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Buzz, Buzz…Where Did All These Cicadas Come From?!

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HOST INTRO: Here comes the buzz. After 17 years in a slumber, hundreds of millions of cicadas are finally emerging across the Mid-Atlantic. Gene Kritsky is a professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio. He says to look out for them under your feet.

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Getting to Know the G Train

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HOST: All New York commuters love to gripe about their commute. The subway line people love to hate? The G train. It’s often called the worst train in the city – and it’s even the only line with its own advocacy campaign. Stephanie Kuo reports after years of complaints from riders, the MTA has agreed to look for ways to improve the G.

AMBI_G Train Station fade up at “rush hour,” then fade under NARR.

The G train station at Metropolitan Avenue is packed, with streams of people coming down the stairs onto the platform. It’s rush hour. Deon Brannan charges down the stairs as he hears the Church Avenue-bound train pull up – one hand holding down the top of his Yankees cap, the other swinging a black plastic bag holding his lunch. But he just misses the door.  AMBI_bingbong up full. AMBI_train departing up full then fade under NARR.

He throws his hands up in frustration.


Aw man, I be mad. What goes through my head, I be mad. I be pissed. But I just gotta wait for the next one, you know?

He says the wait for the next one can be long.


Oh, shhh—, like 20 something minutes. Yeah, like 22 minutes, you know?

Other G train riders agree. They have some choice words to say about the line.


Late. Unpredictable – I would second that. Tardy. The most unreliable train in New York.

It’s not just riders who are complaining. State Sen. Daniel Squadron represents areas along the line.


Right now, if there were a grade after F, it would be G. The G train has seen the highest increase in weekday service of any line in recent times, and it’s too often the orphan of the system.

The conventional wisdom on the G train is that it underperforms because it’s the only line that doesn’t go into Manhattan. It runs from Court Square in Queens to Church Avenue in Brooklyn. The most common complaint among G train riders is the wait between trains, which is known as “headway”.. The 2012 State of the Subway Report Card by transit advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign found the average headway across the subway system to be about five minutes during the morning rush. The G train runs about every seven. But after 9 a.m., the headway rises to 10 minutes, then as much as 15 to 20 during the afternoon and evening. That’s why the G has become known as the Ghost Train.


It’s a spook. It’s like, it’s here and there and then it’s gone.

Matt Green is a member of the Riders Alliance, a grassroots organization that advocates for better transit. He does research for the Alliance’s G Train Campaign. Green says he’s found that riders can sometimes wait up to 45 minutes for a train. Riders also complain about overcrowding. G trains only have 4 cars instead of the 8 to 10 on other lines. Green says the problems with the line lead some riders to seek alternatives. But a lot of people who live along the G don’t have that option.


Other trains, when they’re down, there’s alternatives. You can find another route. But when the G train is down, it’s really the one route people depend on.

But fewer people depend on the G than on any other line in the city. For instance, the busiest stop on the G at Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg sees about 13,000 riders a day. Compare that to the 195,000 who pass through Times Square every day. Green says because the line‘s comparatively small ridership creates a vicious cycle among MTA officials.


I think they’re really focused on supply and demand. And if people aren’t using it, it’s sort of like a cycle. People aren’t using it because the service is bad. But we need people to use the train in order for the MTA to pay attention.

But more people are using the G train. The MTA reports that it saw the largest uptick in ridership of any line in 2012. That’s 2,000 more riders a day, or a little more than 4 percent. Neighborhoods along the G are booming. Williamsburg and Greenpoint are the fastest growing neighborhoods in the city. And the growth along that part of the G is going to continue.


rapid growth

Herbert Kliegerman has been a real estate broker in North Brooklyn for 10 years.


We see young people coming in from all around the world. Young students, young people who are coming in for jobs and realizing that there’s an alternative to the Lower East Side.

AMBI_street fade up and under NARR.

Take one look around the intersection of Metropolitan and Union Avenues in Williamsburg, and you’ll see rows of new buildings – sleek, modern and slate gray. Young residents walk shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk. Two subway stops away, Greenpoint is about to get a 10-building development that will bring at least 4,000 more residents to the area. Kliegerman says that growth is going to force the MTA to improve G train service.


