Friday, January 30, 2015

Road Warrior's credibility gap widens, yet editors shrug

This afternoon, bus riders had to climb over uncleared snow at the busy stop on Anderson Street, between Main and River streets, in Hackensack. In Teaneck, bus stops on Cedar Lane had been cleared.


Readers have exposed Staff Writer John Cichowski as a sloppy journalist who has no business writing the Road Warrior column for The Record.

When Cichowski misrepresents a study or errs in citing state police fatal accident statistics, readers usually have no way of knowing unless they do independent research.

But on Jan. 25, The Record's print edition and North published a photo of a Route 4 bridge in Teaneck readers could compare to the reporter's claim:

The photo by Bob Leafe of Hackensack, Cichowski wrote, "depicts what appears to be a vertical gash that extends along one of the giant pillars holding up part of the span that carries more than 100,000 vehicles each day."

Here is a link to the photo on North, which shows more of the pillar than the one in the print edition. Clearly, there is no "gash" in the supporting column or even any blemish:

Columnist panics, tries to scare readers

On the Sunday morning Cichowski's column went online, reader John Wood of Rutgers University commented:

The only vertical "gash" I can see in the photo actually appears to be a joint between two adjacent girders which are supported on the same foundation pier.

Thomas B. Olsen, a union electrician, also called out Cichowski:

Exactly! John, you should be a little more responsible before you publish a picture of an expansion joint as a "gash."

Reader Michael Keen was more expansive:

Here, a reader photo is presented as "evidence" of a safety hazard which, in fact, doesn't exist. The "gash" is the space between two separate girders. It's part of the design and has been there since the bridge was built in 1934. The reader [photographer Bob Leafe] is quoted as saying, "I'm no engineer..." Perhaps the writer should have consulted one before publishing the story and the photo. Journalists may be an observant bunch, but that doesn't make them experts in what they're looking at.

Stephen Tripptree of New Milford, in an apparent reference to six-figure Production Editor Liz Houlton, said:

And who proofreads this stuff before publishing, Ray Charles?

Bloopers editor

Referring to the column, the anonymous editor of the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers calls Cichowski "incompetent" and "unprofessional."

See the full post by clicking on the following link:

Road Warrior can't build bridge to the truth

The Jan. 25 column appeared after state officials closed or restricted traffic on other bridges. The Record's headline:

"Bridge gets no respect

Fixing Route 4 span isn't on to-do list"

But no state official moved to close the Route 4 bridge shown in the Jan. 25 photo nor have the editors bothered to set the record straight on A-2, where corrections and clarifications appear.

Nor has the veteran reporter, who is in his 12th year pretending to be a commuting columnist, written a corrective article as a follow-up.

Today's paper

Israeli Chef Elie Kahlon of Novo in Ridgewood gets a rave review from Staff Writer Elisa Ung, but you have to wonder whether the reporter's obsession with dessert affects her judgement (BL-12):

"The biggest food disappointment I had at the restaurant: an oddly sticky and dense chocolate cake made with almonds ($13)."

She calls the restaurant "expensive, though worth it for the quality of the food."

Still, she never tells you anything about how the food was raised or grown, so what is the "quality" she is referring to?

Then, she warns anyone who doesn't like flavors she describes variously as "bright, tangy" and "tart" to stay away.

I would think that is the restaurant's big draw.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Atlantic City casinos are backing Stockton College plan

Empty storefronts on North Dean Street in downtown Englewood, where property taxes are said to be higher than in Hackensack. What are Englewood officials doing with the taxes paid by owners of multi-million dollar mansions on the East Hill, hundreds of apartments in buildings on Route 4 and a sizable number of industrial properties?  


When Stockton College takes over the shuttered Showboat hotel and casino in Atlantic City, escort services that cater to gamblers will have a ready supply of new employees -- coeds.

A Page 1 story in The Record today doesn't say if boosting escort service employment is part of Governor Christie's plan to revive the fading seaside resort and the state's economy.

Atlantic City isn't the only part of the shore that has suffered since the GOP bully took office. 

