For the MTA, this is the summer of the Second Ave. Subway. News has been slow around the transit space in New York City as the L train shutdown remains a concern, but still a few years off, and the next fare hike isn’t going to dominate headlines for a few more months. Meanwhile, the MTA is trying to open the Second Ave. Subway ahead of a self-imposed December deadline, but as we’ve heard every four weeks, the project is increasingly under pressure as deadlines slip and testing gears up.
During the monthly updates regarding the state of the project, we’ve often heard from the MTA’s engineering consultant on the agency’s change orders. The change orders are a rather technical element to this project, generally a part of a governance process in which one party has to request a change, and justify any associated costs, before the other party accepts and/or implements the change. It could be something as simple as staffing or as complex as a new design. With just six months to go before the long-awaited subway line is set to open, the pace of change orders should be slowing down, but instead, they seem to be steadily adding to the project’s obstacles.
Last week, The New York Post went behind the scenes on these COs, and while I have some questions in with the MTA regarding the details, here’s a snippet:
The Second Avenue subway delays have nothing to do with no-show workers — they’re the fault of the nitpicky MTA for demanding a staggering 2,500 design changes, a rep for the contractors said. Hardhats have even had to go back and rip up completed work on several occasions to satisfy the agency, General Contractors Association of New York Executive Director Denise Richardson told the agency’s board.
A recent delay came when the MTA demanded a new shade of concrete on the sidewalk outside the 86th Street station — after contractors had already installed the completed walkway for two blocks, she said. Contractors also had to tear down and rebuild station entrances, move a pump room three feet, and twice install the pipes for the fire-alarm system between the 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street stations, Richardson said.
There are always changes on projects of this size, said Richardson, but not nearly this many — and they are typically made before work is completed.
I’ve heard from residents on the Upper East Side who have been told of the concrete shading issues by workers, and these residents, who have lived through years of unanticipated construction, tell me the whole is “getting old.” (Of course, once the subway opens, they’ll be a bit happier, but even now, these delays simply add to an unpleasant and long experience while chipping away at what little confidence residents may have had in the MTA.)
An MTA spokesman told The Post that “there are always inconsistencies that need to be addressed as part of the design process.” Yet, the MTA’s low-bid contracting process lends itself to a situation where change orders come to dominate the closing months of the process. It’s worse at Second Ave. where people live and work than it was with the 7 line at Hudson Yards, a relatively underdeveloped area, and now attention has shifted to the Upper East Side. The clock is ticking, and yet, shades of concrete are just one of many obstacles to completion.
There’s been a low-level drumbeat, sometimes crescendoing, over the past decade regarding Manhattan’s river-to-river cross streets. Vision42, an on-again/off again advocacy group, has long pushed for a car-free 42nd Street devoted to light rail and people, and a plan put forward by the Bloomberg Administration and doomed by recalcitrant Community Boards would have converted 34th St. into a Transitway primarily for the benefit of tens of thousands of daily bus riders who use this popular corridor. Now, the looming L train shutdown may give advocacy groups and the city a third bite at the crosstown apple.
Although the L train shutdown isn’t likely to begin before 2019, the MTA has to announce its plans later this year, and various groups are jockeying for a voice at the table. Although I think the effects of the shutdown have been blown out of proportion, the city’s and MTA’s options for dealing with the shutdown are both obvious and limited, as I explored in January. I offered then a seven-point plan to address the shutdown including expanding all nearby and connecting subway service while turning the Williamsburg Bridge into a bus-only route, and now Transportation Alternatives has taken this idea one step further. Building on a proposal from the RPA, the TA wants 14th St., from river to river, to be a peopleway, both during the L train shutdown and after.
The TA held a launch event for this idea last night after issuing a release with the general outline of the plan last week. Here is their thinking:
Right now, approximately 50,000 people use the L train every day within Manhattan alone. In 2015, average weekday bus ridership on the M14 line was 32,868 commuters. Given that the M14 will not be able to meet the demand resulting from an L train shutdown, we need to transform 14th Street into a PeopleWay, a public transit corridor that maximizes bus ridership and facilitates an increase in biking and walking to accommodate stranded weekday commuters.
