As 2013 unfolded and the promise of a new mayor came into view, the Forum for Urban Design hosted a series of meetings on urban development. As part of the forum, a variety of planners and designers submitted ideas for the Next New York. I highlighted one of those ideas — Alex Garvin’s waterfront light rail — in a September post on light rail for Red Hook. It is, of course, an old idea that won’t fade away and could make sense as a speedier connection to the jobs, shops, restaurants and subways in Downtown Brooklyn if the costs are right.
Today, that idea — and the rest of Garvin’s impractical line all the way to Astoria — is back in the news as The New York Times has discovered it. It’s always dangerous when The Times latches onto an element of urban planning as they tend to push real estate interests over transit needs, and their coverage of this idea as a mixed-traffic streetcar connecting waterfront areas that don’t need to be connected to each other follows a similar pattern. This is a Big Idea for the sake of Big Ideas and not to solve a discrete problem.
The presentation comes to us in a Michael Kimmelman column. I’ll excerpt:
There’s a wonderful term for the dirt trails that people leave behind in parks: desire lines. Cities also have desire lines, marked by economic development and evolving patterns of travel. In New York, Manhattan was once the destination for nearly all such paths, expressed by subway tracks that linked Midtown with what Manhattanites liked to call the outer boroughs.
But there is a new desire line, which avoids Manhattan altogether. It hugs the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens, stretching from Sunset Park past the piers of Red Hook, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek, which separates the two boroughs, running all the way up to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria. The desire line is now poorly served by public transit, even as millennials are colonizing Astoria, working in Red Hook, then going out in Williamsburg and Bushwick — or working at the Navy Yard, visiting friends in Long Island City and sleeping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
They have helped drive housing developments approved or built along the Brooklyn waterfront, like the one by Two Trees at the former Domino Sugar Refinery. But this corridor isn’t only for millennials. It’s also home to thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force. So here’s an idea: bring back the streetcar.
The idea of a “desire line” is a literary device; it doesn’t mirror reality. Furthermore, the rest of Kimmelman’s column is replete with contradictions about this streetcar’s plan. Kimmelman opts for streetcars over buses because of “romance,” but and while there’s something to be said about the psychological impact of a streetcar, we’re talking about a half a billion dollars and massive upfront infrastructure needs for a mixed-traffic line that won’t do what Kimmelman wants it to do.
Here’s the question that needs to be asked first: Will the “thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force” benefit from this streetcar route? What problem is a lined near the waterfront from Red Hook to Astoria trying to solve? One Twitter follower put together a Google Map of the proposed routing, and you’ll see that the best it does is provide direct access to the Navy Yard, a decent sized job center in Brooklyn. As passé as it may be, jobs are in Manhattan or generally along subway lines, and this route doesn’t help improve access to subway lines. (It’s also a mess operationally with tight turns along narrow streets that would limit rolling stock length. It also parallels some bus routes, raising even more questions of need and cost.)
While Cap’n Transit believes that any area that could support light rail would be prime for a subway, if costs are lower and ridership falls in between buses and a subway, light could work. As I mentioned, we can’t dismiss the psychological edge they hold over buses, and with the right routing — dedicated lanes that run, say, from Red Hook to the Navy Yards via subway stations in Downtown Brooklyn rather than via the waterfront — they could solve the gaps in transit deserts. But we shouldn’t, as Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen does, love this idea simply because it’s new, romantic or big. Will the ridership justify the costs? Will the service connect to job centers and destinations or provide a faster way to get to New York’s developed subway network? Can we identify a need and support that need based on a thorough study? “Desire” isn’t enough considering how much this will cost.
Not too much work this weekend…
From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 20, 4 trains are not running due to track panel installation at Bedford Park Boulevard and 161 St Yankee Stadium. 5 trains replace 4 service in Brooklyn and Manhattan. D trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service in the Bronx.