More than two years after Christie embraced President Obama to get billions in federal Superstorm Sandy aid, his administration continues to bungle the relief effort.

Foreign news

Too much of today's front page is devoted to international news and Paterson, which many Bergen County residents view as a foreign country (A-1).

The lead story on students attacking two teachers at John F. Kennedy High School only emphasizes the kinds of negative Silk City stereotypes the editors have been reporting for years.  

The copy editor who wrote the headline on a three-paragraph brief on A-1 today sounds hysterical:

Attack on Isrealis
sparks fear of war

And doesn't giving front-page play to Islamic State threats to behead more hostages only encourage these bloodthirsty terrorists?

Gee-whiz photo

The local assignment editors were too lazy to find out why a car caught fire in Saddle Brook on Wednesday, according to the L-1 photo caption.

Gee-whiz. Would you look at those flames? Where is the Fire Department?

A far better photo of a 4-year-old child's delight while sledding down a snowy slope was buried inside (L-2).

Lacking municipal news, the local editors had to use the employment woes of cops in Glen Rock and Saddle Brook on the Local front, stories of interest only to those four officers (L-1).

Second look

When Staff Writer John Cichowski lacks any New Jersey data to back up his assertions, he'll refer to a study from elsewhere in the country, as he did in Road Warrior columns on Jan. 22 and Jan. 11.

According to the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers, Cichowski's Jan. 22 column included:

"Deceptive, made-up false statements -- 'Cellphones, new drivers and low gas prices are the perfect storm!' proclaimed Walt Stevens, who had been reading about a South Dakota study showing how crashes tend to rise as gas prices fall. This phenomenon tends to play out mostly among teens.'
"Facts -- 'Senile Road Warrior totally forgot to mention that this person read about this very minor South Dakota study in the Road Warrior's Jan. 11 column, which turned out to be a pack of false conclusions related to the study.'"


Road Warrior tries to scare parents of new drivers

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Editors don't apologize for swallowing blizzard forecast

The driver of a Ford Mustang turning wide at the snow-covered corner of Euclid and Prospect avenues in Hackensack on Tuesday afternoon. The snowfall was far less than predicted. Drivers of Hackensack's plows don't clear corners.

Who is supposed to clear the sidewalk and curb for pedestrians? Is it the city or the property owner?


On Page 1 of The Record today, just about everyone apologizes for wrongly predicting a blizzard with 2 feet of snow or more -- except the media.

The Woodland Park daily jumped on the weather doomsday bandwagon and rode it all the way, but apologized to subscribers for not delivering Tuesday's print edition.

That paper was delivered a day late with today's edition, but one look at Tuesday's front page shows just how stale print journalism can be these days. 

New Jersey highways and Hudson River crossings reopened, and mass transit resumed operation in time for Tuesday's rush hour.

Profit over safety

The big weather photo on Page 1 today is more bad publicity for the cheap lightweight wood construction methods used in the 240-unit Avalon at Edgewater apartment building that burned down a week ago (A-1).

How long will the Virginia-based real estate investment trust allow the burned out skeleton of the Russell building to stand and announce to anyone looking for an apartment, You don't want to live here?

In a letter to the editor, Joyce Huber of Ridgefield said of the cheap wood construction and rapid spread of fire:

"We've become a Third World country if we allow profit to come before safety" (A-12).

That's naive. 

U.S. companies have always prized profit over safety, as all of the defective cars and other products show. They have killed thousands of consumers and made product liability lawyers rich.

First lawsuit

Meanwhile, Robert Loposky and Richard Kemp, two tenants of the so-called luxury apartment building, filed a lawsuit, alleging building owners were "negligent in the construction, maintenance and operation" of the complex, where the fire was started by an Avalon employee using a blowtorch to fix a pipe (L-1).

The first paragraph and sub-headline incorrectly call the suit "a class-action lawsuit" on behalf of the more than 500 displaced tenants who suffered economic loss, because only a judge can certify the suit as a class action.

The first paragraph also refers incorrectly to tenants as "residents."  

