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Small Explosion Hits Military Recruiting Center in Times Square

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Let's begin this post by saying there's no reason to worry, everybody is fine. (We've always wanted to write that — because let's be honest, when we start conversations with our mom that way she goes bananas.) See, there was a small explosion in Times Square early this morning, but nobody was hurt. Apparently somebody tossed an explosive device at a U.S. military recruiting center just before 4 a.m. today. The office's window was smashed, and a door was damaged. Traffic was interrupted for a while, but now it appears to be back to normal. The Department of Homeland Security says it's investigating whether it was terrorism-related, but according to NY1, there wasn't a sense of panic in the area this morning. Explained droll host Pat Kiernan: "It seemed people were annoyed by the nuisance as much as anything." Small explosion hits New York's Times Square [Reuters] Update: Mayor Bloomberg just held a press conference about this. It turns out that it was a bomb in an ammunition box. Bloomberg called the attack on the recruitment office an insult to our troops and added that "New York City is back and open for business." NYPD chief Ray Kelly said the device was not "particularly sophisticated" and explained that there is one witness who saw a suspicious hooded man on a bicycle passing the recruiting station just before the explosion.

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Feds to City: Decongest!

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And so it has finally happened: The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced it will give New York City a $354 million grant to implement a congestion-pricing system in the city. It's not quite the $500 million Mayor Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff told everyone the city stood to receive, but it's a whole lot more than nothing, too. It's a big win for the mayor, except for one thing. The Feds will only pay out on that grant if the state legislature signs off by March of next year — which means that seventeen-member commission formed just after the (alleged) application deadline pass a plan before then, and the city council, too, must agree to it. Shelly Silver, we think, is going to have a whole lot more fun. U.S. Offers New York Millions for Congestion Pricing [City Room/NYT] Earlier: Daily Intel's coverage of congestion pricing

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British Invasion

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British Prime Minster Gordon Brown, who spent the past two days golf-carting around Camp David with President Bush, arrived in New York last night, where he met with President Clinton to talk about his anti-poverty plans and then gave a speech today at the United Nations on the same topic. (After which employees massed to photograph him while he spoke to reporters.) We'd mention the details of the plan, but the more relevant part is this: That's why there were all those cops around the Waldorf yesterday and today. Just in case you're curious. (We were.) Earlier: President Bush and His Toy Car

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Congestion Pricing: It's a Deal!

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As Geoffrey Gray warned us earlier, there's now a deal for congestion pricing. From City Room, the Times's metro blog:
“We have a deal,” Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, just told reporters in Albany. “Like any deal, like any arrangement, its [sic] subject to the definitive word ending up on paper. As we speak, we are drafting paper, press release, with the governor’s office, with the Assembly.” Asked if the deal would still qualify for a grant of $500 million in federal financing, Mr. Bruno said: “We are told if we get this there today, we will be one of the nine considered.”
Just think: Some time in the not-too-distant future, you'll have the privilege of paying to drive on exploding streets. Fun! Deal Is at Hand in Congestion Pricing [City Room/NYT] Earlier: Congestion-Pricing Lives! Is City Hall Close to Announcing a Deal?

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Congestion-Pricing Lives! Is City Hall Close to Announcing a Deal?

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Thought you didn't have to hear any more about congestion pricing? You may not be so lucky. This morning's Daily News reported that a marathon private negotiation went till the wee hours last night, putting Bloomberg and Albany leaders tantalizingly close to a deal to salvage the mayor's traffic plan. "We are extraordinarily close, but it's just not going to get there tonight," Spitzer's spokesman told the News just before midnight. "All the pieces have not come together." Well, the word we're now hearing is that those pieces have finally come together. A source in City Hall tells New York's Geoffrey Gray that they'll be holding a press conference in a few hours to announce a deal. We wouldn't hold our breath — considering the mercurial people involved — but it's what we're hearing. Related: Congest Fight U-Turn [NYDN]

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Let Us Ride Bikes!

