Home Capital Program 2015-2019 Eying the MTA’s next twenty years

Eying the MTA’s next twenty years

by Benjamin Kabak
To keep up with growth and transit demand, the MTA has identified 25 potential corridors for future SBS routes.

To keep up with growth and transit demand, the MTA has identified 25 potential corridors for future SBS routes.

For those who were in the city and old enough in 1993, that subway system of yesteryear was a sight to behold. Redbirds roamed the 2, 5 and 7 while stations were amidst only the early days of a rehab program. The system had shed its graffiti, but it wasn’t considered completely safe. Ridership had hit an all-time low, and the Metrocard was but a pilot program gaining headlines but few converts.

Today, whether we like to admit it or not, we have a relatively popular and robust system. Much of the rolling stock is less than 15 years old while the rails have been rehabilitated to restore reliability. The station environments have improved in fits and starts, and safety is barely a concern. Ridership in May reached an all-time high for the month, and no one thinks twice about riding at night. The Metrocard is now obsolete and hopefully on the way out. The 7 line extension will open in 11 months, and the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway is less than 40 months away. Where will the next twenty years take us?

As the MTA gears up for its next capital program and the changing demographics of a growing New York City, that’s the question agency officials are beginning to ask. In a presentation to the MTA Board yesterday, agency officials delivered a framework for a needs assessment that will focus on the next 20 years. The document is available here as a pdf, and it tells the story of a city more dependent on its transit network and a young demographic that has, so far, chosen to eschew car ownership in New York. It anticipates a transit network that will need to be more robust and more flexible as off-peak ridership continues to grow.

For the MTA, the next twenty years may have to mirror the last. Ridership likely won’t grow by another 58 percent as it has since 1992, but the system as it is set up now would be hard-pressed to handle even a 30 percent increase over today’s ridership levels. Eying the future, the MTA sees trips to Manhattan’s Central Business District flat-lining, and areas with historically low ridership are seeing growth. These trends tend to be overstated though as CBD trips still account for a huge percentage of subway rides, and even a small shift of rides to hours outside of peak times is unlikely to make an impact.

Still, the MTA is right to recognize that it must improve Outer Borough transit, and it must assume that car ownership and trips will continue to decrease as gas prices, tolls, parking and congestion remain significant intractable barriers for drivers. With a projected 17 million people in the MTA region by 2035, the agency has to add service, but their plans are modest. They want to attain and maintain a state of good repair while building out the full Second Ave. Subway. This is notable because it’s one of the few times in recent years the MTA has acknowledged the need and desire to keep SAS going. Officials have generally refused to comment on future phases before the current one was fully funded. Generally, though, the Twenty Year Plan’s solution for subway capacity issues focuses around new entrances to better distribute passenger loads while adding 25 Select Bus Service routes. It’s a lot, but is it enough?

This document serves as a guideline for more study. It will form the underlying assumptions that will drive the MTA’s next capital plan, and that plan will likely feature more big-ticket items. I’m hopeful that we’ll see initial funding requests for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway and the initial asks for Penn Station Access as well. Without champions though, we’re unlikely to see the MTA advocating on its own for a Nostrand or Utica Ave. subway, let alone the TriboroRX plan.

The next twenty years will, needless to say, remain a mystery, but two decades ago, who would have believed any part of the Second Ave. Subway would be on its way to reality, that the L train would be a popular line, that people would be buying in Bushwick in droves? The next twenty years are likely to be just as surprising, and the MTA is going to have to plan ahead while moving faster on transit network expansion plans. Buses by themselves won’t cut it, but subways are prohibitively expensive. These are the challenges for the next five years, the next ten years and the next twenty years.

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Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 1:06 am

Their obsession with buses is just galling. Even cities with <1 million populations the world over get rail transit, but we only get it for Manhattan and only a little bit.

The MTA should not be doing the planning.

Shabazz July 23, 2013 - 1:54 am

It’s not their obsession. There has been a nation-wide shift embrace of rapid bus technology as subway costs have gotten out of control. No one is willing to tackle cost control, so everyone just talks about more busses. Look at what the mayoral candidates have to say about the issue; busses for everyone!

Cost control is the real issue here, not just for subways, but for all heavy infrastructure projects.

Christopher July 23, 2013 - 2:08 am

Rapider buses have mostly been shunned in other places. Or only seen as a stopgap on the way to lighrail and expanded rail capacity. Partly because the cost over the longhaul is roughly the same. We aren’t even talking about lightrail in NYC. Which is a damn shame. Meanwhile cities that no one would have dreamed would be building transit systems are expanding light rail left and right.

We also aren’t talking about how up-zoning and TIFs can and should be used to pay for expanded transit. We really are using old fashioned expansion, planning, and funding models. And it shows.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 3:05 am

You don’t need upzoning or TIFs for funding transit to work properly. Paris funded its RER, and is funding its giant 100 mile automated metro system with a payroll tax similar to the MTA’s. Heck, even those models have downfalls – the most extreme example, Hong Kong, also stands out for the utter lack of pedestrian friendly streetscapes, neighborhood character, and diversified architecture in MTR developed properties.

Nothing wrong with the old funding models – all money is good money. (Plus, if we’re going to upzone, it would make more sense to upzone areas closer to the city along existing transit lines, rather than build condo towers and co-ops all over the fringes of the outer boroughs.)

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Anyone who says “the money isn’t there” is sadly misinformed. The money is there, but it gets waisted on things like overseas wars that don’t do anything positive for society at large.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Money that we don’t have is money that might as well not exist. Not to mention, federal funding is never really the overwhelming majority of funding – there’s no money in the local or state pots either (and we’re not cutting schools to fund transit).

Besides, if you think, even for a minute, that the House is going to pass a bill allocating a significant portion of the war money to non-auto transport, you live in a different world. Not to mention, that money is almost all debt, so it’s not really funded out of revenues.

AG July 24, 2013 - 6:26 pm

correct – the “war money” is mostly debt.

