A few years ago, at around the time Sandy swept through New York, Andrew Cuomo determined it looked gubernatorial and in charge for him to announce good news regarding the MTA. In the grand tradition of New York executives stretching back to 1968, Cuomo decided that the MTA could be used to boost his image with downstate voters, and now, every time good news comes out, his press office sends out an email “announcing” the happenings. Tunnels reopening? Sandy work on the R train wrapping early? New wireless service underground? Federal storm preparedness funds? It all comes from Cuomo’s office.
“What happens though when there is bad news?” you may wonder. Funny you should ask because that’s when Cuomo disappears faster than Keyser Soze. He’s more than willing to take credit for everything on which he had little to no affect; that is, after all, his prerogative as the MTA is a creation of the State of New York. But when something doesn’t go right, when there are bad headlines to be made, Cuomo does what many others have done before him — he tries to distance himself from the MTA. (He may even be exerting pressure to actively avoid bad news. From some accounts, the MTA may wait to announce the details of the 2015 fare hikes until after Election Day so Cuomo can avoid the bad press. Usually, the new fare schemes are announced in mid-October prior to a March fare hike. But I digress.)
This dynamic came to a head this week following the CPRB rejection of the MTA’s capital plan. In his comments about the capital plan, Cuomo, who you may recall is in charge of the MTA, seemed surprised that the thing had a $15 billion gap. He didn’t offer up any solutions and seems to think all is copacetic when it comes to MTA funding.
Here’s what he said to Capital New York: “The first budget from every agency also always calls for $15 billion. That’s part of the dance that we go through. That’s why I say it’s the initial, proposed budget. We’ll then look at that budget and go through, and we’ll come up with a realistic number. But we have a very real $4 billion surplus, and we have a 2 percent spending cap that I still follow. So that’s the discipline that’s in the process.”
When later asked about a funding scheme involving, say, congestion pricing, Cuomo was quick to dismiss the idea. As Kate Hinds reported, Cuomo simply said, “There’s no need for it. We have a surplus. Look, we had a $10 billion deficit, and we didn’t do tolls.” That $15 billion is just going to materialize out of thing air. (Or will Cuomo, as he intimated, use the money from the bank settlements to fund the MTA?)
For its part, in a rare act of defiance, the MTA seems to be toeing the capital line. While Cuomo has suggested the capital budget could be pared down — and it’s likely to come in below the current $32 billion price tag — Tom Prendergast spoke yesterday about the need for investing in the system. Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller was on hand to report as Prendergast defended the five-year plan. Disputing Cuomo’s earlier assertion that the proposal was “bloated,” as the governor said, Prendergast warned that he’d be willing to drive the MTA further into debt. “I don’t like greater debt finance, but I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll treat that finance as a bridge to another day.”
As Miller notes, Prendergast’s co-panelists discussing transit governance were quick to point to Cuomo as the ultimate arbiter of all things MTA, whether the governor admits it or not. Many MTA board members answer to Cuomo, and Prendergast is a Cuomo appointee who serves at the pleasure of the governor. While Cuomo may try to shirk the bad news and trumpet the good, this is his beast, as it was every governor’s before him since Nelson and David Rockefeller’s plan to depose Robert Moses. The $15 billion gap is at his feet. How he moves forward will speak volumes of his approach toward New York City and transit, and I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about it.
As long-time readers (or even recent converts to the site) know, I am not a particularly big fan of the Port Authority’s PATH Hub at the World Trade Center site. It’s a monument to an architect and a mall ahead of a transit center. Already, what’s opened has been both overwhelming and less than impressive with narrow staircases and insufficient access to the platforms. As form and function pull at a limited pool of dollars, the PATH Hub is the epicenter for the debate.
Yesterday, The Atlantic’s CityLab published a piece of mine on that very topic. It’s the culmination of years of railing against the price tag and design of the PATH Hub. I’m not against great design for transit, but as it does at Grand Central, the design should flow from the function. Santiago Calatrava’s monstrosity does just the opposite as form overwhelms function.
