Tag Archives: albany

In Praise of CDTA

I had to be in New York today for work, and got the earliest train out that I could in hopes of being able to make it home (ever). Normally the scenery from the train is lovely, but today it just looked like this:

All I could see was snow.

When the train arrived in Albany (on time, no less), the conductor welcomed us to Albany and announced that all the doors should open, but some of them might be frozen. I exited the train from this particular door:

The conductor was not kidding.

The conductor was not kidding.

Some kind-hearted friends had offered to come pick me up in a 4-wheel drive truck, knowing of my intense anger about our taxi situation. Since it was a reasonable enough hour for the buses to still be running, though, I decided to go with CDTA.

The experience was not perfect. Due to the ridiculous fact that the 114 and 214 buses to Albany pick up on opposite sides of East Street, I missed the opportunity to get on a 214 twenty minutes before I eventually boarded a 114. I say eventually because the 114’s bus driver took a much needed break in between arriving at the train station and departing, and passengers are not allowed on the bus without a driver . . . so I stood around in the freezing snow for fifteen minutes after the bus arrived. This probably would not have been so bad if I hadn’t been wearing a skirt. But it also wouldn’t have been so bad if there was a bus shelter on that side of the street.

All that said: CDTA was (and is) still running, despite horrible road conditions and the fact that it took a solid ten minutes for the 114 to climb crawl up Madison Avenue between Pearl and Swan. It arrived roughly at the time it was supposed to, and deposited me one block from my apartment. It cost $1.50. And what am I, a princess? My friends didn’t have to drive in the snow, I didn’t have to pay a corrupt taxi system $20, and I was home 45 minutes after my train got in, in a blizzard. CDTA is great. Everyone: ride the bus more. And then maybe they’ll have the money to build me my train-station bus shelter.

ps. Amtrak is also great. Don’t want a train delay? Don’t be a dummy and buy a ticket on a train coming from Canada and/or traveling across half the country. Done. Too easy.

 

Lights in the Park

This is my first holiday season living across from Washington Park, and I love it. It’s all because of Lights in the Park. The cheerfulness of walking my dog amidst a park-wide light display is unparalleled in its winter festivity.

However: ughhh Albany, why do you have to be so anti-pedestrian? There are three days this season set aside for “walkers”–Tuesday, November 26; Wednesday, November 27; and Saturday, January 4. I don’t know about you, but in my family, we consider the Christmas season to start AFTER Thanksgiving and end by, at latest, January 2. So if you want to walk around looking at out-of-season light displays, Washington Park might be for you! And, of course, all of these are charity walks; there are no charity drives. I’m all for charity, but asking only the pedestrians to contribute to charity reminds me of how many restaurants assume that all vegetarians want a side salad instead of fries.

Of course, there’s the organizers of Lights in the Park have made another walking alternative available. From 4:30 to 5:30 (or so) each day, you can walk through the park for a fee. This, of course, is absolutely useless to almost everyone who has a regular 9-5 jobs.

This wouldn’t drive me so crazy if Washington Park wasn’t such a fantastic park for pedestrians. Syracuse has a similar “Lights on the Lake” display that would be truly miserable to walk around, because it’s on a regular road, doesn’t loop around, and is definitely not in an urban center. And, of course, I get it: they’re making a lot of money from cars, and there are lots of people who would be afraid/too cold/physically unable to walk around Washington Park in the winter.

But there are also plenty of people (ahem) who think that walking through the park seems about twenty times cooler (and environmentally friendly) than driving through it. Indeed, some of us walk through the park after work even when there aren’t lights in it–insulting enough that for one month of the year we’d have to pay for the privilege of doing so, but even worse that we’re flat-out not allowed to. Lights in the Park organizers: give us a night or two in the actual holiday season next year, or keep the lights on an extra hour at night one night a week. Have a night where people are encouraged to bring their dogs, or one for families. Encourage people to be a little more active and remind people that cities (and parks) belong to citizens, not cars or criminals. And maybe get my $5 in the process.

 

Exciting Business Opportunity

I flat out do not understand why Albany has such a horrible taxi culture. Coming home from the train station this afternoon, we were forced to share a minivan “cab” with four other people. The two of us, traveling the shortest distance and as a “group,” were charged $18.50 for the grand service of a 2.5 mile ride in a shared car after waiting around for ten minutes in the cold to round up more passengers. Three passengers traveling to Albany Med were being charged $13.50 each. The final passenger was traveling up to an address near St. Peter’s, and, I’m sure, paid at least $15 for the pleasure.

So, to review: the cab company made over $70 for about twenty minutes of driving. Obviously, I understand why they are successful: there is no alternative, so this is an amazing business model. What I don’t understand is why some entrepreneurial 22 year old isn’t taking an Uber-like approach to taxi service in and around Albany. If cabs here are going to be mortifyingly expensive, the very least they could do is also be private and direct. Since that is the point of cabs. 

