Archive for Bronx

I’ve been sitting on a bunch of open tabs for a little while and thought it would be a good idea to get around to sharing these. These are stories I found interesting or newsworthy but just haven’t had an opportunity to post here.

$500 million from unused MetroCards

I’ve talked a bit about the MTA’s new green fee and the money realized from unused MetroCards, and a recent piece in The Times put those dollars into context. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the MTA collected half a billion dollars from unused fares. Since straphangers have to pre-pay for MetroCards, dollars that are left on the cards long after their expiration dates remain with the MTA, and on an annual basis, the money is a small, but important, part of the agency’s annual budget.

Unused fares isn’t something that’s come about because of the MetroCard era. Back in the day, New Yorkers would buy tokens and never use them. They would get lost, get forgotten, get overlooked, and the MTA could collect those fares. But today with uneven bonuses that make the math of a free fare more difficult, more dollars are left on cards that expire, and the $1 fee for new MetroCards means revenue as well.

As the MTA phases out the MetroCard — the topic of my March 19 Problem Solvers session — these unused fares may diminish a bit. The next system may well be a pay-as-you-go set-up that doesn’t focus around any proprietary fare collection system. While the MTA will lose the money from unused fares, it will also drastically reduce the amount it has to spend to collect fares. That’s a win for the customers, and a win for the transit agency as well.

Send the 3 to the Bronx

As New York City subways go, the 3 train runs an odd route. It stretches deep into Brooklyn but then stops short of anything in Manhattan. It terminates at 148th St. near the Lenox Yard and goes no further north. In a piece at Welcome2TheBronx, Richard Garey argues for extending the train to the Bronx. With the need for some cross-Bronx subway service and the incoming soccer facility near Yankee Stadium, the time may be right to look at some subway extension options.

Garey’s post focuses on the 3 train as a way to serve neighborhoods that once enjoyed streetcar service and now don’t, but I think he has the routing wrong. The 3 shouldn’t end up as another north-south route in the Bronx but could instead cut across the borough, serving areas that don’t have good cross-Bronx transit options while boosting subway service. It is, after all, a fast ride downtown on the IRT express. Without a massive infusion of cash, we’re just dreaming, but it’s an intriguing proposition after all.

Unhappiness at 149th Street

For years, I’ve been using the 149th Street-Grand Concourse subway stop as a transfer point on the way to Yankee Stadium, and for years, it has been one disgusting station. The walls were marred by leaking pipes, and on the way home from a World Series game in 2001, my sister and I saw squirrel-sized rats on the uptown 2/5 platform. It was very, very unpleasant.

Recently, the station underwent a renovation, but a few area residents are unhappy. One transit buff took a video tour of the station post-renovation and discovered some subpar work. Meanwhile, another group of residents wants to restore elevator service that was shuttered 40 years ago. As best as I can tell, the elevator in question went from the 2/5 platform to street level. The MTA has no money, and protestors hope Mayor de Blasio can help out. I wouldn’t hold me breath.

Countdown clocks for the SIR

Thanks to an infusion of funds from Council member Vincent Ignizio, four stations along the Staten Island Railway — Great Kills, Eltingville, Annadale and Huguenot — now have countdown clocks. The work is part of a $675,000 initiative funded by Ignizio’s office that will eventually include a Subway Time component that will add these SIR stations to the MTA’s tracking app. For now, the information is available on the St. George-bound side, but Tottenville-bound service will have its time in the sun as well. If you pay for it, it will come.

While browsing LTV Squad’s latest offering on a former subway station entrance, I came across another piece from the mysterious author known as Control. It is, at once, both the most obnoxious and the most compelling takedown of the Triboro RX line I’ve seen so far. While many transit advocates — myself included — are salivating over the idea of such a circumferential routing, Control throws a bunch of hot water over it.

So what are the challenges? The main issue surrounds the way some of the right of way is currently used. A considerable amount of products bound for New York rely on the heavy rail lines used for freight that the Triboro RX would commandeer for passenger rail. Control believes the prices of food and goods would skyrocket, and trash collection could become problematic as well. These are arguments that have been put forward by supporters of a trans-harbor freight rail tunnel who also wish to keep the ROW for freight rail.

The physical challenges too are tremendous. If the MTA can’t get an FRA waiver, the ROW isn’t wide enough to accommodate separate tracks for passenger rail and freight. I’m far less sympathetic to the fact that there has been some encroachment onto the right of way or that eminent domain would be necessary to complete the route, but we can’t ignore those challenges.

