 25 years, where I also started my career. Probably 99 percent of all plans made by city planners, even the best laid plans, just end up on the shelf because different groups are arguing over different things and no one can agree. Then politics gets involved and either compromises are made, which ruin the intention of the initial plan or, even worse, it gets scrapped entirely.

Arguing, bickering and politics are the reasons why we still don’t have a Second Avenue Subway. In the 1970s, when costs started to rise it was proposed that it be built in two phases with the first portion built above 63rd Street, and the second portion started ten years later below that point. Of course, the people who would have to wait for construction to begin were not happy. Then the powerful Sheldon Silver representing the Lower East Side insisted on a cup handle to better serve Alphabet Town, further adding to the expense. He also insisted that the subway be built all in one phase delaying the project even further until it got so expensive, it couldn’t be built at all and had to be placed on hold.

When it was revived again for the third time, 25 years later, project costs had multiplied and two phases that had become one again, were now four. Today, we are still struggling to complete Phase 1 with the completion date already pushed into the future several times and the costs escalating every day. That is just one example.

Just think what could be accomplished if we cooperate more and argue less. (I hope two certain local groups are reading this. I won’t say which ones.) An event — a funeral — probably involving hundreds of people, when you consider everyone you don’t see working behind the scenes, including friends notifying other friends, went off quickly. It took place within 30 hours, only six hours beyond the 24 hours Jewish law allows, and flawlessly through cooperation and a common goal. Look at the TV show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, in which new homes are designed and constructed in seven days. Everyone cooperates.

And for the curious ones — my sister died after spending seven years and seven days in a coma as the result of a bicycle accident. She was riding on perhaps what is considered the safest of all types of bicycle lanes, the Belt Parkway bicycle path, where bicycles are separated from automobile traffic, and she did not collide with another bicycle. She wasn’t wearing a helmet in spite of my repeated warnings to her because it was too just much of a hassle for her to adjust all the straps and put it on properly. Besides, what could possibly happen on a physically separated bike lane, where there are no cars, when you are being cautious? She still would have been injured, but those injuries might not have been as severe.

Always wear your helmet when cycling no matter what your excuse may be.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).