Many pixels have been burned over the looming L train shutdown and the day-to-day effects losing the BMT’s Canarsie Line will have on the city. We’ve talked bus bridges and Peopleway; and we’ve talked holistic solutions to an 18-month problem that will lead to longer, more crowded daily commutes for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. We have not talked about how the L train repairs will start over six years after Sandy’s floodwaters swept through the subway tunnels, and we have not talked much about whether the MTA could weather another storm.
Last week, Neil deMause in the Village Voice shifted the focus from the Fix aspects of the MTA’s Fix & Fortify plan to the Fortify piece, and the picture is not a pretty one. Although the MTA has access to billions of dollars in relief money, the pace of spending has been slow, and the fortification efforts are far from complete. If another storm with a surge as high as Sandy’s swept through the region, the subway tunnels and stations would flood all over again, and as climate change outpaces the MTA’s ability to close nearly 6000 entry points from water can get in, it still seems as though damage from another storm is a question of “when” rather than “if”.
deMause offers up his story in the context of these fortification efforts and begins with an anecdote about covering station entrances:
Only fourteen Flex-Gates have been installed to date — subway entrances aren’t standardized, so each entrance plug has to be individually designed. ILC Dover is under contract to eventually provide another nine, with more than forty additional locations still waiting for the MTA to bid them out.
It’s an exceedingly deliberate pace, considering that nearly four full years have passed in the city since the flooding that resulted from Superstorm Sandy, inundating much of the subway system beneath a thirteen-foot storm surge, and resulting in damage that is still awaiting repair. But the MTA proudly points to the Flex-Gate as a major improvement in response to Sandy. “Right now, today, both with our temporary measures as well as what we’re working on long term, we are far better prepared to address flooding than we were back in October of 2012,” says authority spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.
Better prepared doesn’t mean fully prepared, though…In lower Manhattan alone, the subway system has over 5,600 such street openings that the MTA considers “vulnerable” access points for floodwaters. “It’s stairs, it’s vent bays, it’s hatches, it’s manholes, it’s duct entries, it’s elevators, it’s escalators,” says Ortiz. And to effectively protect the subways, every one of them has to be sealed in the day or two between a storm’s approach and its arrival. Ortiz says the MTA is working on deployable vent covers that can be triggered by subway workers in advance of a storm. But they’re not even in the prototype stage, and asking workers to cover up 5,600 openings would leave a lot of opportunity for simple human error to let the water in.
As the MTA completes its tunnel reconstruction work, various key systems such as signals and communications wires are better protected than they were four years ago, but climate experts tell deMause that the city and state and MTA do not have a long-term plan sufficient enough to address rising sea levels and more frequent storms. “We are fiddling around on the edges, and have no plan for a sea level–rise resilient, sustainable transit system,” Klaus Jacob, an expert in climate change, said. “These are all repairs post-Sandy. That does not really prepare the system for the next Sandy.”
deMause’s piece delves into familiar territory (the L train outage will over six years after the storm), but he adds some stark numbers to this tale. He notes that 30 subway entrances sit below the level of the Sandy storm surge and “dozens” more sit only four feet above that storm surge. With Sandy-like storms now 1-in-30 years events (and increasingly frequent as the climate changes) rather than 1-in-100 years, the MTA’s systems and low-lying tunnels will remain vulnerable for the foreseeable future.
As with many things MTA, there is enough blame for the slow pace of spending to go around. The governor and mayor haven’t been particularly receptive of calls to fund the MTA, and the MTA can’t spend the money it has fast enough as either the projects aren’t in the construction stage or there simply aren’t enough qualified contractors to execute. One might even call it the perfect storm.
The long endgame here is another catastrophic flood and a race to stave off destruction. The MTA would have to rethink station ventilation throughout Lower Manhattan, parts of the Upper East Side, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens as water levels inch upward without the help of a storm. As deMause notes, though, no one knows just how much it would take (or cost) to keep Sandy-like water out of the subways entirely, and as water will always seek out the lowest point, it may be a fool’s errand. There is no strategic retreat for the subway system, and that’s a sobering thought for New York City’s future.
