Archive for Brooklyn
During my talk at the Transit Museum a few weeks back about the MTA’s FASTRACK program, Larry Gould, an ops official with New York City Transit, spoke at length about the operations planning that goes into FASTRACK. Where possible, Transit prefers to limit the use of shuttle buses and tries instead to urge riders to use alternate nearby routes. For most FASTRACK treatments, that’s an easy ask as the nearest subway line isn’t too far away, but for this week’s Bay Ridge/4th Ave. FASTRACK, the shuttle buses will be out in full force.
Starting tonight at 10 p.m. and continuing each weeknight until 5 a.m., trains will not run along 4th Ave. in Brooklyn south of 36th St. N trains will be diverted along the D train’s West End line to Coney Island while a special N shuttle will operate along the Sea Beach branch from 8th Ave. to Stillwell Avenue. R trains, until they cease operating for the evening, will terminate at 36th St., and only shuttle buses will supply transit service into Bay Ridge.
This week’s treatment is likely the trickiest and most onerous for riders as late-night Bay Ridge service usually isn’t the best. On a good day, the R train operates only as a shuttle late at night, and riders have to switch at 36th St. anyway. Now, though, there’s no direct N service to and from Manhattan. Though the transfer at New Utrecht/62nd St. to the N shuttle alleviates the pressure, travel times will be significantly longer this week for Brooklynites.
As this is one of the tougher FASTRACK’s, the next weekday change is the easiest. Later this month, Lexington Ave. trains will run only on the local tracks overnight — which they sort of do anyway. More on that in a few weeks.
When the Culver Viaduct’s Smith/9th Sts. station reopened on Friday, the politicians came out en masse to support the station. Although the MTA acknowledged the delay in restoring F and G train service to Red Hook’s subway connection to the rest of the city, politicians made more than mere note of the delay.
“Finally, the long, long wait my constituents suffered is at an end,” City Councilwoman Sara M. Gonzalez said. “While the delays continued, residents of Red Hook endured longer waiting times and distances. I am confident they will like what they see as they begin to utilize this station again. Now, whether their transit needs are for employments, health, entertainment, academic or other personal choices, they will leave and arrive in this splendidly transformed station and I share in their joy. I look forward to advocating further with Red Hook residents as we seek further transit improvement options.”
What no one mentioned was the station’s lack of elevator access, and as riders returned to the station — even as work continued, in fact — I’ve received more questions concerning the MTA’s ADA obligations than just about anything else related to the project. Local business owners voiced their outrage on Twitter. “Smith/9th St subway station: $32 million, 2 years, no handicap access,” the social media arm of Seersucker, a restaurant on Smith St. above the Carroll St. station, noted. “How did NYC officials let that happen?” They’re not the only ones wondering, and so I set out to investigate why Smith/9th Sts., 87.5 feet above the Gowanus Canal, contains escalators and stairs but no elevators.
According to the MTA’s release on the station reconstruction, the $32 million projected included “ADA features” but not ADA accessibility. Stair risers and treads are now uniform dimension, and handrails are at the proper height and size. The platform edges now contain tactile warning strips as well. But that’s it, and with more steps leading up to the station entrance, it’s now even harder for straphangers with limited mobility to navigate the station.
The MTA has already fielded inquiries concerning ADA-accessibility at this station, and spokesman Kevin Ortiz issued a statement: “The design for ADA elevators at this station was structurally unwieldy and financially prohibitive due to the station’s layout.” I spoke to Ortiz yesterday afternoon, and he elaborated on the situation. Considering the geography of the station over the canal and its height, the MTA estimated requiring four to six elevators to make this station ADA-compliant, and given the ridership — under 5000 fares per day, 286 out of 421 and 93 out of 157 in Brooklyn — the elevators were cost-prohibitive and economically inefficient.
“But what of the ADA requirements?” an astute observer may ask. It’s a valid question as the ADA appears to require transit agencies to spend some part of a project on ADA upgrades and generally require rebuilds to be ADA compliant. As I understand it from MTA sources though, the agency has an ADA waiver. They must outfit 100 Key Stations with full ADA access by the end of the decade, and the MTA is currently ahead of schedule. But for new projects, they can argue for an exemption if doing so is structurally infeasible. If a 90-foot high station that spans a body of water wouldn’t qualify there, I don’t know what would.