Private motor vehicle trips are the least efficient form of travel in terms of capacity. The City would not be able to cover the loss of the L train with car trips without tearing down buildings to create additional street space. Sidewalks, protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes carry 15 times as many people as lanes for private cars. A combination of two-way protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes and expanded sidewalks could double the corridor’s current capacity, serving up to 24,500 people per hour or more than 500,000 people per day, according to figures from NACTO.
The Regional Plan Association has proposed closing 14th Street to private cars between Irving Place and Sixth Avenue, with expanded bus service. We share the vision that the City should turn the entire 14th Street corridor into a “PeopleWay,” replacing existing private vehicle traffic and suspended subway travel with bus rapid transit, bikeways, and more sidewalk space. We believe that the City should not only create this PeopleWay to meet the challenges of the L train shutdown, but also make it permanent as part of the effort to create a more sustainable and efficient transportation system for New York City’s future.
The RPA’s plan is far too modest, and it’s obvious the problems that would arise by closing just an avenue and a half to cars. But a river-to-river repurposing of 14th St. during the L train shutdown, as the TA has proposed, would be truly transformative. Buses would run frequently and smoothly along the path of the L train, and the MTA and DOT could reconfigure peak-hour routes off of the Williamsburg Bridge and up or down 1st or 2nd Avenues to provide a busway from Brooklyn as well.
It’s no small task to implement an idea like this. Residents concerned primarily with door-to-door private car access who suddenly forget how to walk a block or two have been loud, vocal opponents of these types of ideas, but at some point before 2019, the city is going to have to do something to address the mobility challenges and L train shutdown will bring. A Peopleway is a prime opportunity to show this idea — handing city streets over to transit and pedestrians and bikers — can not only work but be very successful. Business owners along the route who recognize that their customers walk and use transit are on board. Now it’s up to the city to join the plan. If, or when, it works, the Peopleway is an idea that could just stick around for a while.
Can the MTA get a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul its fare payment technology right? This is a question more important than many realize right now as the MTA finally gears up to usher in a replacement for the Metrocard and move its fare payment system into the 21st century. This is a question that plays more to buses rather than to subways, as subway riders will keep flocking to the system no matter how the fare payment technology works, and it’s a question that could solve the problem of declining bus ridership. It’s also a question one rider advocate group fears the wrong answer will emerge.
The story is simple: The MTA wants to replace the Metrocard with something leaner and meaner. The technology will likely rely on open payment standards popular in the payment card industry and will allow the MTA to shed the costs associated with running and maintaining a proprietary fare technology. It will be flexible enough to support pay-per-ride fares and bulk discounts (such as unlimited ride cards keyed to a time period). But will it support electronic proof of payment, a feature that could drastically improve bus service? The Riders Alliance is worried it won’t, and they’ve called upon the MTA to address this deficiency.
In a report released on Friday, the Riders Alliance laid out its case for electronic proof of payment. I’ll excerpt:
Right now the MTA’s RPF, with bids due July 13th, does not require “electronic proof of payment” technology, whereby users would have their payment validated electronically, rather that with a paper receipt…Why does it matter? Because one way to make buses faster and more reliable is to replace the current system, where everyone boards one by one at the front, with all-door boarding, where people could get on the bus through any available door. An all-door boarding system usually relies on inspectors who can board the bus and make sure riders have purchased tickets—today on Select Bus Service, by checking to see if the rider purchased a paper receipt at the bus stop. In the future, if the MTA is to consider rolling out all-door boarding to all bus lines citywide, a paper ticket system would likely be too onerous and expensive, making a digital system necessary. And if the MTA doesn’t require that the new fare payment system accommodate a digital inspection, bus riders could be stuck with a whole new generation of boarding slowly, one-by-one, at the front of the bus.