For years, Red Hook, a quiet corner of Brooklyn isolated from the hustle and bustle of the rest of New York City with multi-million-dollar townhouses near the harbor and the borough’s largest concentration of public housing a few blocks away, has always been the next destination neighborhood ready to be gentrified until it isn’t. In the early 2000s, it nearly tipped, and then, according to New York Magazine, the area degentrified. It subsequently drowned in the floodwaters of Sandy and has come back a bit tonier around the edges with destination dining, craft distilleries and popular bars lining Van Brunt St. Red Hook’s future remains a murky one, and one way or another, without flood protection, the area will be underwater in a few decades.
And yet, the forces that try to shape the city can’t help themselves. While Red Hook’s biggest drawback and obstacle is a lack of subway access, a new proposal put forward by AECOM involves up to 45 million square feet of development and a three-stop subway spur from the 1 train in Lower Manhattan that would connect this part of Brooklyn to Manhattan on one side and the F, G and R trains at 4th Ave. and 9th Street on the other. With the BQX, much closer to reality than this subway extension (though both are still just lines on pieces of paper and likely to remain that way), Red Hook is once again in the crosshairs of developers and urban planners looking to make something out of an area that often just wants to be left alone.
The AECOM report landed with an exclamation point earlier this week. The 1 train to Red Hook! A tunnel under the harbor! Three new subway stations! All of this could be yours for the low, low price of $3.5 billion! Act now before prices increase!
If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it likely is. The subway proposal is just one part of a larger discussion that AECOM SVP and former Port Authority head Chris Ward discussed at length in a forum at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. AECOM’s proposal includes a call for up to 45 million square feet of development and a massive re-imagining of Red Hook with floodwalls surrounding the area and high rises development near both the water and the new subway stops. The streetscape would change for the better, and the area under the BQE would be stitched into the community rather than serving as a dangerous six lane highway itself. It is, AECOM officials have stated, the company’s attempt to start a conversation on solving the city’s housing crisis by focusing on areas with untapped potential and room for growth.
According to AECOM’s report [pdf], the Red Hook extension of the West Side IRT would involve a spur from south of Rector St. under the harbor with stops at the Atlantic Basin and in the public housing complex before joining with the the F, G and R at 4th Ave. It could eventually include a stop on Governor’s Island as well that could open the park year round or provide access to a new area on the island for a campus-like development. The subway would usher in Red Hook’s development, and the development would pay for the subway. “New subway infrastructure could be partially supported and paid back by revenue generated under this scenario, but will require
additional tax measures or other sources of funding avenues to fully pay for support the new subway line,” the report says. “The 35M development scenario would potentially provide less investment capital for new subway infrastructure as compared to the 45M scenario.”
AECOM believes this subway extension would cost only $3.5 billion, and development financing could cover around 40% of that price tag. As Chris Ward repeated stated the AECOM plan was to be the start of a conversation and not a heavy-handed top-down approach to building up Red Hook, I’m not sure where to begin or how seriously to take any of this. An Outer Borough subway extension through a sparsely populated area should be cheaper than building in Manhattan, but this IRT extension — called the 1 train — in renderings would require reconstruction and a new terminal station on the Manhattan side, a tunnel under the harbor, flood-proof stations underneath low-lying Red Hook, a tunnel that snakes below the BQE and underneath the Gowanus Canal and a new terminal at 4th Ave. parallel to and underneath the BMT 4th Ave. tracks. How this happens for just $3.5 billion, let alone when, is anyone’s guess. Based on the MTA’s current priorities and the city’s transit needs for current development, it could be decades before Red Hook gets the subway it so badly needs, 9 train or otherwise.
