Crisis in the streets of New York

As a native New Yorker now returned home for good, I feel it’s time to begin making my civic contributions, to start solving the real problems our city faces. Believe it or not, dear reader, I didn’t go to school just to summarize business books that are way longer than they need to be. I aimed to make a real difference in this world. And now that I have this platform of ten regular readers to amplify this message, I feel it’s time to combine my advanced degrees, my Public Policy bachelor’s and my MBA, to solve the real challenges facing the city that I know and love.

Let’s talk about the dangers of unregulated umbrella utilization.

 Source: New York Post
Source: New York Post

An unchecked weapon

Throngs of people in the most crowded intersections of New York are a norm. But on a rainy day, they become weapon wielding mobs devolved to basic instincts. Survivors duck-and-weave around errant metal supports. The more alpha types deliver full body-checks to fumbling pedestrians who stand in their way. In the worst cases, these incidents can be fatal (I assume).

My last brush with an umbrella in the streets left me changed. The first thing I remember was a wall of black driving towards my face, with only moments to dodge out of the way. I pivoted outward to the right, but too late. A metal prong scraped my chin as I tilted my head sideways to minimize the blow. I turned to see a five-foot-nothing Latina woman striding away with a gulf umbrella big enough for a family. The ratio of umbrella to human was like none I had ever seen. “Assault!” I shouted after her. “That’s assault! Umbrella assault! Assault with a deadly umbrella!” She paid me no heed. Neither did the passers-by. It was, Times Square, after all, where the standards of humanity are at their lowest. And did the police care? No. I was almost temporarily-permanently blinded by a metal spike that could have gouged out both of my eyes simultaneously (I assume). But the police didn’t even create a case file. There are certainly moments in New York where I wish for acute blindness, but this is not how I imagined it happening.

Umbrellas are intended for battling the elements, not each other. There’s only one solution that I can see. I mean that will literally allow me to see past the sea of umbrellas. And that’s umbrella regulation.

It’s a solved problem

Regulation has addressed the same cornerstone issue in the roadways that plague our sidewalks: capacity constraints. As early as 1652, New Amsterdam had speed limits for wagons and carts. Regulating behavior of vehicles makes our city’s pressured capacity more manageable. Providing basic guidance for how to properly use umbrellas, such as up-and-down etiquette and other fundamentals of urban umbrella wielding, could reduce accidents and unlock sidewalk capacity, just as road vehicle regulation has.

As it stands now, with no rules to give order to umbrella traffic, you take your life into your hands when you turn a corner blind on a rainy day.

There is literally nothing more dangerous than turning a corner in the rain in New York, according to recent statistics. Umbrella related eye gouges are up 14% since 2009 (I assume). The positive trend line below can only be umbrella traffic accident reporting, since no New Yorker actually drives.


Setting standards

According to careful research conducted by NYAEG, New Yorkers Against Eye Gouging, umbrella accident incidence rates would be dramatically reduced if we introduced transparency and scale requirements.


Regulation has a bad reputation because often there is a lack of transparency. But transparency is exactly what we need in New York. Specifically, we need transparent umbrellas. On a normal NYC day, you can see up and down city avenues for miles. But on a rainy day, visibility is reduced to legal blindness by a sea of black umbrellas. All because umbrellas are too freely distributed.


Short people usually get the short end of the stick. When it comes to umbrellas, that seems only reasonable. Yet like Napoleon’s land grab across Europe, the vertically challenged demand sidewalk space beyond normal proportions. It’s getting out of control. The other day I saw a four-foot tall woman carrying a circus tent. An actual circus tent. We need to bring reason back to how we allow sidewalks to be used.

A new licensing system

The automotive industry has solved the challenges of transparency and scale. Headlight standards ensure visibility for all drivers. Classes of license ensure that a driver can handle the size of the vehicle they are navigating. We can do the same with umbrellas. We must make transparent plastic the standard material. And we must limit umbrella sizes by mastery and height requirements.

Below is a simple system that could be implemented immediately.

Umbrella License Class Descriptions

Class Qualification Eligible to Use
Class D (the most common license) Stay to the right while walking; stop at lights outside of pedestrian crossing path Clear bubble umbrellas, wide enough for individual use only
Class A Same requirements as class D; also distinguish a fast vs. slow lane on the right half of the sidewalk (also known as, commuter and tourist lanes) Clear umbrellas wide enough for two to three people
Class G Same requirements as Class A; also implement up-and-down etiquette; top of umbrella consistently held at 6 feet or higher to ensure clearance of the average New Yorker Transparent golf umbrellas

Standard issue umbrellas for the average height would have the following dimensions.

Each standard deviation from average height would result in linear size increase or decrease to the umbrella issued, while maintaining the same aspect ratio.


