Archive | November, 2007

Bills to Buffalo Proper

27 Nov

Common Council member Brian Davis has proposed that the Buffalo Bills move to the current location of the Perry projects. The red area represents the scaled footprint of Gillette Stadium over that area. Discuss.

Click to enlarge

[Update: I mistakenly put the footprint on top of the projects behind Sheehan Hospital, not over Perry homes. Thanks WCP for the heads-up. I also switched from the Ralph to the newer Gillette Stadium footprint.]

What’s the Real Reason Detroit is in Trouble?

27 Nov

You’d think that they’d have learned their lessons by now.

The Buffalo News writes and blogs about the declining fortunes of the big three domestic automakers – note the word “domestic”.

While European automakers are habitually laden with quality issues that range from niggling to infuriating, they put out well-designed, well-engineered cars that, for the most part, give drivers some fun. Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen are the big European automakers selling in the US, and they’re doing just fine. BMW owns Mini. Mercedes is introducing the Smart to the US market (the local dealership’s add-on structure is about 50% done). Volvo is known for safety, and it just introduced the C30 and the new V70 to showrooms. BMW? Driving perfection. Mercedes? Luxury. Volkswagen? Fun. Mini? Fun & frugal. Smart? Frugal & small. Volvo? Safety, safety, safety.

The Japanese carmakers have hits and misses, but the new Honda Accord is head and shoulders above the last one in terms of interior and exterior design, and it’s supplementing its hybrid offerings with an ultra-clean and super-frugal diesel engine in the 2009 Accord, with mileage that will match or best most hybrids. The Civic is like something out of Futurama. Nissan has hits with the Murano and Altima, but the Maxima is a bit on the fringe, the Quest is a sea of plastic, and the excellent Pathfinder is now joined by its smaller sibling, the Rogue. Toyota is now in the top three, and while everyone else laughed at Toyota for selling its first-generation Prius at a loss, Toyota’s now laughing all the way to the bank, offering its Hybrid Synergy Drive engine on not only the strange, slow Prius, but also on the Camry and Highlander.

Korea? Hyundai came to market the same year as the Yugo. Nuff said. What was once a budget joke is now competing quite handily, thank you, with the Japanese carmakers, producing good-looking, economical vehicles with 100,000 mile powertrain warranties. Kia is a part of the Hyundai conglomerate, and acts as a cheaper younger sibling.

So, we turn to the US.

Before Iraq, before Katrina, the domestics were making boatloads of money on SUVs and pickup trucks – the vehicles they make the biggest profits on. People snapped them up for the roominess and perceived safety. But it’s a different world now, and just as has happened for just about every decade since the 70s, Detroit got caught napping. In the past, domestic cars also had the sort of identity that imports have. I already listed the Euro-marques’. Toyota and Honda are known for quality cars that don’t break and are so reliable and sure-footed that they’re often quite boring to drive. Nissan has a sportier reputation. US automakers are only now beginning to eschew excessive badge engineering and giving cars their identities back.

It’s not union deals and outsourcing that’s killing Detroit. Not by a longshot. It’s vehicles that people don’t want to buy. By my own personal, subjective scorecard in terms of playing catch-up, GM and Ford get a B. Chrysler gets a D.

GM quickly refocused on cars, started development of a hybrid program, and finally turned Saturn around from an 80s flashback to a domestic Opel dealer. The upcoming Astra is going to be groundbreaking for GM – it will compete quite well with any other economical hatchback on the market – especially the VW GOlf/GTI, which is the Astra’s main competitor in Europe’s biggest class of vehicle. The new Malibu is a huge improvement over the last version. Pontiac is developing a Grand Prix replacement called the G8, which is being done in conjunction with a rear-engine muscle car line done by Australia’s Holden. We tend to forget that GM has excellent foreign resources in Holden and Opel, and they’re taking advantage of them. Cadillac’s new CTS can easily compete with the best that Lexus and Infiniti have to offer. The functionality and design of the interiors of Saturn’s Outlook and Buick’s Enclave are world-class. GM is getting it, and it’s on the right track. Hint: more engine choices, including turbos and diesels, and more transmission options would be swell.