All-door boarding, facilitated by an electronic proof of payment system that allows for easy verification of payment, can significantly reduce bus travel times and save money—without increasing rates of fare evasion. A primary driver of delays at bus stops is the length of time required for all passengers to board…
The only buses in New York that allow all-door boarding are Select Bus Service routes, which require riders to pay at a machine before boarding the bus. SBS routes have seen speed increases from 16 to 22 percent and ridership gains between 10 and 20 percent in the first year after implementation. At the same time, enforcement from the NYPD’s Eagle Team have led to significant drops in fare evasion: in 2012, fare evasion on the Bx41 in the Bronx dropped by 74 percent and on the Bx12 by 80 percent after the deployment of SBS on those routes…The MTA estimates that off-board fare collection, combined with all-door boarding, is responsible for a 10 to 15 percent total improvement in travel time [for Select Bus Service routes].
We don’t currently have all-door boarding on buses because the MTA claims it would be far too expensive to install MetroCard readers throughout the city. The prices quoted often run into the low billions. Meanwhile, around North America, transit agencies in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Montreal have introduced all-door boarding, and travel time reductions generally attributable to this improved boarding process run to around 15 percent across the board. It’s a no-brainer really.
For its part, the MTA has raised concerns over fare evasion. “We must balance convenience against the very real threat of fare evasion if ‘electronic proof of payment’ technology is ever to be viable,” agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said to the Daily News. This, however, seems to be a symptom of Not-Invented-Here-itis, a frequent illness in NYC transit planning. As Streetsblog detailed on Tuesday, some targeted fare enforcement efforts on POP routes drive down fare evasion, and the economics dictate that faster bus service — which should drive up ridership — would pay for the cost of fare evasion. Creating a fare structure that incentivizes purchases of time-based fare cards could also help combat any concerns over fare evasion.
Ultimately, the MTA gets once chance to do this project right. Once they’ve locked in on a potential replacement for the Metrocard, making whole-sale changes will grow more difficult and costly. For the sake of a 21st century fare payment technology and, more importantly, for the sake of the city’s bus riders, electronic proof of payment should be a mandatory part of this next-gen solution.
If the MTA still plans to open the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of December, as the agency continues to insist it will, completion of the work will require an “aggressive and unprecedented” effort, an independent engineering consultant warned the MTA Board on Monday. For their part, MTA officials continue to say that December is not only feasible but realistic, and after years of delay, the agency has yet to push back the opening date for the project.
Word of delay isn’t exactly new. Setting aside the fact that this project was supposed to be completed three or four years ago, delays have been the theme in December, January, February, March, and April — essentially every month during which the Board has received regular updates. In May, the IEC raised a skeptical eyebrow but didn’t have additional words of warning. This month’s report lands with a bang.
As the MTA Board materials indicate, the same hot-button items are the culprits. Elevators and escalators won’t be ready for testing, and fire safety systems are lagging behind. If this sounds familiar, well, it’s why the 7 line extension opened nearly 20 months behind schedule, and it’s an issue on the Upper East Side as well. The IEC put it bluntly in its latest update:
“Initial testing activities have not kept pace with the schedule for test completion. 67% of scheduled tests were completed by the end of May. Another 1104 tests need to be completed by the end of October 2016. Should the Project experience delays in testing at the three new stations similar to that which occurred at the Lexington Ave/63rd St. Station, the December Revenue Service Date would be impacted.
The time available for testing of station equipment and rail systems requires a very aggressive and unprecedented performance of the combined MTACC and NYCT test teams.”
That last sentence is key. The MTA’s agencies are not known for cooperating with each other. Due to political inter-agency turf battles and the issues with handing over the keys from one agency to the other, MTACC is very territorial, and joint testing between Transit — the folks ultimately responsible for operating the Second Ave. Subway — and MTACC — those tasked with building it — is complicated in part by design and in part by stubbornness.
Meanwhile, both the IEC and MTA officials have thrown up red flags. The MTA keeps implementing change orders, and the IEC notes that the contractor installing communications equipment is going to miss every single upcoming deadline, putting the project’s completion at risk. Meanwhile, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu found no one working at project sites over the weekend.
