So the D train cricket lady was apparently all an act. At least that’s what she told Fusion late on Friday afternoon. How frustratingly maddening. She should have to clean up out subway stations with a toothbrush for the next five years to make amends for her disruptive routine.
As you let that frustration stew, consider purchasing a ticket to attend Transportation Camp NYC 2016. The so-called un-conference runs all day on Saturday, September 24, and it is, I promise you, a good time for those interested in a variety of transportation-related topics. Attendees get to set the agenda, and the day ends up being a veritable “who’s who” of the transit world. After a day full of networking and panels, there’s a happy hour at 5 p.m. and events on the Thursday and Friday prior to the conference. Get more details and your tickets right here. Act fast, though, as there are only 111 tickets remaining. I’ll be there, leading a session (though the topic is still TBD).
Meanwhile, as August draws to an end, the service advisories continue apace. These comes to from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs; listen to announcements.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, South Ferry-bound 1 trains run express from 145 St to 96 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Take the 5 instead. For service to/from Park Place, Fulton St, Wall St, Clark St, Borough Hall, and Hoyt St, use nearby 45 stations instead. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, take the NQR. Transfer between 23 and NQR at Times Sq-42 St. Transfer between NQR and 45 trains at Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and New Lots Av. Take the 4 instead. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn take the NQR. 4 service will operate all weekend between Woodlawn and New Lots Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 4 service will operate all weekend between Woodlawn and New Lots Av, replacing the 3 in Brooklyn. 4 trains will run local in Brooklyn.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service and operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, making all stops. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, August 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Downtown A trains run local from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, 168 St-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, Norwood-205 St bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Ave to 36 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Downtown D trains run local from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 7:00 a.m. Sunday, August 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound E trains skip Spring St and 23 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains are rerouted via the E line after 47-50 Sts to Roosevelt Av.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, Manhattan-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27, and from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, M trains run every 20 minutes. Manhattan-bound M trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, R service operates to/from the Jamaica-179 St F station.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to Monday, August 29, the 42 Street Shuttle will operate overnight.
Was your office, like nearly everyone else’s in New York city, chirping over this tale from a Wednesday evening D train? It’s one of those only-in-New York tales that makes people wonder how they cope on a daily basis, and it highlights the absurdity of the subway emergency brake.
For me, the story started with a text message from a good friend of mine shortly after 6 p.m. on Wednesday. “Yay! Someone pulled the emergency brake on my D train!” he said to me. “I’m getting a nice long view of the bridge!” All he knew after were that cops had shown up at De Kalb Ave. to greet the D train and remove an unruly passenger. Here’s how The Post relays events:
A crazed woman trying to sell crickets and worms on a D train suddenly threw them all over the crowded car, sending it into chaos during the evening commute. The woman walked into the train car at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and made a pitch to passengers to try to get them to buy the chirping insects and wrigglers. A group of teenagers pushed her, prompting her to freak out and toss the box of pests into the air, said witnesses. Straphangers then started screaming and crying, and all ran down to one end of the car.
…Someone then pulled the emergency brake and the train skidded to a stop on the Manhattan Bridge. The air conditioning shut off and the screaming passengers were all stuck inside the sweltering car with the woman, who then treated them to antics for half an hour as the crickets jumped on passengers. The worms just wriggled on the floor. [The women started trying to throw up on passengers working to restrain her, and she] then urinated on the floor and everyone again ran to the other side of the car while still trying to avoid the piles of bugs.”
This is certainly a bit of a disaster of a subway ride, to say the least, but it was made all the worse for one thing: Someone pulled the emergency brake. Counterintuitively, the subway emergency brake isn’t really for emergencies, and in a situation like Wednesday’s, it simply meant that passengers were stuck on a D train above the East River in a spot where emergency personnel could not attend to the situation.
The problem is one of messaging (and it’s one I covered all the way back in 2010). The MTA gives no indication on trains regarding when passengers should pull the emergency brake, and the only instructions are buried on a page about safety on the MTA’s website. The short of it is that, in case of emergency, do not pull the brake. Rather, let the train pull into a station and seek immediate help. As the MTA notes, the brake should be used only “when the motion of the subway presents an imminent danger to life and limb. Otherwise, do not activate the emergency brake cord, especially in a tunnel. Once the emergency brake cord is pulled, the brakes have to be reset before the train can move again, which reduces the options for dealing with the emergency.”