Eric July 23, 2013 - 7:46 am

BRT cost is similar to LR if you insist on paving a brand new ROW (say, in the middle of a freeway or on an abandoned rail line). If you just take a traffic lane from cars and install on-curb fare machines and signal priority, the cost is many times lower.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 3:20 pm

It’s the upfront cost that’s “many times lower.” The long-run cost of operating things like SBS is still higher. That’s why rail is so desirable on high-traffic routes.

llqbtt July 23, 2013 - 9:10 am

You should feel free to thank all our benevolent leaders in the early 2000’s for their completely foolhardy spending, mis-managing, de-regulating ways. Enrich Halliburton, ruin everyone else for decades to come. Yes!

Henry July 23, 2013 - 3:00 am

I don’t know what your particular problem with any improvement to bus service is, whether it be bus lanes or what have you. In a world where no one is willing to fund even things like station rehabs and car maintenance without resorting to debt, and where a sizable portion of policymakers detests any federal investment in transit, massive expansions of light rail in New York are not in the cards. SBS is certainly no panacea, but it’s a hell lot better than the 7MPH bus service we have now.

Light rail would also suffer many of the same evils as SBS does from a customer perspective – for subway bound riders, a transfer penalty. Disruption of the dedicated lanes by private vehicles, delivery vehicles, and often the police meant to enforce traffic rules. Narrow roads that prevent the implementation of dedicated lanes, where both trams and buses alike will be stuck behind traffic. Poor performance in times of inclement weather (possibly even poorer, given the greater traction of rubber tires and the recent major snowstorms). Finally, you have to build some place to hold these light rail trains – the bus depots are not going away anytime soon, nor are they easily convertible.

Rail is a nice-to-have, but you make do with what you have. Given the fact that there is only one place that an actual full BRT could fit (and that place parallels a defunct rail line), SBS is as close as we’re going to get.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:46 am

I don’t have a problem with buses. I have a problem with not using the best tool for the job. Sometimes that really is buses, sometimes not. The problem is the sheer inability to imagine anything better when something better would work, and probably save money (if we’re gonna borrow, let’s do it in the most cost-effective way, amirite?).

Your entire second paragraph sounds like a litany of NIH excuses. You don’t always need dedicated lanes. When you have them, lane disruption can be enforced away (really, whether SBS or LRT, the lanes/tracks belong in the middle of a large street, not near the parking and turning lanes – good design helps too). Surface rail can probably handle narrower ROWs than buses. As for depots, there are probably parking lots that can simply be condemned for that purpose.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:28 pm

Call me cynical, but suggesting that NYPD does aggressive traffic enforcement against automobiles, especially ones branded with their insignia, is a bit hopeful. (SBS is also located near the curb so that local buses may benefit from the lanes to, and so that picking between SBS and local service doesn’t require running across two or three lanes of traffic.)

A lot of busy routes in the outer boroughs run on very narrow streets – in Queens, there is not enough room for two passenger vehicles, let alone two buses, to pass side by side on the road – single tracking would be necessary.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:35 pm

So, you’re saying, because our police force is stupid, everyone should have sub-par, overpriced transit? No thanks!

Henry July 24, 2013 - 3:00 am

I’m not saying that – I’m just saying not to expect much better from the other mode.

Have you ridden the SBSes? They have better ride quality and comfort than the regular bus routes, from my experience. (Granted, I’ve only ridden the M34 and the M15, but since every route save the S79 runs the same equipment, I’d assume it’s the same. The S79 is more a glorified limited than anything).

They’re not the cheapest, and they’re not the best, but they’re alright, they’re cheaper than their predecessors, and best of all, DOT is using largely federal funding for all of it.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 9:23 am

Of course I have. There isn’t anything wrong with SBS per se. It’s just that a place like First Ave. could use capacity beyond what SBS could possibly do.

The SBS belongs on things like Woodhaven Blvd.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 7:11 pm

I view the SBS system as a stopgap measure that will eventually lead to new subway lines, similar to what Vancouver is doing with its B-Lines. (One turned into the Canada Line, another into the Evergreen Line, and the third is being studied as either an LRT or Skytrain extension.)

It’s a lot harder to make the case for using light rail as a stopgap measure, since people can just look at it and say “They have trains already! Why do they need more?” Plus, once a transit line is in, it’s extremely disruptive to convert it – it’s why LA’s Blue Line will never be grade separated, and why its Orange Line won’t be converted into a light rail. When conversions happened in Seattle, they were also similarly expensive. You can pave or paint over paint, but grade separating tracks is another thing.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:23 pm

Nobody who “looks at it” and says that should be in a decisionmaking capacity, ’cause that be stupid. Likewise, when your “stopgap measure” is more expensive than doing it right the first time, avoid the “stopgap measure.”

Plus, once a transit line is in, it’s extremely disruptive to convert it

Where do you come up with this stuff? With a bus, you simply reroute the traffic while reworking the ROW. Street-running surface rail and buses can even share a ROW if necessary.

Even American cities like Dallas manage this fairly easily.

When conversions happened in Seattle, they were also similarly expensive. You can pave or paint over paint, but grade separating tracks is another thing.

Grade separation is almost never called for either. Often enough, transit is more useful when it’s accessible from the street. Nothing is better than lowfloor light rail for accessibility.

Grade separated subway or elevated service is a different animal with a different purpose.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:17 pm

The SBS corridors that have been currently started are not ‘expensive’ – they’re using buses the MTA would’ve bought anyways, painted the road red, installed TSP, and put some TVMs on the street.

The thing is, all the current, planned, and cancelled Phase II SBS lines with the exception of the S79 (which isn’t really an SBS, anyways) and the M34 (which was supposed to be a “flagship” project, but backfired) are currently located on corridors that have all been proposed for a rail extension at one point or another – Second Avenue, Webster/Third, Nostrand, Merrick, and Hillside. You could also probably argue that Astoria Blvd should have a rail line to LaGuardia. Pelham also has the ridership to support a full subway.