On another level though, this AECOM thing — report, plan, conversation piece — lays bare an issue with planning-by-development. Already Red Hook residents, activists, NIMBYs and YIMBYs are upset with this plan because it came out of the blue. They want to be a part of a conversation about Red Hook, and even if Ward insisted this was to be the start of a conversation, a 61-page pamphlet with fancy renderings and calls for 45 million square feet of growth hardly feel like the start of an open process. So does Red Hook get its subway or is this just a blip — the next chapter in Joe Raskin’s book on planned subway lines that never went anywhere? It seems like the latter to me, but at least we’re all talking about it.
My apologies for the silence this week. It’s tough to get back in the swing of regular posting while combating jetlag. There’s certainly a lot to talk about — most notably the AECOM discussion piece regarding the 1 train for Red Hook. I saw Chris Ward’s presentation at NYU earlier this week, and we’ll get to that soon enough. It’s not quite a fully-baked or even half-baked proposal, but it’s certainly sent Red Hook into a tizzy (and likely rightly so).
Meanwhile, we have some slight movement on the plan to turn 14th Street into a car-free Peopleway for buses, bikes and pedestrians during the L train shutdown. As the Daily News reported earlier this week, MTA officials say they will study a car-free 14th Street as part of its overall effort to model the traffic and transit impact of the L train’s looming outage. Results of the study will be released in the spring, Dan Rivoli reported.
This is all well and good, and looking at ways to prioritize transit over private automobiles, especially during the L train shutdown, should be part of the MTA’s general planning approach. But there’s a rub: The ultimate decision to shut 14th St. to cars will rest with NYC DOT, and this agency has not been particularly forthcoming with its plans or aggressive in its actions of late. Of course, we still have 27 months before the L train shutdown begins, but DOT, and not the MTA, will hold the keys to the future of the 14th St. Peopleway. Whether the DOT head is Polly Trottenberg (also currently an MTA Board member) or someone else, that person will be integral in the MTA’s plans to alleviate the impact of the lack of L train.
I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, traveling in Barcelona, Provence and Paris. I’ll be riding the Metros in Spain and France (with two SNCF rides in between). So keep an eye on the Second Ave. Sagas Instagram account. I’ll be on Twitter when possible, but I won’t post much more than service advisories here. I’ll be back from Europe on September 11 so barring any breaking news, I’ll see you on September 12.
In the meantime, some links to keep you occupied (for a minute or two or more): In the ongoing saga of the performance artist who caused a scene on the D train last week, police arrested Zaida Pugh today and threw the book at her. She is facing charges of reckless endangerment, obstructing governmental administration, false reporting an incident and disorderly conduct, according to Daily News sources, all stemming from her hoax that left a D train stranded. The cops acted fast in this case, and Pugh has seemed remorseful on social media.
For a longer read, check out this City Journal piece on the Port Authority. In an overview of the massive beast that the Port Authority has become, Stephen Eide argues that it is time to disband the bi-state agency, a constant rallying cry of reformers and advocates. Eide argues that the regional model isn’t working as the Port Authority suffers from extreme mission creep and can’t make investments where needed. Eide recommends the PA restructure its debt, spin off the airports, and dump the World Train Center. Many have considered whether the MTA should ultimately wrap PATH into the New York City subway, but Eide does not call for the PA to divest itself of PATH. I’ll likely have more on this piece in a few weeks, and it’s an interesting one to ponder.
Finally, Amtrak last week unveiled plans to purchase 28 new trainsets for operation along the Acela line. These cars will enter service in 2021 and should allow Amtrak to run half-hour Acela service along the Northeast Corridor. The cars will be able to operate at speeds of up to 186 mph and are part of a $2.45 billion investment. They will indeed include USB ports at every seat. Read the press release here, check out renderings here, and read Jason Rabinowitz’s roundup of the Alstom-made cars. (And fret over the Amtrak-MBTA dispute that could temporarily torpedo Boston Amtrak service.)
