Monday, November 30, 2009

Wissahickon made strong effort to lure Dad Vail

The 2010 Dad Vail Regatta is rowing to Rumson, NJ and in its wake are many floating index fingers pointing in numerous directions about who exactly is to blame for ending Philadelphia’s 56-year run as host of the one of the sport’s premier North American events. In that wake is also a report that the regatta apparently had more than one suitor.

Who else tempted the oars from the Schuylkill's shores? The largest collegiate rowing event in the country, with over 130 schools participating, very nearly dropped anchor on the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Yes, the almost-impossible-to-navigate creek in the city’s northwest section made a serious attempt to lure the race to its banks.

Several days after eager Rumson officials presented to the Dad Vail board of directors, the Wissahickon Creek Rowers Association followed with a 4-hour presentation to the board—showing nearby amenities and facilities—in an effort to sell the waterway by the same name as a possible host.

Charles Farley, the president of the Wissahickon Creek Rowers Association and longtime rower, was able to secure $99,999 from private donors in an effort to persuade the Dad Vail organizers (Rumson promised $100,000) of the viability of the creek.

The creek has never been a rower’s destination because of rocks, shallow water, dams, larger rocks, impossible-to-maneuver bends, low bridges, unpredictable currents, water fowl, its narrow width and rapid changes in elevation.

“We looked at the many waterfalls and jagged rocks along the fast-moving stream as exciting new challenges to future rowers and regattas,” said Farley. “The shallow parts of the stream would have been dredged for the event.”

The creek, which is a tributary of the Schuylkill River, winds its way for 23 miles from central Montgomery County and ending in Philadelphia. The cost of dredging a 2-mile portion of the lower Wissahickon would have been prohibitively expensive. In addition, some of the stream’s most dangerous boulders would have been blasted away using dynamite, driving up the cost even more.

When asked how taking the event away from the larger, more rower-friendly and neighboring Schuylkill River would have looked, Farley shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Probably not too good … but at least it would have stayed in the city.”

Some on the WCRA wondered whether the Dad Vail board gave serious consideration to the Wissahickon as a legitimate host.

“We want everyone to know that we didn’t just simply or quickly dismiss the Wissahickon as a possible host site,” explained Bob Forther, a Dad Vail Regatta board member, when asked about the WCRA concerns. “The presentation by Charles [Farley] was well thought-out and included many vivid graphs and charts. The Wissahickon Creek is one of the most scenic natural areas in the country. Unfortunately, it just came down to finances. The WCRA couldn’t match what Rumson had on the table. It had nothing to do with the stream’s protruding rocks, as many on the board viewed them as an asset.”

"We may not be hosting the Dad Vail in 2010," said Farley, "but we'll sure be installing more rocks and dams over the coming year."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Barnes to remove homeless from new museum renderings

In early October, the world-renowned Barnes Foundation released renderings of its new facility to be constructed along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway—one of the nation's most well-known and influential museum districts. The move that will bring the fine art collection from Merion, PA to Center City has been extremely controversial, going against the wishes of its deceased founder. The relocation, however, is official.

The designs for the new building have received praise from around the world. Architecture Biweekly called the plans, “quite simply astounding.” The New York Times praised, “Elegant and graceful, a perfect neighbor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” Architecture and Things, published thrice yearly, placed the design on its cover with the title: “Can Astoundingness Be Measured? New Museum Design Is No Barn.”

With such acclaim from the architecture world, why has there been such a backlash from the local (and national) community?

“It took a few days for [the public] to notice that the renderings included what appeared to be several homeless individuals walking around the outside of the museum,” said Conner Bilken, president of the Logan Neighborhood Association. “It really was inappropriate.”

The architecture firm David, Tanner, Smithson & Co designed the new building and wanted to embrace the surrounding community. The firm said it was important to welcome those meandering, riding or living on the Parkway into the museum with open arms.

"We wanted to include everyone in the design," said Mike Smithson, one of the lead designers for DTS. "We included the homeless in the renderings because they are part of the neighborhood and have been for quite some time. We weren't going to ignore anybody."

The area around 21st St and the Parkway, the museum’s new home and former site of the Youth Study Center (demolished earlier this year to make way for the Barnes), has long been a gathering area for the city’s homeless population. The Study Center’s proximity to the sidewalk—set back several hundred feet—and the adjacent lawn’s tree canopy made the location ideal.

