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MTA workers repair the bench that led to the G train derailment. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

G train derailment leads to sniping over MTA funding

Following Thursday’s G train derailment, the MTA restored full service to the line by mid-afternoon on Friday, and then the fighting began. I’ll have much more on this next week, but in announcing restored service, MTA CEO and Chair Tom Prendergast let loose on the city and Mayor de Blasio for their lack of support for MTA financing.

The G, Prendergast noted, derailed when it came into contact with a deteriorated section of bench wall. The incident, by the way, was around 300 feet away from where Thursday’s earlier rail condition had occurred. Prendergast viewed this as a clear sign that support for the MTA’s maintenance is lagging, and he urged action. “I am tired of writing letters to City officials that result only in vague calls for more conversations,” he said. “The sooner we can end these games and get to work on rebuilding our transit network, the better we can serve the 8.5 million customers who rely on the MTA every day.”

Earlier in the day, TWU President John Samuelsen had issued a similar statement asking the city to pay more. Clearly, Gov. Cuomo had sent his allies to put pressure on New York City. Whether NYC should fund more of a state agency’s capital plan has become a hotly contested debate of late. More, as I mentioned, next week.

7 line opens Sunday

Until late last night, the MTA’s website had barely any mention of the opening of the 7 line extension stop at 34th Street, and it seemed weird. They should be plastering everything they own with this news, but they could be wary about drawing too much attention to the 21-month delay. Still, the 7 line is opening at 1 p.m. Sunday, and it’s the MTA’s first new subway stop in a generation. I’ll be on hand earlier in the day with photos. Be sure to check out my Instagram and Twitter accounts for updates. Unfortunately, Transit Wireless was unable to complete service installation for day 1. So the new station won’t be wired. I’ll have updates as soon as I have cell service.

For recent coverage of the 7 train extension, check out my posts. I look at the long lost stop at 41st and 10th, the now-bisected lower level at 42nd St. and 8th, the messy updates to the map, and future extensions to Chelsea or New Jersey.

Weekend work advisories for 14 subway lines

Now, after the jump, this weekend’s subway advisories, straight from the MTA. If anything looks wrong, take it up with them. Read More→

Transti crews inspect the derailed G train near Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

A southbound G train derailed around 700 feet north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. at around 10:35 p.m. last night. The FDNY reported three injuries, though none serious, and approximately 80 passengers — a fairly empty late-night train — had to be evacuated. The MTA has said that the front two wheels of the first car jumped the track.

As a result of the derailment, G train service will be limited with single-tracked service on the Queens-bound track only between Bedford-Nostrand and Court Sq. and “extremely limited” service between Fulton St. and Bedford Nostrand. The G is, in effect, now a shuttle. The MTA is urging riders to use the B38 along DeKalb or Lafayette Avenues as an alternate, and Transit is providing free transfer from the G at Fulton St. to the C at Lafayette Ave. and from the Broadway stop to Lorimer St. on the BMT’s J/M/Z lines. F service from Bergen St. south continues to operate normally.

The MTA is currently investigating the derailment, and while I have no basis for this conclusion, the incident follows a mid-afternoon rail condition near the same spot. According to MTA records, that issue had been cleared up a little after 5 p.m. on Thursday evening. More details to come.

Categories : Brooklyn
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Is this waterfront street car a ‘cool idea’ or the G train but worse? (Via Next New York)

For years, a certain faction of New York City transit advocates and aficionados have agitated for a Brooklyn and/or Queens waterfront streetcar. For a long time, the Brooklyn Historical Railway Association agitated, and nearly secured a city commitment, for a Red Hook-based revival of a Brooklyn streetcar line, and lately, a waterfront streetcar/light rail line has been fetishized by urban design experts and newspaper columnists alike. I have never much warmed up to the idea.

And yet, it won’t die. As we learned on Friday, a new conglomerate of — transit advocates? people who want newspaper headlines? — has proposed studying a Brooklyn waterfront streetcar. Sally Goldenberg and Dana Rubinstein broke the story, and it’s a gem. As you will not surprised to hear in New York City 2015, it’s an idea spurred on by developers rather than people with actual transit knowledge, and the basis for the support is because it sounds cool.

If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. Here’s what David Lombino, the Director of Special Projects at Two Trees had to say: “It’s a cool idea. We’re a supporter. Could be transformative for Brooklyn and Queens someday. We’ll see.”