Real estate goes with transportation. It’s a necessity. If it’s not addressed, we can’t have a future.

For now, some people who live along the G line have turned to the few alternatives that exist. AMBI_ferry up full then fade under NARR.

The East River Ferry makes four stops in neighborhoods served by the G. It takes riders either to Wall Street or Midtown in about 10 minutes.


I think it’s much better.

Milena Tsankova lives in Greenpoint and rides the ferry every day. It’s more expensive than the subway, but she says it’s more pleasant.


Well look at the view. It’s a great way to start your day and end your day.

It’s quite punctual. I only wish they had it more often.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for residents who still ride the G train. The MTA agreed in February to review service along the line. This will be the third study of its kind. Transit advocates say that earlier reviews of the F and L lines led to improved service.

MTA spokesperson Charles Seaton says the transit authority hasn’t begun looking at the G yet, but will in the next couple of weeks.


We always address service to meet ridership and right now, we just don’t know what we’re going to find at the G.

Even with all the complaints about the G, some riders say the line doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. Greenpoint resident Simone Cuevas says people are just too harsh.


A lot of people hate on the G. They say it’s never there, it takes forever to come. No, it’s just like any other train. It’s nice. I like it just as much as any other – actually I like more than a lot others that are in the city.

In fact, according to the Straphangers Campaign’s Subway Report Card, the G is NOT the worst train in the city. That distinction has gone to the C train for four years in a row. The report card says the G actually arrives with above-average regularity. The MTA will report on how it thinks it can improve that when it releases its review of the line in June

Stephanie Kuo, Columbia Radio News

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Latest From Boston: Chechens React To Suspects

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INTRO: Our reporter Stephanie Kuo has been following reactions from Chechnya today. Stephanie, what have you found?

So earlier today, President Ramzan Kadyrov of the Chechen Republic said the United States is actually to blame for the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. He posted a picture of himself on his Instagram feed with a caption. It offered condolences to the victims of the bombing but denied any connection between Chechnya and the Tsarnaev brothers. He said they grew up in the United States and that their attitudes and beliefs were formed here.

A translation from his caption read in part, quote, “You must look for the roots of their evil in America.”

Emily, as far as we know, Djokhar, the brother who is still on the run, has never been to Chechnya. From what we’ve heard he was bonr in Dagestan. And he and his brother moved to the States 10 years ago.

So then let’s talk about the Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni. He spoke to reporters in front of his home in Maryland this morning and urged Dzhokar to give himself up.

TSARNI: I say Djokhar, if you’re alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness.

He said his nephews for disgracing their family and their heritage.

TSARNI: He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity. Cause everyone now plays with the word Chechen.

We’ll hear more about Chechen immigrants later in the show.

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How A Tattoo Strengthened A Family Bond

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For commentator Stephanie Kuo, family is everything.  Two years ago, she and her sister found a way to get even closer by honoring their father.

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Pet Food Stamps Now Available For Low-Income Families

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The costs of keeping a pet can really add up. And for those who are struggling to pay the bills, feeding a pet can be too much. Stephanie Kuo reports on a new, national, non-profit organization that’s helping owners provide for their animals. The method? Pet food stamps.


It’s 3 p.m. Thursday and Marc Okon is delivering a bag of dog food to Norma Feliciano’s Lower East Side apartment. Feliciano is a small, portly woman with shoulder-length grey hair. She’s 59 years old, unemployed and on food stamps. Her 13-year-old Pomeranian, Foxy, is darting back and forth from under a dining table. He’s a small dog, just barely the size of a shoe box, but Feliciano says he can eat 12 full cans of dog food every two weeks.


He’s a very hungry dog.

She says each can costs $2. That’s nearly $50 a month – more than someone like Feliciano can afford out of pocket. It’s hard, but to her, Foxy isn’t a luxury.


I don’t want to give him up. I’ve had him for so many years, you know. I would feel very sad. He’s my companion.

Poverty doesn’t just strike people. It affects pets too. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 350,000 of them end up in shelters each year because their owners can’t afford to care for them anymore. So to fill the void that neglects pets in public assistance, Okon started Pet Food Stamps in February. The organization gives free pet food to those who need it.