But no one knows this! And can you blame someone for pulling the brake amidst a plague of grasshoppers and a woman having an episode? After all, it was an emergency, and the pull-cord is clearly labeled an emergency brake. The MTA doesn’t seem to care to clear this up; they likely face liability if they start telling riders not to pull the brake in an emergency. But savvy riders should know the emergency brake, in the vast majority of cases, causes more trouble than it resolves. Just ask the riders on Wednesday’s night D train.
What if gondolas actually are part of the answer? What if, to solve the L train’s looming transit crisis that will arise out of the 2019 shutdown, we need to think so far outside of the box that ideas that seem laughably overwrought and particularly overpromised are part of the answer? That is one recommendation in the latest report on the L train shutdown from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.
As everyone jockeys for a say in how best to address this incoming transit crisis, the Rudin Center unveiled its own mitigation report last night. Penned by Mitchell Moss, Sarah Kaufman, Jorge Hernandez and Sam Levy, the report gives a nod to “entirely new forms of transportation,” including the so-called East River Skyway and Scooter-share, a motorized bike share system popular in San Francisco. Picking up on the Skyway’s promise of 5000 peak-hour passengers, the Rudin Center report notes that “this is the right time to consider a New York city gondola between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg to vastly reduce the city’s reliance on climate-vulnerable tunnels.” (Of course, the time to start building a gondola so it is ready for early 2019 is approximately now, but that’s the least of it.)
The report, of course, doesn’t dwell only on alternatives. It is, in fact, one of the more common-sense efforts to propose a solution to the L train woes, and more importantly, it urges all involved to pay attention to more than just Williamsburg and Bushwick. “The concentration of higher-level formal education degrees affects a potentially disproportionate influence by these neighborhoods on the political process,” the report notes. “The initial news that the MTA was planning to shut down the Canarsie Tube led to an uproar by residents and business owners in Williamsburg. While service disruptions will affect the L’s various users differently, the concerns of residents in less influential neighborhoods, such as Brownsville and East New York, should be considered equally.”
And yet, those areas closest to Manhattan have seemingly more to lose. Although the L train overall seems to ferry upwards of 65,000 people to and from their primary places of employment each day, these neighborhoods along the L train’s western Brooklyn leg have shorter commutes and more restaurants, bars and overall economic activity. That doesn’t give them a right to have a louder voice, but it means that mitigation needs to be attuned to the areas with fewer options. After all, a L rider in Canarsie can take the 3 train and anyone east of Broadway Junction can transfer to the A, C, J or Z.
Still, over 225,000 daily riders have to get to where the L train takes them, and to that end, the Rudin Center offers up a seven-prong approach similar to mine. In addition to those gondolas and scooters, the Rudin Centers call for more service along all connecting subway lines, high speed bus service with a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge, partnerships with ride-sharing companies, increased East River ferry service, bike and car shares services (though I’m less convinced the latter is part of the solution rather than a potential problem), and cooperation with local businesses. “The long-term closure,” the report says, “will give the MTA and city agencies an opportunity to work together and increase city’s transportation options in the long run.” Notably, the report is silent on the proposed 14th St. Peopleway, a key element of the mitigation efforts with L service completely shuttered on the Manhattan side of the river.
Ultimately, as the Rudin Center noted, the L train shutdown provides a great crisis that the city and MTA shouldn’t let go to waste. The challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of people every day should permit us to be flexible with street space and transit prioritization while understanding just how people move around the city and how important the subways are. Both the MTA and DOT have been rather silent lately on plans, but the lull of summer is hardly a peak time for transit planning. As advocates put more pressure on these agencies for a response, hopefully mitigation pictures will emerge soon, and if they happen to include gondolas, well, there’s a first time for everything.