From a practical perspective, where Grand Central seamlessly integrates commuters with its purpose as a rail depot, the Port Authority’s new hub fails its customers, the PATH-riding public. One platform is already completed, and its design flaws are obvious. Staircases are too narrow to accommodate the morning crowds who come streaming out of the trains from Hoboken, Jersey City, and beyond, while the narrow platforms quickly fill with irate commuters. Anyone trying to catch a train back to the Garden State risks a stampede. The marble, bright and sterile, picks up any spill, and a drop of water creates dangerously slippery conditions until a Port Authority janitor scurries out of some unseen door, mop in hand. Passenger flow and comfort, two of the most important elements of terminal design, seem to be an afterthought. The PATH Hub is shaping up to be an example of design divorced from purpose.
The price tag too creates consternation among those fighting for sparse transit dollars. For $4 billion, the Port Authority could have extended PATH to Brooklyn, built a one-seat ride from Lower Manhattan to JFK Airport or helped cover the cost overruns from the dearly departed ARC Tunnel. For $4 billion, the MTA could build out most, if not all, of another phase of the Second Avenue subway or the lost 7 line station at 41st Street and 10th Avenue five times over. At a time with real needs for regional transportation improvements, a $4 billion missed opportunity stings….
In his writings and lectures on “Why Architecture Matters,” the architectural critic Paul Goldberger writes: “When architecture is art, it does not escape the obligation to be practical, and its practical shortcomings should not be forgiven.” Politicians choose architects who create buildings with visual designs that leave a mark in the public memory. For an occasional visitor to Lower Manhattan, Calatrava’s building is a sight to see, but for an occasional PATH rider, Caltrava’s platforms and staircases are a reminder that transit users in the eyes of celebrity crafters are afterthoughts. The riders don’t post photos to Instagram and swoon over a stegosaurus-like structure rising out of the ashes of the Twin Towers; they grumble about narrow staircases and shoddy construction.
Please do go read the full piece at CityLab. I try to end it on an upbeat note. We as a society used to design great buildings that were also functional. If we try hard enough and focus properly, I’m sure we can do it again.
When the MTA unveiled its 2015-2019 capital plan a few weeks ago, agency officials knew it would not be smooth sailing. The agency had identified $32 billion in projects and $16.8 billion in steady revenue streams. The proposed budget included no contributions from New York State, and it was a challenge, in its way, for Albany to tackle the hard question of capital funding (and perhaps a Move NY Plan). It was then no surprise that the state’s Capital Program Review Board torpedoed the plan.
In a brief note issued to the MTA last Friday, the CPRB simply said, “Nope. Good try, good effort.” They didn’t offer a rational — though the humongous funding gap was clearly to blame — and sent the plan back to the MTA “without prejudice.” That was the easy part. The hard part comes next. That’s the part where the MTA pares down the plan; Albany figures out some funding scheme; and everything gets approved.
It sounds so easy, but of course, it’s not. Along the way, the MTA will have to contend with the usual array of everything. In a Bond Buyer article about the CPRB decision, one know-nothing type putting himself out as a government consultant even tried to resort to that tired “two sets of books” trope. It’s an uphill battle every five years and one that no one ever seems to remember or learn from ahead of the next fight.
Yesterday, the obstacle was City Council. Now, MTA hearings in front of City Council aren’t all charades. It’s an opportunity for politicians to get MTA officials to say some things on the record, and what they said yesterday raised some concerns. The MTA seems to be planning the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway to go under pre-existing tunnels; they keep saying B Division countdown clocks are 3-5 years away, the same timeline they’ve had for 2-3 years; and plans to build a subway to Laguardia will proceed over a bunch of NIMBYs’ dead bodies in Astoria. That’s all been around in one form or another, but yesterday’s hearing served as a reminder.
Things went south when the capital plan came out though. A read through WNYC’s Kate Hinds’ tweets reveals city politicians arguing, after the fact too, for pet projects in their neighborhoods. While Mark Weprin deserves a nod for voicing some support for the Move NY congestion fee plan, some City Council members (and, um, MTA officials sitting in the hot seat) didn’t even know the basics of BusTime.
Overall, the hand-wringing seemed largely appropriate for a political arena, but as the City Council offered up some half-hearted solutions for someone else’s problem, no one bothered to talk about their contributions to the capital plan. In the MTA’s $32 billion plan to help improve mobility in and around New York City, the city’s capital funding contributions are pegged at all of $657 million or two percent of the total required funding. This meager amount of $131 million a year assumes a 25% increase over previous capital plans and some additional money for the MTA’s bus program. Who has skin in the game? Not City Council.