None of this sounds particularly promising as June ticks to a close, but MTA officials are hewing to the party line. “There is no reason at this time to believe the project won’t open by the end of the year,” newly installed MTA communications head Beth De Falco said to the Daily News — no reason, that is, except many of them, if you believe the IEC, and a history of failing to finish projects on time.
As part of the planning for the Second Ave. Subway, the MTA heard from numerous riders of the BMT Broadway line, and a good number voiced complaints about late-night R train service. Overnight, the R runs only as a shuttle from 36th St. in Brooklyn to Bay Ridge, and according to agency numbers, around 1800 of the 1900 riders are transferring from a subway line that reaches Atlantic Ave. or Manhattan. Come the fall, the R train shuttle will be a bit more useful as the MTA plans to extend it along 4th Ave. and under the East River to Whitehall St.
The agency announced this move earlier this week, and New York City Transit President Ronnie Hakim touted the move in a statement. “This added service will provide off peak customers with additional travel options and add seamless connectivity to vital transit hubs in Brooklyn,” she said.
Board materials released Friday further detailed the benefits: “Late nights when most subway lines are operating on a 20 minute headway, these transfers can be particularly long, especially if multiple transfers, first to the D or N and then to the R shuttle, are required.” It is, in other words, a customer-focused initiative, and a cheap one at that as the MTA claims sending the R to Lower Manhattan will cost only $1 million per year.
The plan is to send the R local along 4th Ave., and the MTA notes that the R would now serve 45th St. and 53rd Sts. in both directions overnight, eliminating conflicts with potential trackwork. It’s a win-win for all and should be implemented around December when the W train returns. But will the 2nd Ave. Subway debut then as well? If you follow me on Twitter, you may already know the answer, but I’ll have more on Monday.
Meanwhile, the weekend service advisories make a triumphant return. These are from the MTA. They may be incomplete or wrong. Pay attention to announcements on your trains and check signs at your local stations.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, service is suspended between 137 St and 242 St. Take the A, C, M3, M100 or free shuttle buses.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, June 18, to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 19, service operates in two sections:
- Between Flatbush Av and E 180 St, and via the to/from Dyre Av
- Between E 180 St and 241 St. Downtown trains run express in this section. For local stops, take the Bx39 bus or take an uptown train and transfer.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, service is suspended between Utica Av and New Lots Av. Trains operate all weekend between 148 St and Utica Av. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Utica Av and New Lots Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Brooklyn Bridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, service is suspended between New Lots Av/Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge. Take the 2 Subway3 SubwayD SubwayN SubwayQ SubwayR Subway or free shuttle buses instead.
From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday, June 19, service is suspended between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42 St. Take the instead 4, 6 or R.
From 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, and from 9:45 p.m. Saturday, June 18 to 9:30 a.m. Sunday, June 19, 2 Subway trains replace service between Dyre Av and E 180 St.
From 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, Manhattan-bound trains run express from Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza, stopping at 74 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, service is suspended between Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, downtown trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and June 19, downtown trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 19, Coney Island-bound trains are rerouted via the N Subway from 36 St to Stillwell Av. Coney Island-bound trains stop at 45 St and 53 St overnight.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, trains are rerouted via the in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., Friday to Sunday, June 17 to June 19, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, June 19, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Jamaica Center-bound trains run express from 21 St-Queensbridge to 71 Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Manhattan-bound trains run local from 71 Av to 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Jamaica Center-bound trains skip 75 Av and Briarwood.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Brooklyn-bound trains run local from 71 Av to 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Jamaica-bound trains skip 75 Av, Briarwood, and Sutphin Blvd.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, Coney Island-bound trains run express from Jay St-MetroTech to Church Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 20, service is suspended between Church Av and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. A F provide alternate service.