Cold cash

Also in Local, a story on L-2 reports wealthy Saddle River residents are allowing their children to attend a school where a malfunctioning heating system forces them to keep their coats on.

I guess that means residents prize clear roads more than they do the health and well-being of children, judging from this Anonymous comment I received from a resident in reaction to Tuesday's post:
"My town, Saddle River, is excellent at plowing and clearing snow and slush. Streets, even those hilly ones, are cleared quite quickly and efficiently. We expect -- and get -- nothing less." 
Of course, this proud Saddle River millionaire and residents of other wealthy Bergen County suburbs are more interested in maintaining "neighborhood schools" with no minority children than they are in working heating systems, even in winter. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowstorm coverage you never see in your daily paper

My guesstimate is that 6 inches to 8 inches of snow fell on the Fairmount section of Hackensack, above and below, far less than relentless media hype led all of us to believe. On Monday, The Record's front page warned the storm "may dump 2 feet or more."

Editor's note: I didn't receive The Record's print edition today. Instead, I looked at the digital edition. 


When I think of how The Record covers big snowstorms, I can't shake the image of one of the paper's obese local assignment editors trying to climb over a snowbank in the Hackensack parking lot many years ago.

Despite the effort, she flopped on her well-padded posterior and injured her back, then stayed out of work for weeks.

The Record certainly has made the effort, but always comes up short, forgetting just how important good snow plowing is to readers.

Broken Record

On Monday, The Record's front page blared:

North Jersey bracing
for The Big One

Today's Page 1 banner headline is similar and doesn't advance the story much:


One bright spot on today's front page is a bit of colorful writing from the copy desk and Christopher Maag, who describes how just about all transportation was cancelled.

The headline:

Can't get there from here today 

"If it flies, rolls or floats, don't expect to see it moving today," Maag says in his second paragraph.

That sentence is just about perfect.

Snow clearing

Unless the editors grow a large set of balls, The Record tomorrow will shrink from rating Hackensack and other towns on how well they do in clearing streets, intersections and bus stops.

Nor will the paper go after property owners who shrug at the snow and refuse to clear their sidewalks or pay someone to do the job.

This has been going on for decades, even though uncleared intersections, crosswalks, sidewalks and bus stops endanger drivers and pedestrians.

Hackensack DPW

Some people you hire don't do windows; in Hackensack, property taxpayers can't get the Department of Public Works plows to do corners.

Bus stops along Main Street usually remain uncleared, forcing riders to stand in the street -- inches from passing cars -- or climb over a snowbank to get to the bus.

Quarterly property taxes in Hackensack are due in two weeks. 

But if the past is any guide, residents won't get their money's worth, and snow clearing will be as sloppy as ever.

The same can be said for Teaneck, Englewood and many other towns.

This sounds silly

When you work for a paper, with early deadlines and all the other impediments to timely coverage, you should avoid labeling a developing storm the "Blizzard of '15," as today's front page does.

If you are Road Warrior John Cichowski, you can't help just making up things or, as he does today, cite a 2013 blizzard in Wyoming in advising North Jersey drivers on how to prepare for being stranded in a big storm (L-1).

In his Jan. 20 column on the front page, Cichowski repeatedly misquoted state officials on why they want to raise the gas tax to replenish the state Transportation Trust Fund, which repairs roads and bridges.

The incentive to raise the gas tax is that the fund is months away from running out of money, not that gasoline has fallen to less than $2 a gallon.

See the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers:

Today's photos

Two photographs in the digital edition of The Record today are notable:

An AP photo of Governor Christie speaking to Iowa conservatives, crackpots and racists shows the GOP bully to be as ugly as his policies in New Jersey (A-2).

On the Local front, a photo by staffer Danielle Parhizkaran perfectly captures the grief of relatives gathered around the coffin of Vincent Capuana (L-1).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

No. Your eyes aren't fooling you, the columnist is batty

Page 1 of The Record today reports on the jinxed history of the Edgewater parcel where luxury Avalon Bay apartment buildings burned down twice in less than 15 years, and on a former industrial landmark -- an enormous Aluminum Company of America plant and a centuries-old cemetery -- that occupied the site before that. Wednesday's inferno collapsed the 240-unit Russell building, above and below, but spared the 168-unit River Mews building.