It’s a cool idea. Now that’s a great basis for transit development, especially for a project that would require the upfront investment that a new-to-New York transit mode such as a streetcar would present. The Capital New York reporters had more:

While the waterfront has decent subway connections to Manhattan, the paucity of north-west transportation connecting Astoria to, say, Red Hook, has long been a source of frustration. The G train alone just doesn’t cut it. And so an advisory committee of some of the city’s more prominent developers, transportation experts and community organizers has taken shape in an effort to find a remedy. Together, they’ve commissioned HR&A Advisors (planning commissioner Carl Weisbrod’s former employer) to study the economic impact of a streetcar or lightrail connecting Brooklyn’s Sunset Park to Astoria, Queens. The route could include hot housing markets like Red Hook, Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn, as well as areas where commercial outfits and offices are setting up shop, such as Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

…The committee includes Regional Plan Association president Tom Wright, traffic engineer [Gridlock] Sam Schwartz, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Tucker Reed, Industry City executive Andrew Kimball, urban planner Alex Garvin, Fifth Avenue Committee executive director and City Planning Commission member Michelle de la Uz and Red Hook Initiative founder Jill Eisenhard. Schwartz will conduct the feasibility study.

“I’m interested in seeing how the research comes out,” Wright said. “There’s the possibility of both connecting to other existing transit services—bus, rail and ferry—and complementing other proposals.”

The project’s advocates have no idea what the final recommendations will reveal, but already their claims are a mass of contradictions. They seem to feel that Industry City, with nearby subway service from the N, R and D trains, is isolated while they don’t know who would run — or more importantly fund — light rail. “One of the attractive alternatives is this wouldn’t necessarily be run and operated by the MTA, but that it’s open for a concession operation, which would probably be a good thing,” RPA President Tom Wright said.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this. Besides my belief that “it’s a cool idea” is never the basis for transit investment, I’m highly skeptical of modes of transit that aren’t operated by — or at least integrated into — the MTA network. Setting aside the fact that we don’t know who feels that subways that are 7 stops from Times Square aren’t sufficient for service to Industry City or how many people would actually need to go from Astoria to Red Hook or Long Island City to Industry City on a daily basis, it raises a red flag any time we introduce a second fare into the travel equation from areas that aren’t really that transit-starved in the first place.

Based upon current transit operations, our goals should be to improve current options. The B61, for instance, is painfully slow through Red Hook to its subway connections on either side, and it serves low-income workers who have few other options. Without figuring out a way to upgrade these transit services while introducing a “cool” waterfront streetcar because it fits with developers’ real estate ambitions would raise serious concerns about transit access and investment. If this sounds like a class issue, well, that’s because it is.

This isn’t to say that inter-borough connections aren’t sufficient. They suffer from the same historical problems that plague the subway and bus systems. But if advocates are lining up behind a waterfront study because everyone is only know just realizing that it might be an 8-10 minute walk from Two Trees’ Domino Sugar Factory development to the J/M train or an overcrowded L, well, I worry about what that means for better transit access for the rest of New York City. Let’s get it right because access matters for everyone and not because the company sinking money into areas with good views but long walks to the subway thinks it’s a “cool idea.”

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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The Utica Ave. subway extension, a proposal from New York City's history, has reappeared in the OneNY document.

The Utica Ave. subway extension, a proposal from New York City’s history, has reappeared in the OneNY document.

A bunch of years ago, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his comprehensive plan for New York City’s immediate future. Awkwardly called PlaNYC, it introduced the city to the idea of a congestion pricing charge for Manhattan’s Central Business District and tied in the revenue from this fee to transit upgrades designed to secure the city’s environmental future while cutting down on crippling congestion. The centerpiece failed, but the overall master plan concept has stuck around. It was refreshed four years ago and overhauled this year as Mayor Bill de Blasio released OneNYC on Wednesday.

The idea behind OneNYC is similar to PlaNYC but with de Blasio’s imprint. It is concerned with raising New Yorkers out of poverty while paying nod to growth, sustainability and resilience. While politicians sometimes hate to admit it, all four of these goals are focused around mobility, and transit necessarily has to grab the spotlight. In his OneNYC report [pdf], de Blasio doesn’t mention congestion pricing or the Move New York plan. In fact, he later claimed, perhaps to save political capital in the face of a recalcitrant governor, that he’s never read the Move New York proposal. But de Blasio did turn his attention to transit.