MARC OKON (0:08)

The food is 100 percent free, the delivery is 100 percent free. And there is no cost whatsoever to the member to receive their food.

Don’t let the name fool you. Pet Food Stamps has no connections to the federal government’s actual food stamp program. It’s entirely supported by private donations – enough to address the 150,000 applications he’s already received in the past two months. Okon started this program after an old friend told him she regularly fed her cat instead of herself because she couldn’t afford to do both.

MARC OKON (0:15)

To not be able to feed your pet and to have to surrender it is a heartbreaking decision, so people in that position who are already having financial difficulties have that extra strain of having to purchase pet food. This program was designed to prevent those choices having to be made.

Pet Food Stamps works together with online pet food retailer to deliver the food. People approved for the program get a month’s worth of kibble delivered to their door every month, for six months. Then they can reapply. Owners must already be receiving food stamps (the human kind) or be living at or below the federal poverty level.


The phrase “unconditional love” is pretty trite because it’s always said, but it truly, truly is unconditional.

That’s Anne-Marie Karash. She’s the associate director of the Humane Society of New York. When it comes to pet owners living in poverty, the Humane Society offers people permanent shelter for their pets. Karash is really excited about Pet Food Stamps and says it could go a long way in keeping pets with their owners. But she says keeping a pet is really more than just feeding it.


Nutrition is a part of anyone’s life, a very vital part, but you have to pair that with the necessary medical treatment  otherwise, it’s like having pneumonia and eating an apple.

Pet Food Stamps plans to provide things like tick collars and pay for spaying and neutering by the end of the year. Though vet visits and vaccines haven’t been budgeted yet. But the point is, any bit helps.

Norma Feliciano and Foxy can expect another shipment next month.

Stephanie Kuo, Columbia Radio News.



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Cyclists Get Their Say On New Website

HOST INTRO: It’s rough out there on New York City streets. According to the DMV, there were more than 70,000 crashes last year. But only a fraction of those get reported and investigated by the police. The advocacy group Transportation Alternatives is trying to change that. They’re creating a website so New Yorkers can track every collision in the city.

Two months ago, Keegan Stephan was riding his bike at the intersection of Kent Avenue and Wilson Street in Williamsburg, when he sensed a car coming up behind him.


I stopped to look behind me and was just immediately hit. I flew forward onto the ground and the car screeched to a halt.

The driver stepped out of the car to make sure Stephan wasn’t dead. Once the police arrived, her story was that Stephan had turned in front of her. And that was it.


That report is what was taken by the police. That’s what the police report says. It doesn’t even mention my half of the story. I was sort of too shaken up to speak for myself, to tell the police what happened.

Stephan’s account of the incident is the kind of story that gets lost in the countless traffic reports each year. Because he wasn’t seriously injured or killed, the police filed that as “no criminality suspected.” And no investigation ever came. A new website,, offers Stephan and others like him a voice, by allowing them to report what happened and where.


If stories upon stories upon stories pile up, it’s sort of harder to deny them.

Here’s how it works. It’s a website accessible on your phone. When you’re at the scene of a minor crash or even a near-miss, you just go to the website and tell your story by filling in the cause of the crash – such as “driver unsafe speed” or “driver following too closely.” A GPS tracker pinpoints your exact location. But Jennifer Godzeno of Transportation Alternatives says it differs from the existing Crash Stats website, which only looks at incident reports filtered through the NYPD and the DMV. She says adding the human story makes it more than just a statistic.


They’re just numbers, right? Like three crashes happened at this intersection. But when we start talking about stories, it’s a whole nother dimension of power behind that. We have a fuller understanding of what happened.

Godzeno says Crash Stories will provide a broader picture of the city’s streets.


Anytime New Yorkers get a chance to speak out, they take it. We’re really able to have a much more robust grassroots movement to call for safer streets.

But knowing where crashes tend to happen may only be part of that picture.


Listen, I think Crash Stories is a good idea. It’s a step forward…

Charles Komanoff is a traffic analyst who studies pedestrian and cycling deaths in New York. He says putting stories on a map doesn’t really address the heart of the problem.


