In some reality, the MTA’s recent five-year capital began nearly 16 months ago at the start of 2015, and we are well into year two of the work. In our reality, Gov. Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t really funded the plan, and the five-year spending proposal hasn’t gone through the state approval process. Yet, on Wednesday, for the third time in two years, the MTA released a draft of the capital program. The agency thinks this one will finally garner Capital Program Review Board sign-off, and in it are plans to begin in earnest Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway.
This element of the capital plan — the northern extension of the Second Ave. Subway to Lexington and East 125th St. — is not without controversy. In August of 2014, when the MTA first put forward this five-year plan, the funding request for Phase 2 was $1.5 billion, and the MTA expected to begin construction in 2019. As Cuomo dragged his feet, though, the MTA had to revise the plan, and an October 2015 version included only $500 million for preliminary design and engineering work. The MTA said it couldn’t start work before the end of 2019 and planned to request the balance in the 2020-2024 plan. East Harlem pols were not happy, and politicians began a push to examine construction timelines (albeit one that came far too late).
When the state finally approved a budget a few weeks ago, Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway was back on the table, and the MTA has released the third version of their 2015-2019 capital plan that reflects this expenditure (pdf). All told, the MTA will spend around $1.035 billion on Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, with approximately $500 million coming from the feds. The plan is a bit of a hedge as heavy construction won’t begin until 2019, and if the MTA misses that deadline, as the agency expected to six months ago, they can roll the money over into 2020 while lining up the rest of the funding to begin work on that phase.
If all goes according to plan, the MTA will spend around $535 million on environmental, design, and real estate and project support in order to begin utility relocation work for Phase 2. The new plan also, in the MTA’s words, “reserves $500 million to support progressing major construction activities.” This is a promise to maybe kinda sorta begin real work on Phase 2 by the end of 2019 with an eye toward ramping up construction activity through funds available in the next capital plan. (What happens if the next capital plan takes years to approve is an open question.) While the proposal allows for modest expenditures spread out over four calendar years, the reserve is all bucketed for 2019. Do you think major construction will start by then? I’m not convinced.
Meanwhile, at Wednesday’s board meeting, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast echoed MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu’s off-the-cuff cost estimate from early November. The agency still expects Phase 2 to cost between $5-$6 billion, an exceedingly hight amount even in New York City. Most of the costs seem tied up in the 125th St. station which involves tunneling underneath Metro-North tracks and the Lexington Ave. Subway while building a deep-bore subway stop that’s up to modern safety codes. It’s still not yet clear if the MTA intends to utilize pre-existing tunnel segments north of 96th St. that may be too close to the surface to support the MTA’s current approach to subway construction. We’ll know definitively one way or another within the next year or so.
And thus, this never-ending saga inches closer to another phase. One day, we may even have a full length Second Ave. Subway, but as the tenth anniversary of construction on Phase 1 nears, it’s still going to be a while.
As a new experiment in underground retail space opened on Tuesday, a question I never really thought I would ask crossed my mind: Will New Yorkers stop in the subway to buy artisanal mini doughnuts? It’s very much a question of the moment, but with Goldman Sachs fronting over $11 million for Columbus Circle’s TurnStyle, the first privatized retail concourse in the subway system, there is a lot riding on the answer.
TurnStyle has been in the works for years. It’s the brainchild of Susan Fine, a principal at OasesRE who has overseen the rebirth of retail spaces in both Grand Central and Rockefeller Circle, and it was originally supposed to open last year. But time is a fleeting concept when it comes to MTA projects, and TurnStyle, a 30,000 square foot market outside of fare control and underneath 8th Ave. from 57th St. to around 59th St., opened yesterday.
Before the renovation to the Columbus Circle, this passageway was a bit forlorn with a few uninspiring shops and empty spaces. The MTA booted everyone out seven years ago, and now, after a $14.5 million private investment that included a $8.7 million construction loan and a $3.6 million equity investment from Goldman Sachs, the space reopened with a veritable New York 2016 feel. Whether you find that to be a positive or a negative is an inherently personal conclusion.