A few weeks ago, New Yorkers caught their first real collective glimpse of the MTA’s next-generation rolling stock. Pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his plan to bring more customer-facing initiatives to the forefront, the renderings were notable not only for their new color scheme but also for the open gangways, an accordion-like design that essentially creates one super-long subway by opening up the passageways between individual cars. It’s a standard design the world over that can provide capacity increases by up to 10 percent, but U.S. transit agencies have been notably slow to adopt the design.
With word of open gangways heading New York’s way, the same old voices from people who feel that what works elsewhere can’t work in New York have risen in unity to bemoan our articulated future. A sampling of recent comments on The Times website provides a litany of these complaints. What about noises from buskers? Showtime crews? Panhandlers? Stinky residents of the subways? Broken air conditioners? How will the special butterflies of New York City survive? To do some myth-busting, Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times journeyed to the closest spot with open gangway cars and filed a report from Toronto, where the new design is very popular. As to the concerns raised by New Yorkers, Toronto officials were dismissive.
Some riders in New York have raised concerns that regular subway annoyances — from “showtime” dancers to misbehaving riders — might now become the whole train’s problem, instead of being contained to one car. Andy Byford, the chief executive of the Toronto Transit Commission and an enthusiastic evangelist for improving the system, dismissed those fears, saying riders could easily escape unpleasant situations in the new cars. “You’re not then trapped in a single carriage,” Mr. Byford said from his office atop the Davisville station north of downtown Toronto. “You can get up and move.”
If a rider urinates or vomits, someone could simply walk away, rather than waiting for a station and darting from one car to another…One downside is that if a train has a technical problem, workers must remove the entire six-car train from service, Mr. Byford said, instead of separating a pair of cars and replacing them. But over all, he said, the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks…
American transit officials have had reservations about whether the design could work on the nation’s aging subways and whether ridership levels warrant the expense of switching to the new cars, said Randy Clarke, a safety and operations expert at the American Public Transportation Association. In Boston, subway officials considered the idea for new cars on two lines but decided against it. Officials in New York have worked with engineering consultants on the plans and are confident the design is feasible, even though the subway is an older system, Ms. Hakim said.
In Toronto, the best sign of the cars’ popularity is that riders whose lines do not have the trains are pleading for them. Sygmund Gaskin, 45, said he wished the older trains on his Bloor-Danforth Line could be replaced with the new cars. “I don’t know why it takes so long to get them for this line,” he said. “How come we don’t have them here as well?”
Of course, common-sense reporting from cities in which these cars have been embraced for years hasn’t persuaded the critics. The comments on Fitzsimmons’ article is just the surface of “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome. Others even proclaim New York to be just too mean-spirited for open gangways to work here. Some people just won’t believe it until they see, but thankfully, they’ll be seeing it soon enough.
By most accounts, the JFK AirTrain has been a success story. After a fatal incident cast a pall on the project a few months before the planned opening, the AirTrain saw 2.5 million riders in its first year of operations and 6.5 million riders in 2014, its tenth year of operations. Even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes to build a misguided LaGuardia AirTrain via Flushing, the AirTrain has been an improvement for access to JFK airport.
Early last year, when making a push for support for his LaGuardia plan, Cuomo touted the benefits of the JFK AirTrain. “AirTrain JFK has proven to be not only one of the most convenient and affordable ways of getting to and from the airport, but also one of the most popular,” he said, noting an eight percent increase in paid ridership between 2013 and 2014 alone. Over 10 million riders use the AirTrain to ride between terminals and nearby garages for free.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 6.5 million riders: The Port Authority has quietly reduced the frequency of service on the AirTrain. A few days ago, a Twitter user reported that the Port Authority was promoting 14-minute headways between AirTrains shortly before noon on a weekday. For a zero-person automated system with ample rolling stock to run trains at five-minute headways, this seemed exceptionally egregious, and a few folks went digging.
Eventually, Chris O’Leary dug up some historical data. As recently as 2009, the Port Authority operated the JFK AirTrain on five-minute peak-hour headways and 10-minute off-peak headways. A recent brochure tells a much different story as peak headways are now 7-12 minutes with service operating every 10-15 minutes between 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and every 15-20 minutes from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. This is, effectively, a 50 percent service cut. Take a look:
It’s not quite clear when these new timetables went into effect or why. The Port Authority hasn’t responded to requests for comment yet. But posts on an aviation-related message board indicate reduced AirTrain frequency as long ago as 2011. This isn’t a new problem, but it seems to be one the Port Authority has slipped past the public without much notice.
