On NYC’s Open Data Portal and Parking Tickets

The author of the I Quant NY blog profiles an excellent use of of NYC’s Open Data portal in a post detailing how the city has been systematically ticketing legally parked cars:

As of late 2008, in NYC you can park in front of a sidewalk pedestrian ramp, as long as it’s not connected to a crosswalk.  It’s all written up in the NYC Traffic Rules, and for more detail, take a look at this article.

Is it a problem that drivers don’t realize that there are some extra parking spots they are now allowed to park in?  Not so much.  But, I’ve got a pedestrian ramp leading to nowhere particular in the middle of my block in Brooklyn, and on occasion I have parked there.  Despite the fact that it is legal, I’ve been ticketed for parking there.  Though I get the tickets dismissed, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. And that got me wondering- How common is it for the police to give tickets to cars legally parked in front of pedestrian ramps?  It couldn’t be just me…

In the past, there was not much you could do to stop something like this. Complaining to your local precinct would at best only solve the problem locally.  But thanks to NYC’s Open Data portal, I was able to look at the most common parking spots in the City where cars were ticketed for blocking pedestrian ramps.   It’s worth taking a moment upfront here to praise the NYPD for offering this dataset to begin with.  Though we are behind on police crime data in the city, we are ahead in other ways and the parking ticket dataset is definitely one of them.  

The response from the NYPD that the author received speaks volume (an admission of mistake and a promise to get it right with the proper training):

Mr. Wellington’s analysis identified errors the department made in issuing parking summonses. It appears to be a misunderstanding by officers on patrol of a recent, abstruse change in the parking rules.  We appreciate Mr. Wellington bringing this anomaly to our attention.

The department’s internal analysis found that patrol officers who are unfamiliar with the change have observed vehicles parked in front of pedestrian ramps and issued a summons in error. When the rule changed in 2009 to allow for certain pedestrian ramps to be blocked by parked vehicles, the department focused training on traffic agents, who write the majority of summonses.

Yet, the majority of summonses written for this code violation were written by police officers. As a result, the department sent a training message to all officers clarifying the rule change and has communicated to commanders of precincts with the highest number of summonses, informing them of the issues within their command.

Thanks to this analysis and the availability of this open data, the department is also taking steps to digitally monitor these types of summonses to ensure that they are being issued correctly.

Worth reading in entirety here.

The Millennial Generation and Communal Living

An interesting piece in The New York Times profiles how a certain subset of the millennial generation is choosing to live in a communal apartment. While your credit history doesn’t matter, you have to pass an interview to get accepted to live in one of these places:

[A] few companies are assembling bundles of apartments in New York with plans to fill them with cherry-picked inhabitants. Promising “a modern, urban lifestyle that values openness, collaboration and relationship building,” Common has entered into agreements with developers to renovate properties in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. This fall, it will begin renting 19 rooms at a Crown Heights property.

“We live in a super-disconnected city that has tons and tons of people, but it can feel really lonely here,” said Harrison Iuliano, who until last week worked as the programming director of Pure House, which rents out rooms to about 40 people in nine apartments in various buildings around Williamsburg. “Our goal is to make that a nonissue.”

Russell Jackson relinquished a studio six months ago to live in a six-bedroom Pure House apartment with a rotating cast (he presently has three flat mates). “I’m getting exposure to stuff and things that I would not have had sequestered on the Upper West Side,” said Mr. Jackson, a 52-year-old chef.

“Laundry services and cleaners and masseuses — all of that is icing,” he said. The real perks are the people he has met along the way. “How cool is it that I walk in the door and they ask me, ‘How’s your day?’ And I am genuinely interested in hearing from them,” said Mr. Jackson, who considers himself the Den Dad to the other tenants, who generally are two or three decades his junior and stay a month or two at a time.

Mr. Jackson, who has appeared on “Iron Chef America,” also orchestrates Pure House’s food events, including its pop-up dinner parties. At one such party, none of the 30 guests knew one another, but most embraced when the night was over…

I think this kind of thing can take off in large urban center like NYC and San Francisco. I’m less convinced that it could take off in larger, spread out cities like Atlanta.