Anyone who drives on Route 4 likely is doing a double-take at the photo in The Record today described as showing "a vertical gash that extends along one of the giant pillars holding up part of the span" (Local front).

But the photo shows no such gash in the pillar or column supporting the bridge, despite the best effort of Staff Writer John Cichowski to whip readers into hysteria over our failing infrastructure.

Cichowski's Road Warrior column is all over the place today:

It ranges from the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund -- which pays for road and bridge repairs -- to efforts of state officials to find a stable funding source for it to almost anything else remotely related to Route 4 and other state highways, including potholes and traffic bottlenecks.

Attempt to deceive

But the reporter's second paragraph, when compared to the photo from Bob Leafe of Hackensack, appears intended to deceive readers:

They can clearly see a seam between two parts of the horizontal bridge, not "a vertical gash" in the support column, which appears intact. 

Cichowski also never tells readers whether they are looking at Route 4 east or west. Does the other side of the bridge show a similar seam?

GOP bully

If Cichowski's column isn't bad enough, Columnist Mike Kelly again wastes readers' time with a long-winded retrospective on the Route 3 bridge, where traffic was restricted this week to repair cracks in a steel beam (O-1).

Cichowski's and Kelly's columns dwell on cracks or other deterioration in road bridges, but The Record still refuses to blast Governor Christie for refusing year after year to raise the low gasoline tax to fund repairs. 

Edgewater fire

Today, coverage of the Avalon at Edgewater apartment inferno includes a fascinating glimpse at the unlucky history of the site in what was once a bustling industrial community (A-1).

Less interesting is the lead Page 1 story under the headline, "Displaced residents go home."

That story informs readers the smell of smoke still lingers in the air, but glosses over the cheap construction methods and lack of sprinklers in unoccupied spaces that allowed the flames to spread so quickly on Wednesday.

Tenants of the Avalon Bay building that was saved from the inferno now have a great view of the pile of charred rubble from the building that collapsed, and can contemplate a future that may be punctuated by yet another fire at the jinxed site. 

Christie scam

Also on Page 1 today is yet another boring Charles Stile column on Christie, a White House hopeful who is trying to pull on the nation the same "I'm-a-moderate" scam that he's perpetrated in New Jersey in the past five years.

Stile followed our feared and hated governor to Iowa and the so-called Freedom Summit "that drew nearly 1,000 Tea Party and conservative activists [read "racists"].

The columnist clearly adores Christie, and may be among the journalists hoping for a job in the GOP bully's administration, in the unlikely event Republicans pick him as their nominee in 2016, and he beats Hillary Clinton (A-1).

Ties that bind

Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn explores companies that are "selling their real estate to unlock the value that's tied up in the property and then leasing the buildings back" (B-1).

Lynn eventually gets to the sale of North Jersey Media Group's Rockaway Township printing plant to Hampshire Partners Fund III, which is sponsored by the Hampshire Cos. of Morristown (B-2).

NJMG President Stephen A. Borg is quoted as saying the publishing company will lease back the property for 20 years.

The Record, Herald News and other newspapers are printed there.

Silent on Hanson

No financial details are disclosed in the story nor does Lynn identify real estate mogul Jon F. Hanson, a close friend of the Borg publishing family, as chairman and founder of the Hampshire Cos.

Hanson, 77, also was a major fund-raiser for Christie's two gubernatorial campaigns, and he and Christie both raised funds for George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

The jet-setting Hanson also has received a great deal of favorable coverage in The Record as Christie's adviser on casino and sports development projects.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Avalon: Edgewater building was designed to burn down

The 4-story Avalon at Edgewater apartment building collapsed into a pile of rubble after Wednesday's inferno, which was started by a maintenance worker using a blowtorch to repair a pipe. An elevator tower, made of cinder blocks, remained intact on Friday afternoon.