So what is this thing called TurnStyle anyway? It has a cute name and 39 retail spaces, including 20 that the company is calling “gourmet eateries.” It features takeout windows, like the doughtnut shop, and sit-down joints, ranging from sushi to pizza to crepes to grilled cheese. Eater has a full rundown of the food spaces. There are retail and pop-up spots that included a clothing boutique and a hat store, and of course, there’s a Starbucks, a florist and a wine shop for when you need to grab that bouquet and a bottle on the way to the D train.
“We bring choice, convenience and modern, clean design to the 90,000 daily commuters who use this Midtown hub,” Fine said. “TurnStyle is leading the movement to make urban public space more dynamic and engaging. Our vision was to reimagine the subway experience by bringing Main Street underground, and make TurnStyle a destination in its own right and become a new part of the fabric of this neighborhood.”
The question is: Will it work? It helps that Columbus Circle is the seventh busiest subway stop in the city with 23.3 million entries last year. Located at a popular spot for workers, residents and tourists, the built-in audience is tremendous. Plus, the spot looks good. With better lighting and fixtures, it’s brighter and cleaner with colorful tiles and digital signs. Even those subway riders who didn’t know about it stopped to note the environment last night. It could be a model for other underused open spaces in the subway — so long as these spaces can attract the right passenger volume.
It’s possible then that TurnStyle works only because of where it is. It’s likely a model that could be implemented to great success in the concourse underneath 8th Ave. at 42nd St. and perhaps in a few other closed off areas of the subway (such as the passageway under 6th Ave. in the upper 30s or between 7th and 8th Avenues underneath 14th Street). It’s unlikely to work in, say, a G train station with wide and empty mezzanines because the foot traffic isn’t there.
But for now, it’s a novelty and a well executed one at that. The MTA profits off of the rent, and Fine and her partners draw in revenue as well. It may not be an all-encompassing solution to the dreariness of everyday subway riding, but it’s a brighter spot in one corner of the New York City subway system.
As the RPA tries to make the most out of the looming L train shutdown and Manhattan riders gird for a 14th St. without subways, the MTA is slowly taking the Canarsie Tube bull by the horns. At Monday’s board committee meetings, the MTA announced that whatever shutdown the agency settles on will begin during the first quarter of 2019, nearly three years from now. With ample time to plan alternate routes, the MTA also unveiled the scope of the damage Hurricane Sandy enacted on the L train’s tunnel and later in the day announced two upcoming public outreach meetings.
The big news here is the schedule for work. We don’t know if this Sandy work will involve 18 months of a full shutdown, three years of partial shutdowns or the terrible Gale Brewer-inspired seven years of no service on nights and weekends without the mitigation plan that would come with a concentrated work effort. But we do know that the L train’s riders have around 35 months to prepare for the worst. The MTA, which says it will work with NYCDOT (buses) and EDC (ferries) to prepare alternative service, will begin the tunnel shutdown before March of 2019 ends. Mark your calendars.
So what goes into the Canarsie Tube rebuild? The MTA listed out all the work that needs to be performed, and it’s quite a doozy of a list. As you’ll see, this is why a partial shutdown is impractical and a nights-and-weekends only plan is foolish:
- Reconstruction of 7 miles of duct bank
- Replacement of 56 miles of power, communication and signal cables
- Reconstruction of 2.7 mi. of track
- Replacement of 2 circuit breaker houses (CBH)
- Repair of 2 fan plants
- Rehabilitation of 1 pump room
- Construction of 1 new substation
The MTA also confirmed that the Sandy work will allow for other station improvements as well. The 1st Ave. stop will indeed get ADA-compliant entrances at Ave. A, thus opening up Alphabet City to the L train, and Bedford Ave. will receive ADA treatment as well as more expansive mezzanines and and street entrances to improve passenger flow. These are sorely needed improvements, but the MTA hasn’t yet discussed the RPA’s golden egg of tail tracks west of 8th Ave. which would be a huge boost to operations and line capacity.