“The [Study Center] blocked the wind and we were far enough from the public’s eye to be left alone more or less,” said Daniel Murray, 56, a member of the city’s homeless. “It was a pretty comfortable spot next to that building. I really miss it.”

Many of the homeless interviewed for this story explained that they understood what the designers were trying to accomplish with the plans, but ultimately were offended by their inclusion in the museum renderings. They went on to say that in no way would this deter them from making a new home next to the Barnes Museum following its completion in 2011.

“It was a little insensitive,” said Gilbert Toliver, 48, another homeless citizen. “But I won't it stop me from curling up next to that brand spanking new building in a couple years. I'm a forgiving person. Also, the fountains in the renderings are of particular interest to me.”

DTS and the Barnes Foundation have issued a public apology and are planning to give free admission to city residents during the first two weeks of operation in 2011.

"The figures in question on the renderings have been removed and we hope that we can all move forward and put this in the past," said Hank Tanner, a project manager for DTS. "Again, we sincerely apologize and look forward to the opening of the museum. Go Eagles."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Proposed bill would require bicyclists to register all kickstands

Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney have proposed a bill that would require Philadelphia's bicyclists to register all bicycle kickstands. If the bill passes cyclists would be expected to pay a $25 fee and have kickstands inspected by the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania State Police Departments.

The councilmen are citing the thousands of dollars of damage that kickstands inflict on sidewalks and streets when engaged. The fee will help with these and other surface repairs.

Also, it has been reported that hundreds of thousands of kickstands are stolen from bicycles every year in Philadelphia, therefore, registration will help police identify and return recovered stands to the rightful owners.

"A rise in bicycling is great. But a rise in bicycling also means a rise in the number of kickstands that are being used. It's unfortunate but very true," said Councilman DiCicco. "This bill can almost assuredly end the underground kickstand market."

"Kickstands keep bicycles upright when not in motion. I'm not going to get into the physics of it," said Councilman Kenney. "Without them people just lean their bikes against whatever they can find. I've seen bikes temporarily leaned against walls before."

What about those who do not have a kickstand? How would this bill affect them?

"Not everyone has a kickstand, I understand that," DiCicco explained. "They are the lucky ones. Although, we would consider a separate registration for non-kickstand bicycles to cover wall or bench or tree repair costs."

Erie, PA, considered the Portland of the east because of its vast bicycle lane network and large cycle community, began registering kickstands in early June of 2009. The program has been a huge success, as the city claims to have registered 97% of Erie's total kickstands.

"[Erie] residents were upset at first," said Mike Vernon, president of the Presque Isle Bicycle Association, the city's largest bicycle association with over 20,000 members. "But the city made a huge effort to show where riders' money was actually going. For example, kickstand divots made in the park were filled and seeded within 24 hours. Kickstand scrapes on the sidewalks were circled with spray paint and repaired within 36 hours."

DiCicco hopes that Philadelphia can register at least 80% of the city's stands by this time next year. The councilman admitted that he would be thrilled with any number over 80%.

In addition to theft and damaged surfaces, the councilmen have cited safety as an additional reason for registration. Many stands are spring-loaded and can cause serious bodily harm if not operated properly.

"I've seen bloody, bruised fingers caused by powerful kickstands," said Councilman Kenney. "Just imagine, injuries could be totally eliminated if this registration bill is passed."

Part of a rider's registration fee would go towards a mandatory 6-hour class aimed at teaching the basics of kickstand operation. The class would also include a section on properly applying soft, plastic tips to the ends of stands that can help minimize potential surface damage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

At the movies: Pirate-side has strong showing over weekend

The new movie Pirate-side made a strong showing at the box office over the weekend. Pulling in $15 million placed the Paramount film in the second slot for top grossing films on its opening weekend. The film stars Sandra Bullock as herself, as she responds to a British ban. The apocalyptic film 2012 netted $23 million, as viewers lined up to see John Cusack save the world.

