From rats ruling a West Village KFC/Taco Bell to Governor Spitzer's downward spiral, from a shock jock's questionable words to an up-and-down year for the MTA (and its riders), we bring up the biggest stories of 2007.

Midtown Steam Pipe Explosion

On a July afternoon, an 83-year-old steam pipe near Grand Central Station exploded, ripping apart the street. Debris, including asbestos, filled the air and covered people as they ran from the scene. One woman died from a heart attack and, at the center of the blast, a red tow truck whose driver and passenger were severely burned.

The Mayor deemed the explosion a "failure of infrastructure" as Con Ed struggled to explain what had happened. Businesses and streets remained closed for weeks during clean-up. And now, a recent Con Ed report says epoxy applied to a leak four months earlier caused the pipe to explode.

Photograph by ~Raymond on Flickr

Congestion Pricing and a Sustainable New York City
The mere concept of charging a fee for driving into the city evolved from far-fetched (if brilliant) idea in 2005 (an idea the Mayor had to backtrack from in 2006) to an actual pillar of Mayor Bloomberg's ambitious plan for New York City's growth in the next three decades. The proposal to charge $8 to cars (more for trucks) entering Manhattan below 86th street earned the support of Governor Spitzer and the U.S. Department of Transportation (which eventually offered $350 million in funding) but faced opposition from other lawmakers. Months after the initial announcement, a committee was created to examine congestion pricing.

Other components of PlaNYC 2030 include repairing infrastructure, increasing the number of green buildings and vehicles (such as taxis), reducing carbon emissions and other planning to prepare NYC for about one million for visitors by the year 2030. Of course, it would help matters if the police stopped seizing bikes and arresting cyclists.

Health Department Follies

A day after a health department inspector passed a West Village Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell restaurant, dozens of rats were seen scurrying inside. Even a reporter was in awe, "One of the rats actually climbed up on the counter, then on to stools that were turned upside down and dangled from the stool's chair like a gymnast."

The Health Department quickly went on a tear, shutting down restaurants at an apparently higher frequency, as questions were raised about the department's procedures (and how well 311 works, as complaints about rats at the location had been logged since 2006). Footnote: People are still wondering why the Health Department refuses to allow bodegas to have cats.

Mayor Bloomberg and the 2008 Question
Mayor Bloomberg's political allegiances were never that strong, considering he switched from being a Democrat to a Republican in order to win the 2001 mayoral election, suggested non-partisan elections and criticized the Republican party during the 2004 Republican Convention, leading to much speculation he might want to run for president some day. But when he decided leave the Republican party and become an independent in June, the dam burst with a flood of speculation that the billionaire might run for President in 2008.

Sure, he has problems with empathy, but given the Republican and Democrat candidates and he's been called the Paris Hilton of politicicans", there's excitement (even electoral math) for a third-party candidate with a billion dollars to burn. So far, he's playing coy (which then heightens talk that he might run for governor) and close to the wallet. Fun observation: Though he claims he's an every day guy who takes the subway, he does get driven to the subway from his home in a gas-guzzling SUV.

MTA - Up, Down and Around

The MTA's new guard got a work out! Popular lines were as crowded as ever as the MTA tried to gives riders glimpses into the future with "real time information boards" for subways and buses. The NYC Transit Authority asked subway riders to grade their subway lines. And the ground was broken yet again for the Second Avenue Subway.

Memorably, a massive August storm caused flooding and forced the subway system to essentially stop for hours, raising questions about the MTA's maintenance of the subways and handling of the stoppages (even the MTA's website was brought down by extra traffic). The MTA later announced subway and bus fare hikes, which many thought was adding insult to injury (injury being the already sub-par service). And by the end of the year, the MTA announced that the subway system would be managed by individual managers for the various lines.

Photograph of how the August 8 storm affected Queens subway riders by reader Faith

Candidate Giuliani
Former mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign was in full swing during 2007, opening up questions about his "weirdness", his third marriage (and the NYPD detail provided when his third wife was his mistress), his divorce, his friends, his seemingly estranged children, his attitude towards ferrets, his record and tendency to lean on the September 11.

In recent weeks, his campaign has faltered, but the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto may provide an unexpected boost.

Sean Bell Shooting Indictments
Three police officers were indicted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man. The death of Sean Bell had raised questions about police undercover operations and police-community relations in 2006, in early 2007, a grand jury was convened to hear evidence. When a decision was ready, the city waited on tenterhooks before police officers Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora were indicted for manslaughter and police officer Marc Cooper for reckless endangerment. The officers surrenderedm pleaded not guilty and recently asked for a change of venue.

Greenwich Village Shooting and NYPD Blues

Two auxiliary police officers were killed by a man carrying over 100 rounds of ammunition on a March night. The shooter, David Garvin, had just killed West Village restaurant worker Romero Morales and auxiliary police officers Eugene Marshalik and Nicholas Pekearo had followed him up a street. Garvin deliberately crossed the street to shoot the men; minutes later, Garvin was killed by responding police officers in a hail of gunfire. Garvin's motives for killing Morales were unclear, but the shooting raised awareness of the sacrifice auxiliary police officers make and prompted a budget line item for bulletproof vests for the officers.