Ultimately, this is all about the dollars. Those people who pony up and take the step necessary to identify funding streams can have their say in the planning process. For now, though, the political charade plays itself out. The end game is obvious, but how we get there is not.
If most transit-minded folk in the Tri-State area had $1.5 billion to spend, an extension of the PATH train to Newark Airport wouldn’t be high on the list of priorities. With that money, most people would add to the pot for a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel, take a look at investing in another phase of the Second Ave. Subway, explore a subway extension to Laguardia Airport, begin the Triboro RX line or look to one of any number of other projects. The Port Authority of course chose the airport extension.
Now, it’s not much of a surprise that the Port Authority is building out this PATH extension. It does serve some useful function as it provides a more direct connection to Newark Airport for anyone traveling by public transit from Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and, more importantly, Jersey City and Hoboken. We’ve also heard of interest in this project for the past three or four years, most recently as an odd quid-pro-quo given by New Jersey to United Airlines in exchange for direct flights to Atlantic City.
As the ball has slowly rolled forward on this project, the costs have gone up. In 2004, PA documents projected a $500 million cost. When Gov. Chris Christie first pushed this extension, it was predicted to carry a price tag of $1 billion. A few months later, some reports had total costs estimated between $2-$4 billion. Now, the Port Authority is aiming to spend $1.5 billion and construct this at-grade extension over mostly preexisting right-of-way in five years starting in 2018, according to a report from NJ.com. Why construction will take so long is anyone’s guess.
As follow-up, Steve Strunsky asked if the project is worth it. That’s a question I’ve pondered for a while, and Strunsky writes:
“It’s long overdue,” said John Degnan, the chairman of the Port Authority, who pointed to a 2012 report in favor of the project by the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based transportation research organization. Degnan, who became chairman in July, said he could not address the increase in the extension’s projected cost since 2004.
NJ Transit already provides direct service between Manhattan — by way of New York’s Pennsylvania Station in Midtown — and Newark’s AirTrain station, which means the PATH extension would be largely redundant, said Steve Carrellas, a New Jersey spokesman for the National Motorists Association.
“If it’s redundant, what’s the need?” said Carrellas, adding that the PATH system is already subsidized by Port Authority toll payers. Then again, Carrellas added, since Newark airport generates revenue for the agency, supporting it with a PATH stop could also be considered sound financial policy. Travelers can now get to the airport by train from Lower Manhattan as well. But it requires taking a PATH train from the World Trade Center to Newark Penn Station, then transferring to an NJ Transit train from there, which could discourage travelers burdened by luggage or tight schedules, said Wendy Pollack, a spokeswoman for the Regional Plan Association.
Strunsky’s piece unfortunately isn’t the strongest. It’s easy to find transit advocates who aren’t also representing motorists and truckers who don’t want to pay tolls to support rail to speak out against this project, but with the RPA’s imprimatur, it has the aura of invincibility. Still, it is a boondoggle that duplicates preexisting service and, as currently planned, doesn’t get people any closer to the airport than an AirTrain station.
I hear the arguments in favor of this plan and recognize it has some benefit to areas that are undergoing rapid growth. But I think you have to ask if it’s worth it considering preexisting service to Newark and other, more pressing transit demands in the region. Why has the Port Authority latched onto this one? Because it has a champion in Trenton. If not for turf battles between the PA and the MTA, they should spend this money on Laguardia access. If PATH can go straight to the Newark terminals and bypass the painfully slow Newark Airtrain — which it isn’t currently projected to do — this could be an acceptable project for reasonable dollars. But it costs too much and doesn’t solve the Newark Airport access issues. Simply put, it shouldn’t be at the top of any list for spending priorities.
So I had a back-and-forth with the MTA about these service advisories. I noted last week that the press office is no longer providing a reason for the changes, and as I said then, I and a few others liked seeing why our trains were rerouted, running local or being bustituted every weekend. The press office said to me that gathering all that information took up too much of their time, and so now we have service advisories without that information. I still prefer the added info.
Before I delve in, let me think to a Times piece on subway construction. You may think this would turn into a piece on why everything is so costly and takes so long and how initial planning for the Second Ave. Subway led to this foolish phased build-out, but you would be wrong. It is instead a piece of tropes that won’t die. West Siders want the 7 line extension; Upper East Siders are again complaining about subway construction. They’ll love the Second Ave. line once it opens, but for now you have people who didn’t adequately prepare for construction moaning about it. Same old, same old in the land of NIMBYs.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College bound 2 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, New Lots Av-bound 3 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, Harlem-148 St bound 3 trains run local from 72 St to 96 St.