From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 20, 5 service is extended to Crown Hts Utica Av and New Lots Av, making all 4 station stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn due to track panel installation at Bedford Park Boulevard and 161 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 21, A trains are suspended in both directions between Jay St-MetroTech and Utica Av due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Transfer between A trains and free shuttle buses at Jay Street-MetroTech or Utica Av.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19, and Sunday, April 20, C trains are suspended in both directions between W 4 St Wash Sq and Euclid Av due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 21, Jamaica Center-bound E trains are rerouted via the F line from W 4 St Wash Sq to 21 St-Queensbridge due to Sandy recovery related work. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer-bound J trains run express from Marcy Av to Broadway Junction due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 4:00 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 20, M trains run every 20 minutes due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 21, Brooklyn-bound N trains stop at 45 St and 53 St due to track tie renewal south of 36 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 18 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 20, and from 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 20, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 21, R trains run are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn due to track tie renewal work south of 36 St. Take N trains instead.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelson just wrapped up a press conference during which the MTA and TWU announced a tentative agreement on a new labor deal. It’s a five-year deal with raises in all five years — 1 percent retroactively for the first two and 2 percent for each of the last three years. There are no work rule reforms, but TWU healthcare contributions will increase from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. And the MTA does not expect this deal to impact its planned fare hikes or razor-thin operations margins in the out-years in its financial plan. You may be wondering how; I know I am.
We don’t yet have any of the details behind the math, but estimates are that this deal could add around $150-$200 million per year to the MTA’s operations budget. The MTA has continually noted that need to secure net-zero wage increases in order to avoid jeopardizing its capital plan, but this deal contains none of that. So where does that leave us? It leaves me concerned that the riders will bear the brunt of the costs either through more deferred maintenance, no real capital expansion plans, higher fare hikes down the road, service cuts or a combination of everything. I hope I’m wrong, but this is an election year we’re in. These are the transit politics coming from up high in Albany.
After over two years of negotiating (or barely negotiating) with various Chairmen, the MTA and TWU Local 100, its largest union, are nearing agreement on a contract, the Daily News reports today. According to Pete Donohue and Ginger Adams Otis, the new agreement grants raises to MTA workers, but it’s unclear if the MTA has moved away from the net-zero position or has wrested other concessions from the union.
Here’s the News’ take. Details are, so far, sparse:
The MTA and the union representing subway and bus workers in the city are close to reaching an agreement on a new contract that would grant workers an 8% raise over five years, according to sources familiar with the talks. Under the package now on the table, new hires would have to work for five years before reaching the top pay rate, an increase of two years, and worker contributions to health care costs would rise to 2% of base pay, from 1.5%, the sources said.
The progress in negotiations appeared to signal a break in the two-year contract stalemate, but sources said, however, that significant issues need to be overcome to produce a deal. The stumbling blocks led Transport Workers Local 100 President John Samuelsen to ask Gov. Cuomo in a letter late Tuesday to intervene and help seal the deal for the 34,000 transit workers in the union.“Absent your intervention, I do not see a path to resolving a number of difficult issues,” Samuelsen wrote to Cuomo.
Steve Greenhouse of The Times adds more color on the union’s request that Cuomo intervene to see these negotiations through. TWU officials say that finalizing their contract will give the MTA a baseline for their contentious negotiations with the LIRR and will help Cuomo avert a costly railroad strike set to begin four months before Election Day. I worry that such an impetus for a contract involves putting the short-term election cart before the long-term horse of the MTA’s fiscal stability. Already, the governor has shown that he is more than willing to sacrifice MTA finances for electoral gains.
Still, until we know the details and understand what, if any, concessions the MTA secured, it’s too early to speculate both on how this deal will impact the MTA’s ledger sheet and what this means for future fare hikes. Still, with promised raises of eight percent over five years, I’m wary. Already, the MTA has scaled back next year’s fare hikes from around eight percent to four percent, and funds are tight. The riders may have to pay more as, in flush times, everyone else is getting more of the economic pie.
It’s hard to say which transit agency has had a worse go of it lately. New Jersey Transit had some banner years in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy knocked out hundreds of millions of dollars of rolling stock and followed that up by being unable to cope with greater-than-expected crowds during the 2014 Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Metro-North has been plagued by derailments, collisions and deaths over the past 16 months. It’s not been a good look for either.