Ford has refocused on quality, and the Fusion just earned a “recommended” from Consumer Reports. No small feat. Needing work is the Taurus / Taurus X, which are nice and big but sort of clunky and anachronistic. Ford makes wonderful small cars and small MPV / minivans in Europe, but has completely lost the plot with its latest, disgusting Focus retread. Hint to Ford: bring the Focus Mk. II to the US, and start importing the C-Max to compete with the Mazda5. You won’t be sorry. And let’s de-rentalify the interiors on the Edge and Fusion, while we’re at it. Hint: if I’m looking to drop $30k on a Ford Taurus, how about popping a 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission in there?

This brings us to Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep. With the exception of the new minivans, which are being snapped up, and the Chrysler 300, which is probably due for a re-design soon, it’s no small wonder why Daimler dropped the Chrysler from its name given the chance. If you love hard plastic in a shade of gray that makes you think of Soviet apartment blocks, you’ll love the Jeep Compass / Dodge Caliber. If you want to drive a car that screams “rental”, you’ll love the new Chrysler Sebring / Dodge Avenger. Chrysler needs to start getting its act together, but fast. It could start by ignoring the fact that it’s the only carmaker without a hybrid program and maybe start rolling out 50-state legal turbo diesel engines.

In a globalized economy, Detroit has to learn how to innovate and compete. That means designing cars that are not only well-built, but well-designed. No one wants to buy a rental. Yes, it’s important that a car look cool from the outside. The Caliber is not at all offensive at the curb. The Ford Edge is quite nice indeed. But when you get inside the car – the place where you actually spend your time whilst driving – you want something that’s ergonomic and attractive. Plastic with a soft-touch. Electroluminescent gauges that give you a wow factor. Stereo systems that are SAT-ready and feature RDS displays. Offer some manual transmissions. Maybe a dual-clutch gearbox like VW’s DSG. Innovate. Excite people.

The blame rests with the types who green-lighted the Pontiac Aztek and the latest Ford Focus abomination. The blame rests with the people who kept pushing 10 MPG pickups and SUVs as gas prices started soaring. (I unloaded my Honda Pilot SUV when gas hit $1.85. I couldn’t imagine filling that tank now). The opportunity is there. US automakers need to figure themselves out, but quick.

This Made Me Laugh Yesterday

26 Nov

Dept of Defense: Adding Insult to Injury

26 Nov


The government has a program that pays you an incentive of up to $10,000 to enlist in the armed forces in order to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. If you leave the service early, you may forfeit a pro-rated portion of that sum. Sounds fair, right?

But when your departure from the service is due to a service-related injury, should you be billed for that pro-rated incentive money?

The federal government is doing just that, and no one is explaining why, and no one is taking the blame. Senator Chuck Schumer, though, (this is part of what we call “checks and balances”) wants some answers.

Service members seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan after they received a $10,000 bonus for enlisting are being dunned by the Pentagon to repay portions of the incentive money, says a U.S. senator who calls the practice an example of military policy gone wrong.

“A bill in the mail is not the kind of present our soldiers deserve in this holiday season,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said. “Our veterans are not being treated with the dignity, respect and thanks that they deserve. It’s just a disgrace.”

At a news conference Sunday, he said the policy remained in effect despite a report last July by a presidential commission that wounded veterans were being unfairly penalized by a requirement that enlistees must fulfill their entire term of service or lose a pro-rated portion of their bonus.

“This policy and early discharge as a result of service-related injury is now preventing thousands of combat-wounded warriors from getting the bonsues they have earned,”

This does indeed add insult to injury, don’t you think?

Collins Transition

26 Nov


I waited for Pundit to return from his Thanksgiving Holiday so that he would have the first opportunity to write about the Collins transition team. His response was as unsurprising as mine will undoubtedly be…

We already know of “fresh faces” Dennis Vacco, Nancy Naples, and Mary Lou Rath. Now, we have 31 subcommittees with chairpeople such as: Cusack, Mills, Ranzenhofer, and Rath

But having legislators and rookies head up something that’s supposed to ease the transition to a Collins administration is equal parts stupid and troubling

So, which is it? Are we upset that he is picking “fresh faces” like Vacco and Naples or are we upset that he is picking “rookies”. Seems to me that most Democrats, Pundit included, are looking for an opportunity to slam Collins regardless of what he does.

