AGBC News Episode 53: Top New York City News Stories of 2019
Tales of Auld York City 📖
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AGBC collects a variety of links from across the internet and analyzes them to power our links page. Links are selected and ranked based on whether they are about New York and interesting enough to share. A few times per day, this same system also re-ranks the past few hours of news links and creates our top stories page.
Taking that same idea and expanding it, here are the top stories about NYC for each month of 2019, along with a bit of follow-up to see how things have progressed since they were first published.
Not quite as large as the original 2017 Women's March, but still impactful enough to earn the highest-rated news story from January 2019. The third Women's March was actually two marches after one had split from the original organizing committee. Accusations of antisemitism against organizers of the national march led local organizations to split from the group based in Washington D.C. On January 19th, both an independent group, the Women's March Alliance, and the original national group held protest marches, one on the Upper West Side and one in downtown Manhattan at Foley Square. For 2020, the Women's March Alliance plans to march near Columbus Circle, but has not released a route as of yet, and the official local chapter of the national Women's March plans a rally in Foley Square. Both events are scheduled for January 18th.
A chaotic robbery at a T-Mobile store in Richmond Hill in Queens led to the first NYPD killed in the line of duty in nearly two years. The death of Detective Brian Simonsen brought increased focus to the case and revealed the many strange details of what would have been a typical store robbery. Most striking was the revelation that, although a bystander correctly told police that the man was robbing the store with a gun and forcing employees into a back room, in the aftermath of the police response and the shooting of the suspect, the gun was found to have been fake, and Simonsen had been accidentally shot and killed by fellow police officers.
When the suspect emerged from the back room holding the realistic gun, officers retreated back outside, but the suspect not only raised the gun, but made movements as if he were firing it at officers. The seven officers at the scene then fired 42 shots within 11 seconds, striking the suspect eight times and hitting two officers. A second suspect, who had served as a lookout during the robbery, was captured several days later. Sergeant Matthew Gorman, who was also one of the first to respond to the robbery, was also hit in the hip by shots fired by other officers, but survived his injuries.
In an interview with local news site The City in April 2019, the suspect said he was attempting to commit suicide by cop and he expressed that he wanted to tell the family of Detective Simonsen how sorry he was, although more recently, speaking to the NY Post from Rikers while awaiting trial, he stated that the robbery was meant as a prank and that he shouldn't be held responsible for the shootings of the officers.
Although Detective Simonsen's death had been the first NYPD death in almost two years, tragedy would strike again in September 2019, when Detective Brian Mulkeen was accidentally shot and killed by fellow NYPD officers during a struggle with a suspect at the Edenwald NYCHA Houses in the Bronx.
The top story for March was about the congestion pricing plan, which was planned as part of the budget. Although the final toll price to charge vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street hasn't been decided on, a prior study in 2017 by a state-appointed task force called for a $11.52 toll, which is being used as a baseline for what the new recommendation will actually be in 2020.
The congestion pricing plan would go on to pass as part of the state budget on April 1, 2019 despite the pricing not yet being finalized. Under the current plan, pricing and enforcement systems will be studied throughout 2020 and announced at the end of the year. With details still up in the air, the earliest that congestion pricing could take effect would be 2021, but it remains to be seen how many legal challenges the various parts of the system will face, including potential last-minute lawsuits similar to those that delayed the 14th Street busway for three months this year. When congestion pricing does take effect, the funds will be used to improve the entire MTA system and install bus and bike lanes citywide. If the timeline holds true, New York will be the first city in the United States to implement congestion pricing, following world cities like Singapore, London, and Stockholm.