Ultimately, I think Control’s take is worth a read. His conclusion — “MOVE CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WORK” — is myopic and undermines his point, but ultimately, Triboro RX isn’t as easy as drawing some lines on a map and calling it a done deal. He writes that “the Triboro RX subway will never, ever happen,” and it’s probably better to pick easier battles.

Categories : Asides, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens
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One plan under consideration for Webster Avenue would bring an element of true bus rapid transit to the Bronx (Via NYC DOT and MTA)

The absurdly painfully slow process of bringing simple bus lane improvements to one street in one borough has claimed another victim as the city and MTA are examining ways to speed up transit along Webster Ave. in the Bronx. This time around, the various stakeholders are looking at the B44, a so-called Phase 2 route. After identifying the route in 2009 as SBS-ready, the city hopes to launch service in late 2013. What a ridiculous timeframe.

Anyway, as the project ambles along slower than a crosstown bus at rush hour, the MTA and DOT hosted an open house on the Webster Ave. line. This routing is a north-south one that parallels the 4 and the B/D subway lines and connects the 2 and 5 trains at one end with the, uh, 2 and 5 trains at the other end. It also intersects with the Bx12 SBS route, and of the 125000 residents who live within a quarter mile of the route, the vast majority of them do not own cars. Currently, an end-to-end run on the bus can take up to an hour.

Last night at the open house, potential plans were laid out for all to see, and they finally included median bus lanes. Noah Kazis from Streetsblog was on hand to file a report. While the MTA and NYC are also considering curbside and offset bus lanes, the center lanes stole the show. Kazis writes:

Since bus riders wouldn’t be able to wait on the sidewalk to board the bus, DOT would build new protected platforms in the street. If the platforms are built totally level with the bus floor, as on the subway, this would make boarding the bus much faster, especially for the elderly or disabled. As on all SBS routes, passengers would pay their fares before boarding, allowing buses to spend time moving rather than waiting for each passenger to dip their MetroCard in turn.

Median-running bus lanes and platform-level boarding are two of the most important features of world-class BRT identified in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Standard scorecard. Existing Select Bus Service routes haven’t met the threshold for bus rapid transit according to ITDP’s system; the Webster Avenue route, it seems, could break the mold.

The Webster Avenue project is still in a very early stage and all three options are little more than concepts at this point. However, the potential for serious transit improvements is especially high here, because there’s already strong political support for Select Bus Service. Both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson have endorsed Webster Avenue SBS, though they have not spoken about particular designs. More than 50 people participated in Wednesday’s open house, said a DOT spokesperson, and were broadly supportive of the transit improvements.

Of course, as the before-and-after diagrams from the SBS presentation [pdf] make perfectly clear, parking spots will be lost and traffic lanes as well. The regular slew of NIMBY business owners will raise a stink, and perhaps, the city will “settle” for something less groundbreaking in another 15 months.

To this, I say, “Prove me wrong.” It’s bad enough that these SBS routes don’t cross borough boundaries and deliver people from the Bronx to, say, a job hub or an airport in Queens. But let’s bring truly dedicated lanes to an area that needs traffic mitigation and transit improvements. The next step will be doing it in less than 48 months but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

Categories : Bronx, Buses
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As MTA Board members rail against the authority for neglecting the Bronx’s subway stations, the authority announced today that the city’s northernmost borough will be next in line for BusTime, the real-time bus tracking program currently in place on Staten Island. While the timeline for implementation remains a bit hazy, the authority pledged to have BusTime online in the Bronx and another yet-to-be-determined borough by the end of 2012 with the final two boroughs coming by the end of 2013.

“I am happy to hear that the MTA is expanding this service to the Bronx. Now bus riders in our borough will not have to rely on guesswork and a look into the distance to see when their bus is going to arrive. This service is very convenient and will provide commuters in our borough with up to the minute information. That information will surely come in handy all year round, especially during the cold winter months,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement.

To ready the Bronx fleet, the MTA and its contractors will outfit 1025 buses with GPS units and the other technological components needed to implement the service. In another 24 months, we’ll all get to enjoy a service that should markedly improve the New York City bus experience as smart phone-enabled bus tracking becomes the city norm. “Knowing how far away your next bus is means you can spend more time with your family or more time at a coffee shop instead of waiting at a bus stop in a state of uncertainty,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “About 90% of our customers carry text-message enabled cell phones, so this is a big step forward to help make the lives of our customers a lot easier.”