Of course regulation is nothing without enforcement. And so I propose that the NYPD create a special task force, with the Rainy Day Fund, to ensure that people are wielding the appropriate umbrella for their license. Penalties for law breakers should start at 2 -3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Objections addressed

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, what about advanced umbrella wielders? Why deny them the colorful expression of opaque umbrellas? We need to hold a high bar for such luxuries, considering the public risk posed by opaque umbrellas. These pedestrians need to be Formula 1 quality, people who can puddle-jump and pirouette like a Broadway dancer trying out for Singing in the Rain.

You also might think, what about mothers with children who don’t qualify for Class G licenses? There is no limit to the number of times adults can apply for licenses, for a low $20 fee, to cover the test and the cost of a street umbrella. Children can get a learners permit at age 16. We need to think about public safety above individual convenience. It may seem over the top, but that’s the point — to see over the top. I want to see over the top of everyone’s umbrellas. Those who just can’t meet the new city standards, will just need to invest in a good raincoat. For those folks, I can recommend a great one.

A vision for the future

Regulation adds efficiency when you’re at capacity, and New York sidewalks will always be at capacity. With such a longstanding problem, I have to wonder, where is de Blasio’s leadership? He’s too busy running for president. Too busy to imagine a world where rush hour swells at sidewalk intersections looked like lanes flowing smoothly rather than a fan of people taking both the right and left of the sidewalk. (I’m looking at you, New Jersey commuters at Penn Station.) This is the world we could have, with effective umbrella regulation.

Intelligent design: how NYC has planned for millions of moving parts

Hello beautiful nerds, this week in MBA in the City, we explore the design choices of NYC’s above ground public infrastructure that have helped the flow of the city. Yes, I’m talking about how the city has made way for the explosion of bicycles. 

In the last decade, the number of daily bike trips in the city has more than doubled. And from the ever-expanding bike lane network to the ever-available bike racks throughout the city, our movement has become a little more perfect. And how has New York achieved this visible transformation? Using the mightiest of modern weapons: data. With New York’s Open Data policy and numerous beta tests and A/B tests, it’s clear our policy makers aren’t afraid of data. And New Yorkers aren’t shy about sharing opinions. This match made in heaven has produced decisions by and for the city’s 8 million residents. Respect. 

Now for the highlights real! The back stories and photo documentary of where we’ve arrived by bike.

Bike racks can be beautiful

A decade ago the City launched an international competition to design the next generation bike rack. The results ranged from elegant to intriguing, producing a series of sample designs that were sprinkled throughout the city. Public comments read like Amazon reviews:

Looks-wise the Y-rack is the only serious contender in the NYC icon stakes. Even though the paint was already a bit scratched, it still stood out from the crowd.

— Public comment, CityRacks Design Competition

Most free opinions are worth their actual weight, but ones from New Yorkers make me feel like I’m watching reality TV: inexplicably mesmerized.

Once the winner was selected, these racks rolled out across the city, with some interesting auxiliary effects.

What I really love more than these elegant DOT racks is the ripple effect it had with private property owners, inspiring bank buildings and art galleries alike to get into bespoke bike racks. For the choosy bikers, there’s something for everyone – sleek or artsy, industrial or modern.

There is a dark side to more cycling, though — with more bikes has come more bike thefts. But as a New Yorker, my inner monologue chimes the classic excuse for everything that is unacceptable in most places, but somehow not here: “That’s New York!”

Citi Bike: onward and upward

In keeping with the city’s green initiative and the growing public love of the sharing economy, a shared biking system was conceived of in 2011. Here the public had it’s say years before launch, but there was no avoiding first contact with reality. From the word go, capacity was put to the test. Malfunctions were common, with stations going dead and bikes not always docking. New Yorkers told it like it was, and Citi Bike put their game face on. New software was rolled out two years later that fixed the glitches and supported the self-sustaining solar units at each station. And new bike models keep rolling out! I personally love the one with no gear – based on the road’s incline, it naturally adjusts the resistance! I also enjoy the shopping catalogue-esque presentation of the Citi Bike design on the official website. It makes me want to go buy one. But I can only buy a subscription. That will have to do.

 Citi Bike docking station in beautiful, sunny Madison Square Park
Citi Bike docking station in beautiful, sunny Madison Square Park

Design + data-driven decision making = intelligent design. NYC is making thoughtful decisions that make life in the city more fluid, more perfect, more true to its people. I give my city a gold star.

My eyes are down here: how marketers are adapting to smart phone usage

As I strolled the streets of Chelsea one chilly Saturday morning, I noticed a sidewalk ad – literally, stenciled on the sidewalk. Huh, I though, gorilla marketing takes a twist.