From the Pirate-side trailer: "Based on a true story. In 2002 Great Britain banned Sandra Bullock from the country because of Ms Congeniality and Speed 2: Cruise Control. When the banishment was announced the actress shot back the only way she knew how ... she began to make movies from a ship just off the southern English coast. Bullock plays herself in this heartfelt story about an American actress getting back at the British government. 'They don't like my movies? I'll broadcast a new movie every week into that fog-covered country. Drop anchor and start that camera. We're about to go starboard side.' From the people who brought you The Net and Two if by Sea and from the assistant director of Waterworld comes ... Pirate-side. Rated PG-13 multiple references to Bullock films."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

SEPTA: Fire was result of transporting bicycle during peak hour

"This is why we don't allow bicycles on the trains during peak hours," said SEPTA regional rail manager, Brenda Short. "This whole mess could have been prevented had the rider simply taken a non-peak train."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Union wanted token system, more frequent bus stops

Philadelphia's transit strike is over, ending on Sunday night, and slowly the public is learning more about the issues that blocked a deal from being reached and shortening, or even preventing, the labor stoppage.

Transit Workers Union 234, the largest within SEPTA, had several demands that kept them on the picket lines and out of transit vehicles. First and foremost the Union demanded a token payment system be implemented to make transactions easier for riding customers.

"Tokens are easy to use. They were used throughout the 1950's and 60's around the country and in Europe," said a striking SEPTA employee. "We just think it will be more rider-friendly."

SEPTA workers suggested that tokens could be sold in corner shops or pharmacies to make purchases more convenient. Only selected subway stations would sell tokens to the public and they would not be at all clearly marked.

"Having the shops sell them just makes sense," said Orange Line operator Frank Taglioni. "If the customer comes down to the station and tokens aren't sold there, or token machines are nonoperational, they can easily run back up the four flights of steps and search the neighborhood for a store that does sell [tokens]. We're just thinking about the rider here."

What if the participating stores are not open for business and tokens are not sold at the particular station? Well, riders using buses or the subway can easily pay in cash but must be careful to have the correct change. If not, riders must seek a place of business that can change a higher bill--and is open--so that exact change can be presented to the station attendant or bus driver.

The city, state and SEPTA management decided to grant this request by the Union and so riders should look for a token system in the near future (no date was set for installation).

The second issue that stalled talks was the long-standing debate of having the city's buses make more frequent stops along their designated routes. The Union was calling for buses to stop at every block corner and, at least, two mid-block stops--SEPTA management sought three mid-block stops in addition to corner stops. The concession was to have the buses make scheduled stops at every block corner.

"Unfortunately, people will have to walk at least a half of block," said Dennis Harpring, 45, of Fairmount.

SEPTA said all city operated buses will immediately begin to make scheduled stops at every block corner.

"I have to say that the Union was really looking out for the rider with these demands," said a teary-eyed rider who would not give his name. "It's always about the rider."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eagles hoping new M&M-filled challege flags will curb Reid's tossing

The Eagles front office and assistant coaches will unveil a new red challenge flag for head coach Andy Reid this coming weekend versus the San Diego Chargers. The new flag will be packed with the popular candy M&M's. "It came down to M&M's or Reeses Pieces," said a front office representative. "We performed a scientific study by placing a bowl of each on his desk and watching, by hidden camera, as he finished the M&M's in a matter of hours." The coach did a number on the bowl of Reeses Pieces, but took almost two hours longer to polish off the peanut butter-flavored candies. The team does not plan on telling the coach about the new filling, but trusts that Big Red's strong sense of smell and the small incision on the side of the flag will keep him occupied. "We think it can greatly reduce the number of challenges," said team president, Joe Banner. "This could be copied around the league if successful."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Victorino denies new padded batting glove is a boxing glove

Shane Victorino had a scary moment in the first inning of game five of the World Series on Monday night. The center fielder was hit on the right hand with a mid-nineties AJ Burnett fastball after squaring to lay down a bunt.

The All-Star outfielder will likely play in game six on Wednesday night as x-rays proved negative. To be safe, however, Victorino will wear a padded batting glove (pictured) on the injured hand.

At a press conference today Victorino was asked by several reporters if the red, puffy glove was just an old boxing glove.

"Though it looks like a boxing glove it really is just a heavily padded batting glove," said Victorino, reading from a prepared statement. "Really, it's a batting glove everybody and has been approved by Major League Baseball. Sincerely, Shane Victorino."

The player also said that he has not decided on whether or not to wear the glove while playing in the field and that it would be a game-time decision.