When I get back, we’ll talk Midtown East rezoning and the MTA’s joining NATCO after dumping APTA. You can always read some free ebooks in the subway, but just don’t break too many rules while I’m gone.
So the D train cricket lady was apparently all an act. At least that’s what she told Fusion late on Friday afternoon. How frustratingly maddening. She should have to clean up out subway stations with a toothbrush for the next five years to make amends for her disruptive routine.
As you let that frustration stew, consider purchasing a ticket to attend Transportation Camp NYC 2016. The so-called un-conference runs all day on Saturday, September 24, and it is, I promise you, a good time for those interested in a variety of transportation-related topics. Attendees get to set the agenda, and the day ends up being a veritable “who’s who” of the transit world. After a day full of networking and panels, there’s a happy hour at 5 p.m. and events on the Thursday and Friday prior to the conference. Get more details and your tickets right here. Act fast, though, as there are only 111 tickets remaining. I’ll be there, leading a session (though the topic is still TBD).
Meanwhile, as August draws to an end, the service advisories continue apace. These comes to from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs; listen to announcements.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, South Ferry-bound 1 trains run express from 145 St to 96 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Take the 5 instead. For service to/from Park Place, Fulton St, Wall St, Clark St, Borough Hall, and Hoyt St, use nearby 45 stations instead. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, take the NQR. Transfer between 23 and NQR at Times Sq-42 St. Transfer between NQR and 45 trains at Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and New Lots Av. Take the 4 instead. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn take the NQR. 4 service will operate all weekend between Woodlawn and New Lots Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 4 service will operate all weekend between Woodlawn and New Lots Av, replacing the 3 in Brooklyn. 4 trains will run local in Brooklyn.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service and operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, making all stops. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, August 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Downtown A trains run local from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, 168 St-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, Norwood-205 St bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Ave to 36 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Downtown D trains run local from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 7:00 a.m. Sunday, August 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound E trains skip Spring St and 23 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 29, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains are rerouted via the E line after 47-50 Sts to Roosevelt Av.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, Manhattan-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27, and from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 28, M trains run every 20 minutes. Manhattan-bound M trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, R service operates to/from the Jamaica-179 St F station.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday, August 27 to Monday, August 29, the 42 Street Shuttle will operate overnight.
Was your office, like nearly everyone else’s in New York city, chirping over this tale from a Wednesday evening D train? It’s one of those only-in-New York tales that makes people wonder how they cope on a daily basis, and it highlights the absurdity of the subway emergency brake.
For me, the story started with a text message from a good friend of mine shortly after 6 p.m. on Wednesday. “Yay! Someone pulled the emergency brake on my D train!” he said to me. “I’m getting a nice long view of the bridge!” All he knew after were that cops had shown up at De Kalb Ave. to greet the D train and remove an unruly passenger. Here’s how The Post relays events:
A crazed woman trying to sell crickets and worms on a D train suddenly threw them all over the crowded car, sending it into chaos during the evening commute. The woman walked into the train car at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and made a pitch to passengers to try to get them to buy the chirping insects and wrigglers. A group of teenagers pushed her, prompting her to freak out and toss the box of pests into the air, said witnesses. Straphangers then started screaming and crying, and all ran down to one end of the car.
…Someone then pulled the emergency brake and the train skidded to a stop on the Manhattan Bridge. The air conditioning shut off and the screaming passengers were all stuck inside the sweltering car with the woman, who then treated them to antics for half an hour as the crickets jumped on passengers. The worms just wriggled on the floor. [The women started trying to throw up on passengers working to restrain her, and she] then urinated on the floor and everyone again ran to the other side of the car while still trying to avoid the piles of bugs.”
This is certainly a bit of a disaster of a subway ride, to say the least, but it was made all the worse for one thing: Someone pulled the emergency brake. Counterintuitively, the subway emergency brake isn’t really for emergencies, and in a situation like Wednesday’s, it simply meant that passengers were stuck on a D train above the East River in a spot where emergency personnel could not attend to the situation.
