Jul
20

Cuomo’s light show reveals Albany’s misplaced transit priorities

By
Gov. Cuomo wants to light up the MTA's bridges, but it seems superfluous in an era of subway decline.

Gov. Cuomo wants to light up the MTA’s bridges, but it seems superfluous in an era of subway decline.

Let’s talk for a few minutes about the Governor, New York City bridges and another Cuomo-inspired idea to turn those bridges into a coordinated light show in part in order to attract tourists to the city. This has been an ongoing plan of the Governor’s for a while, and similar to the backward AirTrain, it’s a top-down plan that does nothing to address fundamental issues of mobility plaguing New York while showing Cuomo’s misplaced priorities. And someone has to pay for it.

Enter Dana Rubinstein and her piece in Politico:

Before a spring meltdown turned into a full-on “summer of hell” for the city’s subways, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was proudly promoting a project to outfit the region’s bridges with pulsating, multi-colored LED lights that could provide choreographed light shows in concert with the city’s skyscrapers. “So, literally, you’ll have bridges all across the New York City area that are choreographed — nothing like this has been done on the planet,” Cuomo told reporters in January.

Now, amid daily reports of infrastructure failures and the governor’s sliding poll numbers, the Cuomo administration will not even say how much the lighting scheme will cost — except to dispute early, internal estimates it could cost more than $350 million — or where that money will come from. “This is definitively NOT being paid for by the MTA,” emailed Cuomo spokesman Jon Weinstein.

The project, part of a broader plan called “New York Crossings,” would outfit the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels — and the Port Authority’s George Washington Bridge — with pulsating, multicolored LED lights that can be choreographed with each other, with the Empire State Building and with One World Trade. But if not the MTA, who will be paying for it? “We are considering options,” Weinstein said, “but as it is a project to generate tourism and economic development, and uses technology for energy efficiency, it will be financed by [the New York Power Authority] and parts of the project could likely be funded by [Empire State Development].”

That may come as a surprise to board members of the New York Power Authority, who discussed an MTA lighting project at their meeting in January. They were told the project would be paid for by the MTA, which, like the Power Authority, is effectively controlled by the governor. In March, the NYPA board was presented with unaudited financial reports showing an LED lighting project for the MTA was slated to cost $216 million. That the MTA would foot the bill was also the understanding within the agency, according to two knowledgeable sources. Those sources also said the MTA has been working to mitigate costs in order to make the project more politically palatable.

Later in the day, the mayor finally took a stand supporting subway riders (who also happen to be his constituents).”I can tell you that people who ride the subway are not interested in a light show,” Bill de Blasio said to reporters. In response, toward the end of the day, the Governor’s press team issued a legally incorrect statement claiming all capital funding relating to the subway is the responsibility of the city, and this debate seemed destined to become another battle in the war between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. The only casualties, besides the two politicians’ reputations as adults, are their overlapping constituents.

Politically in-fighting aside, the dust-up over the lights and Cuomo’s continued support for this show misplaced priorities and bad incentives. First, while I believe it’s ridiculous for Cuomo to tout the tourism benefits — who wants to stand near the Newtown Creek a mile from a subway stop watching traffic on the city’s most congested highway passes through the Kosciuszko Bridge? — bridge lights can and do drive visitors elsewhere. It’s not patently absurd on its face; it’s just the wrong transit priority and will incentivize bad behavior as it will lead to more cars on the road as people drive around looking at bridges. (See for instance this amusing exchange between SI Advance’s Anna Sanders and her parents.)

But it also highlights Cuomo’s fundamental misunderstanding of what’s important right now. The subway system is falling apart, and millions of New Yorkers — and visitors — can’t get around as easily and as reliably as they used to. This will have a much more negative impact on the city’s economy than the LED light show Cuomo wants to install on MTA bridges around the city. That no one knows who will pay for this or how much it will cost at a time when Cuomo’s pet projects are already draining other transit resources that should be available to address the subway crisis is icing on the cake. For now, the focus should be on shoring up mass transit. The light shows can wait.