Despite silence from the Port Authority on this issue, it’s my understanding that this reduced service is a result of the age of the system and the need for repairs. With cars in the shop and the system’s constantly undergoing maintenance, the Port Authority cannot maintain the headways it used to run seven years ago. For a 12-year-old system, this seems problematic and worse still is the lack of transparency regarding operations. There’s no real need for the Port Authority to keep these issues under wraps, and if the state is about to sink a few hundred million dollars of public funds into another airport rail system, we should know that operations can keep pace with ridership.
Right now, the JFK AirTrain remains popular even as service is cut. But trains are more crowded, and travelers have to leave extra time to account for long AirTrain waits. That the PA doesn’t appear to view this reduced service as a problem is cause for concern. But that’s just another day in the fun world of the Port Authority.
Due to a variety of circumstances — a post-Sandy rebuild, Positive Train Control installation — the Port Authority has had to shut down one of the two trans-Hudson PATH tunnels at various points over the past few years. The agency has come under fire for not providing alternate service, and they rang up quite a bill for ferry subsidies when the WTC tunnel was out of service. Now, with PTC installation coming to the 33rd St. line, service from Hoboken to Midtown will be out every weekend between now and late December.
As part of the service plan, the Port Authority will run free shuttle buses per the map above. Trains will run up 6th Ave. and down 7th Ave. Buses won’t pick passengers up at the new WTC Transit Hub because it’s not really a transit hub, and the buses will mirror existing New York City Transit buses and, of course, the subway. Why, you might ask, is one transit agency bustituting above another transit agency’s perfectly fine service? This is a good question, and it highlights how our region’s separate transit agencies cannot and often do not cooperate.
Allowing PATH riders to transfer to the subway and vice versa is simply an economic exchange. The PA could pay the MTA, and the MTA could provide free transfers. One obstacle is how the MTA can’t exchange PATH’s SmartLink cards, but these are solvable operational problems, not intractable obstacles. I don’t know if the PA approached the MTA for a solution; a press official from the MTA is working on finding this out for me. But for some reason, more buses are going to fill the streets of Manhattan when preexisting transit options are plentiful because the PA and MTA can’t cooperate. It’s simply silly.
These weekend changes are necessary because of capital construction work on the MTA New York City Transit subway system. This work is part of NYC Transit’s ongoing Capital Rebuilding Program aimed at upgrading and maintaining our tracks, stations and signal systems in order to continue to provide our customers with safe and reliable service. For more information on the 2015-2019 Capital Program log on to www.mta.info/capital. Customers who rely on these lines should allow for additional travel time.
Meanwhile, we have subway changes for this weekend. These come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs; listen to announcements. Everything is listed after the jump. Read More→
Needless to say, it’s been a wee bit hot out in New York City. As the heat wave finally crests so that temperatures are a cool 80 degrees as I write it, the heat has settled into the city like an unwelcome house guest. It fills every nook and cranny with uncomfortably stale air and the smells of New York in the summer. It is indeed a pity the days can’t be like the nights.
New Yorkers though have a special dread of summer. It’s hot outside, but it’s worse underground. The heat traps of the subway system, made even warmer with the exhaust from subway cars pushing the mercury up higher, create unpleasant rides on a good day. At least, we think, the air conditioned subway cars offer a respite from the warmth. But what if it all goes wrong?
For a while on the site, when summer dawned, I would dive into the history of bringing air conditioners to the subway system. We haven’t yet solved the platform problem (although new deep-bore stations offer climate control), but after three decades of starts and stops, the MTA introduced a fully air conditioned fleet of subway cars by the mid-1980s. The ceiling fans seen in the old rolling stock at the Transit Museum seem simply quaint these days.
Lately, though, certain air conditioners have begun to fail. Most notably, the single-compressor units in the R62A cars — what you might know as the 1 and 6 trains — have been plagued with outages. The problems began in bits and spurts a few years ago, but with the sustained heat, the issue has exploded in a wave of Tweets directed toward @NYCTSubway, and a transit agency that can’t do too much more than acknowledge the problem.
