Tag Archive | "South Bronx"

Cycling renaissance pedals slowly to the Bronx

Cycling renaissance pedals slowly to the Bronx

A cyclist rides on the Grand Concourse ahead of traffic

A cyclist shares the road with traffic on the Grand Concourse. (Nigel Chiwaya |THE BRONX INK)

Every morning Shardy Nieves rides his bicycle 11 miles from his home in Crotona to his job at Champion Courier on 37th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.  The 31-year-old Nieves said that he makes the ride, which takes almost an hour by subway, in 35 minutes.

“Faster than a train, less congestion,” said Nieves, who works in customer service at Champion Courier. “You can’t beat it.”

Still, he noted, cycling in Manhattan is far easier than in the Bronx. “Manhattan is more bike friendly,” Nieves said. “In the Bronx you have to fend for yourself.”

The Bronx has been pushed to the slow lanes in New York City’s current cycling renaissance.  Not only does it have fewer miles of bike lanes than Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it is not yet included in the city’s ambitious bike sharing program.

The result is a cycling community that is smaller than the ones in Brooklyn and Manhattan, something that was on full display during the Oct. 23 Tour de Bronx.

The tour, an annual non-competitive bike ride through the borough, drew cyclists from all five boroughs. At the Yankee Stadium Number 4 station, riders from Manhattan and Brooklyn poured out of uptown trains in droves. Across the platform, a single cyclist came from the north Bronx, a symptom likely caused by the tip of the borough’s lack of bike lanes.

There are 88.5 miles of bike lanes in the Bronx, 56.5 of which have been added since 2006. Of the five boroughs, only Staten Island has fewer miles of bike lanes.

Lanes in the outer boroughs were placed in areas that provide easy access to midtown Manhattan. In Brooklyn and Queens, this means lanes in the waterfront communities of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and Astoria, respectively.

A graphic showing the miles of bike lanes in each borough

The Bronx trails Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in miles of bike lanes. (Click to Enlarge)

Similarly, most of the Bronx’s bike lanes have been placed in the South Bronx, in close proximity to the Harlem River bridges on streets like the Grand Concourse, Third, Walton and Jerome Avenues. The placement of the lanes on major streets has been a blessing and a curse for riders, who now have dedicated travel paths to Manhattan. But they have to be willing to weave through busy side streets in order to reach them.

Some cyclists choose not to deal with the threats of traffic, opting instead to take their bicycles on the subway. Jennie Heslin, who runs the New York City social bicycle club, had to get from her apartment in Morris Heights down to 161st Street for the Tour de Bronx. “I ended up taking my bike on the train,” Heslin said. “I wanted to avoid riding in the streets.”

It’s not uncommon to see cars parked in bike lanes, said Sebita Lekhraj, one of Heslin’s club members. “People don’t have any respect for bikers,” said Lekhraj, who also lives in Morris Park.

Dedicated bike lanes are not the only area where the Bronx rides behind Manhattan and Brooklyn. In September, the city debuted plans for an ambitious public bike-sharing program. The system, which calls for 600 stations and 10,000 bikes, will launch in September 2012 in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Alta Bicycle Share, the company that will run the program, excluded the Bronx from the trial after conducting feasibility studies, but has indicated the possibility of establishing a smaller, disconnected satellite system in the borough at a later date.

Cycling has been a contentious issue in New York. The city began a push to increase the number of riding paths in 1997 with the release of the bike master plan. However bike lane construction didn’t begin in earnest until Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived in 2001 and began championing the issue. In fact, Bloomberg made so much progress that disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, a mayoral frontrunner before a lewd photo scandal forced his resignation, once told the mayor that if elected, he’d spend his first year in office “tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

In Brooklyn, Park Slope residents banded together to sue the city over a lane on Prospect Park West. The case was dismissed in August.

The Bronx hasn’t seen any similar uprisings, said Ben Fried, author of the alternative transportation website Streetsblog.org. “I’d be shocked if we heard a story like that,” Fried said.

While Brooklyn residents fume over bike lanes, Bronx residents seem to be rolling with the idea. A June 2011 poll showed that 63 percent of Bronx residents support bike lanes, a rate that tied with Manhattan for highest in the city. Some expect those numbers will grow.

“In terms of the number of people cycling, it’s not quite up there, but I think there’s a lot of people that don’t have cars, said Fried.”

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City locks out Morning Glory gardeners

Elliott Liu holds a rake outside the garden he helped create as city workers tear down the fence.