While the congestion pricing plan made headlines in March 2019 when it was finalized in the state budget, another toll jumped into the spotlight by April 2019, when the Verrazzano Bridge became the most expensive toll bridge in the country. Depending on your discounts and payment methods, may pay a variety of prices to cross, but the most expensive crossing, a Staten Island-bound non-E-ZPass trip, increased $2 and hit $19 on April 1st, 2019. If you're looking to cross the bridge on a budget, you can get a discount for using an E-ZPass, which will bring the price down to $12.24, and if you're a Staten Island resident, you can further chop away at the price by showing proof of residency to get a $5.50 price, or if three or more people can carpool together in a Staten Island-registered vehicle, the price drops to $3.40. The MTA-maintained bridge had daily traffic of more than 202,000 daily crossings in 2016, down from an all-time high of 219,000 in 2001, and in 2017, tolls on the bridge totaled about $417 million per year.
With May 1st being the time when New York leases traditionally expired, it's no surprise that the top story for May was about rental prices. Real estate site StreetEasy outlined their report in which housing sales were dropping while the rental market was growing, especially in Brooklyn and Queens. StreetEasy saw the biggest rental growth in the most expensive neighborhoods, which they theorized may be because people who want to live in those desirable neighborhoods are more willing to rent as sales prices have been increasing three times more quickly than rentals. Given the different rates of price increases between rentals and sales, an expensive rental may still be the smartest choice once all the costs of owning an apartment are factored in. Even with Amazon canceling plans to move to Long Island City, that neighborhood remained in the greatest demand in Queens, with Dumbo taking the priciest spot in Brooklyn.
Although May 1st is no longer official the city's Moving Day, the middle of the summer is still a difficult time to change apartments, so if you're looking for a new place, consider trudging through the snow-filled streets when the lower number of renters means you'll have more bargaining power when signing a new lease!
Like I said, during the summer, a city's mind turns towards real estate, and for June, real estate site Mansion Global looked at data from Douglas Elliman and Citi Habitats focused on the high end of rentals in the city. Like the StreetEasy report, Douglas Elliman found luxury rents rising in Long Island City despite Amazon's decision to cancel HQ2. Long Island City will continue to grow with or without Amazon, and the new luxury buildings rising up in the former industrial neighborhood are finding tenants willing to make it the most expensive neighborhood in Queens. Luxury rentals in Manhattan stayed the same year-over-year, with the Soho and Tribeca area remaining the priciest, with a median monthly rent of $6,150, and Dumbo the priciest in Brooklyn, with a median rent of $5,100.
As the summer moved on, the top story for July highlighted the ongoing crisis hitting yellow cab drivers, who are being impacted by ride-share companies while being left with large investments in pricey taxi medallions and business expenses. In July 2019, the Daily News covered a letter signed by 10 U.S. Congressmembers from New York who asked the city council's newly-formed Taxi Medallion Sale Prices Task Force to ensure assistance for taxi drivers and medallion owners who were suffering from a weakening medallion market and predatory lending. The letter came after a New York Times report on the hardships faced by taxi drivers, including mounting debt that led some drivers to suicide. The city was eyed as a source of assistance after the report showed more than a decade of artificially-inflated medallion prices and the city's $855 million earned from selling medallions directly and by collecting taxes on medallion sales. After an influx of mostly-unregulated ride-share companies flooded the market, prices of medallions dropped, leaving medallion owners in debt on an asset that had been sold as a sure-fire investment. For reference, taxi medallions peaked at a price of $1 million in 2013, but none of have for more than $500,000 since 2018.
After July's story highlighting the risk of suicide among taxi drivers, in August a similar threat was revealed among NYPD officers, when an off-duty officer took his own life, becoming the ninth officer to die by suicide in 2019. Robert Echeverria was a 25-year member of the NYPD, and his death turned the conversation toward an epidemic of officer suicides that needed special attention. According to the Daily News, another officer had taken his own life just one day earlier, and four officers killed themselves in June 2019. Sadly, by October 2019 a 10th officer would die by suicide, doubling the typical rate of suicides seen among NYPD officers and leading the city to establish confidential mental health services for NYPD members, offering free counseling and prescriptions through a partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Officers interested in seeing what services the program provides can search "NYPD Finest Care" or call NewYork-Presbyterian at 1-877-697-9355 and ask for the NYPD Finest Care counseling program.
