Category Archives: Government 101

Government 311: How to Improve Complaint Submission

It’s not the first time that 311 has been used to harass neighbors, but it may be the most egregious. Jim Dwyer, writing in the Metropolitan Section of Sunday’s NY Times, tells of a rash of phony 311 complaints that, Dwyer says, “has put thousands of homeowners in Queens under a state of bureaucratic siege.”

“From September to December, more than 3,000 complaints of illegal [residential] conversions were filed in three Queens neighborhoods — Whitestone, Flushing, and Malba.” The result: Buildings department inspectors repeatedly seeking entry into homes maliciously identified by anonymous complainants. Continue reading

Government 101, Lesson 2: Why Does NYC Have So Many Traffic Lights?

Well, actually, only about 12,000 of NYC’s 43,000 intersections are “signalized.” The borough with the most traffic lights is Brooklyn, with over 4,000. One report has it that the first red-green light in NYC was installed in 1930.

By the Giuliani administration, the numbers were in the thousands, and the city’s Department of Transportation needed 34 months to evaluate whether an intersection needed one. Giuliani saw the lights as an easy way to curry favor with constituents, so he instructed Transportation Commissioner Christopher Lynn to eliminate a 600-light backlog and cut the study time. Lynn reduced the study time to 12 weeks. During his regime, the number of traffic lights installed went from 56 in 1995 to 169 in 1996, and to a a planned 222 in the first five months of 1997. By early 1997, the city’s traffic lights totaled 10,687. By January, 2006, after Michael Bloomberg had been in office for four years, the number had increased to 11,871. Continue reading

Government 101, Lesson 1: Why Can’t the Streets Be Smoother?

Sometimes, the best ideas come while driving in heavy traffic. Although we don’t talk or text while behind the wheel, we do tend to obsess about city government. We also do that in other inappropriate situations.

Our latest episode happened while driving up Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue. Our tires kept on banging into one manhole depression after another. The 5-minute ride felt as if we were on an IED-pocked road in Afghanistan, not a major thoroughfare in America’s largest and most vibrant city. “Why can’t the city even pave the streets right?” we asked.

But, of course, we already knew the answer: Coney Island Avenue had been paved by a low-bid contractor, working under the oversight of private engineering consultants. They, in turn, had been supervised by civil servants who may have lacked the tools to impose useful sanctions if either the consultant or the contractor screwed up. Could efficiency improvements — which Mayor Bloomberg’s 2010 charter revision commission may try to implement — solve this? Continue reading