Flanked by wood columns, this Undercliff Avenue entrance was one of the few recognizable elements of the so-called luxury apartment building on Friday.


"The purpose of those [fire and safety codes] is not to prevent the building from burning down, but rather to ensure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for all occupants to exit safely in the event of a fire. ..."

You might be surprised who said this about the so-called Edgewater luxury apartment building destroyed by an inferno on Wednesday.

It's Michael Feigin, chief construction officer for complex owner Avalon Bay Communities, according to quotes in The Record today (A-6).

Of course, not all "occupants" reached safety despite the efforts of the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department and all of the other forces that responded to the raging fire.

An unknown number of pets died, and their owners are devastated (A-6).

Cheap construction

The only luxury aspect of the Avalon at Edgewater building apparently is the high rents -- $2,100 to $3,195 a month -- which don't always include parking.

Avalon officials have acknowledged the destroyed building -- as well as those in Hackensack, Jersey City and other towns -- had cheap lightweight wood construction with a truss style of roof framing, but were built according to code.

CBS2's Tony Aiello reported the building's lighweight wood construction allowed the fire to spread, especially because attics and concealed spaces had no sprinklers.

Click on the following link to hear Aiello's report:

The blaze has been ruled an accident, but ...

Broken record

Feigin, Avalon Bay's chief construction officer, was quoted in Friday's paper, and his statement was repeated today, because an Avalon Bay representative refused further comment, Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn reports (A-6).

But state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a construction code official by profession, says he finds "deeply troubling" reports "the building's material and design may have contributed to the spread of the fire"(A-6).

Prieto says he is reviewing "the relevant building codes to find areas that may need to be strengthened."

Unfortunately, The Record's editorial page hasn't challenged self-serving statements from Avalon Bay officials.

Nor have reporters said how much more the company would have to spend, if it employed safer construction -- using cinder blocks and concrete to stop minor fires from spreading uncontrollably, as appears to be the case on Wednesday.

Avalon Bay Communities, a Virginia-based real estate investment trust, owns 82,000 units in 274 complexes on both coasts (Friday's A-7).

Community rallies

Today's lead story on Page 1 is a heart-warming tale of how "the community continued to rally around the hundreds of families left homeless and seeking help" (A-1).

Tenants were required to pay for at least $10,000 in insurance coverage on their belongings and furniture, plus $100,000 in liability insurance (A-1).

Any money recovered through negligence suits against Avalon Bay and its maintenance workers won't be realized for years, given the glacial pace of civil litigation in Bergen County.

And the lion's share of any award or settlement will be gobbled up by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

$1,000 from Avalon

After gouging tenants with high rents in what many view as an unsafe building, Avalon is refunding January rents and providing $1,000 in relocation aid.

But as one tenant notes, the $1,000 "would hardly cover the deposit on a new place."

Meanwhile, donations continued to pour into Edgewater, including more than $60,000 contributed to two funds.

Imagine how we could reduce the homeless population in North Jersey with this kind of response on behalf of people who lose their jobs or whose homes are foreclosed.

A PSE&G crewman, dwarfed by an elevator tower, restoring power to the neighborhood as other workers were putting up fencing and cleaning up water and smoke damage to Undercliff Avenue homes opposite the building that collapsed.

Another Avalon at Edgewater building, rear, appeared to have escaped damage. The building that was destroyed was on Undercliff Avenue, a long block from River Road in Edgewater. 
On the scene Friday were trucks from Public Service Electric and Gas Co., above; the chief's SUV from the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department, below; and private companies restoring Undercliff Avenue homes, including clothing, that sustained smoke and water damage, and were showered with soot and burnt cinders from the raging fire.

Local news?

Today's Local section is chock full of court, police and accident news.

Kathleen Peet, 37, of Rochelle Park was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for embezzling more than $87,000.

Staff Writer Stefanie Dazio wasn't curious enough to ask what the woman did with the money (L-1).

Two dramatic photos on L-1 show first responders rescuing the driver of a truck carrying "brine solution," but the caption doesn't say whether the solution is for koshering chickens or removing road ice.