Categories : MTA Politics

69 Responses to “Cuomo’s light show reveals Albany’s misplaced transit priorities”

  1. Someone says:

    With the announcement from Chairman Lhota that they are making short term and long term roadmaps for improvement, I figured now would be a good time to flesh out a list of ideas for improvement Ive thought of and send it over to the MTA with the hopes that some of them will be incorporated in their plan.

    Below is a draft list to rapidly improve NYCT, let me know what you think.

    I would like to post the full file (its a .doc, and tables don’t go into the reply box) but I am not sure where yet, maybe Google docs?

    ————————————————————-

    Summary

    We keep hearing that the MTA needs new technology, but in fact the MTA already has it.

    The real reform must be managerial and procedural, not technological. There is no need to reinvent the wheel for the sake of doing so. Why is the MTA looking for solutions to a problem it already knows how to solve.

    The MTA has already demonstrated it has the technological expertise needed for CBTC upgrades. The MTA has developed, tested and implemented its interoperability specification for radios, way side equipment and car born equipment. All that needs to change is the planning and sequencing of these upgrades along the right of way.

    Goal: Make NYCT Asian class in a decade

    Short Term

    1. Use continuous track outages to do critical maintenance and upgrades
    2. Expand One Person Train Operation (OPTO) to all trains on CBTC / ATO equipped lines (L and soon the 7)

    Medium Term

    3. Common sense union work rule reform
    4. Roll out Transit Signal Priority for all buses
    5. Expand Bus Time Countdown Clocks to all bus stops
    6. Expand Enhanced Station Initiative program to all stations
    7. Expand the New Fare Payment System to become an integrated transit fare payment system for all of the NYC region

    Long Term

    8. Modernize Software Procurement Strategies
    9. Modernize Compensation and Benefits Packages

  2. Spendmor Wastemor says:

    New York chose a communist for Mayor and feel about that most proud. They chose a liberal hack for Governor and emote so even more.

    It is the Government They Deserve. It’s only by taxing the rest of the USA via NYC’s finance and media industries that the city can shovel money into the cronyhole that is NYC.

    • mister says:

      Why do you read this blog?

      • smotri says:

        +1 to mister.

      • Spuds says:

        Because Spendmoor happens to be correct. You guys elected both, now you have buyer’s remorse. At least have the wongahoolies and own up to it.

        • mister says:

          Correct about what? Let’s ignore the first paragraph and look at the second. The finance and media industries are ‘taxing’ the rest of the country? That’s not how taxes work. Considering that a great deal of the wealth “generated” in NYC is from overseas, I don’t see what the point is here.

          NYC used to be an industrial powerhouse. As the country transitioned to a service based economy, so did NYC. We may not like that, but it is what it is.

          Lastly, the idea that NYC is some kind of financial black hole, propped up by the surrounding area, is wrong. Especially when projects like This one are being built. NYC, for all of its faults, is a financially viable city.

          • Spuds says:

            You misunderstood. NYC is a black hole to the taxes generated north and west of the 14 counties (MTA land). I am merely suggesting that it is time to start decoupling and have the eventual divorce. NYC metro problems should be solved by NYC metro citizens. If NYC is such a monetary cornucopia, then you should be able to have a Class A transit system operating within your grasp, yesterday.

            • Adirondacker12800 says:

              No it’s not, no matter how many times you stamp your feet and claim the stalwart yeomanry of bucolic Upstate are being ravaged by the city. The Treasurer’s reports disagree.

            • mister says:

              As Adirondacker has pointed out multiple times, The city, and its immediate surrounding suburbs, subsidize the far flung regions of the state, not the other way around.

              See here.

              As a general rule, there has been this thought process that these sprawling suburban developments with large homes and yards, and massive strip developments with acres and acres of parking cover all of their costs and then subsidize densely populated cities. The reality is that the inverse is true.

              I have no political leanings, so if you want to have the city peeled off from the rest of the state, by all means advocate for that. But the entity getting the short end of the stick would be Western and northern NY. Not the down-staters.