But why did I notice this ad that blends in with old bubble gum and uses the most basic of color pallets? I realized it was because I was on my smart phone! With 50%+ global penetration of internet usage, largely driven by smart phones, the sidewalk has become better marketing real estate than a 40 foot billboard by the highway.

Second world cities have beat first world marketers to adapting to this monumental change in consumer behavior – the text neck. In Santiago, the cross walk lights are built into the curb cuts now.

And Chinese city Chongqing has set up “no phone” pedestrian lanes, so fast and slow walkers are equally accommodated – something I’d love to see rolled out in Herald Square.

Next time you are out and about, make sure you watch where you are going.

All squirrels are Eagles fans

Strolling through the city of Brotherly Love one winter weekend, I marveled at the grand success of a certain invasive species in the city where they were first introduced*. Yes, I’m talking about the grey squirrel. I’ve never seen one cross a street, yet there they are, in every park, perfectly content to play squirrel tag and scout for acorns on what they must think of as “their block”. And yet, as much as they seem to be home bodies, they are in every park in the entirety of the North East. So how did they get everywhere? My theories abounded:

1. They first made it to New York, and if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere

2. They traveled what must have been wooded superhighways and, eventually, got paved around

3. They were lured by acorn trails until they posted up in the urban backyards of gentry

Well, none of these guesses seem too far off the mark based on Gizmodo’s historic summary: they were a cute house pet until a few got loose, and people stuffed them fat, so much so that not only did they multiply, but they tumbled out of trees under the gravitational pull of their burgeoning middles. The habit never fully got shaken in some places *cough* Boston Commons *cough*. 

Most squirrels are too cagey for direct engagement these days, but still a playful touch to our manicured urban nature encounters.

*Yes, it all started in Philly, which is why all squirrels are Eagles fans.

Robo-composed music to help you focus

Music has long been understood to have remarkable impact on mood and cognitive functioning – hence fun fads like expecting mom’s playing classical for their unborn children. And for me, moving from open office to open office, customizing my auditory environment has become an integral part of the focused work experience. Over the years I’ve tried playing all sorts of things, from white noise to movie sound tracks. Finally, I think I’ve found the ticket to getting on the right wavelength: was dreamt up as a music writing software that has designed dozens of tracks to guide your brain into one of three states you select from: focus, meditation, and sleep. leverages emergent technology to create patterns of beats that get you in the right frame of mind leverages emergent technology to create patterns of beats that get you in the right frame of mind

Listening in, I hear binaural beats overlaid on soft melodies, which induce a deep state of engagement. While I haven’t hooked myself up to an electroencephalogram to measure efficacy, I’m sure the pros behind it are testing this out.

The focus option does the trick to blur out all distraction and leave you to think deeply. The first few sessions are free, so give it a try – you’ll thank yourself for it later when you see how well you’re using your time!


Five favorite robots of 2017

We all know that the robots are coming – in fact, they’re here! From self-driving cars to Alexa, they both take our jobs and improve our lives. Right now we’re in the honeymoon phase where the former situation has not upended New York, so I will share my favorite robots for their success in the latter – incremental conveniences to our busy modern lives. I use the term robot loosely to include technologies that reduce labor.

Most stress-relieving robot: Dyson 360 Eye Robot Vacuum

Dyson has far outdone the Roomba with its 360 Eye Robot Vacuum, with its efficient floor coverage and app controlled system. I come home to a spick and span house every day, even when I was dog sitting a cute but sheddy dog. And you get to name it in the app 🙂 

Most predicted robot: Amazon drone delivery

In their continue quest to own all things logistics, Amazon has already got the downstream operations nailed with their patented drone friendly shipping labels. While drone delivery may sound over the top, it is undeniably uneconomical and slow to ship to a number of rural parts of the U.S. – so this will be a step towards better connecting all parts of the world to modern convenience.

Most user-centric designed ‘robot’: Google/Levi’s ‘smart’ jean jacket

Google and Levi’s have developed a new commuter jacket that integrates with your phone. While you might initially question the utility of talking to your jacket, if you’ve ever been a Citibike commuter trapped listening to a boring podcast, the swipe functionality on this could be a real boost to your West Side Highway bike path experience. Kudos to Google and Levis for rising above the fray (see what I did there 😉 

Most societally enhancing ‘robot’: driver’s ed VR

Imagine if teens could log 50 or 100 hours of challenging driving experiences before ever hitting the road. Aceable’s got our budding teen drivers covered with their VR drivers education platform. I’m not sure if that will help their insurance premiums, but it will definitely help the rest of the drivers on the road!

Cutest robot: TeleRetail driverless delivery

If my driverless delivery vehicles look like the unimposing TeleRetail, then please do send! Only in Switzerland now, and perhaps no match for SUV owning Americans sharing the road, but we can hope.