So with all this work lined up, next up comes the tough part: The MTA is going to hold two public outreach meetings in Brooklyn along the L train in the coming weeks. The first is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 5th, and it will take place at the Marcy Avenue Armory at 355 Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn (a location not that close to the L train). The second meeting will be held in Manhattan. As yet, the MTA does not yet know who will attend this meeting, but the MTA noted that the long lead time before construction begins provides “ample time for both the selection of a construction plan and the development of service alternatives.”
Yet, the contract must be signed before the end of this year, and thus, the agency will work to formulate a plan for the shutdown sooner rather than later. How much a say the public has — and how cooperative the community of L train riders will be — remains to be seen. The MTA says the meetings will include “include an in-depth discussion of the potential construction approaches currently under consideration” and an open house for community members to discuss their concerns. The agency also promised to work with residents, businesses, community boards, merchant groups and civic associations along the L line, but not everyone — perhaps no one — will be happy when the inevitable happens.
As MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast’s statements made clear, the agency views an L train shutdown as nearly unavoidable. The key will be alternative service then rather than delayed pain. “The heavy damage sustained by the Canarsie Tunnel during Superstorm Sandy,” Prendergast said, “requires that we undertake a full reconstruction in order to ensure the integrity of the tunnel and the safety of our riders for generations to come.”
Unfortunately, for the MTA and its contractors working underneath the Upper East Side, time is marching inevitably forward toward December. As the agency is facing mounting pressure both internally and externally to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of the year, we are receiving monthly updates in the form of MTA Board meeting materials on the project, and each month the story is the same: The MTA’s work schedule is aggressive and not being met with the usual suspects looming as issues. Last month, I detailed how escalators and elevators may again delay the opening of a major MTA project, and this month, we hear more of the same.
The latest is found starting on page 48 of the MTA Capital Construction pdf that the MTA’s oversight committee will discuss later this morning. The short of it is that one station — 72nd Street — may gum up the works for the rest of Phase 1, and overall, escalator and elevator installation efforts are falling behind schedule. Right now, four of seven key milestones at 72nd Street are behind schedule. These involve elevator and HVAC installation and tunnel vent fans. At both 86thand 96th Streets, escalator and elevator installation is a few weeks behind schedule. All work at 63rd St. remains on schedule even as half the station continues to serve F trains.
In each case, the MTA claims the delayed timelines will not affect the projected December 2016 revenue service date, but the agency’s independent engineering consultant isn’t as confident. First, the IEC notes that only 70 percent of tracking milestones met in March were met and that the lack of improvements at 72nd St. mean that the problems with escalator and elevator installation “remain close to impacting the target [revenue service date].” As they have done so in past months, the IEC again warns that the MTA’s testing schedule is “highly compressed which maximizes the demand on NYCT staff.” But this is an all-hands-on-deck effort right as the MTA is engaged in what is essentially an eight-month sprint, but demand on staff is an ancillary concern at best.
Ultimately, the IEC is worried, and they sum up their concerns succinctly:
- The work effort at the 72nd Street Station site has not reached the level necessary to support the accelerated schedule.
- Late design changes have continued through March and the backlog of changes may present a risk to the scheduled completion of the testing program.
In response to this development that one of three stations could hold up the entire project, a few readers have asked me if the MTA could open Phase 1 but keep 72nd Street closed until elevator and escalator installation is completed. As of now, this isn’t a particularly likely scenario and may present a challenge to the way the MTA operates. For now, MTA Capital Construction, a distinct agency under the MTA umbrella, has control over the entirety of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, and when all systems are completed, tested and accepted, they’ll turn over the project to MTA New York City Transit, a different agency under the MTA umbrella. (For the 7 line extension, MTA CC didn’t turn over the reins until shortly before the ribbon-cutting on the station, and even now, remediation work is ongoing.)
MTA CC can’t turn over part of the project while retaining control over another part, and the MTA can’t get certified to open the station with, say, only escalators and no elevators due to ADA compliance issues. It is essentially an all or nothing proposition. So everyone is holding their collective breaths as December ticks closer. We’ll get another report in May, but the key updates will arrive in June when the testing schedule must come into focus to meet the December revenue service date. We won’t know until very late in the year if the project will be delayed, but the warning signs are there. Anyone betting on the actual opening date?