    • Spuds says:

      Outside of real pizza, egg creams and the NY Mets, the rest of NY north of Kingston doesn’t need the southern 14 counties. We can get along fine without you. North New York would be relieved of the mega tax burden, over reaching regulations, parasitic politicians and you guys get to have Candy Andy as the booby prize. What a deal!!

      • SEAN says:

        That sward cuts both ways. Remember the old saying – be careful what you wish for. Outside of a few areas where there’s industry, most of upstate NY has no economy to speak of & you know it.

        • Spuds says:

          Neither does downstate outside of highly subsidized pet projects Plus we USED to until some of the issues I mentioned helped cause the mass exodus. Indian Point is shutting down so there goes your most local form of electrical energy because even with the Champlain Hudson Power Express is facing opposition by environmentalists and some reside in the lower hudson valley. So the sword is more of indiscrinating meat grinder than anything. So be careful where you stick your hands.

          • Spendmore Wastemor says:

            Also, the transmission lines run through upstate, as do the water lines. Upstate may decide to charge rent, or suddenly discover an environmental impact that requires such intrusions to be shut down.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            There’s generation capacity within the City.

            Not the only one but the the one I can find without spending 30 more seconds.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravenswood_Generating_Station

            • Spuds says:

              And where does the natural gas come from??? Why it could have some of those nasty “fracked” NG molecules in them! Oh the horrors!!! Face it, if we could separate NY into two states and be able to generate more NG to power low emission busses and your chinese made lithium batteries, the electricity has to come from a consistent source and not a bunch of chinese made solar panels that only produce electricity during the day and the 250ft tall bird chopping wind turbines that can negatively impact marine life. Don’t forget the required permitting and the cost of maintenance of any of these facilities

      • Dave F says:

        You forgot the Yankees.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        60 percent of the State’s revenue is collected in New York City. Everybody else should sftu while they guzzle the subsides funded by that.

        • Spuds says:

          Did you pull that number out of your dupa? Even if that was true, how much of it goes in a big hopper and gets flushed down south? Infrastructure projects alone in the southern part of the state can cost a lot more than similar project say north of Poughkeepsie. The reasons vary but one of the largest pieces of the pie is salary, transportation and materials. I would rather see the NY metro area tax accordingly and pay for their respective projects. You guys can take care of your issues and we would take care of ours.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            From the State Treasurer. They publish annual reports.
            Fine take care of your own issues. Your taxes would have to double. Or services get cut in half.

          • mister says:

            It’s fairly well established that NYC sends more money to the state than it receives back and that the inverse is true for sections of western NY. See here (pdf).

            • Spuds says:

              It sends money to the state and it get sent back to downstate via grants and local projects. Why bother sending it to Albany? Cut out the middle man.

            • Nathanael says:

              Yeah, that leaves out the Medicaid mess. If you include the state-mandated local taxes (sigh) you’ll discover that upstate is paying a hell of a lot more and getting a hell of a lot less than you think.

              • Nathanael says:

                Perhaps the best summary is that the corrupt politicians of the NY State Senate (plus some in the Assembly, and sometimes the Governor) have arranged to take an awful lot of money and steer it to their cronies in purely wasteful schemes which create unnecessary costs and overhead.

                The Medicaid Transportation fiasco is the most infamous recent one.

    • Bolwerk says:

      This thread growing out of one of spendmore’s little poopies is a shamefully LOLish display of provincial jingoism and economic/political pig ignorance. For fuck’s sake, the state isn’t breaking up, and about the only path forward is a statewide economic regimen that works for everyone. If Upstate has any hope of doing better, it’s only through better access to human capital, which more interconnectedness to NYC can only help.

      And NYC isn’t robbed for mostly for Upstate’s sake. It’s robbed for the suburbs’ sake.