Kate Hinds at WNYC has covered this story tirelessly this summer because she, like the rest of us, is wary of getting into the so-called hot cars. In late July, when she first wrote about the problem, the MTA explained that they field reports via social media, log them and try to figure out when to address them. The R62As are particularly prone to outages. These 30-year-old cars are due up for scheduled maintenance and have one compressor rather than multi-unit HVAC systems which are easier to repair. They’re old; they break.
But the problem has been the repeat offenders. Hinds revisited the story this week, and either the problem is growing or people are paying more attention. The MTA, which still claims only around 12 reports today, has fielded upwards of 30 air conditioner complaints on Twitter each day this week, and may cars are repeat offenders with early reports stretching back to mid July or even early June. Simply put, the problem is not going away.
Again, these issues are two-fold. First, the MTA doesn’t have the leeway to take one car out of service. Due to the way trainsets are coupled, removing one car from service basically torpedoes half of a ten-car train set. If the MTA took all of the problematic cars out of service, it wouldn’t have nearly enough rolling stock for peak hour demand. (By my count, at this point, around 40 or more different 1 and 6 train cars have been flagged for AC outages. I’m sure more hot cars are out there that haven’t been reported yet.) Second, while the MTA acknowledges that the R62As need scheduled maintenance, the SMS process can take nearly two years. These cars aren’t getting fixed overnight.
It’s bad solution to a design problem that isn’t getting fixed any time soon. We’re going to be hearing about hot cars until the R62As all undergo scheduled maintenance, but it would behoove the MTA to be upfront about this. Right now, they’re asking New Yorkers to report hot cars but are essentially saying that we have to keep riding them until the agency can find a solution. Beware then those emptier cars in an otherwise crowded train. It’s going to be hot in there.
As a seemingly endless heatwave bathes New York City in the ennui of August and the mercury underground continues to climb, a haze of nothingness has settled over the Big Apple. The trains are running, but the MTA is on vacation. With no board meetings this month, we’re waiting until September for an update on the Second Ave. Subway, and instead of immediate concerns, we have pieces on the long-term issue casting a pall over Brooklyn. Despite the apocalypse still 29 months off, it has been the summer of the L train’s discontent.
On Monday, The Times ran an Emma Fitzsimmons’ piece with an incendiary headline aimed at the nattering nabobs of L train negativism. Those New Yorkers who live in transit deserts have no sympathy for L train riders. “Suck it up!” Philippe Pierre, a resident of Rosedale, Queens, said at first. After months of hearing L train riders complain, you can understand why New Yorkers who have to take dollar vans to a two-seat subway ride may not be so sympathetic to the L train riders’ 18-month plight.
But to be fair to Pierre, that’s not really what Fitzsimmons’ piece was about. Rather, it was about the alternate ways upon which New Yorkers without easy subway access rely to get around, and it’s instructive as the MTA and, hopefully, the city look to solve the problems the L train shutdown will cause. Mostly, these alternate routes and so-called transit deserts involve the bus, a perfectly valid mode of transit often accorded second-class status exactly because people seem to equate areas with bus service with transit deserts. Still, the buses are open, as Fitzsimmons notes:
Many New Yorkers who do not live near the subway use the bus, even though bus ridership is declining — a trend transit advocates attribute to poor service. Complaints abound: Buses move slowly in traffic; riders are not familiar with the routes; buses are not spaced evenly. A report released last month by several transit groups offered recommendations to improve the bus system, such as installing additional dedicated bus lanes and redesigning routes.
The ability to move around efficiently often plays an important role in economic well-being: New Yorkers with poor transit access tend to have lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment, according to a recent report by the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University. Residents who could economically benefit from a shorter commute are often unable to afford to live in places with good transit access because housing costs are usually higher. “It is a perpetuating cycle because rents are closely correlated to transit access,” said Sarah M. Kaufman, the assistant director for technology programming at the center, adding that people with long commutes often face hardships like higher child care costs because they get home later…
Many New Yorkers who rely on buses have plenty of advice for L train commuters about what lies ahead. “You never know what’s going to happen with the bus; I suggest leaving early,” said Harvinder Singh, 19, a finance student at Queens College, who takes two buses to the Flushing campus from his home in South Ozone Park, Queens.