So it should come as no surprise then that a New Jersey Transit official who was given the boot, in part, over the agency’s response to Sandy has found a new home at Metro-North. Karen Rouse of The Record had the story:
NJ Transit’s former railroad chief, who was pushed out in March following two tumultuous years that included the flooding of nearly 400 rail cars and locomotives during Superstorm Sandy, has landed a job within New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Kevin O’Connor, the former vice-president of rail at NJ Transit, started April 10 as Metro-North Railroad’s new chief transportation officer, according to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for Metro-North, a division of the MTA that provides rail service in suburban New York and Connecticut…
O’Connor came under intense public scrutiny in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy flooded hundreds of NJ Transit rail cars and locomotives that had been left to sit in low-lying, flood prone rail yards. Documents and emails revealed that NJ Transit did not follow a plan to move the equipment to higher ground, and instead left the rail cars and locomotives in the vulnerable yards in Kearny and Hoboken as Sandy approached. The damage to the equipment was upwards of $120 million.
In February, the Christie Administration shook up NJ Transit, replacing former executive director Jim Weinstein with Ronnie Hakim – herself a onetime former special counsel at the MTA. Hakim dismissed O’Connor and Joyce Gallagher, NJ Transit’s former vice-president for bus operations, within weeks…
Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, in a written statement, expressed confidence in O’Connor. “I have known Kevin for decades and like many in the railroad industry, I have the utmost respect for his operational skills, his leadership and his management abilities,” said Giuletti, who took leadership of Metro-North in January. “He has 37 years of experience with Amtrak and NJ Transit, both of which are partners with Metro-North, and we will benefit from his long experience.”
O’Connor, according to Rouse, will replace John McNulty, a vice president at Metro-North, who is retiring this year.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen O’Connor’s name pop up in the ongoing coverage of New Jersey Transit’s response to Sandy. He repeatedly excused planning that left expensive rolling stock in flood zones and shortly after Sandy, got into a war of words with some of the agency’s critics over NJ Transit’s seemingly inept response to the storm. Yet, transit is incestuous in the northeast, and O’Connor, a few weeks after getting ousted from the Garden State, has landed with New York’s troubled agency. Maybe it’s a fit for both, but it’s certainly reasonable to eye this development skeptically right now.
One of the lowest moments in recent transit history arrived last June when Tom Prendergast faced his confirmation hearing at the hands of the New York State Senate. Instead of offering up anything substantial, Senator Andrew Lanza too up a full ten minutes of Prendergast’s time, barely asking a question. Instead, he ranted and raved against bus lanes, Select Bus Service, and flashing blue lights. Supposedly, even after years of successful service in Manhattan and the Bronx, Staten Island drivers thought that SBS buses, with their flashing blue lights, were emergency vehicles.
After a review of the relevant New York State laws, Lanza — who has fought every transit improvement for Staten Island with a vengeance — determined that the MTA’s blue lights violated the law. He lectured Prendergast about the issue even though the MTA had turned off the lights in early 2013, over four years after using them initially and after countless law enforcement officials expressed ignorance at the blue light law. Bus users throughout the city have since complained about the difficulties in discerning Select Bus Service vehicles from the distance as the visual signifiers are no longer obvious.
Over the past year, various groups — including Manhattan’s CB 6 — have tried to find a solution. After an extensive review of the law, it appeared as though purple lights would be the only ones that didn’t require some sort of exemption, and for a while it looked like a bill to secure Albany’s stamp would pass. But Lanza started his whining about last summer, and as Streetsblog noted last week, the effort is stalled in committee. CB 6 passed another resolution [pdf] urging Albany to allow for purple lights or the MTA to do something else entirely.
Meanwhile, in another update, Stephen Miller at Streetsblog noted that even some supporters in Albany have lost the enthusiasm for the fight. Here’s the update:
[Sen. Jeff] Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett….Meanwhile, [Assemblyman Micha] Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”
Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99? to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee. The push to pass the bill is also complicated by Kellner himself, who has been sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for sexual harassment violations and is not seeking reelection this year….
Kellner’s constituents rely heavily on SBS along First and Second Avenues, and Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution this week asking Albany to bring the lights back. “My constituents call on a daily basis wondering why the lights are turned off,” Kellner said, adding that he has never received a complaint from a motorist who thought “two simultaneously flashing lights that flash very slowly” on a bus looked anything like an emergency vehicle. Kellner expressed frustration that the issue has languished. “Our bill specifically exempts Staten Island,” he said. ”This should not be a controversial thing.”