      • Spuds says:

        It is not “jingoism” whatsoever. The two regions have moved in opposite directions. The pols on both sides have instituted a solid fortress of division that full unity statewide is impossible. How many state troopers have been handing out traffic tix on NYC highways that were traditionally patrolled by respective NYPD Highway units. Hey, you guys are paying for these guys and gals at a much higher rate when they should protecting other municipalities. It is time to cut our respective losses and move forward.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Not in any meaningful sense. Upstate happens to be doing badly economically and downstate is doing well, on paper anyway. The same people are exploiting both, and have been for decades. NYC didn’t create Upstate’s economic void, and the Brexit-like dreams of people pushing for two states is nothing more than a masturbatory fantasy to turn what is now Upstate into a race-to-the-bottom hellpit like Kansas.

          As for police? The primary goal of modern policing is workfare for police, not protecting anyone. Police are almost certainly a source for an order of magnitude more problems than they solve. That’s the sort of resource that should be redirected into statewide multimodal transportation infrastructure.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            It’s doing woefully if you compare it to the Bronx. Not bad at all if you compare it to subsidy sucking red state basket cases of Real America(tm) .

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          New York City is filled with residents of New York State. Why shouldn’t they get state police services like everybody else in the state?

          • Bolwerk says:

            I’m curious whether the state police are worse than the NYPD. Guessing they’re probably more professional, if anything.

            In any case, in a state with some of the lowest crime in the fucking country, why are we piling on ever more police “services”?

      • mister says:

        Actually, in a trend that bucks the vast majority of suburbs around the country, the suburbs immediately surrounding the city have just as big of a tax paid/received disparity as the city; if not more. See here. It really is a case of downstate supporting upstate.

        • Nathanael says:

          That number is wildly inaccurate. You want to know why? Because it only includes taxes paid to the STATE.

          The State requires that local counties provide Medicaid services (a requirement unique in the US) out of *local property tax*, which as a result is astronomically high.

          When you figure Medicaid in, you discover that upstate is paying a hell of a lot more than you thought. And getting pretty bad results for the money, because having Medicaid micromanaged at the county level creates a huge wasteful overhead (every other state does it at the state level).

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The comptroller publishes numbers annually. Last time I looked the state collects 60 percent of it’s revenue in New York City. Everybody else should sftu. My county depends heavily on rich people from NYC, Boston and Montreal coming to do Adirondacky stuff. All that luscious sales tax money on what they spend. And room tax !!
            ….the town I live in has a lot of second homes. They don’t send their kids to the schools but pay property taxes as if they did and generate a lot less garbage, calls to 911, use less water if the are connected to the system… don’t drive on the roads. There are a few cul-de-sacs that are all second homes, their street doesn’t get plowed in the winter…. sftu.

  3. MDC says:

    My suspicion about the “backwards” LGA AirTrain is that it’s not backwards at all for its real constituents: people who live on Long Island. Cuomo doesn’t care at all about people who live in NYC and need to get to the airport; it’s only car-driving suburbanites whose problems are real to him.

    • Jon Y says:

      Even then, it doesn’t help the majority of Long Islanders. It will only connect with the Port Washington Line, so anyone coming from ANYWHERE else in Long Island will either need to 1) drive & park at Willets Point 2) get dropped off at a PW station (where parking isn’t available for non-residents) or 3) take the LIRR to Woodside (which already requires a connection for most people), connect to the PW to then connect to the AirTrain for a 4-seat trip.

      • BruceNY says:

        It would make a bit more sense (for Long Islanders particularly) if they planned to extend it from Willets Point to Jamaica and connect with the rest of the LIRR. Moreover, the Airtrain could continue on to JFK. There are some passengers that could benefit from connecting the two airports.
        But instead, Cuomo talks about spending yet more money to expand the Van Wyck Expressway (where we have already endured ten painful years of construction) to encourage yet more drivers to JFK.

        • Spuds says:

          Having a point to point Airtrain between LGA and JFK is a step in the right direction but so is the RBL and the Triboro-X…but does anyone see a big push $$$$ for those projects?