A Paterson official was fired for submitting false information on her application for home-repair funds (L-1), and a Clifton school board lawyer resigned after she was criticized "for undermining residents' free speech" (L-2).

And there's news about lawsuits, one filed by an ex-principal and another by a demoted police officer (L-2).

On A-2 today, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, Deputy Dan Sforza and their minions acknowledge they were responsible for three major local-news errors Thursday and Friday.

How embarrassing.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Avalon built luxury Edgewater, Hackensack units cheaply

The Avalon at Edgewater apartment complex after Wednesday's devastating inferno, above and below. The tower of Riverside Church in Manhattan can be seen through the haze. This afternoon, tow trucks were removing cars from the garage, and crews were putting up fences and restoring utility lines on Undercliff Avenue, where some of the homes opposite the apartments sustained water and smoke damage.

The Avalon luxury apartments had a brick facade and elevator towers made of cinder blocks, above, but were built mostly of cheap lightweight wood construction. The fire was blamed on a maintenance worker's blowtorch, a 15-minute delay in calling 911 and the wood construction, which allowed the flames to spread quickly. The Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department is being praised for rescuing more than 500 people from the burning building.


The Record's follow-up coverage of the Edgewater apartment inferno will be read most closely by lawyers preparing negligence suits and residents of Avalon Bay buildings in Hackensack and other towns.

More than a dozen reporters -- including the local obit writer -- three photographers and one columnist tackle second-day coverage of the fire that displaced 1,000 borough residents.

No interviews

Although the so-called Avalon luxury apartment complexes in Hackensack and other towns were mentioned, no one thought to interview tenants on whether they worry their lives are being endangered by the cheap lightweight wood construction (A-1, A-6, A-10, L-1 and L-2).

Avalon at Edgewater rents were $2,100 for a one-bedroom apartment, $2,485 for a two-bedroom unit and $3,195 for a three-bedroom apartment, but some tenants paid extra for parking.

The first paragraph of today's lead Page 1 story says more than 500 people were left homeless, but inside, readers learn the apartments of 500 tenants were destroyed and an additional 52o were displaced temporarily from nearby buildings (A-6).

Rare byline

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach was brought out of her state of animated suspension in the Woodland Park newsroom to report on "so-called lightweight wood construction" or what she calls "a cheap, faster and legal style of building" by complex owner Avalon Bay Communities (A-1).

Fire officials have long said a safer way of building such apartments would be to use cinder blocks and concrete to stop fire from spreading.

Still, after the original Avalon complex on the same Edgewater site burned down in less than a half hour in August 2000, when it was still under construction, apparently no move was made to strengthen the state building code.

Lawsuits pending

Negligence lawyers are probably itching to get their hands on the names of the Avalon maintenance workers who set the building on fire with a blowtorch and then tried to put out the flames themselves, delaying a 911 call for 15 minutes. 

Potential defendants include those workers and Avalon Bay Communities, a real-estate investment trust based in Arlington, Va. (A-7).

Thanks in part to the cheap construction methods used in tens of thousands of units nationwide, Avalon Bay investors are getting rich, with "returns averaging above 14 percent a year since 1998," Staff Writer Kathleen Lynn reports today (not "Flynn" as I wrote originally).

Better coverage?

Today's coverage improves greatly on Thursday's in terms of photos showing the flames and devastation, even though readers saw many of those images on TV or Cliffview on Wednesday.

One new element readers don't need today is another long-winded column from Staff Writer Mike Kelly, who tells us fires "wound a town, too" (L-1).

Kelly doesn't focus on the cheap construction or whether a booming Gold Coast town such as Edgewater should have a professional fire department.

Instead, he latches onto Al Burke, who drove from his home in Boonton to the borough where he grew up, and "gazed at the smoke and water for silent seconds."

"For silent seconds"? Doesn't Kelly mean "in silence"?

Then, Kelly reports, "His [Burke's] eyes walked up River Road, taking in the caravan of emergency vehicles...."

"His eyes walked ...."???!!!?!@#$%^&!!!

