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Fixing Urban Irritants

by Gotham Gazette Staff, May 05, 2003

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Common New York irritations, why they persist and what average citizens can — or cannot — do about them:


Bus Bunching

An Intersection in Need of a Stop Sign

Problems with Traffic Lights

Speed Bumps and Humps

Dark Streets

A pothole that rivals the Grand Canyon.

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Buses that seem to never come and then arrive in a herd.

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The residential street used as a drag strip.

Such irritations may not pose the same threat to the fabric of society as failing schools and homelessness but they cause sleepless nights, fray tempers and add to a general feeling that life in New York is tough, mean and even unsafe.

In March, the city unveiled its 311 hotline to make it easier for New Yorkers to complain about such nuisances. Rather than navigating a maze of phone numbers, a call to a single number — 311 — brings an answer from a real person who can, at the very least, tell the caller how to gripe constructively. Since its launch, an average of 8,385 calls have come in daily to the 24 hour a day hotline where they are fielded by 201 agents who can speak 170 languages.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg advises New Yorkers to take advantage of the hotline. "If you see a pothole, what do you do? 311. It's very easy," he said.

At a time when New York is suffering through what the Daily News has dubbed "the worst pothole crisis in history," many calls are indeed about road conditions.

In general, roads score high on the list of New Yorkers' urban frustrations. In a 2001 survey on how New Yorkers would rank city services, one third said road conditions rated a "poor." And 40 percent said they were bothered by dangerous traffic in the city. Noise also stands out as a persistent irritant.

But despite the mayor's enthusiasm for his hotline, 311 is not a magic bullet that will solve all of this. New Yorkers need dogged determination to get some problems fixed — filling out forms, conducting research and forming alliances. Even persistence, though, does not guarantee success.

City crews may be slow to respond to complaints. Government officials may find, justifiably or not, that the stoplight or traffic light is not needed. Or the solution to the problem may not fall in the city's jurisdiction, being instead the responsibility of Con Edison, say, or the state government. Other problems defy quick or easy fixes. Budget cuts almost guarantee that in some cases the city will be slower to respond — if it responds at all.

Of course, your City Council member and community board will also listen to complaints — and sometimes act upon them. Gotham Gazette's new Community Gazettes provide you with the opportunity to find out what needs to be fixed in your neighborhood — and to voice your own gripes.

Here is a selection of common New York irritations, why they persist and what average citizens can — or cannot — do about them:

• Potholes
• Bus Bunching
• An Intersection in Need of a Stop Sign
• Problems with Traffic Lights
• Speed Bumps and Humps
• Dark Streets


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