His choices for his unpaid transition team feature local Republican Party operative and donors, private sector executives, former legislators and elected officials with knowledge of the political landscape, and members of his party who currently serve in the legislature. Why is this so frigging controversial? If Collins came in and selected only private sector executives to head his transition team, we would hear about his disdain for the current people in government. If he chose all party people, we’d hear the opposite.

If Collins is going to be successful, he’ll need the support of his party, the guidance of experienced political hands like Rath and Naples, and the support of his minority in the legislature. Making them all a part of the transition team seems pretty logical to me, especially since the majority of his nearly 40 member transition team are “fresh faces”.

I guess we could wait to see how things work out when Collins gets a chance to lead, or we could just dismiss every move he makes prior to taking office as political and false. Pretty slim margin of error for this guy…

Toronto’s Distillery and Buffalo’s Canal Side

26 Nov

Via Richard Florida, I find this entry at Toronto’s “Move Smartly”, which laments the “Disneyfication” of the Distillery District. You’ll recall that the Distillery District was one of the myriad places brought up by, e.g., Donn Esmonde, as examples of what Buffalo’s Canal Side should be.

I pointed out then that the Distillery District was a poor example because (1) it’s far to the east of the downtown core, (2) it’s a restoration of actual old buildings; and (3) there is massive-scale modern development happening all around it.

The Jacobs urbanists at Move Smartly added this brilliant paragraph to their post about the Distillery:

Now, it’s not the ‘condos going up on artifacts’ thing that bothers me. I am not one to oppose building on history in some misguided attempt to keep things ‘sacred’, which in the sociocultural realm of North America, all too often means keeping things dead and preserved in underutilized museums. No, I believe that finding new reasons to visit old things makes a whole lot of sense. So revitalizing this beautifully historic area is a no-brainer.

In Toronto they build. In Buffalo, first they complain, then they protest, then they sue.

Collins Transitioning

26 Nov

Page C8 of Sunday’s News has a list of additional people County Executive elect Chris Collins has added to his transition team. We already know of “fresh faces” Dennis Vacco, Nancy Naples, and Mary Lou Rath. Now, we have 31 subcommittees with chairpeople such as:

  • Government Reform: former county legislator, current NYPA trustee, and “thirtysomething” parent Elise Cusack
  • Human Services: former NOCO employee and Erie County Legisator-elect Ed Rath III
  • Public Assets: Erie County Legislator John Mills
  • Budget and Finance: Erie County Legislator Michael Ranzenhofer.
  • Ed Rath was actually on the Charter Revision Commission, and has a good handle on government reform possibilities and initiatives. So, why is Elise Cusack, who got her Pataki appointment, doing it? What is her record of reform? Rath, on the other hand, hasn’t spent a day in government. Who is he to lead a transition subcommittee on county human services? What’s his background and knowledge in that arena?

    Mills and Ranzenhofer are currently serving county legislators. I know it’s just county politics, but the legislature doesn’t exist as the administration’s board of directors. It is a separate branch of government under our system of checks and balances. I have a very serious problem with two current legislators acting as chairs of administration transition subcommittees. Unless, of course the Republicans would be fine having, say, Ted Kennedy – another long-term incumbent legislator – sitting on the next US President’s transition team.

    As for the others, a quick scan and an educated guess leads me to believe that either they or family members gave substantial sums of money to the Collins campaign. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s the way these things always get done. Frankly, it’s also just a transition team – there’s nothing to indicate anyone’s getting paid for this, anyone’s getting a full-time job through this means, etc.

    But having legislators and rookies head up something that’s supposed to ease the transition to a Collins administration is equal parts stupid and troubling.