What crappy writing from a columnist who has been churning it out -- merely pushing words around -- for more than 20 years. What a disgrace.

Why no fish?

Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung pans Lan Garden 88, a Chinese restaurant on Route 46 in Ridgefield, but doesn't explain why she didn't order any fresh fish (BL-14).

For many, there is no better Chinese dish than a whole flounder or sea bass steamed with ginger and scallion.

Instead, Ung raves about the "standout fresh egg [custard] tarts," which are made with sugar, heavy cream and egg yolks.

She reports Lan Garden opened in the building that formerly was home to China 46, but doesn't mention a third Chinese restaurant, Pheonix Garden Too, preceded China 46.

She calls the Dungeness crab at $29.95 "one of the most expensive dishes," but lists entrees costing up to $58. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Edgewater's volunteer fire force is a big insult to residents

Fire consuming the 408-unit Avalon apartments on Wednesday, leaving more than 1,000 Edgewater residents homeless. The Cliffview photo was taken by Carmen Fuentes. Are residents ill-served by volunteer firefighters?


Residents in the booming Gold Coast town of Edgewater deserve better than a volunteer fire force that has failed to extinguish at least three spectacular apartment fires in the past 20 years.

More than 1,000 borough residents were displaced by Wednesday's fire, which was far more serious than what The Record conveys on Page 1 today.

Despite all the residential construction along Edgewater's Hudson River waterfront in recent years, the borough continues to rely on a Volunteer Fire Department instead of employing a professional force.

Are borough officials economizing at the expense of residents and other property tax payers?

First Avalon

The Avalon apartment complex gutted on Wednesday literally rose from the ashes of the original.

The complex was under construction in August 2000, when a fast-moving fire leveled two unfinished apartment buildings, nine nearby homes and 12 cars, according to

So-called lightweight wood construction was cited as one reason the fire moved so quickly, destroying the buildings in a half hour, but the same method was used to build the apartments that burned down on Wednesday.

Third fire

Another Edgewater apartment building closer to the Hudson was destroyed by fire in the 1980s, when volunteer firefighters responded, then left, not realizing flames were racing unimpeded through the space under the roof called the cockloft.

According to The Record, Edgewater's volunteer force on Wednesday was assisted by 11 other departments and five NYFD fireboats, but the inferno raged out of control.

"The fire spread to the north end of the complex, unchallenged in its advance, until firefighters from Hillsdale arrived at 8:15 p.m. and started pouring water on that section" (A-6).

Today's Page 1 photo of the Edgewater fire looks like a glamour shot of a firefighter; to see photos that encompass the breadth of the damage, check out Cliffview

River Road reopens

Slippery slope

In his column on Tuesday, Staff Writer John Cichowski, aka Road Warrior, tried to advise readers on how to drive in icy conditions after Sunday morning's chain-reaction crashes.

Cichowski ignored discussing why anti-lock brakes and vehicle skid controls, which are found on most cars, didn't prevent the crashes or whether a single, out-of-control vehicle or a speeding driver caused the pile-ups.

He did advise drivers to stay two to three car lengths behind the car in front at 20 mph to 30 mph, but those are the safe distances on absolutely dry roads.

According to the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers:
"Traffic safety experts generally recommend at least 6 seconds of travel time between you and the car in front of you on snowy or icy roads.
"That would require around 180 feet at 20 mph and 280 feet at 30 mph.
"Road Warrior also quoted insignificant safety advice from an 'expert on icy conditions,' who slipped and broke his wrist, and a clueless driver, who crashed his car on an icy road."

See: Road Warrior's slippery slope for drivers

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More sketchy and flawed reporting on driving, mass transit

In Fort Lee, construction of the massive Hudson Lights retail and residential project has spread to Lemoine Avenue and Main Street, above and below, closing nearby streets and disrupting downtown traffic. Meanwhile, across the street, the Plaza Diner is being renovated and expanded, but hasn't set an opening date.


The Record's editorial today on the proposed $1 billion-plus expansion of New York Penn Station to benefit New Jersey commuters is unequivocal:

"Commuters need to get from point A to point B: everything else is negotiable" (A-8).