So, three take aways:

  1. I will support the pants off of any cab driver or company that is reliable and seems to actually value my service/dollars. Others would too. Why isn’t someone making money off of this?
  2. In my compulsive Vietnam research, I’ve read a lot of narratives from people who have had bad experiences with the country because they feel like they are constantly being unfairly scammed; those same people connect that experience to the relatively low rate of return travelers Vietnam gets comparatively to other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand. Similarly, I do not think there is any way our taxi culture speaks well for us as a city or region. We deserve better, and we deserve to show our guests (the other four passengers in our cab tonight, for example) that we’re not a bunch of hooligans content to scam tourists in a way that is more reminiscent of a developing country than the capital of one of the biggest and best states in the country. My point being: governments and/or Chambers of Commerce and/or Visitors Bureaus, get on this.
  3. Speaking of: while I’m sure the CDTA has its reasons (Ross?) for its meh-at-best bus service between Albany and the train station, I am going to pre-emptively put out there that I think that those reasons are inadequate. There should be a bus waiting (or, at least, arriving) at the train station ten minutes after every NYC train gets in, at a minimum. Furthermore, that bus should run at least as far as South Allen or so on one of the major traffic arteries. The 114 would be fine for this if it ran at all on Sundays. (Does Madison Avenue stop existing on Sundays? It still seems like it’s there, but maybe it’s just an illusion.) Also, if it seemed like the bus schedules had anything to do with the train schedules. And, finally, if there was clear signage indicating what bus to take to get to downtown Albany, and where it picked up. (Right now, you have to be lucky, an extremely good sleuth, or have a friend who manages CDTA routes, to deduce the ridiculous and counter-intuitive fact that the 114 to Albany picks up on the same side of the street that the 114 from Albany drops off.)

If all these factors were in place, there is no way ridership between Albany and the train station wouldn’t pick up. Consistently taking the bus to and from the train station right now is really only an option for those extremely dedicated to the concept of public transportation, whether through financial necessity or ideological commitment. Make it something the public can really use, and we’ll use it. And, oh my gosh please, then we’ll also stop using those horrendous so-called-taxis.

Ten Reasons I’m Glad to Live in Albany This Week

  1. Attended a performance of the Messiah at The Cathedral of All Saints
  2. Put up two Christmas trees and helped make three different types of Christmas candy
  3. Hosted a West Wing/wine and cheese party at our apartment
  4. Victorian Strolled in Troy, complete with spiked hot chocolate, apple cider donuts, kettle corn, and an impromptu jazzy performance at the Confectionery
  5. Went for a walk with a good friend and my dog down a cold and beautiful country road
  6. Discovered a new and great restaurant in my neighborhood
  7. Owl Prowled at the Pine Bush
  8. Watched the first snowstorm over downtown Albany from my apartment during a quiet day of telecommuting
  9. Saw a late showing of the Hunger Games with friends in a near-empty theater at Crossgates
  10.  Took my dog and her best friend to play in Washington Park after dark, surrounded by the light display

Flavors of India @ Albany

During the period of time running up to the opening of Rain: Modern Chinese in the old Planned Parenthood building, I got pretty into calling it by its full given name. I’m not sure if the restaurant’s owners intended for people to just call it “Rain,” but I hope not, because I am never going to call it anything but “Rain: Modern Chinese.” Basically, if you give your restaurant a subtitle, like it is a sequel to a bad action movie, you better expect that I am going to use that subtitle to death.

So, in that vein, I have some good news and some bad news for Flavors of India @ Albany, the new Indian restaurant at 244 Washington Avenue, but only good news for you and me. The bad news for Flavors of India @ Albany is, of course, that they chose a name that, seemingly, includes an AT SIGN, instead of just the more simple “Flavors of India” that I personally would have gone with since I think their Washington Avenue/Center Square location makes the “@ Albany” part pretty clear.* Of course, this is great news for me, because the only thing better than “Rain: Modern Chinese” as local neighborhood restaurant names go is “Flavors of India @ Albany.”

Beyond that, Flavors of India @ Albany is purely good news. The food was delicious and presented beautifully, the water glasses were actually water goblets, there was actual heat to their spicing, the decor makes it feel like an actual restaurant, the plates and silverware are things I would want to own in my own home, and the service was attentive and responsive. We had onion and garlic naan, vegetable samosas, aloo chat, malai kofta, palak paneer, and mango chutney, but my impression is that no matter what you get it will be amazing. Go! They’re closed only on Sundays.

*To be fair, both their signage and their Facebook page refer to the restaurant as “Flavors of India” only. However, their takeout menu makes no such distinction, and neither does their non-existent website www.flavorsofindiaatalbany.com. I don’t even think they’ve purchased that domain yet, probably because they’ve been paying too much attention to making everything else awesome. I suppose if, in the future, their takeout menu is reprinted to reflect a name “change,” I can respect that, but until then I’m going to have my fun.