Archive for Asides
In the aftermath of last month’s fatal Metro-North derailment, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast knew he had to act quickly and decisively to confront safety concerns. The commuter railroads were unlikely to be compliant a federal mandate to install positive train control by the end of 2015, and public perception was starting to weigh against Metro-North. To speed up the project, estimated to cost at least $670 million, the MTA has applied for a $1 billion loan from the feds, Ted Mann of the Wall Street Journal reports today.
Meanwhile, Mann also spoke with Prendergast about his previous experiences with safety concerns. As a young engineer in Chicago in the 1970s, the current MTA head had to face down similar problems after a pair of fatal CTA derailments. Prendergast is hoping to strike the right balance between a reliance on technology and the need for human decision-making. It’s not an easy balancing act, and time is not on the MTA’s side.
It isn’t yet snowing in New York City but with a big storm heading our way, the MTA is already working to move its trains underground. As of 5:45 p.m., trains on the A, B, D, E, F, N, Q, Z, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 will make all local stops as spare rolling stock is moved to the express tracks. Some routes that do not operate all night — including the B, per signs I saw on my way home — will see service halted earlier than normal.
For those heading to points north, Metro-North is reducing service at 8 p.m. Following the end of the evening rush, the railroad will operate hourly service on all three lines. After midnight, trains will run local to New Haven, Southeast and Corton where diesel service will pick up to take passengers to Poughkeepsie. Metro-North will be storing up to 120 rail cars inside Grand Central and hopes to minimize the number of trains that could become stranded during the storm. The LIRR has yet to issue an update.
I’ll have more as the snow arrives and service patterns change. This extreme planning is, of course, in response to the storm a few years ago that left subway riders stuck out in the depths of Brooklyn and Queens overnight as snow drifts piled up. Travel safe, and stay warm.
A bit of late-breaking news before 2014 arrives: Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named Polly Trottenberg as his Department of Transportation commissioner. Trottenberg, a veteran of the Obama administration and a former staffer for Senators Moynihan and Schumer, will succeed Janette Sadik-Khan, and in the eyes of pedestrian safety and transit advocates, will have big shoes to fill. According to a release from de Blasio, Trottenberg will oversee his transportation agenda which will seek to “expand Bus Rapid Transit in the outer boroughs, reduce traffic fatalities, increase bicycling, and boost the efficiency of city streets.”
Streetsblog runs down Trottenberg’s credentials, and both Transportation Alternatives and the Straphangers have voiced their approvals this afternoon. Trottenberg sounded the right tones too in her statement but spoke earlier of making the pedestrian plaza planning process “more collaborative with local communities.” (For what it’s worth, the pedestrian plaza planning process has been far more collaborative than just about anything else DOT has done in decades. Slowing it down with more meetings would be counter-productive.)
Despite that hiccup, I think this is a solid appointment by de Blasio, and I’ll give Trottenberg the last word. “One life lost on our streets is too many. We are committed to the maxim that safety— for everyone who uses the roads, including pedestrians and cyclists —is our top priority,” she said in a statement. “From improving our roads, bridges and waterways to better serve our citizens and businesses, to connecting New Yorkers to jobs and opportunities through improved high-speed bus service, to expanding biking across the five boroughs, we can have a transportation system that is safe, efficient and accessible to all.”
Polly Trottenberg, current Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, will serve as the Transportation Commissioner, executing Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s ambitious agenda to expand Bus Rapid Transit in the outer boroughs, reduce traffic fatalities, increase bicycling, and boost the efficiency of city streets.
As a further sign of some skewed priorities, as we enter 2014, pre-tax mass transit benefits will drop from $245 per month to $130 while parking subsidies will increase to $250 a month. The change comes on the heels of Congressional inaction in Washington, D.C. Andrew Grossman of The Journal runs down why the subsidy is dropping precipitously, and needless to say, no one who relies on mass transit is too happy about this change.