    • Phantom says:

      a) the 7 does run on 42nd Street, one of the busiest parts of the city

      b) there is an easy connection to the 7 to the W and N at Queensboro Plaza, which will work for many in Brooklyn and

      c) other connections to the 7 along 42nd Street and at 74th and Roosevelt

      This route is not my first choice either, but it could work.

      And if it is doable now, maybe should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      • mister says:

        The problem is that the current service is better than what is being proposed. Both for 7 line riders, and for the vast majority of others headed to the airport.

        • Phantom says:

          You will now have a superior option from Javits Center/ Hudson Yards/ 42nd St / parts of Queens as compared with what is there now.

          And for the truly dedicated, it can be seen as a way to connect JFK and LaGuardia ( JFK Airtrain to Jamaica/ E to 74th/ 7 to Shea ( never use another name ) / LGA Airtrain. A surprising number of people land at one airport and continue their journey at another airport

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            There aren’t that many stupid people in the world. They book the cheaper flights that involve a walk across the concourse.

            • Spuds says:

              It would be great if more carriers would expand their routes to other Upstate (north of Kingston ) and northern New England airports. (Ex. Frontier, Southwest, etc)

              • Bolwerk says:

                That’s a stupidly ineffective distance for flights. But perfect for high speed rail.

                • Spuds says:

                  Out of curiosity, what would your defintion be of “high speed rail”?

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    I usually just go with >200 km/hr, which seems to be the internationally accepted definition.

                    (That’s about 125 MPH.)

                    • Spuds says:

                      Of course you realize that the existing curvature even along the water level route could not accommodate such speeds to make it feasible. Let alone the need to upgrade it to at least 4 tracks throughout the system. Then there are those “pesky laws and regulations like the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 106, Environmental Justice, the need to upgrade urban and rural crossings, placement of substations (for running under wire) etc, etc
                      Plus in pure political fashion, bipartisan requirement for the train to stop at every main station in their respective districts making high speed not infeasible altogether.

                    • Spuds says:

                      Strike “not” … typing on a phone stinks

                    • Adirondacker12800 says:

                      West of Utica there are big long stretches of very straight track. When it’s built there will be stations in Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. there aren’t enough people in the places in between to build 100 million dollar stations.

                    • Spendmor Wastemor says:

                      “Of course you realize that the existing curvature even along the water level route could not accommodate such speeds”

                      Curious: What’s the standard for setting how much curvature a train can handle? Is it related to wheel and track wear, speed at which the train flops on its side, or when the most skittish imaginable passenger makes a fuss? If it’s the narrow wheel spacing leading to side-flop, tilt the tracks or use a wider gauge, such as the Great Western did.

                      A very ordinary auto can run 125 mph over Interstate standard curves, even cars of 50 years ago could do that. (Obviously you cannot do this on speed-limited roads.)

                      Currently, curve speeds are such that the curve is imperceptible to the passengers; you could stand up a full stemmed wine glass and it would not tip. Seated px can handle far more curve force than that. There may be other issues, but back when, it wasn’t uncommon for subway trains/streetcars to roll through curves fast enough that you needed a firm grip on something or you’d be on you ***.

                      Short: Perhaps trains can go much fasten on currently available routes if the radius/speed chart is given some sharp scrutiny.

                    • Spuds says:

                      Unfortunately the stretches of straightaways east of Syracuse are limited, especially as you come in to Rome. You have historic communities along the right of way any attempts to significantly change the geometry would require extensive and lengthy cultural resource studies and consultation with american indian tribes.
                      Since safety is number one, there would have be grade crossing eliminations, some in historic and culturally sensitive areas.
                      The original 4 tracks in Syracuse were removed and the train takes a former 2 track frieght route that would almost be impossible to expand due to right of way and environmental constraints.
                      There is no way any House Rep is going to support such a project if significant community in their district does not have stop or at least have connecting services.
                      I invite yoi guys to come on up and see for yourselves.
                      I haven’t even touched the rest of the issues. Even a privately funded high speed rail line like Brightline in Florida is facing opposition and they are working in their row

                    • Adirondacker12800 says:

                      There aren’t going to be 300-350 kph trains running through bucolic downtown Rome. Not that the tracks go through downtown Rome.
                      They can get the freight out of downtown, like other towns did when they had the chance or they can have the lousy train service they have now. And a shuttle bus to the station in Rochester, Syracuse or Utica where they can a get train that takes them to New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Cleveland or Detroit faster than going to the airport in Rochester, Syracuse or Utica.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Heh. That can’t-do American spirit. But breaking up New York State will fix everything!