To be really effective, the people doing it have got to broaden it and get out of the hot-spot paradigm, the idea that you can achieve street safety by fixing most dangerous intersections or roadways in nyc and instead focus on the kinds of behaviors, failure to yield right of way to pedestrians, aggressive passing of bicyclists, speeding…

But Komanoff even admits himself it’s not a feasible solution to change each and every driver out there. The first step may be locating those hot-spots with Crash Stories and encouraging drivers, cyclists and pedestrians there to be more cautious. Since the site launched yesterday, more than 100 incidents have been put on the map.

Stephanie Kuo, Columbia Radio News.

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Volunteer Mennonites Take Over Sandy Relief

Volunteer Mennonites Take Over Sandy Relief

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Hurricane Sandy hit New York just over four months ago. With most of the city up and running today, it seems that the worst of the storm is finally behind us. That’s not the case for The Rockaways, where many homes are still shuttered and low-income families are still displaced. But a special group of relief workers has been traveling cross-country since early November to help turn things around – for free.

Stephanie Kuo reports.


Mennonite volunteer for the Mennonite Disaster Service

A Mennonite volunteer for the Mennonite Disaster Service spackles the dry wall of an apartment destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway, Feb. 28, 2013. He is an Old Order Mennonite, who is unaccustomed to talking to non-Mennonites, and was unwilling to give his name. (Stephanie Kuo/Uptown Radio)

From the outside, Patricia Dietrich’s house looks untouched. The ocean’s just a hundred yards from her back yard in Far Rockaway. And on October 29, she watched in horror from the second floor as the waves plowed through the boardwalk, through her fence, and then flooded her basement apartment.


“I thought it was like the end of the world.”

She lost everything. No furniture, no clothes. No power, no heat.


“Is it ever going to end? Is it ever going to end? I mean you look out the window, and there’s no boardwalk. There’s sand all over.

Especially in her back yard. [sound up] She walks unsteadily through the mounds of sand that almost entirely cover her patio furniture.

(0:04) AMBI: Mennonite_OceanWaves fade up


“The sand that was up to here, I’m telling ya, it was up to here.”

That’s about three feet deep. She struggled to clean it all up, both inside and out.


“But, you know, you can only dig so much, you get tired.”

So she called for help through her local church – and [sound up] that’s why on this day there are five Mennonite volunteers working away in her yard. The volunteers shovel the sand into bags – which they leave on the sidewalk for the city trucks to pick up.

AMBI: Fade up Mennonite_Shoveling at “and that’s.”

Their clothes are Old Order Mennonite: dark trousers with suspenders, shirts buttoned up to the neck, a wide-brimmed hat. Members of that group grew up away from most of the modern world. So they’re uncomfortable talking to a reporter with a microphone.

AMBI: Mennonite_Shoveling layered under

In contrast, their project director Phil Maneikis is a progressive Mennonite, wearing blue jeans and constantly on his cell phone. He runs the Far Rockaway project for the Mennonite Disaster Service, a non profit disaster relief group that operates in 12 different sites in the United States and Puerto Rico. Maneikis drove in from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he’s a retired engineering professor and runs his own a farm.


“We are in here because our commitment to our fellow man, and our commitment to our Lord and Savior. He’s been very very wonderful to us, and we want to share that blessing with other people.

He and his wife have been staying in Far Rockaway since November. He’s what the disaster service calls a long-termer. On any given day, there are about 20 volunteers spread across a number of construction sites in the area. Some travel from Pennsylvania to work the day; others come in from as far as Saskatchewan, Canada for the week. They have a range of carpentry and electrical skills they knew would be in short supply, especially in a low-income community like this one.


When they looked at Far Rockaway, because of their history of being neglected and their feeling of being neglected, we chose to set up camp here.” [fade out Mennonite_Shoveling]

The median income in Far Rockaway is about $25,000, with more than 30 percent of households on assisted income support. Many didn’t have flood insurance for their homes and not enough money to pay for repairs out of pocket. And residents are frustrated with the city. Jonathan Gaska’s been the district manager of The Rockaways for the past 23 years. He says the city hasn’t done enough to get the Rockaways running — the way it did for parts of Manhattan after Sandy.