Police officers figured in the news in different ways (a police officer lost his life during a Brooklyn traffic stop, an off-duty cop shot a minivan driver, another off-duty cop fatally shot another driver in a case of road rage, a cop covered up her husband's shooting of undercover cops in Park Slope, the killer of an undercover detective was convicted) as low police pay raised concerns about the NYPD's recruiting efforts. But the city's overall crime rate is ending the year at new lows.

Photograph of West Village after auxiliary cop shooting by Brian Dube/New York Daily Photo

2007_12_imsh.jpgMelting Pot Bubbles Over
The discussion about race got jump started when the City Council considered a ban on the N-word. Then radio shock Don Imus was criticized and then ultimately fired for his poor attempt at humor at the Rutgers' women's basketball team's expense. ( Black community leaders took the opportunity to demand changes in music lyrics, as well.)

In the fall, a series of unsettling hate crimes across the city brought the issue of racism - in the city former Mayor David Dinkins called a "gorgeous mosaic" - to the fore. Swastikas were found all over Brooklyn and a noose was found outside a Columbia professor's door. Other hate crimes occurred on Columbia's campus - a swastika and caricature in a building's bathroom and a swastika on another professor's door - and in the city.

In the end, no suspects have been found in any of the hate crime incidents. And a contrite Imus returned to a new radio station with two black sidekicks in his cast.

Governor Spitzer's Steamrolling
He promised everything would change with his administration, but Governor Spitzer's first year in office seemed to bring more of the same old Albany bickering. From yelling that he was a "f---ing steamroller" in January, Spitzer set the stage for playing by his own rules. And his own rules didn't seem to work very well. His aides plotted to smear rival State Senator Joseph Bruno over the use of state troopers, and the scandal, dubbed "Troopergate," went national and even involved allegations a GOP consultant telling Spitzer's father his son was a "phony, pscyho, piece of s---."

And just as coverage of Troopergate seemed to be exhausted, Spitzer introduced a controversial plan to offer immigrants driver's licenses that he eventually dropped. With unfavorable voter approval ratings, Spitzer says he hopes his substance will break through the clamor.

Subway Hero Reminds New York How to Love
The year's best and most inspiring human interest story was a January 2 present. Construction worker Wesley Autrey was on his way to take his young daughters to school when he and two other subway riders noticed a young man having a seizure at the 137th Street 1 train platform. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, eventually fell into the subway tracks as a train approached. Autrey, deciding he couldn't let his daughters see a man hurt before their eyes, jumped in and covered Hollopeter with his own body as the train passed over them. Both men were amazingly unhurt and a legend was born.

Autrey was honored by the city and President Bush. He even received a year of free subway rides from the MTA and remained humble about why he did it: "I'm not looking at this like I'm the hero, cause the real heroes are the young men and women that are fighting in Iraq now. What I did is something that any New Yorker should do, you know what I'm saying, if you see somebody in distress, do the right thing." These days, he is greeted by people around the 137th stop and says he's do it again.

Columbia's "Welcome" to Mahmoud Ahmadenijad

When a controversial Middle Eastern leader visited New York, controversy greeted him before he set foot in the Big Apple. Officials refused to let Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad visit Ground Zero during a visit to the United Nations, but Columbia University kept its invitation to have him speak at a forum (free speech and all!). And how: Ahmadenijad was greeted with protests and given a stinging introduced by Columbia president Lee Bollinger, who called him a "petty and cruel dictator."

Ahmadenijad used the Q&A time to to deny homosexuality existed in Iran among other things. Bollinger was initially praised for his smackdown, but was found to be the year's #1 embarrassment by Time magazine.

Photograph from A President Visits

2007_12_domino.jpgOne Word, Benjamin: Development
The real estate market may have cooled down in the rest of the country, but residential and commercial real estate in New York City - especially Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn - led to a flurry of proposals from developers and investors. The city also got involved at times, as it outlined ideas for the city's growth. Some properties include: The blocked-sale of Starrett City, the city's plans to revitalize Willets Point, approval of Columbia's Manhattanville expansion, the Domino Sugar Factory's landmarking, "condo-hotels" in Soho to skirt zoning, government incentives luring businesses to build downtown, a $225,000 parking space, and the West Side rail yard proposals.

The issues of landmarking and eminent domain also came into play in neighborhoods like Sunnyside Gardens and with projects like the Atlantic Yards Arena. Columbia students even took up a hunger strike to protest the school's development plans. But with the sub-prime mortgage crisis growing, some formerly up-and-coming neighborhoods on the downswing, and some hot neighborhoods losing their luster, will the bubble be bursting soon?

Photo of the Domino Sugar Refinery by kenyee on flickr