On the Sub-Elite Wall Street Runners

The New York Times Dealbook blog profiles the non-elite runners at the New York City Marathon, which took place this past Sunday. These people have day jobs but are still amazing athletes. An accompanying piece in the sports section is excellent:

Cass, 29, is a member of a mostly invisible and underappreciated group known as the sub-elites. They have more than respectable times — the men finishing in the 2:20 to 2:35 range, the women in the 2:50 to 3:05 range — but have no chance to win the biggest marathons and receive little attention and even less financial reward.

Still, they are superb athletes, and although they may lack the speed of the world’s best, they are not missing the drive, discipline or commitment. Many log 80, 90 or 100 miles a week in training while holding full-time jobs. Cass’s career is more notable because he did not run track in high school or college.

I am similar to Cass: I hadn’t run in high school or college and only recently have picked it up as a hobby (about one year). My ideal distance is 5K, but I am slowly gearing up to do longer distances.

A Nightly Dinner Out as Therapy

Harry Rosen is 103 years old and lives in New York City. He made a fortune in his life in America as a supply company owner, after fleeing the pograms of Russia, having arrived to Ellis Island with his family. These days, he goes out to fancy restaurants in the city, which he considers his therapy:

“I haven’t eaten dinner home in many years,” said Mr. Rosen, who tried singles groups and other activities after his wife of 70 years, Lillian, died five years ago, when she was 95.

But nothing brought him the comfort of a fine restaurant.

“It’s my therapy, it lifts my spirits,” he said Wednesday evening while examining the menu with a magnifying glass at David Burke Townhouse on East 61st Street.

Twice a week, a server there greets him, walks him to his usual corner table and brings his regular glass of chardonnay, his appetizer of raw salmon and tuna, and then the swordfish, skin removed, with vegetables specially puréed for his dentures to handle.

“The food and the ambience, it’s my therapy — it gives me energy,” he said.

His favorite restaurants are Café Boulud on East 76th Street, Boulud Sud near Lincoln Center, and Avra Estiatorio on East 48th Street.

Michael Wolff on New York City Dining

Michael Wolff opines on the dining scene in New York City for the British GQ. As the commenters note, it’s not clear whether this is meant as parody:

Of course the ultimate status is not to know someone, but to be known, for the restaurant to want you. This is naturally true for all celebrities, but this is also often true for people merely associated with celebrities. I once had a breakfast meeting at one of the new breakfast places in my neighbourhood with someone of reasonable renown, and now can no longer return because of the unctuousness and obsequiousness and close-in touching with which I am greeted.

It must be said, finally, that there is little pleasure in restaurants of the new restaurant culture. The experience may seem precious, because it might so easily be lost, or necessary, because there is no other alternative, and beyond questioning, because the world is as it is, but on any purely empirical basis it is gruelling time served.

Only in the most expensive, ritualised and ceremonial establishments (we’re talking thousands per table) is there any attention to physical comfort and the basic science of acoustics. This is not only because the people in these restaurants are very rich, but also because they are very old. One of the points about restaurants is to feel young, or to be among the young, or, that is, the right young – the young who can afford expensive restaurants, albeit not as expensive as the restaurants for the very old and rich. (Almost everybody on the Upper East Side, where, in New York, the expensive and quiet restaurants are located, now travels great distances to eat among the young and loud.)

Entertaining, to say the least.


(via Tyler Cowen)

The Exclusive Lives of Dogs, NYC Edition

I enjoyed reading this piece in The New York Times about Ruff Club, a social place for dogs. Not every dog gets in, and the interview process can make the dog owners anxious.

Over-the-top dog spas are not all that new, of course. And the focus on exclusivity suggests the same competitive urges of urban parents obsessed with getting their toddlers into the right schools. And just as the nursery-school-age population in Manhattan has surged since 2000, particularly among wealthy white families, the pet population in New York City is now estimated at 1.1 million, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, with a 30 percent increase in the pet care industry from 2000 to 2010.