Kellner’s statement speaks volumes about this whole fight. It should not be controversial. Everyone is willing to accommodate a bunch of obstructionist politicians from Staten Island who both complain about a lack of transit options and throw up as many roadblocks as possible over improvements as incremental as Select Bus Service. Meanwhile, the rest of the city’s bus riders are held hostage to the whims of the few on something that is not, again, controversial. How utterly frustrating.
Coming next week: A half-hearted effort to bring flashing lights back to Select Bus Service vehicles that seems doomed to fail in Albany and how it underscores how inept New York can be when it comes to very easy and obvious fixes.
Coming soon: Changes to those weekend 7 train shutdowns. A bunch of those shutdowns have been pared back. I’m not going to post the full details here because they’re chock full o’ boring minutiae. Check ‘em out right here.
Now, onto this weekend’s changes.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, 2 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to MOW dig out at Times Sq-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday, April 11 to April 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 13, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, 3 service is suspended due to MOW dig out at Times Sq-42 St. Take the 2 and free shuttle buses. Free shuttle buses serve 135 St, 145 St, and 148 St. Transfer between 2 trains and shuttle buses at 135 St.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13, 3 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to MOW dig out at Times Sq-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday, April 11 to April 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 13, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St due to track tie renewal north of Grand Central-42 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St due to cable work south of 125 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, 5 trains are suspended between Dyre Av and E 180 St, due to signal modernization on the Dyre Avenue Line. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Dyre Av and E 180 St. 5 service operates between E 180 St and Bowling Green, every 20 minutes.
From 5:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturday, April 12, and from 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 13, Bowling Green-bound 5 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St due to cable work south of 125 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St due to track tie renewal north of Grand Central-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station renewal work at Castle Hill Av and Middletown Rd.
From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza. Use E FNQ trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all subway station stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street Shuttle operates overnight.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday, April 11 to April 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 13, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, A trains run express in both directions between 59 St-Columbus Circle and Canal St due to Mulry Square vent plant upgrade, and rail and plate repair work south of W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13, C trains run express in both directions between 59 St-Columbus Circle and Canal St due to Mulry Square vent plant upgrade, and rail and plate repair work south of W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Queens-bound E trains run express from Canal St to 34 St-Penn Station due to Mulry Square vent plant upgrade.
From 12:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13, and from 12:15 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Queens-bound E trains run express from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills-71 Av due to tunnel lighting installation south of Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Av.
From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14 Queens-bound E trains skip 75 Av and Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Coney Island-bound F trains are rerouted via the E from Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av to 5 Av/53 St due to Second Avenue Subway Project.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Brooklyn-bound F trains are rerouted via the A from W 4 St-Wash Sq to Jay St-MetroTech due to rail and plate work south of W 4 St Wash Sq.
From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Queens-bound F trains skip 75 Av, Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd, due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 13, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer-bound J trains run express from Marcy Av to Broadway Junction due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 10:45 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., Saturday to Monday, April 12 to April 14, L trains run every 24 minutes between Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy and Broadway Junction due to CBTC testing.
From 4:00 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 13, M trains run every 20 minutes due to track work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction.
From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13, Queens-bound N trains are rerouted via the D (express) from Coney Island-Stillwell Av to 36 St due to CPM survey work near 20 Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Brooklyn-bound N trains stop at 45 St and 53 St due to track tie renewal south of 36 St.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, Brooklyn-bound Q trains run express from Newkirk Av to Sheepshead Bay due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 13, and from 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 13, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 14, R trains are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn due to track tie renewal work south of 36 St. Take N trains instead.
From 6:30 a.m. Saturday, April 12 to 12:15 p.m. and Monday, April 14, Queens-bound R trains run express from Queens Plaza to Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av due tunnel lighting installation south of Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av.
As far as creative takes on New York City subway maps go, I’m a pretty accepting guy. I don’t hate the current map, though I find it a bit overrun with information, and I’ve always enjoyed attempts at reimagining the map. The Vignelli map, of course, remains the standard for artistic design trumping usefulness, and the KICK Map seems to meld something easy to read with something useful. Lately, we’ve seen New York’s system with a DC twist, a regional transit map and even a circular map. But now I’ve found one I don’t like.
Over the past few days, Jug Cerovic’s project to standardize the world’s subway maps has been making the rounds. As The Atlantic Cities’ Jenny Xie explained, Cerovic has tried to come up with a design that can be applied across the world and is both easy to read and easy to memorize. It otherwise fails as a useful navigating tool.