Let’s take the M15 SBS. Once the full-length Second Avenue Subway is completed (and who knows when that will be), the city will probably remove the TVMs, the special shelters, and the wraps, and the M15 will revert to its pre-SBS state. Not ideal, but the SAS would essentially be a complete duplicate of the M15 SBS. If the Second Avenue Subway is completed, they might move onto Merrick, or Webster/Third, or Hillside, or Pelham. Once a subway is built under an SBS corridor, the subway will likely absorb the SBS riders and more, and the SBS line will see its ridership decline to something more similar to a standard bus route.

With SBS, you can revert it once ridership no longer crushes the capacity of even articulated buses. With a tram, you can’t just splice cars off of an articulated unit (easily, at least), and service has to maintained at a certain frequency so that the rest of the light rail system isn’t tainted by association.

Would I support light rails for crosstown routes such as Pelham or 34th, that will never see subway service? Sure, if we have the money. The problem is that most of the SBS corridors that exist or have been shortlisted may either receive plausible subway lines (Second Avenue), are subway feeders, or both (Hillside, Merrick, Nostrand). Putting light rail on them may prevent subway extensions into these areas in the future – look at the Stadbahns of Germany, who thought they would eventually build pure metros.

Bolwerk July 25, 2013 - 12:37 pm

Yes, it’s expensive. Any frequent, busy bus line is relatively more expensive than the same service running as train. The costs are moved from the front to the future, another of the many instant gratification motives that have driven MTA debt to record levels. One of the prices of using “using buses the MTA would’ve bought anyways” is a vehicle life of 10-15 years rather than 30-40 years.

And that comment betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about why things like SBS sometimes can be useful: it’s relatively fast, convenient, curb-side accessible, and makes trips possible that too close to go by subway, or it makes a last mile from the subway convenient. It’s a complement, not a substitute, to grade separated service. SBS is not useful as a “subway on the surface,” it’s useful because it’s not a subway.

Henry July 25, 2013 - 12:44 pm

As a side note, I don’t even think DOT and MTA believe their “subway on the surface” spin, because if they did, they’d do a lot more branding effort into it (putting SBS lines on the map instead of the half-hourly airport buses, strip maps instead of empty ad space and those god-awful MTA ads, doing some advertising, etc.) I for one certainly haven’t.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:48 am

This snow/weather point is another that is always trumpeted. The argument is a backdoor way of saying, “Well, we should have shittier transit service for 355 days a year because we might have snow 10 days a year.”

Marc Shepherd July 23, 2013 - 10:27 am

Their obsession with buses is just galling. Even cities with <1 million populations the world over get rail transit, but we only get it for Manhattan and only a little bit.

You can dream up a new bus route and start running it immediately. No new construction is required. Train lines take years to plan and build, and are extremely expensive. Even if the MTA’s costs were in line with other countries, bus lines would always be cheaper and faster to introduce.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the MTA won’t build rail: three megaprojects are currently underway (#7 extension, SAS, and ESA). But buses need to be part of the solution, too.

The MTA should not be doing the planning.

If not them, then who?

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:54 am

I would prefer the city go back to taking a lead role in planning. Those “megaprojects” thus far are netting a few miles of new rail, a fraction of which is actually widely useful to the city’s population. The mega refers to the price and ridiculous construction costs, not the amount of new service.

You can dream up a new bus route and start running it immediately. No new construction is required

Drivers need to be hired and trained (or transferred and retrained) and buses need to be purchased. Maybe it doesn’t take as long as laying at-grade track on top of that stuff, but it’s certainly no trivial matter.

BBnet3000 July 23, 2013 - 10:59 am

Making an existing limited bus faster requires fewer buses and drivers (because each one completes the line and can turn around faster), not more.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 11:17 am

Then I guess you havent sene Bx 12 limited busses in Co-Op City lately? They’re bunching & despite that, they end up leaving a lot of people behind.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:30 pm

Bunching can happen regardless of technology. It even happens with trains sometimes.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 4:59 pm

I hope you’re not implying equivalency though. Trains are much less prone to bunching.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 7:19 pm

It happens less often on trains (simply because there are more buses in the United States, and more opportunities for it to occur), but it happens. It gets extremely annoying during late nights and midday on the subway, though.

With trams, it happens more frequently because trams cannot overtake other trams, and if a tram breaks down, all hell breaks loose. Like so: http://commons.wikimedia.org/w.....am_jam.jpg

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:17 pm

It has nothing to do with how many buses there are. Buses can’t handle high (or asymetrical) loads as well. I don’t think trams don’t bunch as often as buses either, despite only marginally higher capacity.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:26 pm

Like bus bunching, tram bunching varies wildly between cities. Toronto and Hong Kong are places where tram bunching are particularly intense, although that’s because the former uses old LRVs that aren’t as big as modern ones, and the latter is almost always overcrowded, even with double decker trams and a subway line underneath.

Both also have lots of vehicles blocking their path, which is another feature common to bus bunching as well. I’m not sure if driving in the tram lanes is permitted in either example I posted, but if it isn’t, the rule is barely enforced.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 11:27 am

I know. In what M. Shepherd wrote, he was referring to a new bus route. A new bus route in a dedicated lane is preferable to a new bus route sharing traffic, of course.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 12:00 pm

I get that, but even you realize rail transit in the longterm is more practicle than a bus with a few bells & wistles wich is what BRT is in a nutshell. Now where rail doesn’t work, then you go to BRT, but that should the 4th or 5th option after subway, regional rail, light rail, streetcar & then BRT.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:31 pm

The answer to every rail vs bus debate is usually “show me the money”.

There are cases where this isn’t true, such as that stupid North Shore busway, but in general rail costs much more upfront than paint and some shiny wrapping for buses, especially in this city and its ridiculous cost premiums.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 12:26 am

Eh. Come on. Part of the upfront cost of buses is the vehicles themselves. The capital investment isn’t as high, but the gulf people imagine is a little ridiculous.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 7:30 pm

Well, street beautification is also usually a part of both, but usually moreso on light rail.

