Monday, August 29, 2011

Afterthoughts on Irene

Afterthoughts on Irene
Years from now, we will be telling our kids about that one week in August when we survived the great earthquake of oh-eleven and a hurricane in the same week.
But we really dodged a bullet this week, and a lot of people take this fact for granted. I was lucky. The storm hit us dead center on the south shore of Long Island. There were some downed trees and power outages, but nothing serious. I wish I could say the same for everyone. A lot of people had massive tree and auto damage, and some people even got hurt. People will be without power for days, and for some people it’s going to take weeks for them to drain their basements.
I hear a lot of people saying that it was all hype. They are angry at the media for making such a big deal out of it, a storm that wound up being not as serious as they made it out to be. That’s like being mad at someone because they suggested you move off of the railroad tracks, because a train would probably be coming soon. This storm could have been, and was supposed to be a lot worse. The extra time spent preparing is a gamble, but its one where the odds of winning are much better, and the stakes are so much higher.
NY’ers are an easily jaded people, and I’m afraid that’s what is going to happen now. The next time a hurricane warning comes along, people are going to take it with a grain of salt, and probably not take proper precautions.
For now, mass transit is slowly coming back on line. Many, many roads are still closed, and of course jumped the normal 25 cents a gallon. Westchester’s traffic report is a sea of exclamation points for incidents and closed roads, and New Jersey is still going to have to deal with massive flooding.

Also, a thanks to the readers. The article on “how to prepare your car for a hurricane was the most viewed article ever on the site. Hopefully I don’t have to write a similar article anytime soon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to prepare your car for a hurricane

I Have never felt more insignificant than I have this week. Nature is reminding us who is in charge as she rocks the East coast with an earthquake and a hurricane only a few days apart. Based on the current projected trajectory of Irene, I picked a really crappy time to be a resident of the South Shore of Long Island. As a native upstate NY’er, I have never had to worry about a hurricane, but now with the storm barreling down on us, we all should take some time to research how to prepare. A little bit of preparation can make a total disaster a lot better then it could have been, Even though she might not even hit us. But that’s a big gamble that I am going to make the safe bet on.

While your first priority needs to be the safety of you and your family, you need to think secondary about the safety and integrity of your house and automobile. In high winds with flying debris, possible storm swells, extreme rain and flooding, there are a lot of risks posed to automobiles. Below is some information I have collected on the topic that will be useful for anyone in the northeast:

  • First and foremost, keep your gas tank full. Gas pumps can get knocked out of commission by flooding and power loss. Be ready.

  • Know the height of your cars air intake. This is the weakest point for a car when it comes to flooding. The car will run in a foot or two of water, but once water gets sucked into the motor via the intake, the motor will seize and you will be SOL.

  • It seems obvious, but try and garage your car. While it won’t help in extreme flooding or if a tree falls on your garage, it will help protect the finish from the debris.

  • DON'T elevate your car on jacks or jackstands. Hurricane force winds have the ability to blow a car off this minimal support, causing extreme damage. the extra few inches isn't worth it.

  • Be wary of you can see water - don't park near streams or lakes that will rise.

  • You also might need to reinforce your garage door. Because they are wider and lighter, they are susceptible to high winds and can blow inward. A couple of 2x4’s on the weak points should do the trick.

  • If you don’t have a garage, try and relocate your car to higher ground, and definitely away from trees, power lines, etc.  Google a Topographic map of your area to find highground.

  • Secure all of your cars important paperwork to somewhere safe, not the glove box

  • Keep an emergency kit in your car

  • Flooding happens and deep puddles happen. Don’t drive through them.

  • If you have multiple cars, try and get one to an elevated parking garage. They are solid structures that rarely flood on the upper levels

  • If you need to park on a hill, face the front of the car upwards, and turns your wheels toward the curb.

  • Make sure you have insurance coverage.

  • Avoid downed power lines

  • 4 wheel drive won’t help you unless you are climbing over objects. When selecting a vehicle for moving to a safer location, ground clearance should be the deciding factor.

It’s easy to brush off a storm like this and not be ready for it. Long Island hasn’t been hit by a major storm since Gloria in 85, which did a lot of damage. A little preparedness goes a long way.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="568" caption="Your car cannot go faster than this."][/caption]


Monday, August 22, 2011

How I’m going to save about $600 this year for my cars

Lets face it, gas isn’t getting cheaper. Tolls are going up. Its time to start cutting back somewhere.
This weekend, I did something I haven’t done since high school - I changed my own oil.