Volunteer gardeners in the South Bronx looked on helplessly Monday morning as city workers yanked up their kale by the roots and threw it into garbage bags.

In a few hours, the city had destroyed their carefully tended garden beds, hauled away tables and chairs, and mowed under foliage in Morning Glory Community Garden on Union Avenue and Southern Boulevard.

Two years of grassroots work was destroyed in a few hours. “What we are seeing,” said Rafael Mutis, adjunct professor at Hostos Community College, “is just another threatened community garden in a low-income community where fresh food is already so scarce.”

The city hopes to develop the area and needs the garden cleaned out to prepare the  land for sale. A Bronx housing official, Ted Weinstein, said developers have expressed interest in bidding on the site, but first need to test it to see if construction is feasible.

“We are on orders to clear out the lot today,” Carol Allen, a department of housing representative, said to the stunned gardeners, holding petitions they’d hoped would save the garden from destruction “If you attempt to stop us, we will call the police.”

Until recently, the Morning Glory community garden was nothing more than an empty lot, owned by the city, and neglected for 30 years. Two years ago, a group of community members decided to convert the space into something useful.

Residents have since used the soil to grow corn, tomatoes, carrots, collards, kale, garlic and squash. Students learned how to grow their own food. The space hosts community barbeques, open mic events and organic farming opportunities.

On November 7, community gardeners Elliott Liu and Rafael Mutis stood outside of the fence with plans to gather signatures to take to City Hall, hoping community support could stall their eviction. Their plans were scrapped when the Department of Housing representatives arrived to clear it out.

Liu and Mutis frantically made calls for urgent support as the contract workers from Innovative Construction tore down a section of the fence and backed a blue van into the lot, running over small potted plants stopping to unload garbage cans, lawn mowers, and pickaxes.

“I don’t know why the city needs to clear out this garden today,” said neighbor Elizabeth Lynch as she signed the petition to save the garden. “If they have a plan to build something here, they should let the community know.”

Meanwhile community reinforcements gradually began to arrive on the sidewalk outside the garden. Anistala Rugama, of the Harm Reduction Coalition was disappointed that the high school students, who have the most stake in the garden, could not be there to protect it.

“The city came to destroy their garden while they are in school,” she said. “They were planning to come after school, but it might be too late.”

According to James Edgar of the Department of Housing, it is too late. “We have put up No Trespassing signs,” he told gardeners. “This is city property and they will do what they want with it.”

Attorney Kafhani Nkrumah believes the garden might still have a fighting chance. “The next step is to contact Community Board District Manager, Cedric Loftin,” he said. “He should represent you.”

Gardeners planned to host a rally Monday afternoon outside of the garden, hoping to gather community support. But for now, all they could do was watch from behind the fence, as their hard work and hope for a greener South Bronx was demolished.

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Evacuation expert fights to rescue Morrisania

Two days before Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City, evacuation expert Maria Forbes was told by city’s emergency coordinators to prepare for a possible disaster.

The next day, the Bronx mother of three raced around her neighborhood of Morrisania in the Bronx recruiting last-minute volunteers and making sure the emergency shelter at Toscanini Junior High School on Teller Street was stocked with nonperishable foods, flashlights, and batteries.

It was the emergency work that Forbes, 48, trained herself for after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. But evacuation training is only part of Forbes’ long list of volunteer duties. She’s a natural rescuer. She’s been sticking her neck out to rescue others since she was a young child, even when she was in need of help herself.

In 2002, a power outage left an entire block near 169th Street in Morrisania, where Forbes lives, without lights. The community’s lack of preparedness during the blackout became a catalyst for her to seek solutions. “I became real, real hungry and real, real thirsty to find something that could address the need for emergency disaster,” said Forbes, jumping from phone call to phone call days after Irene pummeled the East Coast. Her black curls bounced as she hollered to a reluctant vendor over the phone from her tenant organizer office on 168th Street.

But initial attempts to set up a disaster response team were met with refusal from the city’s emergency management office. Forbes kept calling various organizations to ask for grants. “I called back the Office of Emergency Management again and said, ‘I really want to have this program’,” Forbes recalled. “They said no.” Eventually, the intrepid organizer won an initial $500 community grant from Citizens Committee for New York City, a non-profit organization that supports grassroots initiatives. The grant helped her assemble the first batch of 40 volunteers for the 11 weeks of training required for certification.

