DOT sidewalk inspection scam?

Posted by Steve on Wed, 07/28/2010 - 8:40pm


My doorbell rang this afternoon. It was my cheerful postman, Kevin, and he had a certified letter for me.  Certified letters are almost always buzzkillers.  I could see from the envelope that this one was from the NYC Dept of Transportation so I knew it wasn't congratulations from Publishers Clearinghouse.

Kevin said that every house on the block, except one, got certified letters from DOT. What the hell, I've got nothing to be concerned about  My sidewalk and curb are in excellent condition.  I signed for the letter and opened it up.

Inside was a Notice of Violation that my sidewalk had been inspected and was found to have a "trip hazard". The notice said that I needed to replace ten square feet of sidewalk. There was a graphic indicating this general section of my sidewalk.

In NYC -- and I presume that this is the case in most large cities -- the building owner is responsible for the condition of his sidewalk.  If a sidewalk falls out of repair it's the homeowner's job to repair it, just as it's his job to keep it clean and clear of snow.

However, enforcement has typically been limited to third party complaints, not proactive inspections.   I'm told the city is named in tens thousands of predatory civil suits every year related to substandard sidewalks, some of them pretty funny... like the guy who tried to sue my neighbor for "loss of marital congress" after he allegedly tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and broke his pinkie finger.  I swear I'm not making this up.

Last year around this time, a non-DOT crew, which I presumed to be an independent contractor, was tearing up and replacing sidewalks all over the neighborhood.  It was the same sort of thing: an anonymous inspector had run around the neighborhood tagging damaged sidewalks for repair. 

Certified letters were sent to homeowners with vague indications of the nature of the violation.   They were given 45 days to either apply for a permit and get the job done by a licensed contractor or the city would do the job @ $9+ square foot and bill the homeowner.

The thing is, I walked those sidewalks several times a day.  While a few of them did have some issues with tree roots, most of the sidewalks that were replaced I remember as being in fine shape.  At least, I never saw an issue with them.  The entire process struck me at the time as being somewhat arbitrary, which is to say fishy.  And now here we are again.

Can anyone spot this "trip hazard"? Bear in mind that my sidewalk is everything below where that stoop starts at the left side of the photo.  The questionable piece of sidewalk is on the lower right, immediately adjacent to the white painted curb cut up to the first vertical seam.   Here, let's zoom in on that section of sidewalk and see if we can spot that dangerous "trip hazard"...



Product Review: Litter Robot

Posted by Steve on Tue, 04/06/2010 - 8:18pm


I never thought I'd be doing a product review for an electronic cat litter pan.   A table saw or compressor, yes.  Well, until I get back into construction mode at BRH, I've got to fill the blog with something.

Seriously though, regulars to this blog know that I don't accept direct advertising and that I generally steer clear of product reviews.  I usually spotlight a product only when it really pleases me (like the Magic Trowel and Glasseye 2000) or it pissed me off (the ISY99-i Insteon controller, cheap CFL bulbs and stay tuned for an upcoming mega-smackdown on Mannington engineered flooring!)

You've probably seen late night TV ads for self-cleaning cat litter pans and assumed that there had to be major issues with them.  I did.  After all, how many people do you know who actually own one?   I never took them seriously until the Great Owls Head Cat TNR Roundup last summer.  Afterward, the feline population at Brooklyn Row House suddenly increased to four healthy, adult cats and the occasional drudgery of litter pan cleaning became a hateful morning ritual.   Anything that could reduce that aggravation has my permission to call itself a "tool".


"This time for sure!"

Posted by Steve on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 2:48pm


The old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show had a series of interstitials with Bullwinkle attempting, and failing, to pull a rabbit out of a hat and Rocky increasingly skeptical that he would ever succeed.

FlyerAs tortured an analogy as that may be, it's how the Bay Ridge community has regarded announcements of the opening of the prodigal Key Food supermarket on Bay Ridge Ave (69th St).    It was almost two years ago that the neighborhood was buzzing with rumors that Key Food was negotiating to take over the two large buildings formerly owned by Harry's furniture store.  Yet, only a couple of months before that, Key Food announced that it was closing its well-patronized 95th St supermarket.  So this latest scuttlebutt left much to be skeptical about, especially when the new location wasn't exactly ideal for a large supermarket.

For one thing, there was no parking lot.  There was a single-story building across the street that was the old Harry's annex which at one point in its history might have served as a garage of some sort.  But with the pillar obstructions I remembered seeing in the old Harry's annex and the nonexistent driving skills of Bay Ridge SUV pilots, they couldn't honestly be thinking about letting soccer moms and cell phone jockeys park their own land barges in there.  It would be a day-long fender bender.  You could construct bleachers and sell tickets!

Then there was the issue of 69th Street itself: a narrow two-lane road that already has serious congestion issues from being forced to service avenue-level traffic.  Both local and express buses use 69th Street as do trucks and emergency vehicles.   Worse, there's a kitchen wholesale business on the block and their semis often stop traffic for several minutes while the driver threads the needle with his 18 wheeler and the narrow loading dock.



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