                      Anyway, sure there needs to be some curve straigthening, and of course there should be local stations. Not every train has to stop at every station.

                    • Adirondacker12800 says:

                      North and west of Hudson it’s going to be Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. Downtown Buffalo is at the center of a lot of curves. Buffalo might get a suburban station where the express from Washington DC or Boston to Toronto doesn’t stop. Once it goes to Montreal, Saratoga Springs and Plattsburgh. There aren’t enough people other places to be building miles and miles of station siding tracks and 100 million dollar stations for the demand they might be able to create.

                    • Spuds says:

                      High speed to Montreal? ? Hahaha. . Have you ever traveled the route?? There isn’t any room in aome of the areas for additional right of way and you are going to eliminate every at grade and private crossing?? Wow, some of you guys live in a bubble. C’mon up..and see for yourselves. Oh yeah, how do you plan on powering these units. Overhead?? Third Rail? We have 3 nuke plants here and a few nat gas plants but you guys downstate want to shut them down. Hydro at Massena and Niagara are going to cut it due to degraded transmission.

                    • Spuds says:

                      *aren’t going to cut it

                    • Adirondacker12800 says:

                      I never thought the quality of FUD posted on this site would ever drop so low.
                      Yes I have traveled the route. I live in the Adirondacks, I’m quite familiar with it. In nice round numbers half of it is in the mountains, It’s too curvy for high speeds, they would have to lay out a new route. Most of it would be across land the state already owns. The other half is is straight enough and flat enough and has enough space to upgrade it at moderate cost. They would power it with 25kv grid frequency electricity like everybody else in the world does. If you had half a clue about what you are babbling you would be aware of at least some of the technical reasons third rail would not be appropriate. They would get the electricity from the same places we would get our other electricity. There is a quiet revolution going on in electricity production that is accelerating. Where to get the electricity isn’t going to be difficult.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Not every curve has to be eliminated. What is needed is higher average speeds over long distances, not the complete absence of curves.

          • Spuds says:

            It will always be “Shea”… or New Shea or even Shea 2.0

    • AMH says:

      EXACTLY–car driving Long Islanders are his real constituents.

  4. A Anon says:

    What – I can’t eat my Vegemite in the train carriage?

    Thinking you can dictate / change peoples behaviours is 20th century thinking.

    Technology DUH – If you don’t want people throwing trash on the tracks then you prevent access to the tracks with platform edge doors.

    • mister says:

      Considering that you need automated trains (which MTA doesn’t have yet most places) and full height Platform sceen doors (which they are not planning to ever have due to air circulation concerns), this isn’t as big of a DUH as one might think.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Well, there’s also the solution most of the rest of the worlds’ major cities have figured out decades ago: picking up litter, which happens whether there are platform screen doors or not.

      • smotri says:

        New York City is an unrelievedly filthy place, with litter virtually everywhere one goes. I really don’t understand what it is that makes New Yorkers such utter slobs.

        • Bolwerk says:

          New Yorkers aren’t very different from anyone else. Nobody in New York is tasked with litter removal. The closest thing to the city trying to grapple with it is streetsweeping, which appears to just brush litter around. General waste mismanagement (why the fuck do we permit so much takeout wrapping and plastic bags everywhere?) just compounds the problem.

  5. Nathanael says:

    What a complete idiot Cuomo is.

    As someone who is often a tourist, who lives in upstate NY, I preferentially go to Boston and Chicago. Not New York.

    Because the subway system in NY is *not wheelchair accessible*. In Boston and Chicago, it mostly is.

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