At any rate, it wouldn’t be the first time that dog care has been compared to child-rearing. “Treating your dog as a person can be a kind of aesthetic error, albeit one that’s becoming ever more common,” writes John Homans in “What’s a Dog For?” which explores the history and sociology of human-canine relationships.

The Ruff Club seizes upon this zeitgeist. “But we won’t infantilize dogs the way other spas do,” Ms. Simon Frost said. “We won’t give out report cards or talk in high-pitched voices.” She makes a point of calling her place “dog” day care not “doggy.” And unlike other high-end dog spas, the Ruff Club, which costs a competitive $29 for day boarding and $49 for overnight, doesn’t offer yoga, massage or any forms of coddling.

I think NYC is a prime spot for dog catering services like this to take off. What other cities have something similar to offer?

On an unrelated note, what kind of dog name is Zoloft? Depressing, no?

The Flash Mob Wedding Proposal

One way to stand out with a wedding proposal: via a flash mob. But as this New York Times piece explains, flash mobs are very expensive:

A flash proposal can start at $2,000 for a simple affair, which involves all supporting players — choreographers, videographers, rehearsal rental space and D.J.’s, but Ms. Broussard said that the costs could vary widely because each event is customized. If the would-be groom wants multiple cameras, professional dancers with complex choreography and costumes, the costs can surpass $10,000.

Others who can arrange events include Mob the World in Seattle and dance companies like Hip Hop Craze. For Mr. Jones’s efforts, he hired the choreographer Derek Mitchell, who supplied his own dancers.

On average, about 30 to 50 “mobbers,” often culled from Web sites and related Meetup pages, are brought together for an event. Many of the participants are volunteers who often have no background in professional dancing and receive little to no compensation. Once they register for an event, they are sent a link to the choreographed routine and typically get two days to rehearse.

Mr. Jones, whose engagement event included the band, flash mob and camera equipment, said it cost close to $7,000, not including the expense of flying in relatives. Mr. Centner said the price tag for his Union Square event was $7,300. That figure, too, does not account for some extras.

Some flash mob case studies are in the piece.

Exploring New York Through Pickup Basketball

Isaac Eger moved to New York City on a whim: no job, no girlfriend, no aspirations. But he had one curiosity: the city’s mythical ownership of pickup basketball. Were its legendary courts just New York hype? He set out exploring the pick-up courts in what he describes as a “a little stream of consciousness, a little underreported, full of a bunch of first names and first impressions”:

If New York is the city that never sleeps, it is probably because the city never shuts up.

Drowning the shriek of sneakers and the clangs of missed shots is the constant trash talk from the players on and off the court.

“Shoot it! I dare you!”

“You ain’t got nothing.”

“I’m gonna score from the block next time. Wait and see.”

Players on the city’s courts comment on what you wear, how you look, how you smell, what you do, how you blink and breathe. Cries and hoots from the sidelines fill the park when someone gets crossed, blocked or dunked on.

On being close:

Though everything seems to be less than an hour away, people do not appear too inclined to venture far beyond their neighborhood. Perhaps there is a level of comfort that comes with picking a court and sticking with it — like picking your favorite bar or cigarette brand. All of the players seem to know one another’s nicknames, tricks and extended families.

The city’s busy, congested courts have influenced the style of play that takes place on them. For instance, I haven’t run across many pure shooters, but I have encountered a lot of athletes with wicked ball-handling skills. My theory is that because the courts here are so packed with players, there is not enough time or space to practice jump shots.

That is why so many shooters, I suspect, are cornfed boys from the Midwest and prep schoolers from the suburbs: the country and sprawl quarantine them, and they have nothing to do but practice fundamentals by their lonesome.

His conclusion on the guys he played with on the courts:

We weren’t going to be friends. Ever.

But teammates? Perhaps.