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We missed this in yesterday's paper, presumably because we were so distracted by Bloomberg's unsuccessful shuttle diplomacy in Albany: While London, Stockholm, and Singapore all have successful congestion-pricing programs, and while Scandinavian capitals have longstanding center-city transportation cultures built around bicycles, and while an art installation in Soho last week made bikes available to New Yorkers for a few days, Paris is now trying to beat its traffic problems by making some 10,000 bicycles available for nominal fees around the city — there'll be 20,000 and change by the end of the year — for people to rent from one of 750 stations, ride to where they need go, and return to another station. This plan sounds like it could be another good way to get some cars off the road and emissions out of the air. Could it be congestion pricing 2.0, Mike? Of course not! It's an interesting and innovative idea; Shelly Silver must hate it. A New French Revolution's Creed: Let Them Ride Bikes [NYT]

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Or, You Could Just Keep Your Damned Car on Long Island

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You know what? Let's just give up on this whole congestion- pricing business. We're now convinced it'll make no difference, anyway. Keeping a car in Manhattan is such a profoundly terrible idea, such a profoundly impractical one, that clearly those inexplicably sold on it won't be deterred by a little additional fee. Witness a test case reported in today's Times: A Long Island family that regrets not having snapped up a private parking space in Chelsea for $168,000 when they had the chance. Turns out it would have made a great investment property, with spaces in the neighborhood now going for $225,000. (The kicker is that, in several new condos, your $200,000 parking space comes with a $50 monthly maintenance. That's right, for a swatch of poured concrete.) So who pays this kind of money? Well, our heroine is a Long Island mother of three kids, ages 7, 9, and 11, who is brought to Manhattan at least twice a week by "her children's modeling schedules." We rest our case. For Parking Space, the Price Is Right at $225,000 [NYT]

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It's Not Easy Being a Steamroller

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• Eliot Spitzer admits to the Times that his feud with Joe Bruno has become "ugly" and "eclipse[d] all discussion of policy and legislation." Plus, all the personal attacks are upsetting Mrs. Spitzer, who now regrets her husband didn't go into real estate. [NYT] • The city is opening 290 "cooling centers" to help New Yorkers beat the heat; "I don't care how strong you are, you should take some precautions," Mayor Bloomberg declared, sounding even more like a testy grandmother than usual. [amNY] • Now this is getting interesting: The Department of Transportation under Janette Sadik-Khan is trying to hire Danish planner Jan Gehl as a consultant (as Daily Intel reported two weeks ago), and now word is that his proposals include banning cars from Times Square. [NYDN] • At the Phil Spector trial, the judge has allowed in a piece of blockbuster testimony from the producer's bodyguard — who says he's heard Spector say "all women should be shot in the head." [WNBC] • And a Manhattan psychologist, William Swan, is accused of groping a prospective assistant during an interview and showing her porn to boost her "assertiveness." In an apparent triumph, she's now assertive enough to sue and go to the press. [NYP]

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The Bike Man Cometh

The Street Wizard of Copenhagen is coming to New York. That's a big deal, and great news for bicyclists and pedestrians: Danish planner Jan Gehl made his name by formulating little fixes — a plaza here, a planter there — that vastly improved pedestrian life in his home city and others from Milan to Dublin. New Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, along with Planning commissioner Amanda Burden, took a field trip to meet him last month, and she told us last night that she's hiring him for Big Apple projects. Sadik-Khan won't say yet what he'll be working on in New York, but his firm, Gehl Architects, studies street use and designs ways to encourage it — so we suspect Department of Transportation leaders want him to make local landmarks more pleasant for walking, biking, or waiting for the light to change. Maybe he'll unchoke the Times Square bow tie, for instance, or propose ways to cross Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza in less than 30 minutes. Presumably he's open to suggestion. —Alec Appelbaum Earlier: What Does Socialite/Planner Amanda Burden Do on Vacation?

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Mayor Mike Is Cruising Toward a Traffic-Fee Win

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Okay, we're prepared to make a prediction: Marvelous Mike Bloomberg is going to win his congestion-pricing battle. Spitzer and the Bush administration are both on his side, State Senate leader Joe Bruno has said nice things, and at the Assembly hearing on his plan — held today at the Bar Association Building in midtown, and the only hearing scheduled on the matter before the legislative session ends later this month — Bloomberg more than held his own. He successfully parried the major misgivings about the plan — that its costs would mostly fall on moderate-income 718-ers and that its cameras would compromise personal privacy — and urged the state to join his bid for some $400 million in federal setup funds before the late-summer deadline.