The “inside baseball” news this week is that the MTA has pulled out of American Public Transportation Association, a non-profit that ostensibly represents all of America’s public transportation agencies. This is a pretty big deal, and the MTA didn’t make this decision lightly. In fact, the letter detailing the decision is a seven-page enumeration of grievances, and I’m almost surprised APTA didn’t respond with a duel challenge.
The short of it is that APTA hasn’t adequately represented the MTA, and the leadership has been essentially non-responsive to the concerns of what is by far its largest constituent transit authority. Whether the rest of the country likes to admit or not, the MTA is responsible for a large percentage of the nation’s transit ridership, and in fact, the US’ overall transit ridership growth over the last five years stems nearly entirely from the MTA’s various sub-agencies. The membership wasn’t worth it. To read more on what this means for APTA and the MTA, check out this Transit Center post. I’ll explore these issues in depth. Despite the fact that this is very much an industry move, it’s not one to be glossed over.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. 1 trains skip 18 St, 23 St and 28 St in both directions. Free shuttle buses operate between Chambers St and South Ferry.
From 4:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 17, Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m., Monday, April 18, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, 3 service will operate to/from New Lots Av all weekend replacing the 4 in Brooklyn.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. Take the 2, 3, D, J, N, Q or R instead. 4 service operates between Woodlawn and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, making local stops.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, 5 service is suspended. 24 trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Shuttle buses operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 16 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, April 18, 7 trains are suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and 74 St-Broadway. EFNRS trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. 7 trains will run between Flushing-Main St and 74 St-Broadway, and between Times Sq-42 St and 34 St-Hudson Yards, every 15-20 minutes. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- Between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza, stopping at Hunters Point Av, Court Sq, and Queens Plaza.
- Between Queensboro Plaza and 74 St-Broadway, stopping at 33 St, 40 St, 46 St, 52 St, 61 St-Woodside, and 69 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 16, to 5:00 a.m., Monday, April 18, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, Manhattan-bound A trains run local in both directions between 125 St and 168 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, April 16 and Sunday April 17, 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, April 16 and Sunday April 17, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 16 and Sunday April 17, Norwood-205 St bound D trains skip Bay 50 St and 25 Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, D trains will stop at 135 St in both directions.
From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, April 16 to 7:00 a.m. Sunday, April 17, and from 12:15 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, Jamaica Center-Parsons Archer bound E trains run express from Queens Plaza to 71 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, E trains skip 23 St and Spring St in both directions.
From 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 16, and from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday, April 17, additional E trains will run between Manhattan and Queens. Some E trains traveling from Manhattan are rerouted to the 179 St F station. Please check destination signs and listen to announcements.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, April 18, F trains are suspended in both directions between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and Church Av. Free shuttle buses operate between Church Av and Coney Island-Stillwell Av, stopping at Ditmas Av, 18 Av, Avenue I, Bay Pkwy, Avenue N, Avenue P, Kings Hwy, Avenue U, Avenue X, Neptune Av, and West 8 St. Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at Church Av. Consider using the DNQ between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and Downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, L trains are suspended in both directions between Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. Take free express and local shuttle buses and AC or J trains. Shuttle buses operate in two sections:
- Free local shuttle buses provide alternate service between Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, stopping at East 105 St, New Lots Av, Livonia Av, Sutter Av, Atlantic Av, Broadway Junction, Bushwick Av-Aberdeen St, Wilson Av, and Halsey St.
- Free express shuttle buses serve Rockaway Pkwy, Broadway Junction, and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs only, days and evenings.
Transfer between free shuttle buses and L trains at Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs.
From 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and April 17, Forrest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from Queens Plaza to Forrest Hills-71 Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 16, to 6:00 a.m. Monday, April 18, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight.