From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run local between 125 St and Grand Cantral-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, October 3 to Sunday, October 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 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.
From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 3 Av-138 St to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway.
From 12:01 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Saturday, October 4 and from 12:01 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Sunday, October 5, 7 trains operate in two sections:
- Between Times Sq-42 St and Mets-Willets Point.
- Between Mets-Willets Point and Flushing-Main St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, October 3 to Sunday, October 5, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, October 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 168.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 145 St to Tremont Av.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 50 St and 55 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, E trains run local in Queens.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 15 St-Prospect Park, and 4 Av-9 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run local in Queens.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, Long Island City-Court Sq bound G trains skip Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 15 St-Prospect Park, and 4 Av-9 St.
From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4, and Sunday, October 5, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Broadway Junction.
It’s no secret that the MTA’s goal of achieving a State of Good Repair would always be a tough one to meet. The agency’s pace of work isn’t fast enough to keep up with the demands of a system sagging under the legacy of deferred maintenance, and as contractors slowly slog through even basic component replacement efforts, stations that were opened or refurbished in the past 20-30 years are starting to show serious wear and tear. Just how bad the state of the infrastructure is though was laid plain for all to see in a reporter issued this week by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
According to this audit, only 51 of the city’s 468 stations were free of defects, and only 25 percent had most of their station components in good repair. “New York City Transit reports it is making progress on repairing stations but the pace is too slow and much more work needs to be done,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Worn or damaged stairs and platform edges pose risks for riders, while broken tiles, lights and peeling paint leave riders with a low opinion of the transit system.”
The short report paints a grim picture. You can read the PDF, and I’ll excerpt accordingly. From DiNapoli’s press release:
According to the latest [New York City Transit] survey, more than one-quarter of all structural components had defects. At 94 stations, at least half of the structural components needed repairs. The subway stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest percentage of components with defects (one-third). Nearly half of all platform edges (43 percent), which are important to rider safety, had defects in need of repair. While 33 percent of platform edges had a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. NYCT data also showed that 27 percent of station components — such as ceilings or columns — needed to be painted. Also, the tile or other finish on one-third of all subway platform walls and floors did not meet the NYCT’s minimum standards and needed to be repaired.
From the report:
Among the four boroughs served by NYCT, the stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest share of structural components with defects (one-third). Only 1 of the 81 stations in Queens was free of defects, although 13 others had most of their components in good repair. In Brooklyn, 28 percent of the stations had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair. In the Bronx, 26 of 70 stations (37 percent) had at least 90 percent of their structural components in good repair. Manhattan had the lowest percentage of components with defects (22 percent), but only 40 of the borough’s 146 stations (27 percent) had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair.
…Platform edges, which are important to rider safety because they close the gap between the platform and the train, had the largest percentage of defects (43 percent) of any structural component. While 33 percent of platform edges showed a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. One-third of other platform components (such as ceilings, floors and columns) were structurally deficient, while similar components at the mezzanine level (i.e., the area between the platform and the street level) were in better condition.
These gory and concerning details though are almost besides the point, and in that sense, both DiNapoli and I have buried the lede. At one point, DiNapoli notes that the MTA had hoped to renovate all 468 stations by 2022 but will be unable to attain that goal. He also states that nearly 20 percent of all escalators and elevators have outlived their useful lives. In another, DiNapoli notes that while Transit has renovated 241 stations over the last 32 years, “once the work was completed, however, NYCT moved on to the next station for rehabilitation without committing the resources to maintain the renovated stations.” Thus, stations that were renovated have inevitably begun to break down.
What DiNapoli does not cover are the reasons and ways to close this gap. The MTA’s work takes far too long, and the structures aren’t in place to adequately maintain stations after they’ve been renovated. It is a fine mess brought about by a history of disinvestment, politics and operational challenges. There’s no easy fix, but if it seems as though the subway system is crumbling around its users, well, that’s because it is.