    Sights and Sounds of The Broadway Market at Christmas

    24 Nov

    broadway market was a proud sponsor of the first ever Broadway Market Christmas Food Fair along with BSC Group, CityView Properties, and David Tiftickjian & Sons.

    This weekend marks the start of a new tradition at The Broadway Market as the new Board of Directors looks to establish the market as a year round destination. The Christmas Fair featured independent vendors as well as tried and true market favorites like Melanie’s Sweets and Malczewski Poultry. Santa Claus was on hand to visit with the children, the Community Music School provided music and the sounds of The Snowbelters Barber Shop Quartet filled the air.

    It was refreshing to see so many people at the market this weekend and the vendors were exceptionally pleased with the turnout. A great weekend for the market!

    If you weren’t able to attend this weekend’s festivities, be sure to make your reservations for Sandy Starks’ “Savor The Flavor” Wigilia Edition on December 8th and 15th. She’ll be sharing the making of a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner. Wigilia foods, including mushroom soup, pierogi, seafood and the traditional Christmas wafers (oplatek). Fr. Anzelm Chalupka, Pastor of Corpus Christi Church, will join Ms. Starks in explaining the Christmas Eve meal and will bless the Christmas wafers.

    This special Savor the Flavor presentation is expected to sell out quickly. For further information or to make a reservation, call Your Buffalo Tours at 716.839.5150 or order tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets.

    On the 4:49 to White Plains

    24 Nov

    As I try to disembark with a stroller, a group of gothy teens starts shoving their way into the train before anyone’s had a chance to get off. Reverting to strong NY accent, I ask 16-year old gothy girl “what, you can’t wait fuh people to get ooawf the train befoaw you get on?”

    16-year old gothy girl to Pundit: “Suck my dick”.

    I’m Mad As Hell, And I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore

    24 Nov

    The immortal words of Peter Finch from the movie “Network” served as a rallying cry during today’s march across the Grand Island Bridge to protest the presence of the tolls on both ends of the island.

    While the tolls cannot be removed by legal means as the Ogden and Breckenridge tolls were, the public outcry is reaching a fever pitch with near 8,000 petition signatures and the support of the Western New York State Assembly and Senate delegations.

    It was a bitterly cold day, but dozens of people showed up to march with Rus Thompson of in protest of what they feel is a system of double taxation on commuters in Niagara Falls, Grand Island, and Buffalo. Carl Paladino of Ellicott Development, who was responsible for the lawsuit which abolished the tolls in Downtown Buffalo, recently sent a letter to Governor Spitzer about the Grand Island Tolls issue:

    The Grand Island Bridges and the Tappan Zee Bridge tolls are the only specific bridge tolls on the New’ York State Thruway System. The roads on both sides of the Grand island Bridges are toll free.

    The Thruway Authority has hundreds of other bridges in its system, all of which are maintained out of general revenue.

    Someone decided that the Grand Island Bridges should have specific toll charges ostensibly because of extraordinary upkeep costs that they thought WNY residents should pay.

    The Thruway Authority receives from the Federal Highway Fund a per lane mile allocation of Federal Highway monies for maintaining non-toll interstate highways and bridges. For the upkeep and maintenance of those roads it appears that the DOT act on behalf of the Thruway Authority in applying for those funds annually from the Federal Government, receives the money, and the money is then used for the upkeep of New York State DOT roads and in some cases some monies are forwarded to the Thruway Authority. It all makes sense to someone.

    There are no toll roads in Albany, except for the main line thruway, nor are there any toll bridges or interstate roads crossing the Hudson in Albany. Likewise in Utica, Schenectady, Syracuse, and Rochester, DOT bridges are non-tolled. The Skyway Bridge in Buffalo is non-tolled. Why does the State punish residents of Grand island and Niagara County than above the operating cost across its entire system. Why were the tolls on the Grand Island Bridges raised 50% instead of the 20% uniformly raised across the Thruway System?

    It all kind of stinks.

    Very truly yours,
    Ellicott Development Company

    Carl P. Paladino
    Chief Executive Officer

    It does stink, and someone should hold the state accountable.