We couldn't escape 2019 without a story of the subway breaking down, and September certainly delivered when a Manhattan-bound 'C' Train became stuck between stations underneath Brooklyn Heights at the High Street–Brooklyn Bridge station. Although there was also smoke reported in the tunnel, the cause was determined to have been the train's emergency brakes being activated. Although that sounds like the same work of the chronic emergency brake puller arrested in May 2019, this brake was apparently automatically activated after one of the shoes that make contact the third rail and power the train lifted off and caused sparks and smoke in the tunnel. In order to evacuate the tunnel, another train was pulled to the end of the disabled train and passengers were able to walk from one to the other and evacuate through the nearby station. Thankfully only one person was treated for a minor injury, which was a much better outcome than if a train of 600 people had come to a jolting stop, where many people would have been thrown to the ground. If you happen to find yourself crawling out of a smoke-filled subway tunnel but your coworkers refuse to believe your story, you can submit a Subway Delay Verification online to receive an official confirmation that you were late due to the MTA.
One train evacuation aside, according to the MTA's own data, major incidents are slowly trending down across the entire subway system after a spike in January 2018. Subway on-time performance has also been on the rise, with Andy Byford claiming on-time performance topped 80% for the first time in six years, a figure defined as a train arriving within five minutes of its scheduled arrival.
By the time October and November rolled around, the MTA was having a harder time in the news. For two months, the top stories were directed at policing in the subways. Two chaotic arrests caught on video in October spread across social media and formed protests in response to what people saw as unnecessarily aggressive actions by police in the subway. Adding to the problems raised by the videos were confusion about what the teenagers in either video were being detained for, and the confusion was amplified by the clipped nature of the videos, only showing the police response and not the events that led to any of the teens being detained. Once it was revealed that one of the arrests was over turnstile jumping, the focus turned toward the MTA and Governor Cuomo's plan to hire 500 new police officers who would be assigned to the subway system. Critics saw the 500 officers as an unnecessary addition to preexisting NYPD subway patrols and the MTA police force, and at a time when the NYPD's data showed a decrease in subway crime. During a meeting with the city council in November, the plan for the new officers was scrutinized, with questions raised on why the 500 officers, which would cost $50 million a year, were being added when the MTA was running at a deficit. The costs of police assigned to stop fare evasion could potentially put a dent in the estimated $215 million per year lost to turnstile jumping, but the methods the MTA uses to estimate those losses were also questioned, as well as whether the 500 police would even be assigned to monitor fare evasion or if they were meant for general policing. The lack of any concrete plan for the 500 officers made the public and the city council skeptical, combined with video going viral on social media at the same time showing what people already considered an overly aggressive police response to a possible turnstile jumper.
And, ending out a year of top stories, another MTA story, but one where the MTA gets some good-natured retaliation after so many critical stories in previous months. For December, bus-mounted cameras took the top story spotlight as the MTA's social media campaign for the cameras gave straphangers a chuckle. Back in September, the MTA first started having some fun introducing their bus-mounted traffic cameras by showing an animated bus taking a photo that actually zapped the delivery truck out of the way, sending the bus lane scofflaw off into some other dimension and leaving the bus lane clear. After a 60-day trial period where warnings were mailed out, the cameras began issuing actual tickets along the M15 Select Bus line in December, where the cameras had caught 15,000 total bus lane blockages during the 60-day trial period. The first casualty in December was Santa and his sleigh! In a second social media post promoting the expanding bus camera program, a B44 bus zapped Santa's sleigh out of the way after Santa left his delivery vehicle parked in the bus lane. In another animation, an M15 bus cleared the snowy streets by zapping a car with an ice ray and knocking it out of the bus lane. The cameras will also come to M14 buses to help enforce parking and stopping rules along the 14th Street busway.