Nearly two years after the storm, it’s easy to consign the floodwaters that consumed New York’s underground infrastructure as Sandy rolled in to memory. Thanks to the perfect storm and tidal conditions, nearly every tunnel into and out of Manhattan suffered from saltwater flooding, and as we’ve seen with the MTA, work to repair the damage has been time-consuming and costly. Even as the G and R train tunnels have reopened, eight other subway tunnels will require some degree or remediation and repair work.
We’ve heard over the years that Amtrak’s tunnels suffered similar fates. Already nearing the end of their useful lives, the saltwater corrosion has sped up the process, and now the rail provider is warning that very disruptive repairs are required to maintain and rebuild the tunnels. In a PDF statement, Amtrak announced that a new engineering report has recommended a phased approach to rebuilding the tunnels that involve taking individual tubes “out of service for extended periods.” The agency had more to say:
Superstorm Sandy created a storm surge that resulted in sea water inundating both tubes of the Hudson River tunnel and two of the four tubes of the East River tunnel. The report found no evidence that the tunnel linings themselves are unsound, but it did find that chlorides and sulfates caused, and are continuing to cause, significant damage to key tunnel components such as the bench walls and track systems as well as the signal, electrical and mechanical systems.
The tunnels are safe for passenger train operations. Amtrak has a robust tunnel inspection program, conducts regular maintenance work and will be performing interim work as needed. However, a permanent fix is required soon so that the tunnels remain available for long- term use by the traveling public. Amtrak engineers are working with expert consultants on designs to rehabilitate the two damaged tubes of the East River tunnel and will coordinate with other agencies to minimize impacts to train service and other projects.
Now, the coverage of this announcement has been rightly dire. The Times, The Journal and Capital New York all ran stories about how problematic service could become. To perform even basic remediation work, which could begin in late 2015, Amtrak needs to close one of the East River Tubes, which could cause a reduction in Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit service by around 25 percent. If and when Amtrak has to close one of the Hudson River Tubes, service could fall by as much as 75 percent.
The real problem is that the work that must go on — full saltwater remediation — can’t and won’t happen, Amtrak says, until another Hudson River crossing is built. In a way, this engineering report gives Amtrak another platform upon which to base their argument for the Gateway Tunnel, but as Amtrak officials have noted, it’s likely to be another decade before Gateway is open. That timeline is of course contingent upon funding, and right now, the money isn’t there. One way or another, Amtrak anticipates only approximately 20 years of life left in their Hudson River tunnels.
This news has raised the spectre of the ARC Tunnel, and in a twist of the knife, to The Journal, a spokesman for Chris Christie stated that the New Jersey Governor “has always recognized the need for additional trans-Hudson transit capacity.” For now, Amtrak is moving forward on design and planning while awaiting the money. “Amtrak,” the agency promised, “will ensure the safety of all passengers and balance efforts to minimize service impacts while also advancing as soon as possible the permanent fix needed for the long-term reliability of the tunnels for train service to Penn Station, New York.”
Sometimes, buried amidst the billions of dollars of expenditures in the MTA’s capital plan, a surprise or two will leap out of the page. Signals and station improvements are run-of-the-mill state-of-good-repair work while the MTA’s planned expenditures for their next-generation fare payment system, at a few hundred million dollars, is underwhelming. But buried in Long Island Rail Road’s planned project is a $40 million spend for a new LIRR station in Elmhurst.
Technically, an Elmhurst LIRR station isn’t new. For decades, trains stopped right here in Elmhurst, but the LIRR closed the station in 1985 due to general decline. The neighborhood was in decline, and, more importantly, ridership had bottomed out at the station. While proposing closing a subway stop causes riotous uproars, commuter rail stations in the boroughs are passing concerns, done in by incongruent fare policies.
Over the past few years, though, Queens politicians have latched onto the idea of reopening the Elmhurst station. We first heard about it in mid-2012 when The Journal reported on some LIRR officials who were considering an in-fill station. In 2013, Queens politicians all expressed support for the station as a way to improve access to Midtown, and now the MTA has set aside $40 million for just that purpose.
The new Elmhurst station will be a part of the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch. It will be two blocks away from the Elmhurst Ave. Queens Boulevard local subway stop and will cut travel times to Penn Station by around 12-15 minutes. The politicians are thrilled; I’m still a bit skeptical, but for the dollars and per-rider benefits in unpublished studies I’ve seen, the project seems fine.
