Home View from Underground Looking ahead to 2014 with capital projects set to wrap

Looking ahead to 2014 with capital projects set to wrap

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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15 comments

Paco December 30, 2013 - 12:05 am

If Deblasio commits to his BRT pledge and we get a solid DOT commish, 2014 could also be a big year for planning a major improvement to the city’s bus network across the boroughs, no?

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Bolwerk December 30, 2013 - 10:52 am

No. So far BRT has increased ridership on busier bus lines in the range of 10% or 20%. It’s good, but it isn’t a replacement for a subway.

And the prospect of squandering scarce capital dollars on expensive BRT implementations should scare everyone.

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Mark grossman December 30, 2013 - 9:40 am

Love your blog. You are extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable. I’d make you head of the MTA. 🙂

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Marsha December 30, 2013 - 9:42 am

I second that!

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SEAN December 30, 2013 - 9:54 am

Resounding third!

Don’t forget about East Side Access/ the LI polls & there contempt for anything that might better the region as a whole.

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Quirk December 30, 2013 - 12:04 pm

What every happened to East Side Access?? There hasn’t been a recent set of photos released by them.

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Benjamin Kabak December 30, 2013 - 12:07 pm

There was a small update in October. Work continues.

Phantom December 30, 2013 - 1:27 pm

Me four!

Thanks for another year of hosting an interesting, focused, useful website.

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Clarke December 30, 2013 - 9:53 am

Based on those photos of the Hudson Yards station, I’d be shocked if it opens before December 2014. Any word at the ceremony whether they were still on target for the summer opening?

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Deon December 30, 2013 - 11:15 am

Ben- How do you know there wont be any more 2nd Ave Subway expansion in the next capital plan?

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Benjamin Kabak December 30, 2013 - 11:17 am

We won’t know for sure until the plan is released, but so far, the MTA has discussed state of good repair projects while keeping references to future SAS phases to a minimum. If the money materializes from DC or Albany, they’ll include Phase 2. If the dollars aren’t in place, we may not see a funding request now.

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Stephen Smith December 30, 2013 - 2:02 pm

The MTA doesn’t even have a public cost estimate for phase 2 (asked a few days ago), so I’m not sure how devoted to pushing for it they are.

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Abba December 30, 2013 - 11:18 am

I heard that BusTime might be releasesd in 2 days for the rest of the city.Anyone have anything to back that up?

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Stephen Smith December 30, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Random thought: would it have been cheaper to terminate the 7 train at 42nd & 11th and then run a tram line down the entire length of 34th St? $400 million for the tram ($100m/km rounded up), which would seem to be waaaay less than you’d save from stopping the 7 train at 11th Ave. and not crossing beneath the Lincoln Tunnel. Plus the station could’ve been a lot shallower (even if you’re not using cut-and-cover, you at least wouldn’t need to build such a large station cavern), lowering costs and making it easier to access from the street. You still need to find the right-of-way across 34th, but landlords might’ve been more accommodating of rail than a busway, and you could’ve gotten Hudson Yards landowners to go to bat for the project (and, probably, those on far east 34th St., which is seeing a bit of development now). Seems like it actually could’ve saved you some money and gotten a lot more transit.

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Bolwerk December 30, 2013 - 2:48 pm

Re to this and your above comment: do they want to take any initiative? The only kosher expansions seem to be heavy rail, only in Manhattan and at great expense, and SBS. And pretty much all the heavy rail was forced on them from outside the MTA.

For surface transit improvements, the city needs to learn to ignore the minority of people who actually complain. That said, something like 34th Street crosstown transit makes sense on the surface for accessibility reasons. It’s a short distance and dedicated lanes with priority signals should allow reasonable speeds.

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