Categories : Asides, Bronx, Buses
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Bronx stations come under fire

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When I was a kid traveling to Yankee Stadium from the Upper West Side, I would transfer from the 2 to the 4 at the 149th St. stop, and it was a mess. It’s a deep, dark station, and pipes above the old mosaics had corroded. Mineral-laden water had basically ruined the walls. Today, the pipes are sealed, but the damage remains. The station, a very busy one in the Bronx, is in bad shape, and I’m not the only one noticing.

At this week’s MTA Board meetings, Charlie Moerdler chided the MTA for allowing the Bronx stations to become decrepit. A recent study showed that the Bronx stations are the dirtiest in the system and are ripe for an upgrade. “You cannot expect people in the Bronx who work hard to deal with the fact that the subway stations here are lousy but the stations in Manhattan are pristine,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

For its part, the MTA says that rehabs at 42 at 71 Bronx stations have been completed, and 17 more are set to proceed under the remainder of the capital plan. “The Bronx,” Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., said, “will no longer be a punching bag.” The problem isn’t that the Bronx is a punching bag; it’s that stations everywhere are in disrepair. The Bronx stops might be the dirtiest, but they certainly don’t have a monopoly on chipped paint, rats or crumbling concrete.

Categories : Asides, Bronx
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Brian Cashman and Jorge Posada pose last May at the opening of the Yankee Stadium Metro-North stop. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For twenty years, MTA officials and city politicians spoke about securing Metro-North access to the South Bronx. The tracks were there, and the draw — a popular baseball stadium — ensured high demand for a good portion of the year. But as long as the Yankees threatened to leave the Bronx, no party wanted to commit to spend $90 million on a station that wouldn’t see much traffic otherwise.

When the Yankees announced plans for their new stadium, though, everyone sprang into action. The city paid $39 million to help build the station, and the MTA covered the remaining $52 million. Since then, as Judy Rife explores in the Times Herald-Record this week, the station has seen increased ridership and has been deemed a success so far. She writes:

Metro-North Railroad’s statistics are something of a wowser, too. In June, the first month when a year-over-year comparison was possible, about 44,500 fans took the train to the game — a whopping 45 percent increase. The new Yankees/153rd Street station opened last year.

And, yes, there were two more games this June than last, but Metro-North is still registering significantly higher average ridership for the season to date — 3,219 for weekday games and 3,819 for weekend ones. Not bad for a year-old service to a 51,800-seat stadium, where attendance is usually in the mid-40,000s.

Bob MacLagger, Metro-North’s vice president for planning, shamelessly calls the new station a “grand slam” and waxes promotional in recounting the reviews it’s received: “It’s better, faster, quicker, cheaper, easier — no driving, no traffic, no parking, no brainer.”

Transit advocates too have praised the station for its high ridership in its infancy. “There are all sorts of spin-off benefits to the station,” Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association said.” But I think what it has done, perhaps more than anything else, is introduce people who may not have used public transportation before to the train.”

The new station certainly has made getting to and from Yankee Stadium easier for many people, and it’s opened up the new Gateway Center at the Bronx Terminal Market to transit as well. Yet, although we should be praising this new station, its success and its long and tortured history showcases how integration between the city’s commuter rail lines and the five boroughs is generally lacking. It shouldn’t take a baseball stadium to provide Metro-North service to the South Bronx just as it shouldn’t take a massive real estate complex to ensure a Metro-North access point at West 60th St. and the Hudson River.

As a Yankee fan and a transit supporter, I’m certainly pleased to see this Metro-North stop siphoning cars away from the South Bronx and providing the neighborhood with another alternate means of transportation. Next time, hopefully, it won’t take twenty years for a station so obvious to see the light of day.

Categories : Bronx, MetroCard
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As one of the myriad service cuts implemented by the MTA this service, the decision to cut the Barretto Point Park Pool shuttle for a savings of just $100,000 looms large. The MTA launched this bus in 2008 and ran it for approximately 11-12 weeks every summer, shuttling pool-bound swimmers from the 6 at Hunts Point Ave. to the pool. With no shuttle, the pool attendance has plunged.

In Metro this week, Carly Baldwin explores the numbers. As of August 11, only 22,473 people had visited the pool this year, down from 29,807 last year. Considering the heat we’ve had and the relatively dry summer, a 25-percent drop in attendance is very unexpected. Those who run the pool, however, are pointing fingers at the MTA.

“It’s been almost the hottest July on record. Numbers should be up,” Adam Liebowitz from the Point Community Development Corporation said to Baldwin. “In previous summers you had to wait on line 20, 30 minutes before you could go in. But now I’ve heard the lines are gone. It’s obviously because of the lack of public transportation.”