Furthermore, that there has been no lawsuit filed against the MTA strikes me as strong evidence against any wrong-doing as well. Disabled riders and their legal advocates are not shy about flexing their muscles. They successfully sued for ADA upgrades at Dyckman St., and the MTA’s settlement included promises of an elevator. Two years after Smith/9th Sts. station shuttered and around five years after plans were first unveiled, no court challenges to the plans exist.
So what remains is a tough situation made worse by circumstance. No one in the 1930s anticipated the ADA when building the station, and now, in 2013, we have a new station without full ADA access. It strikes me as a situation with no good answer.
After a delay of few
centuries months, the MTA will reopen the Smith/9th Sts. F/G subway stop next Friday, April 26 at 10:30 a.m., agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz just announced via Twitter. The station closed in June of 2011 and was supposed to reopen mid-2012. But delays due to both the normal course of work and Superstorm Sandy pushed the opening back into 2013. Now, Red Hook and Carroll Gardens residents and business will get their subway station back.
I’ll have more details on the reopening as they become available, but it seems likely that the work isn’t completed even as the station is ready for revenue service. Two weeks ago, I snapped a photo behind the construction fence of the entrance, and much work remained. Still, the MTA vowed to reopen the station before May Day, and they’ll finally meet a Culver Viaduct project deadline, albeit one pushed back countless times.
On Sunday afternoon, I found myself on a long stroll through Brooklyn, and my walk took me east on 9th St. from the Carroll Gardens area. As we walked past the blue construction wall currently shielding the Smith/9th Sts. subway stop from the outside world, I noticed a sizable gap in the fence and snapped the above photo. It certainly looks like there is plenty of work to be done.
Now, the MTA is toeing the line with regards to the station reopening soon. Earlier reports indicated a potential April 22 service date, and MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg promised me trains before May Day. The Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project has no track record of on-time performance, but work doesn’t have to be completed for stations to be ready for passenger use. We’ll find out how things are going within a few weeks, but no matter the outcome, the station entrance area and platforms visible from the trains look much better than they did a few years ago.
It’s not quite the first quarter of 2013, but it will have to do. Barring an earthquake, alien invasion, Godzilla or some other act of God, the Smith/9th Sts. station on the Culver Viaduct will reopen during the week of April 22nd, Transit announced tonight. The station, which has been closed for the better part of two years, has undergone extensive renovations, and although some elements which do not impact overall functionality remain unfinished, the F and G trains can begin stopping there again soon.
“This has been a long and complicated project but we are grateful for the community’s patience while we performed this necessary work,” Thomas F. Prendergast, president of MTA New York City Transit, said in a station. “This station will be 80 years old this summer and this rehabilitation will see it reach that milestone with a much improved appearance and functionality.”
The elevated station — the highest in the system, in fact — spans the Gowanus Canal and serves as the subway gateway to Red Hook. The rehabilitation project has been reconfigured and delayed numerous times, and the 22-month station closure has impacted accessibility in transit-poor parts of Brooklyn. Its return in a month will be quite welcome indeed.
Over the past few years, as G train ridership has grown, calls to improve service have as well. Lately, the Riders Alliance — an organization for which I sit on the board — with the support of State Senators Daniel Squadron and Martin Malavé Dilan has urged politicians and the MTA to improve G train service, and after Squadron and Dilan requested that the transit agency at least give the line the courtesy of a review, the MTA will oblige.
As Reuven Blau of The Daily News reports today, the MTA has promised to conduct an examination of the G train. As it did with the F and L trains before, the MTA will try to assess the G experience while looking for ways to improve the line and attract more riders. While the station infrastructure along the IND Crosstown line leaves much to be desired, even some small fixes — such as free out-of-system transfers — could ease rider complaints. The MTA anticipates releasing the results of the line review at the end of June.
“G train riders spoke. Now, this Full Line Review will give us real answers to lead to real changes,” Squadron, an influential voice in Albany for transit, said. “Working together in the past, we’ve made dramatic improvements throughout the system — including first-of-their-kind Full Line Reviews that led to better F and L train service. The MTA deserves great credit for its willingness to continue working together toward the reliable service G train riders deserve. Thank you to Senator Dilan, our colleagues, and the Riders Alliance for their continued advocacy.”
Of course, as I’ve noted before, the G train suffers from a chicken-and-egg problem. By not investing in G train service, the MTA stifles ridership, but then, the agency points to low ridership as a reason for not investing in the service. If a study finds demand warrants more frequent trains, longer train sets or even these out-of-system transfers, hopefully, the MTA can find the money needed to improve service. As John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance said, “The MTA is severely underfunded and we know that. In the meantime, we want to identify common-sense solutions to make the train-riding experience better.” And if there’s one thing lacking from New York’s transit planning approach these days, it is common sense.