From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and June 19, Forest Hills-bound trains run express from Queens Plaza to 71 Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and June 19, Rockaway Park shuttle service is replaced by A service.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it’s no surprise that I don’t have a particularly high view of ferries as a solution to New York City’s mobility issues. They’re very expensive to operate and subsidize and require a two-fare system, serve only those New Yorkers — generally wealthier and with more transit options — who live and work near the water, and don’t carry enough passengers. Last year, I wrote about my general disillusionment with ferries and the flaws in the mayor’s ferry plan while offering a proposal to fix the plan. Still, the so-called five-borough plan has moved on, none the better for time and feedback.
In today’s paper, The New York Times does a deep dive on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ferry proposal, and Patrick McGeehan’s piece is a doozy. The city is sinking $325 million into the ferry service, outside of annual operating subsidies; expects just 4.5 million riders per year; and is willing to sell off the assets if the ferry service flounders. It’s an uber-expensive Hail Mary, and it’s not hard to dwell on how $325 million in direct contributions could go a long way toward a real solution for increased access to transit.
What follows are some choice passages from McGeehan’s article:
The city has already spent $6 million on four commuter boats in 2016 and could own more than 30 in a few years. Mr. de Blasio also plans to spend at least $85 million to create 13 additional landings for the ferries and a home port for them at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But the mayor has raised the stakes in ways few other places have by pledging that a ferry ride would cost the same as subway fare, $2.75. That is a departure from San Francisco; Sydney, Australia; and other cities where extensive commuter-ferry systems have long operated. They tend to charge more to ride ferries than buses or trains, and their ferry fares are based on the length of the trip. The one-fare plan fits with the liberal agenda of Mr. de Blasio, who has championed “transit equity” for all New Yorkers. To fulfill the mayor’s promise, the city will have to contribute a substantial operating subsidy, a commitment that several of his predecessors were unwilling to make….
City officials have been leaning on Hornblower Cruises and Events, the San Francisco-based company they chose in March to operate the service, to order the boats it will need. Hornblower, which runs cruises to the Statue of Liberty, has settled on a design for 149-passenger boats and is negotiating with a few boatyards around the country to build 18 of them, at a cost of nearly $4 million each…Maria Torres-Springer, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said Hornblower was chosen primarily for its experience in starting ferry services around the country, as well as on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The company, however, has limited experience with helping commuters get to and from work every day, though city officials said that did not weigh heavily against it…
Mr. de Blasio announced that the home port for the expanded service would be a pier in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But that pier is so dilapidated that it may not be rebuilt before 2018, Ms. Glen said. If the city-owned service starts next summer, as scheduled, the home port is likely to be in New Jersey at first, Ms. Glen said. The city’s ferry system, however, will not serve New Jersey…Hornblower will need nine boats to cover the three new routes, none of which it has now. Mike Anderson, former chief executive of Washington State Ferries, which runs a large fleet of ferries in the Seattle area, said that to have that many boats built would normally take a few years…
The city estimates that it will cost about $70 million to have 18 ferries built. Once they are done, the city plans to buy them from Hornblower, which will operate them for six years, with a possibility of renewing the contract for an additional five years. Ms. Glen said the city was employing “good, smart economics” in deciding to own the boats. “If, for some reason, Hornblower doesn’t perform,” she said, the city would either find another operator or run the system itself, as it does for the Staten Island Ferry. And, she added, “even if the service weren’t to be that successful, the city will have hard assets” that it could sell to recoup some of its investment.
By itself, none of these anecdotes are enough to sink the ferry plan, and city officials continue to insist to me that their numbers are rigorous enough to support the extremely high subsidies and capital costs considering even their optimistic, but still low, ridership projections. Yet, it seems as though the city is flying by the seat of their pants. They picked a company many say doesn’t have the right kind of experience for a daily ferry service or the boats to support the plans, and the likelihood of delay is growing.
As I’ve written in the past, too, it’s not clear who this plan and the subsidies benefit. The neighborhoods along the waterfront in Queens and Brooklyn south of Astoria are all wealthy with other transit options. The Astoria dock serves some middle class housing, but the two-fare system is a barrier for many who have to take a subway or bus to get to work on the other end of their boat rides. The Brooklyn Army Terminal is far from everywhere other than Industry City, and the Bay Ridge stop isn’t expected to have high ridership.