“Reliable and convenient transit access to employment and other activities remains stubbornly out of reach for too many New Yorkers. This problem is particularly acute for low- and moderate-income residents in areas poorly served by the subway or buses. For seniors and those with disabilities, this can affect their ability to simply get groceries, or see family and friends,” the report notes.

To correct these problems, the Mayor’s Office offers up some familiar solutions. The report discusses the new citywide ferry network that won’t actually correct the problems, and it again reiterates plans to bring 20 new Select Bus Service routes to the city within the next three years. Where things get interesting though is with the MTA’s unfunded capital plan. The OneNYC report says the city will “support full funding of the MTA capital plan.” The report dances around direct fiscal support though and states that “the City will also work closely with the MTA to identify significant savings and improve operational coordination in areas of common interest, such as bus rapid transit, other bus services, and Access-a-Ride. Any savings we achieve together can be leveraged to create new capital support for the MTA.”

In exchange for this support, the city wants something. They always do. In this instance, the city proposes the bombshell: a study of a subway down Utica Ave. in Brooklyn. The report calls for faster CBTC adoption, new or reopened entrances that are ADA-compliant, randomly a free transfer between the Livonia Ave./Junius St. L and 3 stations, and subway-fication of the LIRR between Jamaica and Atlantic Ave. after East Side Access opens. But the Utica Ave. line is the centerpiece.

The document doesn’t go too far here. The mayor wants simply “a study to explore the expansion of the subway system south along Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, one of the densest areas of the city without direct access to the subway,” and on its face, it’s exciting that someone in City Hall is talking about this idea in an official document. It is so far unclear how a Utica Ave. subway would take shape. It could involve an extension of the 4 train from the Eastern Parkway line. It could call back to Second System plans to run trains from 2nd Ave. through South 4th St. and, eventually, down Utica Ave. But there you have it.

As The Times noted, this is far from the first time this idea has arisen. A Utica Ave. subway was part of the early 1900s plans for the subway and were included in expansion plans in the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s. Another study today seems like overkill, but it’s the first step toward securing funding. It’s a very preliminary first step though.

In discussing this idea, the transit cognoscenti were surprised. “No one expected this,” the Rudin Center’s Mitchell Moss said to The Times. “It’s refreshing to see a proposal to extend mass transit into areas of Brooklyn that are transit-deprived. It’s obviously an idea that will take more than a decade to be carried out, but you have to start with an idea.”

The challenges being right there. One of the reasons why politicians are so hesitant to embrace these ambitious plans concerns timing. If it’s going to take a decade or more from start to finish, those who appear at the ribbon cutting won’t be those who did the heavy lifting and secured the dollars. There is no political incentive to push through infrastructure projects if the only photo op will be a staged event 18 months before the real opening date (cough cough 7 line extension cough cough).

But there are other challenges too. The next concerns money. Who’s funding this subway extension? How? The last concerns priorities. The MTA has its own capital program wishlist and a 20-year needs assessment. The Utica Ave. subway featured on none of those documents, and adding it to the capital plan means more money would be required and more demands made. The MTA has identified the Second Ave. Subway as a need; the Mayor wants Outer Borough support and has plans for Utica Ave. It’s a push and pull that gets resolved through money.

So that’s the plan for One New York. A Utica Ave. subway would be intriguing, but without a new and dedicated East River tunnel, it would create more a capacity problem on whichever line the extension would be a part of. It faces many, many challenges, but it’s a start. At least someone’s talking about it.

Categories : Brooklyn
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A few updates on some stories I’ve been following:

MTA Reinvention Commission kicks off meetings

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the MTA Reinvention Commission and the august body’s need to focus on overhauling how the MTA works and how the agency does business. Today, the group kicked off their first set of meetings. (You can follow along via webcast.)

So far, the panel has spent a lot of time talking about affordable housing, and I’m growing worried that their focus is wrong. Reinventing the MTA requires asking hard questions and proposing top-to-bottom solutions for streamlining procurement, cutting extremely high capital costs and improving agency operations. It’s not about using the MTA to advance city policy goals. The MTA, I would argue, already does more than anything else for affordable housing than any one agency in the city, and the early framing on policy goals rather than MTA problems bodes ill for this Commission’s future, especially when a largely unfunded $30 billion capital plan looms. Affordable housing, for instance, is an outcome of sound transit policy, and without reinvention such that subways do not cost over $2 billion per mile, the policy goals will remain elusive.