For many New Yorkers, the L train has come to symbolize the best and worst of the city in 2013. Derided as the train for hipsters and trustafarians who have overrun Williamsburg, it has also become a test line for the MTA’s technological ventures. Thirty years ago, the MTA nearly considered axing the line, and now it’s often one of the most crowded. Perhaps though it’s time for the MTA to yet again assess service patterns on the L line.
The L, as riders have come to know and hate, is generally never not crowded. During the weekday rush hours, it’s often impossible to find space, let alone a seat, and the weekends are much the same. In fact, according to one study, the weekends may actually be worse because of the MTA’s service patterns. In a piece for the Rudin Center’s website, Carson Qing examined L train ridership at Bedford Ave. and discovered that weekend usage in August essentially mirrored normal weekday loads.
Here’s Carson’s take on the data:
What’s remarkable about this case study for Bedford Avenue is that not only are there ridership peaks for long durations on Saturday (8 am to 4 am Sunday) and Sunday (8 am to 8 pm), but entry/exit figures are actually comparable to morning and evening rush hours during the work week: thus, growth in weekend ridership at Bedford Avenue has increased so much that it may very well have resulted in an “extended rush hour” for almost the entire weekend.
Even more remarkable is that the peak entry hours on Saturday night actually extend into the wee hours of Sunday morning for the sampled data, suggesting that the crowded subway platform at 1:30 AM might in fact be quite a common occurrence. Given recent, dramatic changes in demographics and land use patterns in Williamsburg, these unusual peak hour trip patterns should be expected. Not only has there been a well-documented influx in 25-to-34 year olds in Williamsburg (25% of the population, compared to 17% in 2006, according to census data), but there has also been a significant growth in restaurants and bars that are open late on weekends and draw young New Yorkers from across the city to the neighborhood (117% increase in full service restaurants and 59% increase in bars since 2005, according to census business data). The peak entry hours from 12 am to 4 am on a Sunday morning should be expected given the context of how Williamsburg has changed dramatically in just a few short years, as many of the restaurant and bar patrons are likely contributing to this peak period of subway ridership during these late night hours.
These trends reveal that due to the growth in weekend ridership on the L-train, conventional assumptions of travel demand for this particular subway line may no longer be appropriate, and may require some adjustments in service offerings during weekend evenings, late nights, and other times of day. According to subway schedules, the MTA currently runs roughly 43 Manhattan-bound trains on the L during a weekday morning rush hour (8 am-12 pm) and 48 Manhattan-bound trains during Saturday afternoon (4 pm-8 pm), falling to roughly 32 on Saturday night (8 pm -12 am) and 13 during weekend late-night hours (12am-4 am Sunday). With only 13 trains during one of the busiest travel periods of the entire week, crowded platforms at Bedford Avenue and nearby stations during late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings will likely be commonplace going forward.
This is but a snapshot of one weekend in Williamsburg, but it should lead to further studies. Ultimately, transit planners have to assess if the L train’s weekend rush hour requires extra service? It’s long been the rule that transit ridership is highest during peak hours surrounding the work week, but the L train — which runs past some popular nightlife areas — has bucked that trend recently. Thirteen trains over a four-hour period may not be enough to meet demand.
With the three-day weekend and a quick jaunt down to Philadelphia on my agenda, I didn’t have a chance to post this ahead of time, but as FASTRACK continues for four nights, news about this week’s treatment is still timely. For the first time in its short history, FASTRACK is descending upon a part of the subway system not too close to its neighboring lines. This week’s work focuses on the 2 train’s Nostrand Ave. line from Franklin Ave. to Flatbush Ave.
The details: From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night this week, there will be no 2 trains south of Franklin St. The 2 is heading to Utica Ave., and the B44 Limited is being tasked with picking up the slack. Service on the 3 train will end early, and the fare-free buses will make limited stops from the Nostrand Ave. subway stop to Flatbush Ave. The 4 train is running local from Borough Hall to New Lots Ave.
This FASTRACK tests a basic assumption of the program. As the MTA says, “These FASTRACK efforts have been designed around the careful determination that there is adequate alternate means of transportation, including enhanced services along some bus lines during work periods.” Here, the MTA is running some extra buses and urges riders to consider Q train service. Unfortunately, corresponding stations on the Q’s Brighton Line are between 0.8 miles and 1 mile away from the 2 train’s Nostrand Ave. line. This is, so far, the largest distance between a FASTRACK’d line and the nearest active line.