The editorial even acknowledges "the ongoing conversion of the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station that will improve access to Penn Station tracks."

One-station focus

Two long front-page stories on Monday and Tuesday failed to mention the Moynihan Station Project, perhaps to make the situation for NJ Transit rail users seem more dire.

If readers thought Staff Writer Christopher Maag said nearly all he could possibly say about plans for Penn Station South on Monday, Tuesday's long follow-up was a surprise.

In fact, the follow-up read like an elaborate clarification and revision of his earlier cost estimates and how the project supposedly is at a standstill.

Broken numbers

As weak as The Record's mass transit reporting has been, Road Warrior John Cichowski's incessant focus on drivers can't hide the veteran reporter's inability to accurately report basic state police data and other numbers he uses with abandon. 

On Tuesday, two Road Warrior columns appeared -- Cichowski's take on the bankrupt state Transportation Trust Fund (A-1) and his lame explanation for why Sunday morning's icy conditions caused so many accidents (L-1).

If not drivers, who?

The paper's reporting and editorials on the trust fund have failed to emphasize the irrefutable logic that drivers who cause wear and tear on roads and bridges are the ones who should pay for repairs through higher gasoline taxes.

That's especially true of one driver from Clifton whose Tweet was published on Tuesday's A-1:

"$31 to fill up my monster gas eating car. Not bad at all."

Drivers of hybrid cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles wouldn't even notice a 10-cents-a gallon gas tax hike, and would gladly pay it in return for smoother roads and safer bridges.

More sloppy reporting

Today, I received an evaluation of Cichowksi's Jan. 13 column on annual state police road fatality statistics from the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers, citing his foot-in-mouth disease:

We're safer, but Road Warrior is killing facts

On pedestrian deaths, Cichowski quoted state police data, but used the wrong figure for five of the six years he cited.

The Facebook critic also noted:
"In trying to protect pedestrians and reduce their fatalities, which was the most in 18 years in 2014, the Road Warrior gave out the simple advice that drivers should 'never, never' talk on the phone when driving.
"Unfortunately, the Road Warrior failed to advise pedestrians of the more important and widely publicized advice that they should never, never talk on the phone when crossing the street."

There were many other problems with the column and the abysmal lack of editing and fact-checking, including:

  • Cichowski said driver and pedestrian deaths fell to their lowest level in "several decades," but to be correct, he should have written "seven decades."
  • "The county’s pedestrian death count was so large that it doubled its driver death count, a highly unusual occurrence."

But what the reporter should have written is that pedestrian deaths at 24 were double the 12 driver deaths.

Sweet tooth

Restaurant Critic Elisa Ung's obsession with artery clogging desserts is well-known, but today, Better Living celebrates the achievements of Jessica Marotta, a young pastry chef at Local Seasonal Kitchen in Ramsey (BL-1).

Food Editor Esther Davidowitz, who wrote the profile, gives Marotta far more space than she does to Michael Ventura, a chef who has a healthier message:

"I don't use a lot of cream or butter because people have changed the way they eat" (BL-2).

Of course, many readers who are watching their cholesterol are waiting for confirmation from the all-seeing and all-knowing Davidowitz that it is actually possible to cook delicious food without using butter or cream.

Restaurant business

Tuesday's Better Living front appeared to be an inside look at the restaurant business, but a lot was missing.

Staff Writer Steve Janoski interviewed chefs and owners at only high-end restaurants, and didn't discuss the shockingly low hourly pay for tipped workers such as servers (BL-1).

The restaurants exploit servers, then put the burden on customers to tip well to help provide those workers with a living wage.

Nor did the reporter make any attempt to tell readers just how much more naturally raised food would cost a restaurant over food raised with pesticides, antibiotics and other additives.

Janoski interviewed Christine Nunn, chef-owner of Picnic on the Square in Ridgewood, who seemed to be saying she makes less than $30 in profit on each table.

And why can't Nunn buy napkins and tablecloths for less than the $9,600 to $12,000 a year she pays a linen delivery service?