On the bright side, Dana Rubinstein spoke with the Commission’s heads, and they expect results. “I don’t think any of these very busy people, any of these very important and smart people, would be involved in this if they didn’t think that these recommendations would be carried out,” Ray La Hood said to Rubinstein. Hopefully, the recommendations are expansive enough.

amNY: Where is New York’s better bus terminal?

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is low-hanging fruit, but it pays to remember just how sorry a spot it is. In an editorial today, amNew York urges the Port Authority to redevelop the bus terminal. “Midtown Manhattan urgently needs a brand-new, world-class bus station,” and with air rights value at an all-time high, the money to realize this dream — $500 million to $1 billion depending upon the scope of the project — could materialize.

G train shutdown looms as ferry questions remain

When Greenpoint’s India St. ferry stop collapsed earlier this year, everyone in the know knew that city had around four months to fix the dock before the summer shutdown of the G train for Sandy-related repairs. Now, with 11 days to go before the five-week outage, the ferry stop is not yet open, and no one knows when repairs will be complete. Brooklyn politicians are demanding answers, but concrete details are not forthcoming. This is one spot sorely in need of its ferry service and soon.

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For L and M train riders, this fall will bring some much needed capacity improvements during periods of high travel. For G train riders, this summer will bring a five-week service outage along the northern segment of the line as Sandy repair work wraps, but along with this service changes comes a free out-of-system transfer for which many have been clamoring for years. As subway experiments and service patterns go, these are worth some attention.

First, the good news. In addition to service increases this summer that will see more off-peak L train service and weekend M trains terminating at Essex St. instead of in Brooklyn, the MTA plans to add a significant number of trains along those L line and an extra ride along the M come the fall. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Saturday L service will be increased a total of thirty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Sunday L service will be increased a total of twenty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Weekday evening L service will be increased a total of three round trips;
  • Weekday M service will be increased a total of one round trip (one northbound trip in the morning and one southbound trip in the late afternoon);

These service additions, some of the more significant ones in recent years, come after Transit examined schedules and service demands. “Among the changes is a significant increase in L weekend service, which will decrease wait times for customers as well as increase capacity on a line that continues to see ridership growth, most notably during off peak hours,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “Ridership is at an all-time high, including records for weekend ridership. These are customers who rely on us for all of their transportation needs, both work and play, and we are trying to meet that demand with our available resources.”

The MTA notes that these changes will cost around $1.7 million annually — a pittance for such a significant boost in service — and are in addition to the eight new weekend and weekday L train round trips that are on tap for the summer. The M train service increase will begin when the R train’s Montague St. tunnel is reactivated toward the end of October.

While this is welcome news for a lot of riders in Brooklyn and Queens, those who use the G train to bridge the Newtown Creek crossing will find themselves looking for other options this summer. As part of the Sandy work, the G will not run through the Greenpoint Tube beginning July 26. As an assist to riders looking for alternate routes, the MTA will create a free out-of-system transfer between the G at Broadway and the J/M/Z at Lorimer St. (I’m surprised it’s Lorimer and not Hewes, but that’s a minor point.)

It’s not entirely clear how the free transfer helps out those stranded by the Sandy shutdown as the J and M trains don’t go anywhere near Court Sq. (though the connection to the M will alleviate a lack of access to the E), but this transfer has always been one I believed the MTA should offer even if it meant changing their transfer policies. It allows for better connections into Lower Manhattan and the Sixth Avenue corridor as well as Brooklyn and Queens. “We realize this vital work is going to be an inconvenience for our customers and we’re happy to provide this service to make it easier for people in those affected neighborhoods,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said to the Daily News.

If this transfer proves popular, I have to believe the MTA would consider making it permanent. If anything, as I mentioned, it improves mobility between routes that have always crossed but never connected. That is never a bad development.

Categories : Brooklyn
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In my write-up of Michael Kimmelman’s Times column on the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar route, I posed a question that would be answered by any study examining this proposal: What problem does this light rail/streetcar line solve? Intuitively, it seemed as though the biggest problems were at either ends of the line — Red Hook and Astoria — and the idea of an interconnected waterfront was otherwise a developer’s dream masquerading as a solution to something that isn’t actually a problem.