In the course, Forbes learned how to jump start a generator, bandage wounds, and find “go bags” with clothes, flashlights, and medicine. She learned about hygiene and mental health issues. She finally earned her certificate to become Bronx Chief for the Community Emergency Response Team in 2006.

Forbes was born on Oct. 29, 1962 in Manhattan. Her father, William Smith, had immigrated to New York from Belize 15 years earlier and worked as a merchant seaman. Her mother, Velma Thomas, was a great-granddaughter of slaves from North Carolina. The family moved to Highbridge in the Bronx before Maria was born, and she has always called the Bronx her home. She is the youngest of seven.

Forbes’ older sister, Eileen Avery, who owns a medical billing business in Queens, sees a lot of their mother in Forbes. Their mother, Thomas, was a mental health therapist and foster mother to 28 children while she organized a play street along Plimpton and 172nd Avenues, planned block parties, and managed a private housing development. Following in her mother’s footsteps, the ever-busy Forbes has done it all except she is not a foster mother.

“I’m really proud of her, she took what our mother left and ran with it,” said Avery. “She’s overcome difficult obstacles to be where she is today and she is always helping people in the community and fighting for their entitlement.”

Forbes’s schedule leaves little room for family outings. But the sisters spend Thanksgiving together every year with few visits in between. “Every time I visit, I sit her down, tell her no phone, and close the door,” said Every.

Forbes acknowledges her demanding schedule. But she’s always considered helping others — a life mission even at a young age when her life was precarious. At 13, in 1976, she gave birth to her first son, Lenny Jones, and still had the wherewithal to speak at a mayoral event about resource entitlement and the plight of young mothers. Later, Mayor Abe Beame’s aide wrote to her saying, “It was beautiful to see the poise with which you addressed the audience. We hope you will stay in touch to let us know of your future triumphs.”

The road to future triumphs was strewn with roadblocks. Forbes dropped out of 10th grade, because there was no support for mothers at the overcrowded Walton High School. She then took a paid internship at the city’s medical examiner’s office where she identified dead bodies. In 1981, after a traumatic encounter with the body of someone she knew, Forbes left her job and started going full-time to Westside High School in Manhattan. The school took her on college tours and gave her instruction on career options. Forbes, who by then was battling addiction to cocaine, couldn’t pass the GED test required to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. She beat addiction to cocaine in 1988 with the help of a support group called Narcotics Anonymous.

By 22, she was a single mother of three.

Her election as the president of Clay Avenue Tenants Association in 1990 brought some tranquility to her life until she lost her mother in 1995. Forbes’ mother was the caretaker of her kids.

The responsibility of tending to the children’s needs fell solely on Forbes’s shoulders. In 1990, her unsteady marriage to Timothy Forbes, father of two of her sons, fell apart six months after the wedding. Then her apartment caught fire and she lost almost all of her belongings. She kept cool and took a job first as a methadone addiction counselor at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and later as intervention specialist at the Police Athletic League.

The struggles Forbes has had to overcome inform her advocacy. She now devotes much of her time to the emergency preparedness program. At her corner office, pamphlets and flyers about the program lie everywhere. Emergency tool kits, cleaning supplies, and boxes take up most of the space. Two generators can boost power up in case of a blackout. Once a year, she organizes an emergency disaster day event that brings various community service agencies to the neighborhood where residents sign up for programs and services.

On a recent Wednesday, as she walked down to her office, children and neighbors stopped to greet her. “Maria has been a passionate and strong advocate for this community,” said Laura Brown, a long-time tenant at one of the buildings that Forbes manages. “I can’t speak for everyone but most people here love her.”

Hurricane Irene was not as damaging as predicted but Forbes believes you can never over prepare. Since becoming chief of her community emergency response team, she’s seen two blackouts.

“It pays to be prepared,” she said. And that’s what she’s been teaching her tenants and neighbors – how to prepare for an unforeseen disaster.

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Yemenis in South Bronx can’t forget the turmoil they left behind

“Papa, take me with you,” Abu Hamad recalled his five-year-old son pleading with him on the phone from Sana’a last Oct. 10. The Hunts Point shopkeeper’s half smile could not hide the worry in his dark round eyes. His three young children and wife are still living in the capital of Yemen, he said. And not even his American citizenship could help them out of the mountain city that is reeling from an increasingly violent civil uprising.

