One of my lasting impressions of the year in transit for 2013 was this photo I took of Mayor Bloomberg a couple of weeks ago. As the doors on the 7 train he rode into the not-yet-completed 34th St. station closed shut, he turned around to salute the scrum of photographers who were left on the platform. Following his valedictory remarks at the station his administration funded, Bloomberg smiled and flashed a thumbs-up. A minute later, the train curved north toward Times Square, and the mayor’s involvement with transit went along with it.
I’ll have a glimpse back at my top stories of 2013 later this week. Needless to say, it was a relatively quiet year for transit stories. Thankfully, we had no Sandy to sweat through, and no major disruptions to subway service. Even the year’s hand-wringing over an alleged spike in subway deaths will end up being nothing more than just that. The preliminary numbers show no statistically significant increase in incidents over previous years. The fares went up, but even that seems to be something not too newsworthy for straphangers these days.
But 2014 should bring a series of news stories with it and some key questions about the MTA’s and New York City subway’s short- and long-term future. The two most visible elements of the year to come are that 7 line extension and the Fulton Street Transit Center. Both projects have been in the planning or construction stages for most of the past decade. One grew out of the Mayor’s wish to bring the Olympics to New York and the other from the infusion of federal money into Lower Manhattan following 9/11. Both are set to open around the same time this summer.
The impact of the 7 line is far more obvious than Fulton St. The Far West Side, currently undergoing rampant development, will now be open to subway service. Ferry terminals will be far more accessible, and the Javits Center will seem a part of the fabric of New York City. The Hudson Yards development will grow, and the area will change. No longer the frontier, it will be just another neighborhood off the 7 train.
Downtown, Fulton Street’s completion signals another step in the 13-year recovery effort, and it will add street life back to an area under constant construction. Underground, we’ve already seen the impact as the platforms are updated and connections easier to navigate. I’ve long questioned if the $1.4 billion was money well spent, and that debate still rages. No matter the side you’re on, it’s money that’s been spent, and in six months, that project essentially wraps as well.
Thus, 2014 is a year of congratulations for MTA Capital Construction, but it’s also a year of looking at what’s next. The next five-year plan is set to be hashed out this year, and early indications are that it will focus on decidedly unsexy elements of the subway system. We’ll hear about signal upgrades and technology investment. We won’t hear about future phases of the Second Ave. Subway or similar projects to the 7 line that represent relatively short subway extensions that can have a major impact on areas currently lacking in transit. New Yorkers interested in seeing the city continue to grow in a sustainable way should be wary of capital plans that aren’t focused around some expansion efforts.
Outside of the capital work, we’ll hear about BusTime when all New York City buses are online in a few months, and we’ll follow along as the TWU’s contract dispute enters a third year. We’ll see the next round of Sandy repairs take shape as the Montague Street Tunnel reopens in December, and by the end of the year, we’ll have a good sense of the 2015 fare hike as well. Service will increase in June as well. As we get ready to say good bye to 2013, I know this for sure about 2014: It won’t be a dull year, and your subway will, at some point, be delayed due to train traffic ahead of you.