The problem is one of messaging (and it’s one I covered all the way back in 2010). The MTA gives no indication on trains regarding when passengers should pull the emergency brake, and the only instructions are buried on a page about safety on the MTA’s website. The short of it is that, in case of emergency, do not pull the brake. Rather, let the train pull into a station and seek immediate help. As the MTA notes, the brake should be used only “when the motion of the subway presents an imminent danger to life and limb. Otherwise, do not activate the emergency brake cord, especially in a tunnel. Once the emergency brake cord is pulled, the brakes have to be reset before the train can move again, which reduces the options for dealing with the emergency.”
But no one knows this! And can you blame someone for pulling the brake amidst a plague of grasshoppers and a woman having an episode? After all, it was an emergency, and the pull-cord is clearly labeled an emergency brake. The MTA doesn’t seem to care to clear this up; they likely face liability if they start telling riders not to pull the brake in an emergency. But savvy riders should know the emergency brake, in the vast majority of cases, causes more trouble than it resolves. Just ask the riders on Wednesday’s night D train.
What if gondolas actually are part of the answer? What if, to solve the L train’s looming transit crisis that will arise out of the 2019 shutdown, we need to think so far outside of the box that ideas that seem laughably overwrought and particularly overpromised are part of the answer? That is one recommendation in the latest report on the L train shutdown from NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.
As everyone jockeys for a say in how best to address this incoming transit crisis, the Rudin Center unveiled its own mitigation report last night. Penned by Mitchell Moss, Sarah Kaufman, Jorge Hernandez and Sam Levy, the report gives a nod to “entirely new forms of transportation,” including the so-called East River Skyway and Scooter-share, a motorized bike share system popular in San Francisco. Picking up on the Skyway’s promise of 5000 peak-hour passengers, the Rudin Center report notes that “this is the right time to consider a New York city gondola between the Lower East Side and Williamsburg to vastly reduce the city’s reliance on climate-vulnerable tunnels.” (Of course, the time to start building a gondola so it is ready for early 2019 is approximately now, but that’s the least of it.)
The report, of course, doesn’t dwell only on alternatives. It is, in fact, one of the more common-sense efforts to propose a solution to the L train woes, and more importantly, it urges all involved to pay attention to more than just Williamsburg and Bushwick. “The concentration of higher-level formal education degrees affects a potentially disproportionate influence by these neighborhoods on the political process,” the report notes. “The initial news that the MTA was planning to shut down the Canarsie Tube led to an uproar by residents and business owners in Williamsburg. While service disruptions will affect the L’s various users differently, the concerns of residents in less influential neighborhoods, such as Brownsville and East New York, should be considered equally.”
And yet, those areas closest to Manhattan have seemingly more to lose. Although the L train overall seems to ferry upwards of 65,000 people to and from their primary places of employment each day, these neighborhoods along the L train’s western Brooklyn leg have shorter commutes and more restaurants, bars and overall economic activity. That doesn’t give them a right to have a louder voice, but it means that mitigation needs to be attuned to the areas with fewer options. After all, a L rider in Canarsie can take the 3 train and anyone east of Broadway Junction can transfer to the A, C, J or Z.
Still, over 225,000 daily riders have to get to where the L train takes them, and to that end, the Rudin Center offers up a seven-prong approach similar to mine. In addition to those gondolas and scooters, the Rudin Centers call for more service along all connecting subway lines, high speed bus service with a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge, partnerships with ride-sharing companies, increased East River ferry service, bike and car shares services (though I’m less convinced the latter is part of the solution rather than a potential problem), and cooperation with local businesses. “The long-term closure,” the report says, “will give the MTA and city agencies an opportunity to work together and increase city’s transportation options in the long run.” Notably, the report is silent on the proposed 14th St. Peopleway, a key element of the mitigation efforts with L service completely shuttered on the Manhattan side of the river.