A whole bunch of years ago, back in late 2011, I covered sort of an ugly story concerning Upper East Side residents who lived on East 69th St. and a classist and racist reaction to a plan to build a new entrances to the perennially overcrowded 68th St. stop on the 6 train. This plan is now back in the news, and although 68th St. will get its additional entrances and ADA-compliant accessibility, the NIMBYs have seemingly won and at a cost to the MTA — and taxpayers — to boot.
Let’s take a quick trip back to late 2011. It was in October that the MTA announced plans to build two entrances at 69th St. — one facing toward Lexington and the other facing down 69th St. The latter did not go over well with some residents who said the increased foot traffic would “ruin the fabric of the neighborhood.” As another resident said, “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.”
A few months later, those same residents dug in and threatened legal action. They talked about the “pristine nature” of East 69th St. and the “bucolic” street that would be ruined by a new subway entrance. The dog whistles could not have been more deafening, but their tactics worked. It’s four years later and only now is the MTA getting ready to make the 6 train station accessible and with more entrances — but at a cost.
In last month’s MTA Board materials, the 68th St. station work resurfaced. By the MTA’s own admission, the project is four years late. Design work was supposed to be completed by April of 2012; instead, the agency expects to finish shortly. And why? In bureaucratic-speak, “this delay is due to additional time needed to address community concerns, raised by adjacent property owners at 69th Street regarding the location of the proposed street stair entrances.” In other words, NIMBYs have meant that thousands of subway riders — 68th St. sees 36,000 riders per weekday — have suffered through worse commutes for nearly half a decade.
The end result isn’t particularly comforting either. Here’s what the MTA had to say:
After extended negotiations, an agreement has been reached to place the stair entrance east of Lexington Avenue inside the Imperial House Apartments (between 68th Street and 69th Street). This entrance is in lieu of the street entrance at the Southeast corner of 69th Street and Lexington Avenue. The additional time is necessary to complete the property acquisition, environmental study, and additional design for the new work items.
The costs of this project have increased by around $8 million to approximately $65 million due to the MTA’s need to acquire property that belongs to the Imperial House Apartments. It’s also still not clear what the final scope will be as compared with the 2011 plans. DNA Info recently reported that the MTA could still pursue those plans, but MTA sources tell me the Imperial House plan is essentially the only way this project moves forward as East 69th St. residents will throw up substantial legal roadblocks otherwise. Construction may start later this year and end in 2020, well over three years after this project was supposed to wrap.
So did the NIMBYs win? I guess so. The project is more expensive and has been delayed, as MTA sources tell me, thanks to the back-and-forth between the agency and community groups. The scope will be reduced, and access to the station will be cut back by a half a block or so. It’s not nearly as encompassing as it was first proposed. But that’s what happens when a vocal minority of a community with resources bands together to fight something they see as intrusive. The rest of us suffer through worse transit options because of it.
The future history of the Metrocard has been, for nearly a decade, maddeningly out of reach. Since 2006, the MTA has discussed, tested and discussed again plans for a contactless next-generation replacement for the Metrocard, and a certain combination of technological uncertainty and organizational inertia, the effort won’t be fully realized before 2019 when the costs to maintain the current Metrocard system start to climb. But taps, and not swipes, are on the way.
Now that the state has seemingly cleared the logjam that was the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan, the agency has started to take concrete steps to phase out the Metrocard. It began earlier this week with the release of a solicitation notice (pdf) in advance of an RFP that will be made available today. The MTA claims the RFP contains certain confidential information regarding the agency’s infrastructure, and it isn’t available to the public. But the agency has released enough detail either through the solicitation or in subsequent so that we have a general sense of what will go into the MTA’s tap-based contactless system. Adios, swipes.
First and foremost, despite what you might have read elsewhere, the Metrocard isn’t getting phased out next year or even next presidential election. We’ll have plenty of time for presidential candidates to mock their inability to swipe. Although the MTA hopes to begin phasing in the next generation fare payment system by around June of 2018, much as tokens weren’t retired until nearly nine years after the introduction of the Metrocard, the Metrocard won’t be retired immediately. When last we checked in on this project, the MTA expected to phase out Metrocards by the end of 2023, but an MTA spokesman told me on Tuesday that this is not a definite timeline at this point.