On Sept. 24, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for the past 33 years, returned to his homeland after a brief medical exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. He was forced out of the country after an assassination attempt. The departure raised hopes for reform in the Arabian Peninsula nation of 24 million people. But his abrupt return has sparked fresh violence, which has already claimed close to 2,500 causalities since February. On Oct. 16, 18 more people were killed and 30 others were wounded in clashes between Saleh’s troops and his rivals, according to news reports from the region.

It was mid-afternoon Monday in South Bronx. Save for the periodic chugging overhead of the No. 2 train and the occasional ringing of the cash register, it was quiet inside the 37-year-old cellphone dealer’s shop. But Abu Hamad’s restrained outrage was bubbling up time and time again. Two hours earlier, he was on the phone with his family and he learned that the neighborhood where they live is only getting an hour of electricity every day. It was especially upsetting because they live less than five minutes away from Saleh’s presidential palace, Abu Hamad said.

“What kind of life is that?” said Abu Hamad. “It’s a shame. We need to change the President.”

For now, Abu Hamad remains helpless. It has been four years since his last visit to Sana’a. Months ago, he had to meet secretly with his family in Egypt. But with their immigration documents pending and the U.S. embassy in Yemen shuttered, he could not fly them back to America.

Abdul Karim, former president of the Yemeni Immigrant Association in New York, warned that the situation in Yemen could get worse. The 52-year-old South Bronx businessman said Saleh cannot be trusted despite his pledge to resign before the next presidential election in 2013.

“President Saleh has been known to be a big liar,” said Karim, a Columbia University graduate and member of a lobby group asking for the U.S. government to pressure Saleh to resign. “That’s his tactics for the past 33 years. He’s been governing on such a premise. That’s basically his foundation for ruling the country.”

Karim, who has an international affairs degree from Columbia, said Saleh’s cooperation in hunting down top Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and other suspected terrorists within Yemen, has complicated the U.S. government’s effort to force him out of office. The U.S.-born Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, were killed on Sept. 30, just six days after Saleh’s return to Yemen. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman was also killed Oct. 14.

“The U.S. has been kind of looking the other way as long as it serves the American interest in eliminating radical elements,” said Karim, noting that many innocent civilians have also been killed. The former legislative candidate in Yemen’s highland city of Ta’izz said the U.S. has “no leverage” in its diplomatic run-in with Saleh.

Still, Karim said even if Saleh stays in power, his government is already “totally crippled.” “He can’t rule. It might turn to be ugly,” he said.

At this Yemeni-owned Hunts Point deli shop, talk of President Saleh's ouster is framed on the condition that it is done in an election. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Aqel Allahabi, 22, manager and part owner of the Hunts Point Deli,  said he shares the sentiments of Karim and Abu Hamad. But he is not in favor of an armed rebellion against Saleh.

“If the people don’t like him, why did they vote for him?” Allahabi said, referring to the 2006 presidential election, when Saleh received more than three quarters of the vote. He said any change of leadership should be done in a “democratic way.”

Standing outside the door of Clinton Deli along East Tremont Avenue one weekday afternoon, Antar Al-Suhaidi said he could not be bothered by the political and armed conflict in his country of birth, which he left when he was only 14.

“It’s a deadlock,” said Al-Suhaidi. “We know nothing will change, so we stick to the main reason for our immigration, doing business here.”

The 20-year-old deli cashier said he works 12 to 13 hours a day, mostly seven days a week. “I work hard now, to enjoy a better life later in my home town,” said Al-Suhaidi, a native of Ibb in southwest Yemen. At the end of the day, he was too overworked to even think about politics, he said.

Abdul Karim said it is not that New York City’s Yemeni community, many of them in the grocery and deli business, are apathetic to their home country’s situation. But many are just caught up trying to survive and deal with their lives as new American immigrants.

“Life is very consuming here in America,” Karim said. “But are they aware of what’s going on in Yemen? Yes, they are aware of what’s going on.”

Back at the cell phone shop, Abu Hamad said his primary concern is the safety of his family. Abu Hamad, who came to the United States at 17, said he wants his children to enjoy what he went through when he first arrived in New York.

“I love it here,” Abu Hamad said. “When I am here, I’m in heaven. So if there’s a way, I would like them to have a good life, have a good education and to eat healthy.”

As he talked about reuniting with his family, Abu Hamad cocked a worried smile showing his perfectly aligned teeth, his tall and lanky frame sagging as if he was carrying the weight of the world. “God knows when that’s going to happen.”