The MTA’s capital plan lumps the Elmhurst station in with design work for a Republic station on the Main Line in Suffolk County. Actual construction for Republic won’t be funded until the 2020-2024 capital plan while Elmhurst will see environmental review, design and construction over the next few years. The Elmhurst work includes new 12-car platforms, staircases, railings, shelters, vending machines, lighting, communication and security system, general site improvements, and elevators.
The areas representatives, as I mentioned, are happy. They blame changing train schedules in the 1980s on the station’s closure and see it as part of Elmhurst’s potential. “Restoring LIRR service to Elmhurst will help a burgeoning neighborhood reach its full economic potential and become a destination for all New Yorkers,” Joe Crowley, Grace Meng and Daniel Dromm said. “We are thrilled to learn the MTA agrees that investing in this community is a win-win and that they have included critical funding to rebuild the station in their recently proposed capital budget. For years, Elmhurst residents have called for greater transportation options and we are now one step closer to turning this idea into a reality. We will continue to work with MTA officials to ensure this project remains a top priority and look forward to the day when Elmhurst will be the next stop for millions of New Yorkers.”
I think Crowley, Meng and Dromm are overstating their case. After all, LIRR stations near subway stops don’t see frequent service or heavy crowds. Still, I’m stuck where I’ve been over the past few years: The City Ticket price makes LIRR service from Elmhurst to Penn Station very expensive. Few people in a middle class area will spring for the added cost to save 10 minutes of travel time, and I can’t foresee particularly high ridership. Still, for $40 million — a rounding error for the MTA — why not?
Whenever the MTA’s five-year capital plan comes up for debate and discussion, some familiar proposals re-enter the public sphere. The Triboro RX circumferential line made headlines during last year’s mayoral campaigns while the idea of Utica Ave. or Nostrand Ave. extensions were bandied about amongst transit-watcher circles. Ultimately, the MTA unveiled a plan with only one new extension — Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway — and while many were sad to see their pet projects omitted, Staten Island expressed its displeasure with a sigh louder than normal.
Vincent Barone of the Staten Island Advance set the stage:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled its $32 billion, five-year capital plan this week with no aim to fund either the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or West Shore Light Rail projects. Staten Islanders have rallied behind the two major plans over the years in order to create more public transportation options in booming Island areas.
Allen Cappelli, Staten Island’s MTA board member, was outraged by the exclusion of projects, calling the current budget a “betrayal” to Staten Islanders. “[The New York Wheel and Empire Outlets] are going to exacerbate transportation conditions on North Shore,” he said. “This is a continuation of the neglect of serious mass transportation needs on Staten Island.”
The West Shore Rail Line is in need of $5 million for an Alternative Analysis study, while the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit needs about $365 million in funding for construction to begin. The original MTA plan was to use Sandy recovery money to build the BRT line, but the proposal hit a wall last year when the MTA decided not to submit the project for federal funding.
On the one hand, considering the relatively modest pricetags, that these projects should be included is almost a no-brainer. The $370 million in total expenses would amount to approximately 1 percent of the proposed $32 billion total. On the other hand, I’m holding out hope for some sort of rail restoration along the North Shore line and am not totally disappointed this project won’t see the light of day quite yet. It could also come about through later joint efforts with DOT as part of Mayor de Blasio’s promised 20 new SBS routes. Why the West Shore Rail Line Alternative Analysis wasn’t included is a good question. We should also look at bring the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line into Staten Island as well.
What Staten Island is getting includes $300 million for brand new rolling stock for the Staten Island Railyway. While we don’t know full details, these new cars will be compatible with Staten Island’s new real-time arrival system. According to the MTA’s capital plan, “other SIR work includes mainline track replacement, radio system enhancement, and component repairs at various stations.” That’s not much of an investment, but it’s something about which borough officials care deeply.(It’s worth noting that SI will also get two new ferries as part of a federal grant for storm resiliency.)
The question is though why isn’t Staten Island getting more, and while I haven’t had many conversations about this with many people, I believe it’s a political matter driven by the fact that many prominent Staten Island officials do not embrace transit. I use State Senator Andrew Lanza as a frequent example and that’s not without reason (1, 2). When these State representatives use their platforms to advocate against incremental transit reforms and do not fight for state dollars that could be used to expand transit, the MTA doesn’t respond. They’re not in the business of always lobbying for new projects without political support and until someone on Staten Island starts arguing for a North Shore or West Shore reactivation (let alone a connection to the subway via the harbor or the Narrows), the MTA won’t allocate money on its own.