Here’s a little summary of what passes for Cerovic’s design philosophy:
Underlying all of this is INAT, a set of guidelines Cerovic developed to help him design maps that are easy to read and memorize. Key rules? Enlarging city centers to accommodate the crowd of lines and stations, and using a uniform set of colors, symbols, and labeling. He also kept all the lines vertical, horizontal, or 45 degrees inclined, and limited most of them to no more than five bends on their entire lengths.
Some might argue that uniformity wipes out the cities’ unique identities. But Cerovic says he tried to make each map very different through overarching symbolic shapes. For example, the Moscow design follows the form of a circle, while the Beijing design is more rectangular.
Cerovic compares his maps to road signs. “They’re not the same in the whole world but they’re very similar — so if you go to another place, you’ll seem to recognize the meaning of the signs,” he says in a phone interview.
That’s all well and good, but take a look at New York City on top. What is going on there? Bay Ridge and Coney Island appear to be due east of each other and of Lower Manhattan; Central Park is a puny rectangle toward the northern part of Manhattan; and the G train terminates north of Atlantic Ave. near both 7th Ave. and Prospect Park on the BMT Brighton Line. It violates the basic tenets of cardinal directions and map making. Even the best subway schematics have some bearing on reality; this one has none.
I appreciate what Cerovic is trying to do. I see why you might want to pick a universal design for subway maps, but if you’re going to try to produce a quasi-geographic schematic, it must have some relation to reality. It cannot be so divorced from the city layout to be useless as a map and as a navigation tool. But I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to share a new map with the world. So there you go. I don’t like it, but it’s a twist.
It has been a banner week for the mundane in the subways. Mired in the morass of a slow April with the MTA’s ambitiously expensive capital plan on tap, the openings of the Fulton St. Transit Center in two months and the 7 line extension…eventually…, and still no idea how the Governor is going to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the stories of the week have focused around a rat and some cleavage. These are, apparently, the things that count.
The rat story is your garden variety “rat on subway car, passengers freak out” type. Like many New Yorkers, the rat was trying to get somewhere on Monday morning when it ended up on an A train at Fulton St. The doors closed, and the passengers freaked out at something approximately 1/100th their size. It’s an impressive display of New York cowardice as grown adults stood on subway seats, screamed and, if you listen to the audio track on the video above, sobbed for two minutes while this rat tried to run away from the nutty human giants surrounding it.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I wasn’t on that subway car. And, yes, rats do carry rabies. But something about this reaction just strikes me as incredibly pathetic. It’s New York gone soft, and it’s generated, according to a Google News search, over 170 articles throughout the country. Who knew a rat on the subway was so newsworthy? In response, an MTA spokesman told Metro that the agency is continuing to fight rats as best they can.
While the rats scamper free, what of the breasts? That’s the other big story this week. In a classic “think of the children” moment, Pete Donohue of the Daily News turned a subway ad on breast augmentation into a giant controversy. In an piece filled with concerned parents, Donohue focused his column on the ad’s display. “Whoa! That’s too much exposure,” Connie Johnson said of the ads. “Her breast is out. It’s exposed. As a female, I don’t like it. I think it’s terrible. Kids can see that.” (Kids can also see the cover of the Daily News, but sex and hypocrisy sell newspapers.)
This brouhaha probably would have died down had Governor Cuomo not gotten involved, but seemingly having solved every other transit problem he pretends doesn’t exist, the Governor opted to take the MTA to task for their ad policy. The ad policy recently come under judicial scrutiny, and in order to comply with the pesky First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the agency had to re-write its policy to be more encompassing. Now, the Governor via a letter to the MTA has requested the agency review its ad policy.
Please, think of the children, he said. “Tens of thousands of children ride the transit system every day to go to school,” the letter, signed by Howard Glaser, reads. “The MTA is a public conveyance, subsidized by $190 million annually in the state budget, plus over $5 billion in dedicated taxes. The public has a right to expect that the MTA will strive for a family-friendly environment.”
Of course, because the MTA is a government agency, “family-friendly environment” can also be interpreted as a content-based restriction on free speech. Is there a compelling state interest to avoid ample, but still covered, cleavage on an ad in the subway? If the state hasn’t dubbed it obscene, one agency board member said, the MTA would lose the lawsuit if it rejected the ad.