So we the taxpayers of New York City are left footing the bill for a bunch of boats that fit 149 people — fewer than one subway car — and may not serve many in particularly great need of more transit. Who, after all, is going to take a subway or bus to a boat and pay two fares for the privilege? The $325 million the city is so eager to spend could go a long way toward subsidizing transit rides for low-income New Yorkers, prioritizing and improving bus service throughout the city or even funding parts of construction of new subway lines (the real game-changers). But we’re getting boats. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see how transformative they’ll be no matter how the mayor’s office defends this plan.
Tuesday dawned with some odd news: An unsigned New York 1 reported alleged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was gathering officials and dignitaries in Queens to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Laguardia AirTrain. This did not make sense. The AirTrain plan is still half-formed with no firm cost estimate or any sort of plan. Cuomo wants to build a leg from the Willets Point subway/LIRR stop to Laguardia via the Grand Central Parkway because there are no NIMBYs to upset, but that’s about all we know.
As the day unfolded, I wondered what was happening. Cuomo has been known to push through projects without clarity regarding funding sources (hello, New New York Bridge), but even the AirTrain would require some sort of environmental impact study. And so as the press event unfolded, it became clear that it wasn’t about the AirTrain and rather about Cuomo’s $4 billion public-private partnership that will fund the Laguardia rebuild. The AirTrain is still simply in the works, but how firm those plans are remains to be seen.
The plans involve a new Terminal B and Central Hall that should mesh with Delta’s own proposal to renovate its terminal. It’s being funded through private investment (though Cuomo’s statements made it sound like he called in a favor for some federal dollars too), and the project should wrap by 2021, just shy of the end of Cuomo’s potential third term. During the press conference, Cuomo briefly touched upon the idea of an AirTrain. He also claimed it would provide a ride to Penn Station and claimed that East Side Access would connect Penn Station and Grand Central. It was not a banner presser for Cuomo and transit. In the press release, the word “AirTrain” appears exactly once in a quote attributed to State Senator Jose Peralta.
All of this leads me to a question: Is the Laguardia AirTrain proposal real or is it simply vaporware from a governor looking to be viewed as “strong on infrastructure” so that he can position himself for a run at the White House in four or eight years? It is of course far too early to judge, but while the Laguardia overhaul is moving forward, the AirTrain is heading for purgatory.
For now, the only money allocated to the project is a $78 million item in the MTA’s approved capital plan for “replacement and upgrade” of the Willets Point LIRR station. The project will support full-time service for a “large volumes of railroad customers” with “seamless, direct access” to the AirTrain. The LIRR is to perform the preliminary design and environmental review work before transferring the AirTrain project and oversight of the Mets-Willets Transit Hub to the Port Authority for the procurement and construction phases.
So where does that leave us? I’ve written extensively about how the no-build option is likely better than the Willets Point routing for a Laguardia AirTrain and how the time is ripe for an N train extension to Laguardia rather than a Willets Point AirTrain. Yet, Cuomo has an idea for this project stuck in his head, and he has shown a willingness to push through this type of work. It may be right to call it vaporware simply because Cuomo is behind it, but for now, it looks awfully akin to transit vaporware.
As now, the LIRR expects to spend the money for the Willets Point work in 2017 and 2018. So it’s likely to be a few years before we even know what the EIS assessment for this LGA AirTrain concludes. For now, then, the best and only transit upgrades that will accompany the new Laguardia is a rebranding of the Q70 as the Laguardia Link complete with pre-board fare payment. It’s a step in the right direction and one that can be implemented in a few months. It’s not a substitute for a real effort to improve transit to the airport, but then again, neither is the Willets Point AirTrain, whenever it rolls around.