So that was the year in New York City news! A few quick, unscientific numbers from our database of news stories: Of the 27,556 links indexed over 2019, the most common borough mentioned was Brooklyn, followed by the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and then Staten Island. "Police" and "NYPD" appeared in 3,575 stories, with firefighting keywords like "FDNY" and "fire" appearing in 1,066 stories. Both "man" and "woman" appeared in the top 25 most-popular terms, with terms like "man" and "boy" appearing 1,739 times and "woman" and "girl" appearing 1,058 times.
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Park of the day
- Sherman Street Seating Area — 40.650827, -73.973892 — This plaza provides a nice set of benches and some old trees providing shade before you ascend the stairs to cross Ocean Parkway via the pedestrian bridge.
- Recycle your Christmas tree at Mulchfest — The Parks Department and the Sanitation Department are ready to take that Christmas tree off your hands with locations across the city where they will chop up real trees into mulch that can be spread around other trees to protect them from cold weather. You'll be able to drop off your tree, and at some locations you'll even be able to see the trees get chopped into mulch and be able to take some mulch home with you to either use on your own tree or to spread around a tree along the street. Remember to remove all lights and ornaments before handing over your tree, and schedule your trip for a Saturday if you want to see the mulch-making machine in action! Check out the list of locations at nycgovparks.org and drop off your tree anytime from December 26th to January 11th and visit one of the chipping sites on Saturdays beginning at 10am to pick up a bag of mulch! If you can't make it to the park, the Sanitation Department offers curbside pick-up of trees from January 6th through January 17th, when you can place your tree outside with regular trash bags. Real trees collected curbside will also be made into mulch and used in parks across the city.
Here's the AGBC Concert Calendar for the upcoming week:
- Flosstradamus is playing Webster Hall on Friday, January 3rd at 9pm.
- Dry Reef is playing Mercury Lounge on Friday, January 3rd at 10pm.
- I Love The 90s with The Fresh Kids of Bel-Air is playing (Le) Poisson Rouge on Friday, January 3rd at 11pm.
- Ja Rule with Ashanti is playing New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Saturday, January 4th at 8pm.
- Satisfaction is playing Bergen Performing Arts Center on Saturday, January 4th at 8pm.
- Jessie's Girl is playing (Le) Poisson Rouge on Saturday, January 4th at 9pm.
- Reggaeton vs Hip Hop Night NYC is playing Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, January 4th at 10pm.
- Firebeatz is playing Marquee New York on Saturday, January 4th at 11pm.
- Wolfgang Gartner is playing Webster Hall on Saturday, January 4th at 11pm.
- Motion City Soundtrack with The Sidekicks is playing Webster Hall on Wednesday, January 8th at 7pm.
- Yola is playing Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday, January 8th at 8pm.
- yMusic is playing Bowery Ballroom on Thursday, January 9th at 7pm.
- Smif-N-Wessun with Black Moon is playing Gramercy Theatre on Thursday, January 9th at 7pm.
- The Dead South with Legendary Shack Shakers is playing Warsaw on Thursday, January 9th at 8pm.
- Cimafunk is playing Webster Hall on Thursday, January 9th at 8pm.
- Afromondo Showcase is playing SOB's on Thursday, January 9th at 8pm.
Find more fun things to do at agreatbigcity.com/events.
New York Fact
Here's something you may not have known about New York:
- 220 West 135th Street lost its National Historic Landmark status in 2009 when it was discovered not to have been the correct address for the home of Florence Mills
The extreme highs and lows for this week in weather history:
Record High: 72°F on January 6, 2007
Record Low: -4°F on January 1, 1918
Weather for the week ahead:
Light rain on Friday through next Wednesday.
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Intro and outro music: 'Start the Day' by Lee Rosevere — Concert Calendar music from Jukedeck.com — Buzzy 'Auld Lang Syne' by David Fifield — 'Auld Lang Syne' by Two Ton Baker and the Maple City Four