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Bloomberg Wins Big Ally, Loses Councilman in Traffic Fight

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As the battle over congestion pricing builds toward hearings in the State Assembly at the end of this week, the MTA — a state agency not always on the same page as City Hall — is starting to look like a Bloomberg ally. At a hobnobbers' breakfast this morning, MTA chief Elliott Sander offered his warmest words yet for what he adroitly renamed "value pricing." Staring at potential operating deficits of more than $1 billion annually by 2010, Sander acknowledged the plan's alluring promise of revenue and predicted that his agency could "align demand with supply" to accommodate riders who ditch their cars.

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Will Tax-Happy Georgians Foil Bloomberg's Traffic Plans?

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Don't count on Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plans quite yet, you northern city-slickers. Seems the great state of Georgia might beat us to the federal money the mayor is counting on to fund the implementation of his plan. Outside a New School forum on urban issues this morning, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin gently told us that her suburban neighbors in Fulton and DeKalb Counties have already voted to join Atlanta in expanding a tax to fund rapid transit, and Washington demands cities show proof of matching funds to get this federal money. "That puts us at the top of the list for federal funding," Mayor Franklin explained. "Our local people are willing to tax themselves, and that's a big hit in Washington." Albany, meantime, has yet to give Bloomberg the money he needs to show the Feds we're all on the same page. "If Atlanta is the economic hub of the state, the state has to take leadership on public transit," Franklin said. "And you could make the same argument in New York." Hey, we're trying. —Alec Appelbaum Earlier: PlaNYC Fine Print: Waiting for Albany

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New Yorkers Can't Drive (and Now We Might Be Fined for It)

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Congestion pricing is hardly the only idea Mayor Bloomberg has to separate Manhattan motorists from their money. He's now proposing harsher penalties for "blocking the box." Under his plan the fine will only go up from $90 to $115. Even better, instead of a cop pulling the culprit over in the middle of traffic to write a ticket, probably worsening the jam in the process, a red-light camera will simply snap a picture of the offender's license plate. Before you know it, the ticket's in the mail. Incidentally, the new rule should open up a nice and steady revenue source for the city, as new research suggests we don't know what the hell we're doing behind the wheel. In a recent nationwide test of driver knowledge, New Yorkers finished dead last; even New Jerseyans did better. One of the questions asked the proper protocol for approaching a yellow light. The answer was, shockingly, not "honk and floor it." 'Block'-Heads Better Beware [NYP] New Yorkers Stop For Yellow Light? Hey, Fuhgeddaboudit! [NYDN]

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Hassling Hasselback

Rosie O'Donnell's chief writer at The View was busted for drawing mustaches on pictures of arch-nemesis Elisabeth Hasselback. Accused D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey wants to publicize more names from her client list, but ABC News says there are no other even remotely noteworthy names on it. David Blaine wants to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. (Please!) Mary-Kate Olsen and Matthew Modine are set to join the cast of Weeds. The maps have been removed from Jodi's Shortcuts, the semi-famous Hamptons traffic-avoidance routes. Callers trying to reach Sarah Silverman as part of an MTV Movie Awards promo have been accidentally dialing some company in Texas.

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Harlem Pol: Bloomberg Should Sell Congestion Plan as Health Issue

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Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants the State Legislature to act on his congestion-pricing proposals this session — which means in the next month, as the session ends in mid-June — and an influential state senator thinks that it's doable if the mayor stresses the public-health benefits of the plan. Senator Bill Perkins, a longtime Harlem pol, told us outside a panel discussion this morning that Bloomberg should stress how decreased traffic can lead to cleaner air and lower asthma rates, as a similar plan did in London. Kids' health is indeed one of Bloomberg's passions, but Perkins says that point hasn't gotten through in Albany. So far, he said, "the message has a businessman's flavor to it." A shift in rhetoric, the state senator said, could well lead to the needed legislation. "It's difficult, but it's possible," he said. —Alec Appelbaum

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