I would also like to point out that federal transit dollars have historically incentivized buying lots of buses, so the cost to the agency itself is reduced.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:26 pm

FTA spending incentivizes a lot of waste and overbuilding alike. Agencies know they’ll never get money again, so they try to grab as much as possible, often without selecting the optimal design for riders.

It may please certain stakeholders – unions get a big work infusion, pols get to brag – but it’s also penny wise and pound foolish.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 12:02 pm

I get that, but even you realize rail transit in the longterm is more practicle than a bus with a few bells & wistles wich is what BRT is in a nutshell. Now where rail doesn’t work, then you go to BRT, but that should be the 4th or 5th option after subway, regional rail, light rail, streetcar & then BRT.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:33 pm

DOT is taking a lead in planning – they are the instigators for SBS, not MTA. (MTA does the logistics of all the transit, but when it comes to locations for corridors they have no control – DOT manages the lanes and even the bus stop locations for MTA.)

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 9:25 am

So far, yes, but the map at the top appears to be an MTA plan.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 10:13 am

I’ve seen it before. It’s an updated version of the planning map in this PDF. http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/do.....ridors.pdf

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 2:04 am

And yet Munich railstitutes bus lines that cross the 10-minute frequency mark. Probably because its construction costs are low and its tunneling projects never go over budget.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:36 am

Note, from the map, how they seem to want too SBSify at least two existing rail-ready corridors. Like, ouch.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 12:04 pm

Where do you see that?

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 1:02 pm

Parallel to the Rockaway line and SI North Shore.

I’m less certain about the Triborough RX route in southern Brooklyn, but that might be another. The first two are easy to spot though.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 4:00 pm

Ah, sure. Though, the Woodhaven corridor isn’t the same as the North Shore: the proposal is to SBSify Woodhaven rather than to pave over the rail line.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 4:57 pm

Yeah, I know, but the key point is they’re not bothering with a pretty easy option.

You could perhaps make the argument for doing both the SBS and the Rockaway reactivation, but why ignore the second?

lawhawk July 23, 2013 - 12:08 pm

I agree that the MTA needs to think bigger with the subway system since it can deliver more people than a SBS system, but the costs for a subway expansion are prohibitive unless the political will is there to demand lower costs per mile (or at least making them comparable to UK, Spanish, and other European system expansions).

It also means focusing on capacity expansion versus station/terminal replacement that doesn’t involve capacity expansion. People might not like an ugly Penn Station, but they’d take an expansion of the underlying tracks/platforms to better handle the existing and expected crowds that should come with a Gateway tunnel project (whenever that is finally done).

But it also means dealing with SBS to connect people in the outer boroughs and working with DOT to get improvements to traffic to make SBS much more effective.

Larry Littlefield July 23, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I know how you feel about buses, but I think you should look at it more positively.

New York didn’t start with subways. It started with horsecars, which provided the land use pattens and market for electric streetcars, which did the same for elevateds, which paved the way for subways.

A dedicated or privleged ROW with “stations” could be such an interim step, even if the vehicles run on rubber tires. I think part of light rail’s problems is that it is generally done big bucks, all in.

Start with BRT. And then lay tracks with diesel/hybrid vehicles as on the Riverline in Jersey — in such a way that buses can run down the same ROW, as in San Francisco.

Then add signalling (other than stoplights/line of site) when the speeds and frequency justify it (possibly easier given new wireless techology). Then electrify.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:36 pm

Even better, SBS gives politicians a reason to think “my neighborhood can do better”. Politicians these days don’t have grand plans – better to let them take small steps so that one day a pol may fight for better service, whether that be a light rail, subway, or el.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 2:06 am

And even worse, SBS makes politicians think of off-board fare collection as a special treat rather than as something that a large fraction of the transit-using world does on every single bus line.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 3:24 am

To be honest, SBS is more of a DOT ploy to grab money from the feds to fund bus improvements than anything else. It’s worked – it’s the same way they’re funding the increases in bike infrastructure.

If DOT and MTA actually believed their own press releases about subways on the surface, you’d see them marked down on the map in lines of equal weight to the subway lines, and there’d be strip maps in the buses. But that’s obviously not the case.

(Offboard collection should also be expanded to the busiest bus stops, and traffic signal priority should be the norm, but the last offboard collection machines prior to SBS were all vandalized, stolen, and broken during the terrible crime wave during the 70’s. Plus, MTA has zero control over street layouts, TSP, or street furniture – they operate at the whims of DOT. So it’s not really their fault.)

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 12:11 pm

Oh, I fully blame both DOT and the MTA for these problems. DOT is the one proposing those unequal SBS schemes, but the MTA is also at fault. Its smartcard report neglected to mention the possibility of letting people with valid monthly passes or transfers board from any door without paying, enforcing the fare with handheld devices as is done in Singapore. On the contrary, it specifically said people should continue to pay the driver on non-SBS routes.

If they want federal money for buses, they could just as well talk about the benefits of systemwide POP, and ask for money for validators (a few hundred dollars apiece in Singapore), handheld card readers, and TVMs at the busiest stops. People can keep paying at the front if they don’t have a monthly pass – in Vancouver, the POP B-Lines don’t have TVMs on the route, so if you don’t have a monthly pass or a transfer, you pay at the front.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 1:15 pm

Yeah, this. Or something like it.

I think “offboard” even misses the point. There is no word for it that flies off the tongue, but the key feature is not “offboard,” but driver-agnostic fare collection. The collection, in fact, should be onboard. People shouldn’t have to choose between buying/validating their fare and boarding a bus.

It’s worse than NIH. It’s just a gallingly thoughtless and stupid failing. I can’t even see who can object to doing it the way Cologne does it…except people who really just don’t want functional transit.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 4:02 pm

Could be worse. In Philadelphia, you need to pay the driver for the trolleys even when they go underground.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 4:34 pm

Yes, my GF is a grad student at U Penn, so I have been a semi-frequent 34 user since January, though that’s about to be over forever! Thankfully, she is moving somewhere saner. Two observations:

1) it’s not much of a problem, since ridership is low enough. Probably makes rush hour shittier though. Still works better than NYC’s buses.