It was actually my local fast-lube place that inspired me to start doing this. While getting the car serviced, the guy has my hood up, and he can see that there is a lot of work done to this motor, and its obvious that this is a well cared for car. The guy then walks into the waiting room, and shows me my (clean) cabin air filter, and tells me I need to replace it. I just did these about 5K miles ago, and tell him to put it back. He then tries to convince me I need a transmission flush and new wipers. Yeah, I’m not going back there. I also skipped the “tips” bin on the way out.

Why go back to changing my own oil? Well, here’s what I figure: I started using synthetic in my car, and my wife’s uses regular. It’s not that I don’t care about my wife’s car, its that she drives a Honda four-banger and the thing could run on bacon grease if need be. My oil changes are about $60, and hers are about $35. Multiply this by a few times a year, and it starts to add up really fast. I change oil every 5000 miles, because I don’t buy into the every 3000 mile hype that lube places try to make you believe. So at a few times a year, that’s $400 for my car, and about $175 for my wife’s car. Why have I been spending this money?

So this weekend, I went down to Autozone, and picked up $80 worth of supplies, including jackstands, funnel, a Fram filter (the grip is nice), a 15 quart drain pan and a five liter jug of synthetic oil. Previously, the only thing stopping me from doing this myself is that I had no where to put the used oil. Used automotive oil is a huge threat to the environment, highly toxic, and there are heavy fines for disposing of it improperly. AutoZone now takes oil free of charge for recycling. I figure I’ll drop it off when I go in to get some wiper fluid or blades or something. So all things considered, now I’m negative 20 bucks, but the next time I do this, I’ll be ahead $40. And the savings grow every time after that.

The process is so much easier than I remember, just raise the car, drain, seal and put on new filter and refill. Took me about 40 minutes, most of which was just jacking the car up and waiting for the oil to drain. Seeing as how time spent driving and waiting at a lube place is about 30 minutes, this only cost me about 10 minutes in time.

What are the other benefits? Well for one, I know I am getting good parts, and not some recycled oil crap or inferior filters. The other thing is that I realize I’m doing a better job - after seeing how long it took the oil to drain, I don’t think its possible for the pan to completely drain out in the two minutes they have the plug off. That means this sludge has been sitting in my motor.

Now my car is happy and purring like a 300HP kitten.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Life in the Cash Lane

I made a discovery today that horrified me. As I pulled into the toll booth on the Throgs Neck, I was wondering why the gate hadn’t yet tripped- I looked up, and my heart sank.


I then remembered where my EZ Pass was:  Firmly affixed to the windshield in my wife’s CR-V.


See, I have been gone for the last two weeks, and my car has sat in the driveway collecting mounds of bird crap and rusty rotors. I was out west for business, and then we took the kid on vacation, and loaded up her car. She let her EZ Pass tag expire, so we used my tag and GPS for the trip.


But you know what the worst part about this is? It’s a Friday. I need to add at least an hour of time to my commute tonight to accommodate for all of the weekend travelers who clog the cash lanes on their way to their weekend destinations. Have you ever attempted the inbound GWB on a Friday for the cash lanes? This is going to be a nightmare. This is of course if I remember to actually go into the correct lane, as my lane choices are pretty much an ingrained force of habit at this point.


Today I think we all learned something. First, it’s that EZ Pass is worth it. There is always a fight if it should be mandatory for metro NY’ers, and the answer is a resounding YES. After seeing what life is like without it, including the waiting, the higher prices, and the sheer frustration, I’ll never forget it again. Additionally, a lot of time spent idling and polluting the environment could be cut back if it was mandated.  I also learned that the NJ turnpike still uses tickets. Who knew? They actually charge me to drive one hundred yards from the beginning of the Turnpike to my exit ramp.


So look for me today -  I’ll be the guy sitting in line with all the minivans in the cash lane, the black car with all the bird crap on it. But that’s another story.


[caption id="attachment_423" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Today at the NJ turnpike. Until this moment, It had been about 9 years since I have actually had to snag a toll ticket. Shooting a picture while moving and taking a ticket a the same time as piloting a car through a toll plaza is actually a lot harder than it looks."][/caption]

Monday, August 8, 2011

Port Authority plans massive toll hikes

As if the tolls weren't enough already, the Port Authority is planning another round of toll hikes for the river crossings. Average increases would be a shocking 50-100%. The change would affect the GWB, Holland and Lincoln Tunnel, as well as the Goethells, Bayonne, and Outerbirdge Crossing. went into more detail on the increases: (

Under the proposal, tolls for cars using E-ZPass would jump by $4 — one of the largest increases in memory — raising the cost from $6 to $10 for off-peak travel and from $8 to $12 in peak hours. An additional $2 increase during peak and off-peak hours would be implemented in 2014.