Mr. Singh, whose commute is about an hour each way, did offer praise for the dedicated bus lanes that have been expanded as a way to improve service. “That’s a great way to make them faster during rush hour,” Mr. Singh said as he rode a campus shuttle on a recent weekday, pointing out the window at a Q44 bus lane.
It seems abundantly clear then from Fitzsimmons’ article and the people she spoke with that, while “suck it up” sounds good, most people without access to the subway simply want better bus service. They want better, more frequent bus service with vehicles that are prioritized accordingly in dedicated lanes so that they operate faster and can cut costly commute times. They want to be afford first class status.
Along the L train, “suck it up” is a particularly bad piece of advice. New Yorkers from Williamsburg to Canarsie pay a premium to live along the L train because it’s a fast route into Manhattan. They don’t have to sit through multiple transfers on unreliable modes of transit. Commuters, family members, children going to school, New Yorkers from other neighborhoods, visitors and tourists all use the L train to get around, and the shutdown will have a negative impact on New Yorkers across income levels, professions and socioeconomic statuses. They can’t just suck it up; life in a city in which an island holds our focus economically doesn’t work like that.
The L train shutdown is a unique opportunity for the city to reprioritize public space. Those most affected by the 18-month L train outage are often the loudest online and in the media, and the complaints will be heard. It will give the city the opportunity, if it opts to take it, to reimagine 14th Street into a bus/bike/pedestrian space. It will allow buses to pick up some of slack. It will legitimize a form of transit that’s been struggling. And that’s the right answer to this problem. No one should have to suck it up; rather, the city and the MTA should design infrastructure that moves people on public transit faster and more efficiently than our network does today, L train shutdown or not.
In the annals of MTA press releases, the one the MTA sent out late last week is certainly one of the stranger ones. The MTA, the press release noted, is going to clean subway tracks. You might think this would come with the territory, but track cleanliness — and resulting fires — has beguiled the MTA for decades. These fires aren’t the problems they once were in the 1970s and early 1980s, but we’ve all seen piles of garbage growing in the tracks.
The MTA is calling this effort MTA Track Sweep, and the video above gives an introduction to the program. It is, MTA head Tom Prendergast said, part of a renewed focus on the station environment. “Operation Track Sweep is a critically important part of our overall effort to create a transit system that’s faster, more efficient, and more customer-friendly,” he said. “There’s no question that a concerted and sustained effort to limit trash on subway tracks will have a significant impact on the efficiency of subway service…Just as importantly, this initiative will also have a positive effect on how people feel about their daily commute. When there’s less debris, the entire station looks and feels cleaner, and the ride is more enjoyable.”
So what are they doing? First, the agency expanding its cleaning schedule. The number of station tracks that are cleaned every two weeks jumped from 34 to 94. Second, in mid-September, the MTA will being a two-week system-wide blitz involving 500 workers who will remove trash from tracks at every station. This is an effort that involves cleaning more than 10 miles of track, and the work will take place largely at night. The crews will post signs at each station noting when the clean-up efforts were completed. It’s not clear though when the MTA will again engage in such a concerted clean-up effort.
On a long-term basis, the agency is working to procure two more portable vacuum systems that can quickly scoop up garbage along the tracks near stations. These systems are expected to arrive before the year is over. Finally, the MTA will procure three new vacuum trains that will arrive in 2017 and early 2018. These trains can hold up to 14 cubic yards of trash — a mole hill compared with the volume of trash the MTA has to remove from its system.
It’s not entirely clear what’s pushing this effort. A few politicians have called upon the MTA to improve its trash-collection practices over the past few years as concerns about rodents and general cleanliness have taken center stage, and a Comptroller’s report last year highlighted the MTA’s trash collection failures. The MTA, Scott Stringer’s report found, simply could not keep up with the volume of trash that built up on subway tracks or its aggressive collection schedule.