2) Philly at least has a general policy of just stopping surface transit in the street, and letting the cars behind wait. In general, their buses work better than NYC’s too.

(Actually, the underground west of 30th Street Station is where they do that. I believe the history is that this was surface trolley and buried by U Penn to improve the campus. 30th and east, the trolleys use turnstiles for collection.)

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 5:40 pm

At 30th and 15th they use turnstiles for the free (but not cross-platform) transfer to the MFL, but at 19th and probably also 22nd they don’t.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 1:10 pm

I don’t know how you think I feel about buses, but the problem is with how they’re using buses to the exclusion of everything else. I can see why SBS is perhaps appropriate on some of those routes but is that really all they can think about?

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:15 pm

most of those cities (especially in the U.S.) though are starting from near zero…. so you can’t really compare. I certainly think there are a few streets where it would work in NYC – but in our area we probably will only remain to see it in NJ.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 7:08 pm

I don’t know what the advantage to starting from near zero is supposed to be. It really just means you don’t have a built-in ridership.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:41 pm

Well, in New York’s case, having a huge rail system is a negative for funding new transit projects – despite the fact that there are New York bus routes that carry more riders a day than entire light rail systems, the FTA is set up to be biased against New York because it seems like we have enough – if it wasn’t, the FTA would essentially be New York’s transit piggybank.

In regards to other methods of funding, you also can’t really use TIFs or upzoning as a funding mechanism, since the real estate market is already saturated with lots of neighborhoods with relatively low real estate values and transit access. Hudson Yards is an exception because it’s basically an American Canary Wharf – purpose built business district housing hundreds of thousands of workers. But for the most part, expecting developers to invest in far-flung areas of the city because you built rail there, when East New York and Bushwick are much closer in and still relatively good deals, is not exactly a good business case.

Bolwerk July 23, 2013 - 10:53 pm

When railstituting a busy bus line, the high upfront capital expense is in a sense a mortgage on reduced costs over time. Depending on the FTA to do that just seems silly.

It’s the kind of borrowing that actually makes sense, at least sometimes.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 3:24 am

Tell that to Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

If only we could have transit sales tax referendums.

AG July 24, 2013 - 6:24 pm

well for one thing – the land values tend to be lower… they have lower density which means less upheaval (both probably products of not having a lot of rail)… and they don’t have legacy costs to worry about and can focus strictly on expansion.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 10:32 pm

Land values may be an issue, though with SBS and LRT the almost all land is already owned by the municipality. Whatever condemnation is needed for plant/storage can always be done in a peripheral area, too, just as it is in a smaller city.

All things being equal, lower density means less ridership per vehicle-mile, and consequently higher maintenance costs per-vehicle mile or passenger-mile. Not a win. (A similar phenomenon goes for things like electricity and roads too. New Yorkers should be pissed at how they’re treated with regard to those things.)

And I’m not sure what you mean by legacy costs.

BoerumHillScott July 23, 2013 - 7:54 am

I think the plan makes perfect sense, given finanical realities, construction costs, and lead times for large projects.
Completing the full SAS will take a lot of political effort.

No use for the MTA to focus on some grand fantasy that has no real hope of being implemented.

John-2 July 23, 2013 - 8:23 am

The upcoming six year period, when the Hudson Yards station, the SAS extension and East Side Access are scheduled to open, will be the time for the MTA to push future rail expansion. It’s easier to get funding for continuation of projects once people in power see the benefits and/or additional needs generated by just-completed projects.

Other than 63rd and Lex, there really hasn’t been an all-new subway station in Manhattan since the late 1960s, when 57th and Sixth and Grand Street arrived, so that the beneficial effects of expanding the system for the most part are something from the distant past for the people with the power to push those types of changes. The pluses from the three new SAS stops, along with the negatives to the 4/5/6 that ESA inevitably is going to cause will probably be the best time for the MTA to seek further funding of the Second Avenue line (even if the time-line isn’t as fast as people on this board would prefer).

Scott E July 23, 2013 - 8:38 am

“For the MTA, the next twenty years may have to mirror the last”

Let’s hope not. Remember, the last 20 included a major unplanned event which altered the transit-scape of downtown Manhattan, some temporarily and some permanently. The entire system was shut down — some parts for longer than others — and some of it still hasn’t reopened. Without it, we might not have rushed to build a grand Fulton Street Station or a New/Old South Ferry Station, or even a #7 Extension (all intended as symbols of resiliency).

Of course, the impact was broader than the MTA — the Port Authority and the city as a whole took a heavy hit. But financially speaking, the MTA’s financial plans took a back-seat, and emotion, rebuilding, and security steered the ship. Lets all hope that the next 20-years don’t include such tragic surprises.

VLM July 23, 2013 - 9:31 am

Outside of the melodramtic tone of your post, wouldn’t you say the MTA would be negligent if it doesn’t plan for something major? If there’s no disaster planning? Over the past twenty years, the city has witnessed two major terrorist attacks and two crippling storms. We don’t want the next twenty years to look like that, but to assume it won’t will lead to more troubles.

Scott E July 23, 2013 - 10:10 am

I’m not trying to be melodramatic — it was hard to be sensitive yet objective in writing that. To answer your question, yes – they need to be prepared for disasters, but the scope and impact of 2001 was bigger than anyone could ever have imagined. There is, indeed, a respectable amount of disaster planning at the MTA (compare their Sandy response to that of NJ Transit). But there’s a limit to how much money can get stockpiled “just in case…”.

llqbtt July 23, 2013 - 9:07 am

The “Emerging Residential Neighborhoods in Williamsburg and Bushwick” is so 10 years ago! First, both nabes were always there and second the ‘gentrification’ that they are referring is already well-established. Semantics maybe, but if they can’t recognize current state of things, how can they effectively plan?