“So there is this distrust and such a low expectation of what government can do for us. Unfortunately that expectation has come to fruition.

Gaska says that’s why groups like the Mennonite Disaster Service are so important.


“Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for all the volunteers, like the Mennonites and the other groups that have been here, we wouldn’t be in the position where we are now.”

[sound up AMBI: Mennonite_Spackling]

Inside Dietrich’s apartment, the volunteers are spackling the drywall they had put up the day before.


“We’re on our second coat in some areas. And prepared for painting. And of course, all our doors come in and trimming and so on and so forth”

Volunteer Rudy Thiessen points to electric wiring still jutting from the ceiling. He says they’ve been working eight hours a day for five straight weeks. He estimates they’ll be finished in another four. The Mennonite Disaster Service has already repaired 50 homes in Far Rockaway, and are currently working on a dozen more.

Stephanie Kuo, Columbia Radio News.

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Keeping the Homeless Close to Home

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For New York’s homeless, finding a place to sleep in the winter isn’t easy. Many stay outside because they don’t feel safe in city shelters. In the heavily Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, six of its local homeless men froze to death in the parks just last year. But a group of local activists and the Department of Homeless Services have teamed up to try something new. They opened a respite bed program to keep the homeless off the streets and close to home.

Stephanie Kuo reports:

It’s 9:30 p.m. on the Saturday after Nemo buried New York in two feet of snow. In Greenpoint, seven homeless men are huddled over bowls of ravioli in a large parish hall in the Church of the Ascension. It’s a late dinner, but for some of them, it’s their first real meal of the day.

The men are all speaking Polish. Most don’t know English…except for John Siuda.

He’s 58 years old. His hair and teeth are mangled, and all that remains of his left arm is a stump. Siuda grew up in Greenpoint and says he became homeless after his parents died four years ago.

“I’m taking it a day at a time, you know? I don’t hurt nobody. It’s like a big turnaround for me,” he says.

The turnaround was coming to this respite program. He’s even started going to a detox when he leaves the hall at 6 a.m. That’s when they all have to leave. The men are given one meal before bed at 9:30 and are encouraged to seek help from the program’s affiliated rehab services during the day. Siuda doesn’t say much about his addiction. But he likes it here. He says it helps being able to sleep around people he can trust.

“It’s comfortable. The covers are comfortable, you know. I like that. Everybody tries to get a long with each other, you know?” Siuda says.

They all get along because they’ve all seen each other around. They’re a relatively small community of Polish homeless men who’ve chosen to stay in Greenpoint. The Department of Homeless Services helped fund the program, giving the non-profit Common Ground $100,000 to operate it. The Reverend John Merz hosts the homeless men in his church, and has been a key player in its development over the years.

“We have two trained people who are with these gentlemen all night long, who speak Polish who are able to communicate and build relationships with these gentleman, and through building relationships, you build trust,” Father Merz says.

He says that the bonds these men develop will help them feel more comfortable to take steps to
getting their lives back.

“If someone you trust says, I really know you and I think this is something that you would benefit from, then you might avail yourself to that and we’ve seen that happen in the past in the community,” Father Merz says.

But the larger Greenpoint community had some mixed feelings. The program initially opened in November to controversy, as residents spoke out about its lack of proper management and transparency. Greenpointer Teresa Toro was one of them. But since the program moved to a larger location at the Church of the Ascension in early February, much of that uproar has died down. Toro says that the dispute was greatly misconstrued. She wants to see Greenpoint’s homeless get the help they need. She just hopes the program will be able to.

“Let’s get them into housing. Let’s get them safe, and let’s see if that inspires, you know, a little bit more stability, maybe a little bit more sobriety. Let’s just see,” Toro says.

The funding is set to end around June. There are no definitive plans after that. But the goal is that Greenpoint’s homeless will be able to stay safely in Greenpoint.

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Stay Vigilant, Says Social Media Expert

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How wary should Facebook users be of the site’s new app? Sree Sreenivasan, the Chief Digital Officer of Columbia University, told Stephanie Kuo about what to watch for when using social media sites that are increasingly invasive.

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