So now, with real issues facing the region, the MTA will spend time on its ad policy to appease a governor that the cynic in me believes is trying to appeal to more conservative voters in order to ring up some crushing reelection poll numbers in November. This is transit policy in 2014. I think I’ll stick with the rats instead.
It’s not too often we get a direct glimpse into the minds and inner workings of a New York City politician attempting to come to grips with transit policy, but this weekend’s Daily News provided us with just that opportunity. Appearing in print at around the same time we learned of his support for a Soundview ferry, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. penned his take on Sam Schwartz’s Move NY toll plan. His critique is flawed and shows the battle anyone fighting for transit in New York City faces.
Claiming that the Move New York plan was revealed to the public for the first time last month — technically true as the campaign launched but Schwartz, who discussed the plan at my October 2012 “Problem Solvers” session, hasn’t exactly been quiet lately — Diaz had the audacity to call it a “unfair regressive tax.” Does the Bronx Borough President know what a regressive tax is, you may wonder. I know I certainly am. Here’s Diaz’s critique in his own words:
To make this toll plan work, supporters this time are pledging to lower the tolls on outer-borough bridges, such as the Robert F. Kennedy and Verrazano Bridges, in order to entice support from those communities that rejected this proposal in 2008. What “Move NY” has proposed is likely a Trojan horse. While the promise of lower tolls is certainly alluring, there are no guarantees that those tolls would stay low forever. In fact, given the history of this city’s bridges and their tolls, we can be certain that these so-called “lower” tolls will surge back to their original heights in short order.
We are told that the congestion pricing system will be “fair.” I have a different definition of fairness than those proposing this scheme. It is not fair to place a regressive tax on those who can least afford it. It is not fair to imply that outer borough tolls will remain low forever…
If revenue is required, we can raise money in other ways. For starters, we should charge drivers to register their cars based on the vehicle’s weight and level of fuel efficiency. Not only will this incentivize drivers to choose hybrid or electric cars, it will place the burden of new funding on the vehicles that cause the most congestion and pollution. We must also begin to implement new transit plans that will lower congestion by providing alternatives, and not through new bridge taxes. This includes improvements like ferry service in Williamsburg, the Rockaways and Soundview, and new Metro North service in the East Bronx.
Just how, pricing supporters will ask, do we pay for such relatively inexpensive transit upgrades without a new pricing scheme? I would say that we have been paying all along, and that it is time for the other boroughs to be treated as “fairly” as Manhattan has been.
Diaz goes onto bemoan the high cost of construction for the Second Ave. Subway, 7 line extension and East Side Access, not because he’s concerned about MTA spending but because he can’t see the forrest for the trees. East Side Access barely touches Manhattanites as it is more concerned with bringing suburban commuters while the Second Ave. Subway will directly benefit Diaz’s constituents as they’ll enjoy less crowding on the Lexington Ave. lines that snake through the Bronx. (He conveniently doesn’t discuss the plans to add four Metro-North stations to underserved areas in his borough.)
But what of this claim of regressive taxation? We see this over and over again from politicians who have a very distorted view of who drives and who owns cars in New York City. As of early 2012, only 46 percent of Bronx households owned cars, and those who Diaz claims can’t afford a modest toll certainly aren’t driving into Manhattan every day. In fact, as Streetsblog eloquently argued a few months ago, the real regressive tax is the current tolling scheme. “It’s regressive that a few people in single-occupancy vehicles can clog streets and immobilize hundreds of less affluent people riding buses,” Ben Fried wrote. “It’s regressive that wealthy car owners can drive into the center of the city without paying a dime, while transit riders have no choice but to pay higher fares because the MTA capital program is backed by mountains of debt.”
I don’t know if Schwartz’s plan is the answer to the transit funding woes, but it’s an answer. At some point, too, it will be the path of least resistance toward garnering a dedicated revenue stream for the transit system. But it’s not regressive, not by any stretch. I wouldn’t expect much more from a politician who thinks that a ferry that would serve a ridership in the low triple digits is a game-changer, but it does provide a glimpse of the mindset pervasive in the boroughs, City Hall and Albany. Misguided thinking is no way to set policies that impact millions.