So this new effort is a response to constant criticism, and it’s supposed to improve the passenger experience. It is notably not an effort to clear or beautify stations but rather is focused on tracks which should improve train service. We’ll see in a few months how it plays out, but as one MTA official noted, riders bear some responsibility too. “We’re approaching this as a sustained effort to get the tracks clean, and keep them as clean as possible over the long haul,” NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim said. “Even as we redouble our efforts, it’s important for everyone to realize that riders have a critically important role to play as well – keeping the tracks clean means that everyone has to pitch in by disposing of trash properly.”
In the popular history of New York City’s transit renaissance that stretches over the past 35 years, Richard Ravitch gets the lion’s share of the credit. He inherited a complete and total mess at the MTA and led the subways out of the depths of the dark ages and into the early 1980s. He left his job after securing a multi-billion-dollar capital commitment from the state legislature, and Robert Kiley stepped in as his replacement. Kiley served as the agency’s longest running chairman, setting in motion many of the improvements we know today. A veteran of three transit agencies and respected throughout the transit world, he passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80, due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
“Bob’s leadership helped the MTA focus on dramatically improving the safety and reliability of the network, led directly to the record ridership levels we see today and was central to the State’s increased growth and prosperity,” current MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said in a statement. “He assembled a team and created a vision that brought the transit system back from the brink of disaster and under Gov. Mario M. Cuomo helped rebuild our region’s economy. We remember his service with fondness and gratitude and send our deepest condolences to his family in this difficult time.”
Kiley was a big of a giant in his field. He over Boston’s MBTA for four years in the 1970s, ushered in a variety of improvements in London (including the introduction of a congestion charge) and led New York’s subways into a new age. He brought in his fellow Massachusetts native Bill Bratton to oversee policing in our beleaguered transit system, erased graffiti from the city’s subway cars and launched the program that eventually led to the Metrocard.
The Times, in its obituary, told a bit more about Kiley’s accomplishments:
Inheriting a windfall $8.5 billion capital program wangled from the State Legislature by his predecessor at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Richard Ravitch, Mr. Kiley presided over the replacement of hundreds of decrepit subway cars and buses, modernized stations, and improved on-time performance in a system that had been woefully neglected. Annual subway ridership, which in 1982 had dipped below one billion for the first time since 1917, rebounded by 1994 to the highest weekday average in two decades, 1.08 billion.
Mr. Ravitch, a native New Yorker, had been a vigorous advocate for mass transit, equally adept at wooing labor leaders, legislators and opinion makers in a campaign to generate the billions of dollars required to begin reversing the system’s decline. Mr. Kiley, a Minnesota native who arrived in New York by way of Boston, was more of a nuts-and-bolts manager, and he took longer to acclimate himself to the idiosyncrasies of local politics. “It’s kind of like following after Lou Gehrig,” Ralph L. Stanley, the federal urban mass transit administrator, said of the transition.
Mr. Kiley managed to win another $8 billion infusion for the authority’s capital program, recruited competent managers, and wrought concessions from organized labor, which incongruously represented most transit supervisors as well as rank-and-file workers.
Kiley’s arrival in New York City was not a foregone conclusion. In the early 1980s, he was toying with a run for mayor of Boston when one of then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s aides courted Kiley by taking him to a Red Sox game. It happened to be Yaz Day at Fenway, and as the Red Sox celebrated Carl Yastrzemski, Kiley heard the New York pitch. Once it became clear he wouldn’t be mayor, he and Cuomo engaged in intense negotiations, and Kiley landed in New York.
As WNYC related in a replay of a late 1980s interview, Kiley had to step on some toes to get to where he needed the MTA to be. The story is worth a read (and there is a corresponding audio interview with Kiley). It delves into the need for fare hikes and the need to improve management by “jettisoning civil service and collective bargaining rules.” These were controversial moves then and would be again today.
Kiley left in the 1991 and was replaced by Peter Stangl. He eventually landed in London where he opposed the disastrous public-private partnership for certain Tube line operations that Transport for London eventually had to unravel. Yet, Kiley largely had his way, and as a 2004 New Yorker article detailed, Kiley is credited with saving the Underground. With three successful tenures leading transit agencies, Kiley was a singular leader in the transit space with a long and lasting legacy.