So what is this thing anyway? According to the MTA’s documents, we’ll be using some fare system “based on open bank card payment industry standards that will utilize contactless media, including contactless smart cards and mobile devices.” The MTA will likely use a proprietary card and offer a cash option for riders who don’t have bank accounts, smart cards or smart phones. “The key thing is broad support for all of our customers,” agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz told me. “We’re not leaving any customer behind in the transition.”
As part of the implementation, the MTA is going to maintain but rewire the current turnstiles. The RFP documents call for a supplier to install and maintain a TCP/IP ethernet-based communications network connecting fare collection equipment, including turnstiles, HEETs and payment vending machines. Still, the basis for the system is going to be contactless. The MTA will rely on bank cards, smart phones, or an MTA-issued card to process fares. This move will allow the MTA to lower the costs of fare collection and maintenance of a fare payment system. Only a small percentage of users will use the MTA’s own card, and the system — essentially next generation that doesn’t rely on a proprietary technology as, say, PATH’s SmartCard or London’s Oyster Card does — will be adaptable across MTA agencies.
One interesting part of the solicitation document concerns the fare future. The MTA wants its next generation fare payment technology to respond to “alternate fare structures…including fare capping and/or changes to the fare incentive structures.” In other words, the MTA wants something that could be used for fixed fares, a zone-based fare structure or even a time of day-based variable fare. The possibilities with a system that could allow for tap in and tap out are more expansive than today’s swipe in-only system. While the MTA has no plans to start exploring a variable fare structure, I have been told that the agency wants the ability to do so in the future.
So we get a few glimpses into the future and a bunch of uncertainty. The MTA’s initial contract for this new system will run for 69 months from the date of contract award, but the MTA doesn’t expect Metrocards to be phased out within six years from now. So there will be some period of overlap and some period of exploration as the MTA receives RFP responses.
Yet, the overarching questions are whether and when the MTA can pull this off. The agency’s last true systemwide technological upgrade effort was the introduction of the Metrocard two decades ago, and now they’re going to try again with something that is essentially a new technology built on industry standards and evolving technology. We’ll see how this goes, but one thing is for certain: The Metrocard — and that message urging us to please swipe again — is on borrowed time. How much borrowed time remains to be seen.
As the clock on March expired and the calendar flipped to April, New York State legislators passed a $155 billion budget. The state has a lot of money to play with, and as interest rates remain low, it’s very easy to borrow. It would be, in other words, a great time to fund mass transit through direct contributions, and even $3 billion in annual direct contributions would lead to a guaranteed $15 billion for the MTA’s five-year capital plan. This money would lessen the MTA’s need to borrow and then fund borrowing through fare revenue. Less than 2% of the state budget should go toward MTA capital improvements. But that’s not what happened.
As I explored shortly after the budget passed, the MTA didn’t get much out of it except for some funding earmarked toward future phases of the Second Ave. Subway and, apparently, a vague promise to approve the capital plan following a second round of amendments. Meanwhile, Cuomo has promised to fund a sliver of the MTA’s current five-year, $28 billion capital plan only when the agency has exhausted all other revenue streams. To that end, no one expects the MTA to realize any of this money until the mid-2020s, and Cuomo has insidiously allowed the MTA to raise its debt ceiling. Thus the agency can borrow even more before the state’s obligations to pony up a few billion dollars come due.
Over at NY1, Zack Fink broke the story:
After staying up all night, the New York State Senate finally voted on the last budget bills before 9 a.m. Friday. One of those bills raised the debt ceiling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), allowing the agency to borrow up to $55 billion. “What kind of message does that send, that we’re allowing one state authority to issue more debt than the entire state of New York is allowed to?” said State Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island and Brooklyn. “It’s going to lead in the future to higher tolls, fares, and service cuts.”
…Observers said the new MTA debt ceiling explains how Cuomo will fund the agency’s ambitious capital program construction, which includes East Side Manhattan access to the Long Island Rail Road and the Second Avenue Subway. “Cuomo said he’s going to give $8.3 billion to MTA; he only showed up with $1 billion,” said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “And so where is he going to get the rest of this money? Obviously there’s your answer.”