Another note, other that completing SAS, in the city at least, the only other rail references were hints towards Triboro RX which 1 Brooklyn corridor identified fits perfectly and I guess the North Shore SI?

Doesn’t look like much in the way of new subways. We’ve got what we’ve got. Thanks to all those folks from early in the last century!

BoerumHillScott July 23, 2013 - 9:47 am

They are still emerging in terms of population growth.
Lots of projects in the pipeline, and still a good bit of land that can be built up (although some will require zoning changes).

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:18 pm

actually both of those neighborhoods probably have less population now than when the subways were completed. households are not as large as they were back then. Just like Manhattan – it’s 400k below it’s all time peak population. Brooklyn and the Bronx are too. The population growth overall is because of Queens and Staten Island.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:42 pm

Well, probably, but in terms of inflation adjusted property tax, these new residents are probably giving more to city coffers than the tenements ever did.

AG July 24, 2013 - 6:32 pm

possible… but that’s a tricky one.

Henry July 24, 2013 - 11:28 pm

It’s not an illogical assumption to assume that lofts and condos have higher property values than the old East Side slums.

AG July 25, 2013 - 1:06 am

the tax code is a very different universe now as opposed to then – there are a whole lot of exemptions nowadays… and the owners of the tenements did quite well back then. If you are talking as a percentage of revenue – no it’s not simple of a proposition… property value isn’t the only consideration.

BoerumHillScott July 24, 2013 - 8:35 am

I’m not sure if that is true for Williamsburg and Bushwick.
Lots of former industrial areas are being converted to high density residential, and that trend will continue into the future.

Bolwerk July 24, 2013 - 12:58 pm

Since a century ago, it’s probably true. The data for 2010 is still 67 years from being released, but you can look up buildings in the 1940 census and see how many people lived in them, sometimes whole extended families to a single unit instead of 1-3 people.

AG July 24, 2013 - 6:47 pm

decades ago – no one cared about living in industrial neighborhoods…. but both – especially Bushwick lost a lot of population in the 70’s. En with the new housing units – it currently doesn’t make up for the shrinkage in the # of persons per household.

Larry Littlefield July 23, 2013 - 9:28 am

The MTA may be looking for buses to replicate the greater role played by street rail back in the day.

The key issue is traffic. Streetcars were a much better way to bet around when there was less motor vehicle traffic. If people really do drive less once Generation Greed passes on, the remaining traffic could move better. That could pave the way for better bus service and eventually its replacement by light rail.

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:22 pm

I was saying on another thread – that light rail makes sense on certain streets – like the propsed 42nd St. corridor (I’d like to see it on Houston – 57th – 125th and other crosstown streets)…. Other places it makes sense are in Staten Island to connect to NJ… but yeah too much vehicle traffic now for it to be as ubiquitous as the old trolley system. Even Webster Ave. in the Bronx could use it… as they just got SBS. In these days of low funds… SBS will win every time.

alen July 23, 2013 - 9:35 am

if they want people to stop driving into manhattan from areas with little or no subway service they need to make the bus service faster.

dedicate one of the bridges or one of the midtown tunnel lanes strictly for buses. build a new on-ramp to the LIE from queens blvd to be used only by buses that bypasses the intersection where the LIE crosses queens blvd
and make some minor changes on the other side of the tunnel to give it priority at the exit. as it is now a lot of the traffic is buses changing lanes to make their turns

make it so that the express buses are actually a lot faster than driving

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:23 pm

well i think that is one of the things they wanted to do with congestion pricing… but that was killed by Sheldon Silver.

marv July 23, 2013 - 8:04 pm

yes … ramps in key place could greatly improve the bus riding experience. I like your LIE/Queens Blvd ramp idea. Another is:

In Queens, Union Turnpike is an important corridor feeding both the Kew Gardens Subway Station and Queens Blvd for both express buses and other traffic. The .8 miles on Union Turnpike before reaching Queens Blvd can take upwards of 10 minutes. Buses starting their run from subway station east have a 5+ minute u-turn loop before heading in the correct direction. This costs commuter time, driver time and wages, and equipment.

Build a bus ramp off westbound Union Turnpike onto 78 Crescent. Have buses discharge and board passenger just west and down hill of Queens Blvd which would allow subway users access to the subway concourse without a flight of steps.

Have express buses then given signal priority access to westbound Queens Blvd.

Allow eastbound local buses to cross over the Jackie Robinson/Interboro and head east on without having to cross Queens Blvd lanes.

David Brown July 23, 2013 - 9:49 am

I have little doubt that SAS Phases I, II, & III will go through, IV will be harder to get accomplished. The problems with this study are: 1: I see is that there is too much reliance on busses, when they know people do not like them, and even getting approvals will not be easy (see the M-60 and Harlem). 2: Nothing about Metro-North Expansion to The Bronx. 3: Nothing about Mineola Station Expansion (particularly important when they talk about 24/7/365 commuting instead of 9 to 5). 4: Nothing about fixing up the worst Major Subway Stations in the System (such as Chambers St ((J) Portion) & West 4th St. Simply put: If those Stations were clean and comfortable, more people would use them.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:46 pm

Lhota, for what it’s worth, said the focus would be less on big ticket items and more on maintenance. The SBS is a part of that vision, since it’s cheap to implement, so the MTA will have more money to divert to funding new cars and station rehabs. Those projects don’t get as much press cause they’re just something that is expected, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be funded.

Ian MacAllen July 23, 2013 - 9:58 am

To get more people to ride buses will require shifting cultural values and convince people buses are not just for poor people and suburbanites. Also, they have to make buses not be terrible.

AlexB July 23, 2013 - 11:23 am

The cultural values follow very quickly if the bus is frequent, reliable, and comfortable

Ian MacAllen July 24, 2013 - 2:31 pm

I think New York will always have a huge stigma with buses, based along race and class lines.