Even if Congress reauthorizes the $245 tax break, it is unlikely that the benefits will apply retroactively as administering such a change would be quite complicated. So while subway riders who need only a monthly MetroCard escape with their full subsidy in tact, anyone who is, say, a monthly commuter from Zones 4 or on beyond on Metro-North won’t have even half the cost of their passes covered by pre-tax deductions.
But fear not; Chuck Schumer is on it. “Mass transit is the lifeblood of the New York area, and this provision helps keep it flowing and affordable. Passing it will be a top priority in the New Year,” the state’s senior senator said. Happy New Year, indeed.
The fight over the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way is raising interesting questions about local decision-making in the context of the overall shape of New York City as a third Queens Community Board has rejected the QueensWay park plan in favor of the restoration of rail service. As the Queens Chronicle reported last week, CB5 — whose area encompasses an oft-congested stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard — voted 36-2 for the rail option. So far, CB 10 and CB 14 have voiced a preference for transit while only CB 9, whose leaders and members make up the Friends of the QueensWay organization, has supported the park plan.
Community Board 5 leaders spoke of the need to focus on mass transit as a way to solve the area’s traffic and accessibility issues. “Woodhaven Boulevard is just overwhelmed. We need relief and the only way to relieve traffic is with public transportation,” CB 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri said. “The people in the Rockaways have been clamoring for public transportation better than what they currently have for years. That A train is like going on a safari.”
Andrea Crawford, who heads both Friends of the QueensWay and CB 9, told the Chronicle that CB 5′s vote was “ridiculous.” She said, “This is a right of way that has absolutely no infrastructure and is deteriorating. The bridges would have to be rebuilt to carry modern train equipment. A rail line would help traffic in what, 20 or 30 years when it’s reactivated?”
The issue though isn’t focusing on “helping traffic.” It’s about a forward-looking approach to transit development and urban growth while encouraging sustainability throughout Queens. As I mentioned, too, this war of words showcases how hyperlocal planning is flawed. Just because most of the right of way runs through CB 9 doesn’t mean they should have the final say or even more of one over land use. The space should not be turned into a park until every other avenue of development is exhausted first, and that’s what’s best for the city.
With the Fulton St. Transit Hub set to open within the next six months, the MTA has chosen the Westfield Group, an Australian mall developer will annual revenue over $4 billion, to serve as Master Lessee for the space. Westfield will now be responsible for subletting the ample commercial space in the new facility and overseeing ad sales. It will also have to maintain and clean the leased portions of the Fulton St. Hub, and the MTA will share in a split of revenues. The company will sign a twenty-year lease with two ten-year renewal options.
“This master lease structure will unite risk and reward in a single, highly qualified and experienced private sector operator, while relieving the MTA of ongoing capital and operating costs and expenses and generating revenue for our operating budgets,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said earlier this week. “We are confident that Westfield will be motivated to maximize the revenues from the facility while maintaining in accordance with standards befitting the substantial investment the public has made in creating this wonderful new landmark.”
The lease will commence in June when the building opens to the public, and Westfield’s responsibilities include nearly all of the non-station areas in the transit center, Corbin Building and Dey Street Headhouse. The space encompasses approximately 180,000 square feet including 63,000 square feet for commercial uses. The MTA anticipates retail in approximately 42,000 square feet, and I’m sure everyone would love a Lower Manhattan Apple store. The so-called “public circulation areas” account for 60,000 square feet, and the remainder is back-of-house. Now, the pressure is on Westfield to turn this new station complex into a shopping destination as well.
Two quick hits on some outstanding items right now with more to come: The MTA confirmed today that the new South Ferry station, totaled by Sandy’s floodwaters in October of 2012, will reopen at some point in 2016. The project is still expected to cost around $600 million — or the same as it cost to build the station from scratch — and it will include significant remediation work. MTA Board materials contain more details on the remediation that I’ll cover tonight, and Matt Flegenheimer confirmed the 2016 date during the Board’s Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting today.