Ultimately, this problem of adequate service could have been solved ahead of time had the MTA and NYC DOT managed to implement Select Bus Service along the B44 in less than four years, but you know how that goes. If anyone out there is experiencing significant problems due to this FASTRACK, I’d love to hear from you. Next week, we get the BMT Broadway line’s first FASTRACK.
Soaring above the Gowanus Canal, nearly 90 feet above the ground, the Culver Viaduct offers sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and, for years, a glimpse into the city’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Sheathed in black wrapping to protect against failing waterproofing and crumbling concrete, the Viaduct is currently undergoing massive renovations that have left a significant portion of Red Hook without nearby subway service.
When the MTA first announced the Culver Viaduct rehab in 2007, plans called for a completion by the end of 2012. Well, here we are at the end of 2012, and the end is nowhere in sight. Over the course of the project, various pieces came and went. At one point, money for a full rehab for the 4th Ave. station disappeared, but local politicians were able to rescue most aspects of that plan. It was seemingly business as usual for an MTA capital project.
After various delays too tedious to chart here, the MTA shuttered Smith-9th Sts. in June of 2011 with a promise to reopen it in March of 2012. Nine months later, the MTA can say only that the station will open sometime during the first quarter of 2013, placing the station rehabilitation project one year overdue. Some reports in local Brooklyn media indicated that the station may not open until April. Those reports, however, have confused the project completion date with the station reopening. The two are not the same as the station can reopen before the entire project at Smith/9th is complete.
Meanwhile, the Culver Viaduct rehab witnessed another bump in cost by around $8 million. The MTA Board approved a retroactive modification to one of the project’s contracts for work on the 10th St. wall between 4th and 5th Avenues. The tale told in the modification plan is a warning for the rest of our infrastructure. It reads:
During a pre-award survey, some deterioration due to water leaks was observed, but the condition of the wall was determiend to be safe, and due to budget constraints, was not included in the contract scope. However, after contract award, during regular maintenance inspections, Subways observed further deterioration and by concrete core testing determined that the wall was in severely deteriorated condition and required extensive repair.
If that’s not a warning, I don’t know what is. A visual inspection can yield only so many details, and the MTA’s subsequent determination speak to the state of much of our outdoor subway system. We simply cannot afford to defer maintenance and repair stations, tunnels and supporting walls on the cheap.
Meanwhile, work will go on and on and on. Some of the delay at Smith/9th is attributable to the diversion of resources after Superstorm Sandy, but some of it isn’t. One day soon, Red Hook will have its subway stop back, and we’ll be left wondering what took so long. It’s the age-old MTA capital program question.
After last week’s uproar over the G and L trains, the clamor from the crowd for more subway service has died down, but a few key missing links remain. The 1 train won’t be heading to South Ferry any time soon, and the J and Z trains haven’t yet reached Broad St. The Rockaways, as we know, will be cut off for a while as well. But the largest gap in service remains on the R line.
The Montague St. Tunnel, the R train’s link between Brooklyn and Manhattan, suffered severe flooding during the Sandy storm surge, and it hasn’t come back into service yet. According to a report in today’s Daily News, it’s going to be a while yet. MTA officials say it could be at least two or three more weeks, and Pete Donohue has some details:
Water from an unprecedented sea surge cascaded down a tunnel ventilation shaft at the southern tip of Manhattan, and it rushed down the stairs of the Whitehall St./South Ferry station, officials said. The volume of water in the tunnel was so great it extended up a steep incline into Brooklyn Heights – about four blocks from the riverbank. It stopped about 500 feet from Court St. station, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “That’s a long distance and the water was floor to ceiling,” Lhota said. “The tunnel and the equipment was severely damaged.”
New York 1 had the nitty-gritty on the damage:
The R stations and tunnels are now pumped out and dry so crews can repair the saltwater damage. They components have to be replaced in each of the signals along that entire section of track. One example is the signal fuses. Crews say green mold has corroded the normally brown-colored components. Crews are also fixing light fixtures, telephone lines and fire alarms in the R tunnel.
It’s all well and good to repair these components and get the service back up and running but doing so without an eye toward immediate preventative measures is akin to closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Another storm will come; another flood will happen; and we’ll do this all over again.