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South Bronx man is casting director for detectives, NY Times

Robert Weston of the South Bronx makes a living providing “fillers” or taking part in police lineups and for each lineup he fills, he earns $10.

Weston said he has never failed to produce lineups when asked, no matter what time of night. But these days, the work has slowed down.

“There’s not enough crime now,” Mr. Weston told NY Times. “But it comes and goes, and there’ll always going to be knuckleheads stealing phones.”

The practice, however, is under fresh legal scrutiny in light of new findings that suggested mistaken identifications in lineups are a leading cause of wrongful convictions, and that witnesses can be steered toward selecting the suspect arrested by the police.

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Occupy Wall Street protester takes on the South Bronx, NY Daily News

Single Occupy Wall Street became Occupy 161st St. Tuesday, with protester from the downtown movement canvassing a welfare line in the South Bronx, the New York Daily News reports.

Protesters came from Zuccotti Park to the Melrose Job Center to protest New York’s welfare system and rally support for the cause.

Every weekday morning, hundreds of single mothers and out-of-work fathers queue up outside the Melrose welfare center, forming a despondent line that stretches three full blocks, from Morris Ave. to the Grand Concourse.

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Aspiring rapper slain near Soundview

Police said they have no suspect in the slaying of Taiwon “Ty” Turner who was remembered by friends and relatives as “The King of Cypress Avenue.” (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Taiwon “Ty” Turner was an aspiring rapper who listened to Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, his favorite artists.

“He was very kind, very quiet, he was just a wonderful kid,” Sonia Taylor said of her nephew, who was gunned down on the grounds of the Sotomayor public housing complex near Soundview on Sunday evening, Oct. 9. “It’s a waste, it’s a waste.”

A cousin remembered his smile, and his partying spirit. “He treated me like a sister,” said Crystal Willis, 16, a cousin from Harlem, who gathered with other relatives near the scene of the shooting at 1060 Ave.

Police said they received a 911 call saying a male was shot around 8:18 p.m. on Sunday. Two residents of the nearby apartment building said they heard three gunshots shortly before police arrived.

Turner received gunshot wounds to his chest, police said. He was transported to the Jacobi Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Not including this pre-Columbus Day murder, the 43rd precinct has reported 11 homicides so far this year through Oct. 2. To date, that is up 37.5 percent from last year’s eight murders. On Sept. 25, 22-year-old Anna Ramlochan was killed one block away from where Turner was gunned down.

Earlier in the afternoon at the Mott Haven neighborhood where Turner lived in South Bronx, a separate makeshift memorial was set up outside his apartment building at the corner of East 141st Street and Cypress Avenue. A shirt in his favorite color, red, bore messages written in black: “I love you Baby Boy with all my heart – Buffy,” one mourner wrote. “R.I.P. PlayBoy,” read another.

As a group of mostly middle-aged and elderly women sat nervously nearby, an unidentified man shouted angrily, promising revenge for the victim. The brief commotion attracted dozens of onlookers. Shortly after, two police officers in a squad car showed up and the crowd dispersed.

Among those in the crowd was Jesse George, 27, who had known Turner for six years. George said Turner was “kind of a loner” who “played no games.” He urged the police to find and arrest Turner’s unidentified killer.

At the time of the incident, Turner was supposed to watch a football game with his uncle and neighbor Mel Mosely, said the latter’s wife Sonia Taylor. He never showed up. Taylor also wondered why Turner had not played his favorite rap music Sunday night. The morning after, Taylor heard the news of her nephew’s death.

“I just stopped crying a little while ago,” said Taylor, adding that Turner’s passing reminded her of her own son’s slaying in 1991.

“I’ve been doing some mourning in a little while,” Taylor said of Turner. “His beats is always gonna be on my mind,” she said, adding that at the time of his death, Turner was writing his own rap lyrics and composing some music.

Turner is survived by his parents. According to Taylor, the victim also left a son and a pregnant wife.

“It’s very hard,” Taylor said. “It’s a mess.”

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‘Ghetto Film School’ honors local student filmmakers tonight, NY Daily News

The Ghetto Film School, a program that has been running in the South Bronx for over a decade, is expected to honor ten local student filmmakers tonight by showcasing their work at the Walter Reade Theatre in Manhattan, reports the New York Daily News.

The event will present ten six-minute films created by the students, who have completed either the school’s 15-month or eight-week programs in cinematic storytelling.

Three of the filmmakers will receive $1000 scholarships from Google, awarded by a panel of judges that includes Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo.

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