In more current news, the 7 line extension is sort of set to open this week. While the station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. isn’t set to enter revenue service until June of 2014, with the primary funding partner on the way out of office at the end of the month, the MTA and Mayor Bloomberg will host a ceremonial ribbon cutting this Friday afternoon. We haven’t seen many images from inside the station cavern lately, but clearly, crews have made enough progress to conduct a limited run of a subway train set for dignitaries. I’m hoping to snag a seat on the ride and will, of course, have plenty of photos if I do. Stayed tuned for more on that front too.
Happy Thanksgiving! Trains are operating on a Sunday schedule today, and so it this site. I’ll be back on Friday with more content. Just as an update: There will be no podcast this week. Eric was sick last week, and we decided that the short week wouldn’t be an ideal one. We’ll be back with “The Next Stop Is…” next Wednesday. As an added note, Second Ave. Sagas recently passed its seventh anniversary, and I just wanted to say thanks for reading throughout the years. The site wouldn’t be the same without all of you.
As Sam Schwartz’s Move NY traffic pricing plan once again makes the rounds, the usual suspects are lining up in support (and against) the proposal. A new mayoral administration could give supporters a chance to make waves, but this plan may live or die in the hands of Albany. Unsurprisingly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not racing to throw his weight behind it.
To reporters yesterday, Cuomo made a brief remark on the plan, showing his skeptical hand. “The East River bridge tools were brought up may times before, he said. “It’s a proposal that’s been brought up almost every year for the past several years. It hasn’t passed in the past and I don’t believe it will pass now.” Cuomo, of course, has the power to turn his words into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and he’s not even giving the plan a fair shakedown. I’m not surprised.
But should we be disappointed? Cuomo isn’t rushing out to support a traffic pricing plan for reasons I may not support, but a few good minds have cast some doubt on Schwartz’s current proposal. To get a sense of what, I’d direct you to a series of posts Cap’n Transit posted in 2012. He noted that the plan isn’t fair or equitable and went about discussing how it has incentives for future drivers and uninspired proposals and empty promises for bus service while overvaluing community boards and generally misses the point. I’m glad to see a traffic pricing plan back in the news, but it’s clear we have a long way to go before we reach a solution acceptable to everyone.
As the Friends of the QueensWay continue their taxpayer-supported push to develop a greenway on the fallow Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way, Phil Goldfeder, Assembly representative from New York’s 23rd district, announced a competing study to be undertaken by Queens College urban studies students that will ascertain the best uses for the right-of-way. Goldfeder, a supporter of rail, has called this effort a “comprehensive and objective” one that will “assess the community impact of the proposed options for the abandoned tracks,” as compared with the park-only assessment underway by the Trust for Public Land.
In announcing the study, Goldfeder noted the disparity in focus. On Twitter, he said that the QueensWay team is wasting “tax money on expensive consultants” while the Queens College will “utilize local experts” and “undertake real objective study.” This new examination of the right of way is expected to take nine months, and it will include a full needs assessment as well as a cost analysis of the various options. Additionally, Congressmen Gregory Meeks (NY-5) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) continue to work with Goldfeder as well to ascertain if Sandy recovery money can be used for reactivated rail service.
In a subsequent press release, the Assembly rep added, “The Queens College Department of Urban Studies’ Office of Community Studies is renowned for its community-based research. It is the perfect partner to help determine what is in the best interest of Queens and city residents. Now that the MTA has signaled an interest in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line as an efficient and cost-effective way to significantly increase public transit for Queens residents, it’s important we do appropriate studies to determine the next steps. While other groups are using tax dollars to hire expensive consultants and do one-sided studies, we’re utilizing local expert resources and educating our students while supporting an objective study that will enormously benefit all our hardworking Queens families.”
The details are still coming out, but for those of us very hesitant to embrace a QueensWay solution that would essentially cut off the rail option forever, this is a best-case scenario. A third party will assess the various proposed uses and develop cost estimates for each case. We’ll find out what rail reactivation would take, what usage a park would get, and what doing nothing would mean for Queens. Clawing back part of this process from the Trust for Public Land is a very good step indeed.