Also, until buses have dedicated right of ways without traffic lights and other obstacles they will never be substitute for heavy rail with dedicated track.

smartone July 23, 2013 - 10:07 am

If I were MTA I would go for the entire completed SAS for next round – the SAS will be up and running
and it will probably show two things

there is the need for this subway
and the current phase 1 is woefully inadequate

John Doe July 23, 2013 - 10:24 am

We need more subway lines in the outer boroughs!!! why are labor costs so expensive? i have an idea get everyone on welfare rolls and all prison inmates to do the hard labor! if we want to compete as a world class city we need more rail service! Buses cannot compare to rail! subways are king!

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 10:30 am

Part of the MNR expantion involves the access to Penn Station once ESA opens.

Busses are a complete waist unless rapid transit isn’t possible in a given area. Subway & regional rail expantion will return the greatest bang for the buck despite the upfront costs. Some of these expantion projects maybe the construction of new infill stations or the reactivation of old ones.

In a few cases subway line reconfigurations could be a practicle & easy first step such as reintroducing the W train & extending the M & or the R to Jamaica 179th street. This latter proposal would allow the F to be a greater use as an express. Aventually the line should be extended east along Hillside Avenue to the Nassau County line.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:47 pm

Well, someone has to pay those upfront costs. We can’t ignore upfront cost like it’s something to think about later.

AlexB July 23, 2013 - 10:53 am

Very disappointing not to hear anything about the triboro line, especially since they noted that inter-borough travel not including Manhattan is increasing.

BoerumHillScott July 23, 2013 - 11:16 am

Page 24 included “Possible use of abandoned / underutilized ROW for new non-CBD transit?”

AlexB July 23, 2013 - 11:21 am

Thanks for noticing that, but that sounds like a note for something we’d get in 25 years. Bummer.

Eric Brasure July 23, 2013 - 11:20 am

Bottom line: if we’re really going to see an additional 1 million residents in New York City in 2035, we need to start planning new subway lines NOW.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 12:45 pm

Not just that, but a comprehensive evaluation of regional transit. Make better use of LIRR stations in Queens & Brooklyn as well as MNR stations in The Bronx as an example. Rezone areas around existing stations & where practical build new ones or rehab old ones.

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:26 pm

well that “1 million more” people was about 400k ago. The population was 8 mil when that Bloomberg plan came out… it’s about 8.4 now. Not having enough mass transit is probably what will slow that growth. That and the rate of building more housing… which increasingly will be tied to transport options.

Eric Brasure July 23, 2013 - 6:00 pm

Actually if you look at the document they’re projecting a 1 million increase over the 2010 Census numbers to 9.2 million.

Henry July 23, 2013 - 7:49 pm

The Census is believed to undercount New York due to a less than stellar response rate to the surveys here.

AG July 24, 2013 - 6:36 pm

response rates yes – but even “door to door” surveys aren’t accurate in NYC because you have more illegal housing units “off the grid” than you do in other cities.
Whether the 8.4 now is accurate leaves something to be desired… but almost anyone with any knowledge from a street level knows there was more than a 175k increase between 2000 and 2010… but yet there was another 200k between 2010 and 2013??? Strange indeed. Many demographers think they “adjusted their original under-count”.

capt subway July 23, 2013 - 2:43 pm

Good luck with all those SBS routes. The death (for now) of 125 SBS, the watered down version of 34 St SBS and the NIMBY obstructionism to full Hylan Blvd SBS does not leave me in a positive from of mind in this regard.

BTW, while I fully support, and look forward to riding a full length SAS I think that 125 cup handle is a total crock and a slap in the face for all transit riders the Bronx. I,m surprised Bx politicos haven’t raised hell over this fact, especially in light of the fact that the original scheme for the line first proposed back in the late 1960s by the, then, newly created MTA called for SAS to go on up to the Bx, in large part using the old NY West & Boston ROW from the So Bx right on up to Dyre Ave.

As an alternative you could go straight up 2nd Ave, under the Harlem River and onto 3rd Ave in the Bx, where the similar transfers to the IRT lines, the #6 (138/3) and the #2 & #5 at 149/3 could be readily constructed. From there you’d be poised to continue on up through the central Bx, an area starved of proper transit since the demise of the 3rd Ave el and most likely ripe for transit oriented development. As to Metro-North connection, you could revive the old MNR Mott Haven station at 138 St.

AG July 23, 2013 - 4:34 pm

I agree 100 percent…. I was saying the other day that if that SAS went up and followed the line of the old El up Webster Ave. to Gun Hill Rd. (or at Fordham) – it would completely transform that corridor. But the Bronx gets as little respect as Staten Island… in representational politics it makes sense since it has only the 4th highest population. Even worse is that it has the lowest average income. Ppl talk of what the Cross Bronx Expressway did… but fail to mention the loss of the 3rd Ave El.

I wrote one time to the MTA telling them how ridiculous it is that ppl in the Bronx have to go to Harlem to transfer between the 4/5/6. Makes no sense…. extending the SAS where it was originally supposed to go (back when the Bronx was seen as “moving up”) would help remedy that. I got a typical line about planning and money.

capt subway July 23, 2013 - 3:40 pm

As regards commuter rail improvements, I’m surprised no one has ever suggested reviving the long defunct local stations at 59 St/Park Ave, 72nd St/Park Ave & 86th St/Park Ave. If nothing else re-opening these stations would take a little pressure off the Lex. No doubt any such suggestion of such a proposal would create a full blown shit storm amongst posh Park Ave NIMBYs. I’m sure I answered by own question as to why the idea has never been broached.

Ben July 23, 2013 - 4:07 pm

Huh? What are you talking about? There have never been subway stations at 59th/Park, 72nd/Park or 86th/Park, defunct or otherwise.

Benjamin Kabak July 23, 2013 - 4:11 pm

Capt Subway is correct. Here’s the history.

SEAN July 23, 2013 - 7:58 pm

Those are storage areas for MNR.

capt subway July 23, 2013 - 11:58 pm

Well certainly, if they ever were to revive those stations (not at all in the cards – I’m not holding my breath) I guess they’d have to move their stored junk elsewhere.