Critics say commuters will ultimately get hit with the bill. “Somebody has to pay for this. The MTA already has budget gaps over the next several years, so people’s fares and tolls will go up to pay for all this debt,” Gelinas said. “It’s just that the governor probably expects that this will happen after he leaves office.”
It is my understanding that the MTA’s debt will come in the form of so-called moral obligation bonds and not general obligations bonds. Thus, if the MTA defaults on its bond obligations in order to force bondholders to the table, the state will not step in to cover any outstanding debt service payments. In other words, by hook or by crook, we the subway and bus riders of New York City (along with the Metro-North and LIRR riders and those paying bridge and tunnel tolls) are stuck with mounting debt and mounting debt service obligations that would put more pressure on fares and the MTA’s ability to provide and expand service. That’s Gov. Cuomo’s New York.
Meanwhile, the Governor has promised upstate drivers parity and breaks on New York State Thruway tolls. It seems unlikely that they will be saddled with debt this high that could be easily avoided for a small percentage of the overall budget. Cuomo too has proposed a series of transit projects that aren’t in line with what the city needs. He’s singularly focused on improving the way people enter and exit New York City rather than on improving how they get around New York City once they’re here, and even some ideas — such as the Willets Point Laguardia AirTrain — are worse than doing nothing.
It’s easy to saddle future generations of New Yorkers who will never have the opportunity to vote for Cuomo or the current batch of legislators will the debt that arises out of transit ideas built today, whether they’re good or bad ideas, and that is exactly what our politicians have done. It’s a devious way to make decisions that affect us all for decades to come.
Presidential candidates: They’re just like us. As we saw yesterday, Hillary Clinton, at a subway station with notoriously prickly turnstiles, couldn’t get her MetroCard to work. She had to swipe five times, thus turning our aging and outdated fare payment system we’ve come to know and hate into a major campaign issue. In fact, everyone has pledged more federal money for transit.
Instead, everyone is having a good laugh over a frustrating experience New Yorkers have to live with on a daily basis. Meanwhile, as the primary nears, Bernie Sanders discussed paying his fare with tokens or else just jumping a turnstile. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and John Kasich have left well enough alone. It seems that our national politicians are as interested in transit as our local ones are. What a dismaying, if entirely expected, turn of events.
The real test would be to see if any of them could navigate the weekend service changes. This week, we have 15 lines with changes. As always these comes to me from the MTA so pay attention to announcements and other signs.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, service is suspended between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses operate between Chambers St and South Ferry. Trains skip 18 St, 23 St and 28 St in both directions.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, 242 St-bound trains run express from 215 St to 242 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m., Monday, April 11, trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, service is suspended between Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses make station stops between Utica Av and New Lots Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, downtown trains skip Astor Pl and 103 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, service is suspended between New Lots Av/Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge. 2 3 N Q R trains provide alternate service. Free shuttle buses operate between Utica Av and New Lots Av.
From 4:30 a.m. Saturday, April 9, to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10, service is suspended. 2 and 4 trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Shuttle buses operate between Dyre Av and E 180 St.
From 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, April 10, service is suspended between E 180 St and Bowling Green. 2 4 trains provide alternate service.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, downtown 6 trains skip Astor Pl and 103 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., Friday to Sunday, April 8 to 10, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 10, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, uptown trains run express between 59 St-Columbus Circle and 125 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 9, to 5 a.m., Monday, April 11, trains run local in both directions between W 4 St and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St and Jay St-MetroTech. Uptown trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, service is suspended between 59 St-Columbus Circle and Stillwell Av. F N Q R trains and shuttle buses provide alternate service. D trains operate between 205 St and 59 St-Columbus Circle and run express via the A to/from Chambers St, the last stop. Free shuttle buses operate between W 4 St and Grand St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 7 a.m. Sunday, April 10, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, Manhattan-bound trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, Manhattan-bound trains skip Briarwood and 75 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, Coney Island-bound trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood and 75 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, Coney Island-bound trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, April 9, to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 10, Manhattan-bound trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 9, and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 10, Manhattan-bound trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, trains are rerouted via the D in both directions between Stillwell Av and 36 St. Free shuttle buses and R trains provide alternate service.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 9, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, Astoria-bound trains run local from 36 St to DeKalb Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, Manhattan-bound trains run express from 71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, to 6:30 a.m., Sunday, April 10, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 10, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 11, 36 St-bound trains stop at 53 St and 45 St.