Every day, the 8.5 million people who live in New York, along with numerous tourists and others journeying in for work or education or fun, have to get somewhere. We have to get to our jobs and our schools, our grocery stores and our parks, and our museums, plays and baseball stadiums. We take subways and buses, cars and taxis, bikes and boats. On some days, our riders are smoother than others, but by and large this transportation network gets us where we need to be.
It’s not, however, all perfect, and lately cracks in a particularly vital segment have been on full display. New York City’s bus network seems to be hemorrhaging riders at a study clip, and although policy-makers have expressed concern over sharply declining ridership figures, they have not yet taken steps to solve New York City’s bus problems. A solution could require a major reconfiguring of how we prioritize traffic and street space, and current City and MTA officials haven’t been willing to dig in for a fight.
Earlier this week, NYC DOT released a new Mobility Report [pdf], and the colorful document highlights how New York City is more crowded than ever before and traffic speeds, especially in Manhattan’s so-called central business district south of 60th Street, have never been slower. “With record tourism, jobs and population growth, New York City is now experiencing packed subway trains, along with a 300% surge in daily bicycling since 1990,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg noted in a statement. “The report’s conclusions are clear: As we move forward, policy makers will need to redouble efforts to chart a course that supports mass transit and other options to keep a growing and thriving New York City moving.”
If only it were that simple. As the population grows, mobility has slowed, and buses have been the biggest victims of slow speeds. The numbers are stark. In 2000, annual bus ridership hit 699 million, and that number held steady until 2010 when the MTA slashed numerous bus routes and generally reduced service throughout the city. Since then, and despite a rollback of some of the cuts, annual ridership hit 651 million last year, and there is no indication this trend will reverse.
The report discusses the rise of cycling as a popular means of filling in holes in the transit network and solving many people’s last-mile problems, but it seems to lay the blame of the bus decline squarely on the shoulders of speed. Using BusTime data, DOT found that travel speeds in Manhattan, where ridership has sunk the most, are slowest, and in many spots, buses are traveling slower than a healthy adult can walk. For example, a westbound M42 averages 3.2 miles per hour between 2nd Avenue and 6th Avenue between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a weekday. For many people, it is literally faster to walk.
That bus speeds are so slow is no big surprise, but what can we do to fix it? The report indicates that speeds are the cause for a decline, but it falls short of identifying any cures. Generally, three issues create slow buses. First, the boarding process where riders dip their MetroCards (and often struggle with it) is slow and clunky, creating very long dwell times at stations. Second, buses are subject to the whims of the street. Without dedicated infrastructure, buses get stuck in traffic, and even in places where dedicated lanes do exist, enforcement is spotty. Queue-jumping technology, or signal priortization, was supposed to be a part of the city’s Select Bus Service offerings, but it still hasn’t been rolled out. Add it all up, and you get slow buses.
From where I sit, fixing the buses would involve a massive philosophical change in which pre-board fare payment is the norm rather than a feature of a souped-up express bus. It would involve rethinking the bus network to ensure that buses provide connections between where riders are and where they want to be. It would also require a major push to bring dedicated bus lanes to far more areas of the city. Buses shouldn’t be a secondary mode of transit, subject to congestion; buses should get priority over surface congestion.
Ultimately, if the city is serious about eliminating congestion, especially in Manhattan, the answer will be some form of pricing model, but that will lead to the need to invest in buses. And to do that, the city has to start respecting buses. Otherwise, they will be forever stuck in traffic, inching slowly down their routes, sometimes faster than walking, usually slower than biking, and always a second-class mode of transit.
As the MTA has put the capital funding debacle temporarily in the rear view mirror and gears up for a planned December unveiling of the Second Ave. Subway, nearly 90 years in the making, something akin to benign neglect has settled over the MTA Board. Thanks to inaction on the part of the Governor who is supposed to pass along nominees, 14 out of the 23 MTA Board spots are currently holdover appointees (with some held over from as long ago as 2006) while two vacancies have sat empty for years and three other appointments are set to expire at the end of the month.