Ultimately, as the Rudin Center noted, the L train shutdown provides a great crisis that the city and MTA shouldn’t let go to waste. The challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of people every day should permit us to be flexible with street space and transit prioritization while understanding just how people move around the city and how important the subways are. Both the MTA and DOT have been rather silent lately on plans, but the lull of summer is hardly a peak time for transit planning. As advocates put more pressure on these agencies for a response, hopefully mitigation pictures will emerge soon, and if they happen to include gondolas, well, there’s a first time for everything.
A few weeks ago, New Yorkers caught their first real collective glimpse of the MTA’s next-generation rolling stock. Pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his plan to bring more customer-facing initiatives to the forefront, the renderings were notable not only for their new color scheme but also for the open gangways, an accordion-like design that essentially creates one super-long subway by opening up the passageways between individual cars. It’s a standard design the world over that can provide capacity increases by up to 10 percent, but U.S. transit agencies have been notably slow to adopt the design.
With word of open gangways heading New York’s way, the same old voices from people who feel that what works elsewhere can’t work in New York have risen in unity to bemoan our articulated future. A sampling of recent comments on The Times website provides a litany of these complaints. What about noises from buskers? Showtime crews? Panhandlers? Stinky residents of the subways? Broken air conditioners? How will the special butterflies of New York City survive? To do some myth-busting, Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times journeyed to the closest spot with open gangway cars and filed a report from Toronto, where the new design is very popular. As to the concerns raised by New Yorkers, Toronto officials were dismissive.
Some riders in New York have raised concerns that regular subway annoyances — from “showtime” dancers to misbehaving riders — might now become the whole train’s problem, instead of being contained to one car. Andy Byford, the chief executive of the Toronto Transit Commission and an enthusiastic evangelist for improving the system, dismissed those fears, saying riders could easily escape unpleasant situations in the new cars. “You’re not then trapped in a single carriage,” Mr. Byford said from his office atop the Davisville station north of downtown Toronto. “You can get up and move.”
If a rider urinates or vomits, someone could simply walk away, rather than waiting for a station and darting from one car to another…One downside is that if a train has a technical problem, workers must remove the entire six-car train from service, Mr. Byford said, instead of separating a pair of cars and replacing them. But over all, he said, the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks…
American transit officials have had reservations about whether the design could work on the nation’s aging subways and whether ridership levels warrant the expense of switching to the new cars, said Randy Clarke, a safety and operations expert at the American Public Transportation Association. In Boston, subway officials considered the idea for new cars on two lines but decided against it. Officials in New York have worked with engineering consultants on the plans and are confident the design is feasible, even though the subway is an older system, Ms. Hakim said.
In Toronto, the best sign of the cars’ popularity is that riders whose lines do not have the trains are pleading for them. Sygmund Gaskin, 45, said he wished the older trains on his Bloor-Danforth Line could be replaced with the new cars. “I don’t know why it takes so long to get them for this line,” he said. “How come we don’t have them here as well?”
Of course, common-sense reporting from cities in which these cars have been embraced for years hasn’t persuaded the critics. The comments on Fitzsimmons’ article is just the surface of “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome. Others even proclaim New York to be just too mean-spirited for open gangways to work here. Some people just won’t believe it until they see, but thankfully, they’ll be seeing it soon enough.
By most accounts, the JFK AirTrain has been a success story. After a fatal incident cast a pall on the project a few months before the planned opening, the AirTrain saw 2.5 million riders in its first year of operations and 6.5 million riders in 2014, its tenth year of operations. Even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes to build a misguided LaGuardia AirTrain via Flushing, the AirTrain has been an improvement for access to JFK airport.