When we talk about subway and transit expansion, it’s easy to get blinded by large and ambitious plans to transform the city. We talk about the Triboro RX line, reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW or countless other pie-in-the-sky routes (including that Brooklyn-Queens Connector the mayor is pushing), but sometimes, we should take a step back and look at something easier. Not everything has to involve multiple stops spread out over many miles or a new-to-New York mode of transit.
In a way, that’s what New York state may be trying to do with the Penn Station Access proposal. For the relatively affordable price of $1 billion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks Metro-North can construct four new stations in the Bronx along a preexisting right of way and provide commuter rail service into Manhattan’s Penn Station on the West Side. It’s not the sexiest of projects, but it provides a vital connection to Penn Station. It’s also an important reminder that low-hanging fruit can pay off.
Recently, a post on the Urban Omnibus blog had me thinking of even lower hanging fruit. This one concerned a plan to expand subway service in East New York. It involves the construction of a station only and some reallocation of yard space along a currently-active ROW in an area underserved by transit. I’ll let Jonathan English tell his story:
Imagine there were the possibility for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to extend a subway line to a major concentration of new affordable housing — and a neighborhood with some of the longest commutes in the city — without building a single foot of new subway track. That chance exists right now in East New York, where the 3 train’s tracks continue nearly a half-mile beyond their current terminal at New Lots Avenue to the Livonia maintenance yard, near the Gateway Center mall, Spring Creek Nehemiah, and several large public housing projects. Using these tracks for passenger service would significantly enhance transit access to a major development area at a low cost, and spread the city’s current subway expansion program beyond Manhattan…
Building such an extension is far less expensive than building a new subway line from scratch. Since the tracks already exist — and the yard makes land available for a surface station — there is no need for multi-billion-dollar underground construction…The only other cost would be replacing the converted train storage tracks. (Only a small part of the yard would need to be converted, and the existing maintenance facility could remain.) Trains could be stored at other yards in the “A division” of the subway (the narrow-car ex-IRT), where the MTA has indicated that slack is available. Much of the work could be joined with the $91.4 million renovation at the Livonia Yard that is included in the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program.
Spring Creek, which would be served by the new extension, is both fast-growing — no Brooklyn neighborhood has added more residents since 1940 — and transit-deprived. It has been the site of major new affordable housing construction in recent years, including the Bloomberg-era 2,200-unit Spring Creek Nehemiah project. The nearby Spring Creek Towers, which opened in 1974 as Starrett City, comprise 5,881 Mitchell-Lama units. Right now, Spring Creek has some of the longest average commutes in the city, at 48.9 minutes. The extension would follow part of the route of the B6, which has over 40,000 riders on an average weekday and is one of the busiest bus routes in the city. And it would shorten or replace the route of the B84 shuttle, which takes riders from the Gateway Center to New Lots Avenue station.
English compares the cost of the work favorable to the in-fill Yankee Stadium Metro-North stop which the MTA was able to open for around $91 million as opposed to the one-stop $2.4 billion extension of the 7 line. For minimal amounts of money — a rounding error in the MTA’s capital plan — the 3 train could expand its reach through a neighborhood soon to be upzoned as part of the Mayor’s affordable housing project. That such an easy transit project isn’t on anyone’s agenda is problematic at best and a fatal flaw at worst.
These types of low-hanging fruit aren’t readily available in too many places throughout the city. Most expansion efforts — even modest one-stop plans above ground — require construction of new tracks, new tunnels, new stations and the land acquisition costs that go along with it. Here, in East New York though, the opportunity exists for a low-cost subway extension along an existing active ROW. Why not indeed?