Now, for the second time in two years, the governor has passed along a slate of names for certain open positions — including three mayoral nominees — late in the legislative calendar. There is hope that the State Senate will have time to consider and confirm these appointments, but similar to last year, the legislative calendar has only five days remaining before breaking until January. With so little time left and based on conversations I’ve had, it isn’t in fact clear if Cuomo wants many of these nominations confirmed.
Kate Hinds of WNYC broke the news of the new appointments via Twitter tonight:
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) June 7, 2016
Of those listed, Vanterpool, Jones and Rodriguez, all de Blasio nominees, along with Peter Ward, a Cuomo appointee, had been sent to the Senate last year, but the Senate claimed it simply did not have time to assess these candidates. They’re joined this year by TWU President John Samuelsen, who would fill the union’s non-voting representative seat on the Board, and Charles Phillips, a major Cuomo campaign contributor. It’s not quite clear whose seat Phillips would fill, though all indications are that Allen Cappelli, a smart, loud and vocal advocate for sensible transit policy, will be off the Board.
In her story on the appointments Hinds gets into the motivation behind Cuomo’s inaction. When asked why he waited so long again to send these names to the Senate, the state’s chief executive said simply, “I don’t know.” It’s also still not clear if the rumblings of a conflict of interest with regards to the mayor’s appointment of Ydanis Rodriguez have been resolved.
Whether this is forward progress remains to be seen. Cuomo has an MTA Board now that, with a few exceptions, isn’t pushing back on his policies and poor funding practices. He hasn’t been too willing to approve the Mayor’s nominations who would be a bit more vocal regarding some of the state’s poor practices, and so he has seemingly been content to let the holdover Board members continue in their roles. We’ll find out over the next few weeks if the Senate is under pressure from Cuomo to hear these nominees, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2016 legislative session ends with, again, no action on MTA Board appointments. After all, the MTA has long been another pawn in the battle between Cuomo and de Blasio.
Some weekend reading for you: Alon Levy doesn’t much go for the Triboro RX plan the RPA has been pushing as part of its fourth plan for New York City, and he wrote a long post explaining why. I’ll likely delve into it next week, but it’s worth a weekend read if you need some transit words to while away some time. Don’t skip the comments either.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 3, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, 3 service is suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av making all station stops.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Bowling Green. For service between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3. For service between Franklin Av and New Lots Av, take the 3. Transfer between 4 and 23 trains at Fulton St. For service between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av, use free shuttle buses.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy and Morris Park. Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Sunday, June 5, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2 instead.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, June 4 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, June 5, 34 St-Hudson Yards bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza, stopping at 74 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, A trains are suspended in both directions between 168 St and Inwood-207 St. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- On Broadway, between 168 St and Inwood-207 St, making stops at 175 St, 181 St, 190 St, and Dyckman St.
- On Fort Washington Av, between 168 St and 190 St, making stops at 175 St and 181 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, A trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, Downtown A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, A trains run local in both directions between 168 St and 145 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, A trains run local in both directions between 59 St-Columbus Circle and W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and June 5, C trains are suspended in both directions between 145 St and 168 St. Take the A instead.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and June 5, Downtown C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and June 5, C trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, June 5, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, June 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, June 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, Manhattan-bound D trains run express from 36 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, E trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 4, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, E trains run local in both directions in Queens.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, June 3, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Church Av to Jay St-MetroTech.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 4, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, F trains run local in Queens.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, G trains are suspended in both directions between Church Av and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. AF trains provide alternate service. G trains will operate in two sections between Court Sq and Bedford-Nostrand Avs, and between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts, every 20 minutes. To continue your trip, transfer at Bedford-Nostrand Avs.
From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, June 4, L service will operate in two sections. Between 8 Av and Broadway Junction, and between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Pkwy, every 24 minutes. To continue your trip, transfer at Broadway Junction.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, June 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, June 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, Manhattan-bound N trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and June 5, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, June 3 to top 6:30 a.m. Sunday, June 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, June 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, June 6, R trains are suspended in both directions between 59 St and 36 St. Take the N instead.