On the surface, the MTA’s numbers seem to warrant eliminating the shuttle bus. After all, they say, only 120 people took the route during the week and the weekend average was just 340. But over the course of the 73 days the shuttle ran last year, that added up to nearly 14,000 pool-bound travelers. Now, unless these Bronx denizens want to risk a 30-minute walk from the subway or an 11-block walk from the Bx6 through an area known for prostitution, the swimming pool if off limits. Is the $100,000 saved over the summer worth it?

Categories : Bronx, Service Cuts
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4Bullets For three weeks in June, New York City Transit ran 4 express service in the Bronx as part of a pilot program. With a new signal system in place along the Jerome Ave. line, Transit ran express trains along the little-used middle track from June 8-June 26 in an effort to ease overcrowding on the popular 4 train and speed up the commutes of residents from the Bronx.

Today, Transit announced a new seven-week extension of this pilot program with an eye toward making it a permanent part of 4 train service in the Bronx. The new pilot will kick off on Monday, Oct. 26 and run through Friday, Dec. 11. As they did over the summer, Transit plans to run five Manhattan-bound express trains starting at 7 a.m. and continuing every 20 minutes until 8:20 a.m. The trains will skip eight stops along the way, one fewer than over the summer.

After receiving feedback from riders, Transit has decided to include Bedford Park Boulevard as an express stop. The trains, then, will start at Woodlawn and stop at Mosholu Parkway, Bedford Park Blvd.-Lehman College, Burnside Avenue and 149th Street-Grand Concourse. The route designation will indeed be a diamond 4.

For Transit, this pilot extension is a sign of the success of the line general manager program. David Knights, the IRT East general manager, has seen this project through from inception to its second pilot, and he would love to see it become a permanent part of Bronx 4 service. “Customers who use the Bronx Express 4 will skip eight stations, which should reduce their travel times by about four minutes from the 21-minute scheduled running time between Woodlawn and 149th Street-Grand Concourse during the height of the a.m. peak. This time savings is significant when heading to work in the morning,” Knights said.

Transit head Howard Roberts praised the time-saving nature of the program and the general manager’s initiative. “In New York City, every second counts and if we can give a few extra minutes to our customers, we will certainly strive to do so,” NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr., said. “Thanks to the innovative thinking of David Knights, Group General Manager of IRT East and 4 Line General Manager Stepfone Montgomery, more service improvements like this should be expected by our customers.”

When all is said and done in December, Transit will evaluate the second of this program and determine its future. Hopefully, it will stick around, and hopefully, Transit will continue to explore how to utilize underserved express tracks — such as those along the F line — in order to ease congestion and reduce commute times while fully exploiting existing infrastructure.

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As a service to those SAS readers who ride the 5 in the Bronx, an announcement: Due to signal modernization efforts at E. 180th St., Transit will be suspending 5 express service in both directions along the White Plains Line in the Bronx from now until Nov. 11, 2009. All trains will run local between the 3rd Ave./E. 149th St. station and the E. 180th St. station. Furthermore, during the afternoon rush, four northbound 5 trains that usually run to Nereid Ave. will terminate at E. 180th St. Transit urges riders to switch to northbound 2 trains at E. 180th St. or other Nereid Ave.-bound 5 trains.

Per the agency press release, “The three month suspension of express service is necessary in order to accommodate the ongoing $280 million East 180th Street Signal Modernization Project. The scope of work includes the reconfiguration of track, installation of new signal equipment, the construction of a new relay room and additional Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) functionality for the Dyre/White Plains Road line.” It’s another part of the piecemeal system upgrade that should one day allow for CBTC and OPTO trains on the IRT lines.

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Praising the 4 express service

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Yesterday morning marked the debut of NYC Transit’s 4 express service in the Bronx. The trial run, set to last until June 26th when it will be reevaluated, features four trains from 7-8 a.m. that skip most Bronx stops. The express trains shave approximately three minutes off of commuters’ travel times and, during day one at least, helped ease congestion on the perennially overcrowded IRT line.

During the inaugural day of this service, NY1 News spoke to those straphangers who took advantage of the new service, and it earned raves all around. With more room and a speedier ride, what’s not to like? “Express service is definitely much better. Get to work quicker and the local is always crowded. I’d prefer the express to stay,” one rider said.

I have to praise the MTA for this move. At little cost to the agency, Transit is taking existing unused tracks and adding service over them. This service alleviates overcrowding and provides for a faster ride, and it doesn’t require a significant capital outlay of new tracks, new tunnels or new stations. In fact, it sounds materially similar to the F Express plan for which I had lobbied in 2007.

Categories : Asides, Bronx
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