Tower18 July 23, 2013 - 4:24 pm

That seems like a relatively bad idea, all things considered. It would really slow down MNR’s operations and besides, people west of Park don’t take the subway, and people east of Park will take the Lex or 2nd Av when it’s built.

capt subway July 23, 2013 - 4:49 pm

One is hardly suggesting all MNR trains stop at 59, 72 & 86. I’m suggesting some local trains – the so called Bx locals – stop there. After it is a 4 track line. Certainly a few trains could be added and a 20 min off peak headway seems reasonable. The combined MNR headways, even during the peak, hardly approach Lex subway headways. Local trains could easily make those stops without serious delay to overall MNR service. Such a scheme who take some crowding away from the Lex and from GCT itself, as at least some MNR riders are going to either 125 or GCT and then using the Lex to get to points on the Upper East Side.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 12:17 pm

It would be an interesting experiment, but I’m skeptical. At the distances in question, even 20 minutes off-peak is useless. There’s no speed benefit over the 4/5 because of the slow interlockings near Grand Central. The fare is still not integrated, and I believe that if it is integrated, a lot of people will be interested in riding local from farther north.

The line is so close to the Lex that it’s fine to have fewer stops than are appropriate on a line that parallels nothing, like Lower Montauk. For the same reason, the proposals I have for through-running have the north-south trunk stopping at 125th, Grand Central, Union Square, and Fulton Street; if the 4 and 5 were not there, I’d certainly have added 86th, 59th, Canal, and maybe City Hall.

What I think is more promising is providing frequent (at worst every 10 minutes) local service in the Bronx, charging subway fare. Get some riders off the 4 and 5 in the Bronx.

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Agreed on all counts. But the LIRR & MNR are not interested in running a “subway” and have done all they can over the years to extricate themselves from running local service within the city limits. As former divisions of really big mainline roads they still suffer from delusions of grandeur, which the MTA has done nothing in its 45 year history to try to dispel. Ditto it’s a crying shame that after 45+ years we still don’t have a unified fare structure. I blame the essentially clueless top management at the MTA, more often than not a collection of connected political hacks with little if any hands-on railroad experience.

alen July 24, 2013 - 4:44 pm

i would love a unified fare as long as i don’t pay more for the subway.

LIRR/MNR has more crew per train to pay for. and i would guess less passengers as well

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 5:34 pm

Well their antiquated work rules and grossly over crewed trains is a whole other issue. Top management is obviously loathe to go head to head with all those railroad unions.

BTW I support unions. I’m not out to break them. But sometimes I think unions are their own worst enemies. I think if you could go with just a 2 person crew on the LIRR & MNR, (as on the NYCTA), collect fares as you do on the subway at the station entry points, you could probably run a lot more LIRR & MNR service with, ultimately, more jobs for union members.

Frank B July 23, 2013 - 6:22 pm

Thank you! I’ve been saying this for some time!

But no matter how I looked at it, you were going to face opposition; whether from Upstate and Conn. Riders now facing extra stops on certain trains, or from the Residents of Park Avenue Itself. (Though you’d think that they’d love having a Metro-North Train over a subway any day, let’s face it. They’re cab people.)

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 12:24 pm

To avoid NIMBY problems, tie any such project to interlocking improvement around Grand Central. A train with the acceleration profile of the M8 should be doing 125th-42nd in 5.5 minutes. The actual travel time is 10 minutes, because of a 10 mph slow zone south of 59th.

4.5 minutes equals 6 stops at the north-of-59th speed (60 mph), or 4 stops at the speed that the line seems capable of supporting based on track geometry (80 mph).

BoerumHillScott July 24, 2013 - 8:51 am

The stations are only 150 or 172 feet long and narrow. They were never designed for high volume, and tying to expand them would be both expensive and disruptive to MNRR.

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 9:00 am

As I said, it’s not going to happen. But as to extending station platforms to accommodate more cars – I don’t see that that’s any big deal. In the 1950s/early 1960s he NYCTA did it throughout the IRT & BMT divisions, both in the subways and up on the els, where short local platforms, many built to only hold 5 cars (IRT) or 8 cars (BMT) were all extended to hold 10 car trains. The work was done under traffic, or at night or on weekends when trains were re-routed to the express tracks. No big deal really.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 4:04 pm

Honestly, I think that if there’s money to lengthen platforms it should go to the L first.

Or to building a hundred meters’ worth of tail tracks for the L.

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 4:30 pm

I will certainly agree with you there. BTW the L line platforms were built to accommodate 8 car trains of 67 BMT ABs. Most platforms are around 535-540 ft length which means, with very little work (in fact no work at some spots) you could be running 9 car trains on the L.

Alon Levy July 24, 2013 - 5:50 pm


Is there a reason NYCT isn’t already trying to run 9-car sets, then? Or is it just a We Must Run Married Pairs attitude?

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 7:45 pm

In my nearly 37 years at NYCTA I could never get a straight answer on this one. Of course there was a time, not all that long ago, that an 8 car train of 60 ft cars was perfectly adequate for the L line’s needs. Now that’s all changed. Now with the new signal system for CBTC up & running, (after years of cost & time frame overruns and seriously disruptive line shutdowns) a system no doubt designed for operating & protecting trains of a maximum 8 car length, retooling it all for 9 cars might prove costly and, for sure, disruptive.

BTW the entire BMT “Eastern” section, i.e. Centre/Nassau St/Bway Bklyn/Jamaica/Myrtle were all built to the same specs. So 9 car trains could be run on all these lines with minor tweaks here and there. The “M”, running on 6 Ave & through 53 St would be another no brainer for 9 cars.

capt subway July 24, 2013 - 5:28 pm

Agreed. But lets remember that the platforms on the L line were built to accommodate 8 car trains of 67 ft BMT AB cars, with, at most stops, a few feet to spare. Which means you could actually be running 9 car trains of 60 ft car on the line right now.

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