This discussion also implicates the ferries in a tangential way. As part of a mid-1990s campaign promise, Rudy Giuliani dropped any fare on the ferries, and they are now a subsidized means of transit for everyone. I continually question why the ferries should be free; after all, people live on Staten Island knowing that the connections to Manhattan job centers are a boat ride away, and others who live in areas of the city isolated from the subway system sometimes have to pay multiple fares. Lately, the Borough President asked the city’s Independent Budget Office to assess a tourist-only fare, and the IBO determined that such a fare could generate as much as $67 million over 15 years [pdf]. Imagine what a marginal fare for everyone could do.
Maybe it’s time to have those difficult conversations with Staten Islanders. Maybe it’s time for those who want transit upgrades to propose ways to fund them. It’s not always easy to realize, but nothing comes to New Yorkers for free, especially in the transit realm. I don’t have the answers; I have only some thoughts. But to me, it starts with the elected officials. As long as the Senator Lanzas of the world are getting reelected, we’ll never have conversations regarding funding, fare policies and transit expansion that Staten Island needs and deserves.
A short while ago, I got home from a screening of The Warriors at BAM. This was the first showing of BAM’s Retro Metro film festival, and if tonight’s crowd is any indication, the series is going to be a huge hit. The 9:45 screening of The Warriors was packed, and I imagine Sunday’s screenings of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 will be as well. I’m aiming to see the 2:30 showing. Say hi if you see me. Meanwhile, the full listings are on BAM’s site. Can you dig it?
As a note on the weekend service advisories, these always are sent to me by the MTA’s press office, and lately, they’ve removed the entrance sentence concerning why trains are rerouted. I’ve always enjoyed that line as it shows that the MTA is implementing these weekend changes for a reason, and I think omitting it creates a gap between the public’s understanding of what’s happening and the MTA’s need to make changes. I’ll see if I can find out why that information is no longer included with these emails. Meanwhile, here’s the extensive slate of changes.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Wakefield-241 St-bound 2 trains run express from 3 Av-149 St to E 180 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College bound 2 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, New Lots Av-bound 3 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, 4 trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Grand Cantral-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run express from Grand Cantral-42 St to 14 St-Union Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.
From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Eastchester-Dyre Av bound 5 trains run express from 3 Av-149 St to E 180 St.
From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Eastchester-Dyre Av bound 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester-Dyre Av and Bowling Green, and local between 125 St and Grand Central-42 St.
From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 3 Av-138 St to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Brooklyn-bound 6 trains run express from Grand Cantral-42 St to 14 St-Union Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Mets-Willets Point.
Until 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Far Rockaway/Lefferts Blvd-bound A trains skip 88 St, and Lefferts Blvd-bound A trains skip 104 St.
- For Service To/From 88 St: To 88 St, take the A to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A. From 88 St, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Far Rockaway or Lefferts Blvd-bound A.
- For Service To/From 104 St: To 104 St, take the Lefferts Blvd-bound A to Lefferts Blvd and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A. From 104 St, take the Q112 bus. Or, take the A to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Lefferts Blvd-bound A train.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 D trains are suspended between Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr and 34 St-Herald Sq. Take the FNQR or special shuttle trains instead. D service will operate as follows:
- Between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr (express between 36 St and Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr).
- Between 34 St-Herald Sq and Norwood-205 St.
- Special shuttle train operates every 20 minutes between Grand St and W 4 St Wash Sq, stopping at B’way-Lafayette St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound E trains are rerouted via the M line from W 4 St Wash Sq to 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 World Trade Center-bound E trains skip 75 Av.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Stillwell Av-Coney Island bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Van Wyck Blvd, and 75 Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run local in Queens.
From 5:00 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, G trains run every 20 minutes between Long Island City-Court Sq and Bedford-Nostrand Avs. The last stop for some G trains headed toward Court Sq is Bedford-Nostrand Avs. To continue your trip, transfer at Bedford-Nostrand Avs to a Court Sq-bound G train.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, N trains run local between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Ct and 59 St in Brooklyn, terminating at DeKalb Av.
From 5:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Sunday, September 28, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains run express between Astoria Blvd and Queensboro Plaza.
From 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, R trains are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn. Take the N instead. R trains run between Bay Ridge-95 St and 59 St.