Le Sacre du Printemps, Brooklyn Style
Despite an indignant editorial in The New York Times, neither the New York City Board of Education nor the city's Bureau of Traffic Operations is about to launch any massive campaigns to combat the practice of tossing pairs of sneakers over traffic lights in the city.
The practice peaks at the end of the school year when students, evidently overcome with the prospect of release, are wont to tie the laces of their worn-out sneakers together and toss the shoes over the nearest traffic light.
The traffic operations bureau removes the shoes, but only if they have another reason for attending to the light. The bureau argues that dispatching special sneaker-removal crews would be silly.
The New York Times, however, sees otherwise. In its recent editorial, the newspaper took both the traffic bureau and the board of education to task for, respectively, not removing the sneakers in a timely fashion and not discouraging the practice in the first place. Coining the term "Brooklyn moss" to describe the abandoned shoes, the paper said that the derelict sneakers symbolized neglect.
The traffic-operations bureau, although agreeing that the sneakers hardly enhance the appearance of the city streets, regards the newspaper's proposal as both highly impractical and unrealistic.
Officials also argue that the practice is not as common as the editorial implied.
"The truth is very simple," said Victor Ross, a spokesman for the traffic bureau. "It's a rite of spring in New York City. School is almost over. They're not losing sneakers because they're going to get new sneakers for the summer anyway. In France, the students riot with the police. Ours fling sneakers. I don't think it's a particularly venal sin that the youngsters have committed. I must confess to you that 50 years ago I did the same thing myself."
"We have 6,400 miles of streets, and 90,000 traffic lights," he continued. "If we pay a bunch of grown men to go around removing sneakers, it would tack 25 percent onto the cost of maintaining traffic lights."
A staff member at the school district's news bureau suggested that, historically, tossing sneakers was really a minor year-end ritual.
The more traditional rite, she noted, involves girls burning their gym suits.