One of the bigger issues with The Times’ proposal is how the routing doesn’t connect to subways. While Alex Garvin’s original plan brought the streetcar through Downtown Brooklyn, Kimmelman swung west, away from badly needed subway connections and instead tightly hugging the waterfront. The Times scribe claims this will help serve areas that are “inaccessible” or served “barely” by the G train, referred to in the article as “the city’s sorriest little railroad.” It’s not clear how a low-capacity streetcar running at slower speeds will be better than even the much-maligned G train, but that’s besides the point for these so-called “desire lines.”

One of the biggest issues though with Kimmelman’s argument is that most of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront isn’t really that far away from the nearest subway (let alone feeder bus routes). I did some radius mapping tonight of the waterfront and various other areas in Brooklyn and Queens, and the resulting images are instructive. I cannot unfortunately embed the map so you’re stuck with some images. Take a look at what happens when you chart areas that are more than half a mile away from the nearest subway.

In Brooklyn, Red Hook and Navy Yards are far from the subway.

In Queens, parts of Astoria are a trek away from the nearest subway stop.

If we’re truly concerned about getting people from transit deserts to jobs, then there are three discrete problems: The Navy Yards, an actual job center, isn’t close to transit while Red Hook, where low income housing dominates, is physically and psychologically isolated. Finally, in Astoria, parts of the waterfront are far from the N and Q trains, but there is an area where a ferry would make more sense as a lesser cost option.

The truth is the waterfront is not, by and large, without access to transit, and the G train, as scorned as it is, provides an adequate crosstown connection. A shorter streetcar route could help solve Red Hook’s problems and make the Navy Yards more attractive; a long streetcar that snakes past luxury developments that are a 10-minute walk from the nearest subway seems like more of a bonus for developers than a solution to a problem. But it’s still worth studying, objectively and thoroughly, and then when we have cost estimates and ridership projections, we can talk. As an object of desire though, it leaves much to be desired.

* * *

For fun (?), I have two more screenshots of the radius maps. Take a look at South Brooklyn and Eastern Queens. Forget desire lines and the developing waterfront; these are massive areas of the two most populous boroughs where the nearest subway connections are miles away. No one seems interested in solving that problem though.

Lots of highways but no subways for eastern Queens.

Forget about catching the train in South Brooklyn (or East New York for that matter).

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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The waterfront streetcar would make for a torturously long ride from Astoria to Red Hook, especially in mixed traffic. (Via Next New York)

As 2013 unfolded and the promise of a new mayor came into view, the Forum for Urban Design hosted a series of meetings on urban development. As part of the forum, a variety of planners and designers submitted ideas for the Next New York. I highlighted one of those ideas — Alex Garvin’s waterfront light rail — in a September post on light rail for Red Hook. It is, of course, an old idea that won’t fade away and could make sense as a speedier connection to the jobs, shops, restaurants and subways in Downtown Brooklyn if the costs are right.

Today, that idea — and the rest of Garvin’s impractical line all the way to Astoria — is back in the news as The New York Times has discovered it. It’s always dangerous when The Times latches onto an element of urban planning as they tend to push real estate interests over transit needs, and their coverage of this idea as a mixed-traffic streetcar connecting waterfront areas that don’t need to be connected to each other follows a similar pattern. This is a Big Idea for the sake of Big Ideas and not to solve a discrete problem.

The presentation comes to us in a Michael Kimmelman column. I’ll excerpt:

There’s a wonderful term for the dirt trails that people leave behind in parks: desire lines. Cities also have desire lines, marked by economic development and evolving patterns of travel. In New York, Manhattan was once the destination for nearly all such paths, expressed by subway tracks that linked Midtown with what Manhattanites liked to call the outer boroughs.

But there is a new desire line, which avoids Manhattan altogether. It hugs the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens, stretching from Sunset Park past the piers of Red Hook, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek, which separates the two boroughs, running all the way up to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria. The desire line is now poorly served by public transit, even as millennials are colonizing Astoria, working in Red Hook, then going out in Williamsburg and Bushwick — or working at the Navy Yard, visiting friends in Long Island City and sleeping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

They have helped drive housing developments approved or built along the Brooklyn waterfront, like the one by Two Trees at the former Domino Sugar Refinery. But this corridor isn’t only for millennials. It’s also home to thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force. So here’s an idea: bring back the streetcar.