Motorists paying by cash would be even harder hit, with an additional surcharge of $3, increasing the cash rate from $8 to $15 this year. That surcharge would increase by an additional $2 in 2014.

For trucks using E-ZPass during off-peak hours, tolls would go from $7 to $13 per axle and from $8 to $14 during peak hours, with an additional $2 per axle increase in 2014 for both off-peak and peak periods.

A similar cash surcharge of $3 per axle would be applied to trucks this year with another $2 per axle hike in 2014.


That’s a lot of money. And when the Port authority raises tolls, the MTA is typically in step to do the same. The measure is coming to vote on Aug 17th, and is thankfully subject to veto by either Governor Christie or Cuomo. Reports say both are against such a massive hike.

So why such a startling increase?  The Port Authority press release says:


Date: Aug 08, 2011
Press Release Number: 51-2011

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) today endorsed the toll increase proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“On behalf of the 100,000 working men and women represented by our affiliated unions, we support this effort to give The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey the resources needed to maintain and improve its transportation infrastructure,” said Gary La Barbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

“Without this toll increase, 3,900 jobs will be lost and $483 million in Port Authority capital spending will not happen in 2011 alone,” he added.

In addition, the toll increase will help fund the PANYNJ's 10 year, $33 billion capital plan, which will generate more than 185,000 jobs, many of which are in construction.

“The Port Authority's history of investments in bridges, tunnels, mass transit and air travel has been essential to establishing our region as a global center of economic growth and job creation. We can't afford nothing less than continuing this strong tradition,” concluded La Barbera.

According to the BCTC, the construction industry in New York City has lost more than 20,000 jobs since 2008 and is suffering its highest unemployment in 13 years.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York consists of local affiliates of 15 national and international unions representing 100,000 working men and women in the five boroughs of New York City.

Translated, this says we mostly need to keep paying off overtime, disability and pensions. It’s not that some of the work doesn’t need to be done, the question as always is where these funds go.

While I won’t dispute their numbers, it seems that the hardest hit will be the truckers, who are pretty much the people responsible for the majority of goods being moved for economic stimulus. Figure it like this: By 2014, the average GWB crossing will be $14 for easy pass people in cars. Trucks take a much more significant hit - right now, a commercial vehicle pays per axle, so your average 18 wheeler has 5 axles. So by 2014, that’s an $80 toll for a truck to cross the bridge. This also creates a dangerous situation on bridges, as we can assume more trucks with full loads are going to be raising their drop axle under full weight which compromises stability.

This massive increase just might be the final stake to drive me and other motorists to the mass transit system, and a lovely 6 hours a day commuting.




Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why I won't ride to work every day

Last night, The NJ Turnpike inbound GWB lower level came to a grinding halt, and cops were rushing to get by on the shoulder. This is never a good sign, and usually signifies an accident. After 20 minutes and about 400 yards, I came upon the scene which was a multi vehicle accident. One person was down on the ground surrounded by a crowd, and there was a motorcycle about 200 feet up the road. I didn't stick around to see what the result was, but hope the guy was OK. He was riding an old Yamaha small cruiser style bike, so I kinda doubt that extreme speed was a factor in the crash.

One of the fortunate things about my job was that I was able to get my motorcycle license. I had a great time riding out in the California desert, on winding roads, and on the back trails. It was truly a liberating experience, and cemented my love for motorcycles. But even when gas is eight bucks a gallon, I still refuse to ride one in metro NY. It's suicide.

There's a lot of guys out there with the crotch rockets popping wheelies on the parkway, and you know they have a short life expectancy at their current pace. When I sit to think about, probably 95% of the people I know who ride down here have had some sort of major accident that has significantly altered their life and / or physical abilities.

So whats the problem? Sometimes, speed and poor riding is to blame. Even though lane sharing or "splitting" is illegal in NY, riders still do it, and at speeds that are way to excessive to be safe. But I don't think NY / NJ drivers are aware enough about motorcycles. When executing a lane change at 60 MPH, we check our mirrors and take a quick glance to make sure there isn't a car next to us, but typically we aren't looking for a bike in our blind spot. I noticed another issue with NY drivers while riding, and that is that drivers assume a following distance behind a bike which is totally unsafe. Most likely due to perception with a bikes diminutive size, it's not uncommon to see a car less than 10 feet behind a bike, even at highway speeds.

Going through the MSF course to get a DM license in NY was a three day process, but a great one. We learned tht riding was more about defensive driving, and trying to stay out of the way of drivers who don't know how to share the road with bikes.

Take the time to slow down, and take a better look around before changing lanes or making turns. Give a bike a good following distance, and if you see a group riding, don't get in the middle of them. There's a few more months left in the riding season, and there are sure to be many more accidents, but just being aware can help save lives.