Early last year, when making a push for support for his LaGuardia plan, Cuomo touted the benefits of the JFK AirTrain. “AirTrain JFK has proven to be not only one of the most convenient and affordable ways of getting to and from the airport, but also one of the most popular,” he said, noting an eight percent increase in paid ridership between 2013 and 2014 alone. Over 10 million riders use the AirTrain to ride between terminals and nearby garages for free.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 6.5 million riders: The Port Authority has quietly reduced the frequency of service on the AirTrain. A few days ago, a Twitter user reported that the Port Authority was promoting 14-minute headways between AirTrains shortly before noon on a weekday. For a zero-person automated system with ample rolling stock to run trains at five-minute headways, this seemed exceptionally egregious, and a few folks went digging.
Eventually, Chris O’Leary dug up some historical data. As recently as 2009, the Port Authority operated the JFK AirTrain on five-minute peak-hour headways and 10-minute off-peak headways. A recent brochure tells a much different story as peak headways are now 7-12 minutes with service operating every 10-15 minutes between 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and every 15-20 minutes from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. This is, effectively, a 50 percent service cut. Take a look:
It’s not quite clear when these new timetables went into effect or why. The Port Authority hasn’t responded to requests for comment yet. But posts on an aviation-related message board indicate reduced AirTrain frequency as long ago as 2011. This isn’t a new problem, but it seems to be one the Port Authority has slipped past the public without much notice.
Despite silence from the Port Authority on this issue, it’s my understanding that this reduced service is a result of the age of the system and the need for repairs. With cars in the shop and the system’s constantly undergoing maintenance, the Port Authority cannot maintain the headways it used to run seven years ago. For a 12-year-old system, this seems problematic and worse still is the lack of transparency regarding operations. There’s no real need for the Port Authority to keep these issues under wraps, and if the state is about to sink a few hundred million dollars of public funds into another airport rail system, we should know that operations can keep pace with ridership.
Right now, the JFK AirTrain remains popular even as service is cut. But trains are more crowded, and travelers have to leave extra time to account for long AirTrain waits. That the PA doesn’t appear to view this reduced service as a problem is cause for concern. But that’s just another day in the fun world of the Port Authority.
Due to a variety of circumstances — a post-Sandy rebuild, Positive Train Control installation — the Port Authority has had to shut down one of the two trans-Hudson PATH tunnels at various points over the past few years. The agency has come under fire for not providing alternate service, and they rang up quite a bill for ferry subsidies when the WTC tunnel was out of service. Now, with PTC installation coming to the 33rd St. line, service from Hoboken to Midtown will be out every weekend between now and late December.
As part of the service plan, the Port Authority will run free shuttle buses per the map above. Trains will run up 6th Ave. and down 7th Ave. Buses won’t pick passengers up at the new WTC Transit Hub because it’s not really a transit hub, and the buses will mirror existing New York City Transit buses and, of course, the subway. Why, you might ask, is one transit agency bustituting above another transit agency’s perfectly fine service? This is a good question, and it highlights how our region’s separate transit agencies cannot and often do not cooperate.
Allowing PATH riders to transfer to the subway and vice versa is simply an economic exchange. The PA could pay the MTA, and the MTA could provide free transfers. One obstacle is how the MTA can’t exchange PATH’s SmartLink cards, but these are solvable operational problems, not intractable obstacles. I don’t know if the PA approached the MTA for a solution; a press official from the MTA is working on finding this out for me. But for some reason, more buses are going to fill the streets of Manhattan when preexisting transit options are plentiful because the PA and MTA can’t cooperate. It’s simply silly.
These weekend changes are necessary because of capital construction work on the MTA New York City Transit subway system. This work is part of NYC Transit’s ongoing Capital Rebuilding Program aimed at upgrading and maintaining our tracks, stations and signal systems in order to continue to provide our customers with safe and reliable service. For more information on the 2015-2019 Capital Program log on to www.mta.info/capital. Customers who rely on these lines should allow for additional travel time.
Meanwhile, we have subway changes for this weekend. These come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs; listen to announcements. Everything is listed after the jump. Read More→