The idea of a “desire line” is a literary device; it doesn’t mirror reality. Furthermore, the rest of Kimmelman’s column is replete with contradictions about this streetcar’s plan. Kimmelman opts for streetcars over buses because of “romance,” but and while there’s something to be said about the psychological impact of a streetcar, we’re talking about a half a billion dollars and massive upfront infrastructure needs for a mixed-traffic line that won’t do what Kimmelman wants it to do.

Here’s the question that needs to be asked first: Will the “thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force” benefit from this streetcar route? What problem is a line near the waterfront from Red Hook to Astoria trying to solve? One Twitter follower put together a Google Map of the proposed routing, and you’ll see that the best it does is provide direct access to the Navy Yard, a decent sized job center in Brooklyn. As passé as it may be, jobs are in Manhattan or generally along subway lines, and this route doesn’t help improve access to subway lines. (It’s also a mess operationally with tight turns along narrow streets that would limit rolling stock length. It also parallels some bus routes, raising even more questions of need and cost.)

While Cap’n Transit believes that any area that could support light rail would be prime for a subway, if costs are lower and ridership falls in between buses and a subway, light could work. As I mentioned, we can’t dismiss the psychological edge they hold over buses, and with the right routing — dedicated lanes that run, say, from Red Hook to the Navy Yards via subway stations in Downtown Brooklyn rather than via the waterfront — they could solve the gaps in transit deserts. But we shouldn’t, as Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen does, love this idea simply because it’s new, romantic or big. Will the ridership justify the costs? Will the service connect to job centers and destinations or provide a faster way to get to New York’s developed subway network? Can we identify a need and support that need based on a thorough study? “Desire” isn’t enough considering how much this will cost.

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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A Brooklyn driver, perhaps taking inspiration from this Nissan Rogue comemrcial, somehow managed to drive over a concrete wall, through a fence and on top of a Q train at Albermarle Road this morning shortly before 5 a.m. The suspected driver fled the scene, and no subway passengers were hurt. The Q train sustained minimal damage, though when I arrived at 7th Ave. a few hours later, Coney Island-bound trains were still running express through the area. The images are dramatic, but the idea that this how we’ve come to expect people to drive in New York City is decidedly not.

Categories : Brooklyn
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The Riders Alliance wants more bus countdown clocks installed throughout the city, but they carry a hefty price tag.

For bus riders in Brooklyn and Queens, “soon” now has a set date. BusTime — the MTA’s real-time bus tracking service — will go live for the city’s most populous boroughs on Sunday, March 9. Bus riders in those two boroughs will now know, via text message, smart phone apps or the the web where their buses are and how far away that next bus is. It will be a huge boost for riders long accustomed to spotty service and maddeningly inconsistent waits.

“MTA Bus Time is yet another way we are trying to improve service for our customers,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said in a press release. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway, customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”

With the addition of Brooklyn and Queens bus routes, including express bus service, the entire city will have access to bus tracking information, and the MTA has met its self-imposed deadline for bringing the service online. This last installation adds 9000 bus stops to the system as well. What it doesn’t include yet are countdown clocks — or, more accurately, station countdowns — at each station, and transit advocates hope to change that.

At a rally hosted by the Riders Alliance (of which I am a board member), bus riders and other transit advocates called upon politicians to help fund a NYCDOT initiative that would see digital countdown timers installed at key bus stations throughout the city. The timers — similar to the one atop this post — would be a big help to those who aren’t aware of BusTime or are not otherwise comfortable with the technology that makes the bus location information readily available.

“Countdown clocks have been a huge hit on subway platforms,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said. “Now it’s time to bring them to bus stops. We have the technology and we have the interest from riders.”

What is missing from Raskin’s equation is, of course, money. A 2012 study by Brad Lander noted that countdown clocks at bus stops would cost around $4000-$6000 to install, but the solar-powered free-standing signs in place as part of the Staten Island pilot would cost up to $20,000 each. That’s a prohibitive cost and an insane one. Ridership doesn’t warrant installing one at every bus stop, but for key bus stations, these simple timers that countdown stops shouldn’t cost that much.

“The best way to get where I’m going is the bus. I try to time it using printed schedules but most of the time the bus doesn’t follow the schedule,” Thomasin Bentley, a Riders Alliance member, said. “I want to use the bus. It’s clean and affordable. Bus countdown clocks would allow me to make the most of an otherwise great system. The text messaging service is a good start but I find it difficult to understand, and I’m a real tech person. I can imagine that it’s hard for other people to figure out as well.”

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