Archive for Brooklyn
The geography of New York City makes for some strange transportation bedfellows. Manhattan — a long, narrow island — contains a lot of key job centers and is the house of city government while Brooklyn and Queens, as close neighbors, are home to a combined 4.7 million people. Yet, it’s relatively easy to take a train into Manhattan and relatively painful to travel between the counties of Kings and Queens. That’s a problem.
Every now and then, this transit imbalance takes center stage for a few days. On and off for the past few years, the Pratt Center has tried to fight for better interborough travel options, and the G train remains an object of scorn and derision. Yet, true Select Bus Routes between Queens and Brooklyn remain elusive, and plans to build subway connections died along with the rest of the Second System in the 1930s.
For many New Yorkers, they why of it all is elusive. In 2013, it’s viewed as a great failing that there is no quick way to get from Forest Hills or Astoria to Downtown Brooklyn or Park Slope, that the best transit route from Coney Island to Flushing involves hours of travel through three boroughs. Yet, these patterns have their roots in the history of the city’s economic development and transit policy, and yesterday, at The Atlantic Cities, Richard Greenwald, a history professor at St. Joseph’s College, offered up a brief history of the tortured connections. Here’s his take:
In the beginning, the New York City subway system, as historian Clifton Hood details in his masterful book, 722 Miles, was a commuter line. As such, it was designed to bring people to where the jobs were, and that meant Manhattan. So all subway routes lead there…While the subway got people from the outer boroughs into Manhattan, the once-vast trolley system of New York connected the residents of Queens to Brooklyn…
The demise of the trolleys in the late 1930s and ’40s seems to be largely responsible for disconnecting the two sister boroughs. Yes, they were replaced by buses, but buses have never — for a number of reasons — been able to cement the connection the way trolleys seemed to.
Starting in the 1920s, a company called National City Lines started buying up street car lines, then mostly privately owned. In 1936, the company became a holding company owned equally by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. Perhaps you can guess where this is going. NCL bought up trolley systems in over 40 cities and 15 states, converting them almost overnight into bus lines. In 1947, they were indicted in federal court, in what became known as the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.” Two years later, the four original companies who owned NCL, along with MAC Truck, were found guilty of conspiracy to monopolize mass transit. But by then the damage was done. Most of the nation’s streetcar system was in junkyards, replaced by buses.
Outside of the streetcar conspiracies, Greenwald points his fingers at the social stigma attached to buses as a reason why the trolley connections were cut. “In the outer boroughs of New York, trolleys had acted as a primary mode of transportation,” he said. “Buses, on the other-hand, were tertiary, connecting commuters first-and-foremost to subway lines.” That’s not quite accurate though as the current Brooklyn bus map and the old trolley map look awfully similar. At ground level, at least, it’s no harder or easier to travel between Brooklyn and Queens than it was 80 years ago.
What happened were social shifts. Up until the last decade or so, few people noticed the poor quality of transit connections between Brooklyn and Queens because no one wanted to travel between these two boroughs. As gentrification took hold though, suddenly, middle/upper class neighborhoods were disconnected. It’s easy to travel from East New York to Jamaica or the Rockaways via the IND Fulton Line. It’s not easy to get from South Slope to Forest Hills without a arduous slow ride through Manhattan on the F train. Neighborhoods eight miles apart may as well be in different cities.
Fixes for this problem are not easy to identify. Even the long lost Second System wouldn’t have materially improved connections between Brooklyn and Queens. We instead need something as creative and fanciful as Vanshookenraggen’s Franklin Ave. Shuttle extension (or the entirety of his Second System plans). Such plans, though, require money to be no obstacle, and for the foreseeable future, money is an obstacle.
In the meantime, a better Select Bus Service would do the trick with a focus on interborough connections between neighborhoods that are current disconnected. Of course, SBS takes literally years of planning and is fraught with its own problems. Meanwhile, as jobs migrate from Manhattan to centers in Brooklyn and Queens, the Outer Boroughs remain frustratingly disconnected, a victim of the history of the economic growth and centralization of Manhattan and a lack of foresight by politicians over the past 100 years. It’s a rather familiar story after all.
As Second Ave. Sagas skips toward its seven anniversary, I’ve seen transit beat writers across the city come and go, and right now, we’re in a bit of a golden age of transit coverage. From Matt Flegenheimer at The Times and Ted Mann at The Journal to Matt Chaban at Crain’s New York and Stephen J. Smith at The Observer, a bunch of smart, open-minded reporters are tackling the city’s transportation beat, and they’re doing a great job of it. Yet, some coverage in other papers makes me slump my shoulders in defeat or throw my hands up in disgust.
Today’s Daily News features one of those pieces, and although the story is a minor one, it’s worth a few minutes of our time. The piece in question comes to us from not one but two reports, and it focuses on obviously temporary signage at Smith/9th Sts. and the way the signs look. The sub-hed on this groundbreaking piece of reporting tells us all we need to know: “Fake signs are only temporary. But they are ugly.”
At issue are some identification signs at the ends of the Smith/9th Sts. platform. At some point, the MTA will install proper mosaics in these locations, but to ready the station for passenger service after years of delay, the agency posted temporary paper signs designed to mimic tiling. “The signs were fabricated and installed as a temporary measure for the station reopening and will be replaced by the contractor with new mosaic tile signs,” a Transit spokesman said.
Meanwhile, in typical man-on-the-street fashion, two Daily News reporters even managed to track down someone to complain. This is, after all, still New York. “That’s pretty terrible considering the amount of money that went into renovating the place,” said Dennis Nemirovskiy, who likely hadn’t even noticed the signs let alone dwell on them before the reporters approached him. (Another rider had a more practical take. “Unless it’s going to improve the service it really doesn’t matter,” she said.)
And that’s the key to the Daily News article. Even though I’ve spent 300 words discussing it, it really doesn’t matter. The MTA is facing myriad problems that actually matter. It’s recovering from a crippling hurricane that has drastically reduced the expected lifetimes for key pieces of equipment. It’s heavily in debt with no end to the borrowing in sight. It can’t get out of its own way on capital projects and can’t garner political support for needed expansion efforts. And the Daily News is making a scandal out of a temporary sign.
When everyday New Yorkers bemoan the state of the subways, think back to this article because this is why. It’s lowest common denominator coverage that leads to politicians who don’t know how the subways are run or why services are constantly being threatened or cut. It’s why two sets of books has persisted for ten years. It’s great for instant outrage and absolutely terrible at generating a modicum of support transformative, long-range solutions to regional transportation problems.
For the better part of a 50 years, a pedestrian bridge has spanned Surf Ave. near West 8th St. in Coney Island, delivering subway passengers from the station to the boardwalk and aquarium. That bridge, according to a report in The Brooklyn Paper, is set to come down later this year.
Will Bredderman has the story:
Citing safety concerns and the structure’s unsightliness, the New York City Economic Development Corporation — the agency responsible for promoting business and tourism — plans to dismantle the walkway over Surf Avenue and the New York Aquarium parking lot at a yet-to-be-unspecified date this summer. An agency spokesman called the half-century-old bridge an eyesore, and said that it was likely to become unstable in the next few years.
In an effort to keep crossing Surf Avenue easy, the spokesman said that the city will broaden the sidewalks, install a crossing light at the intersection of W. Eighth Street, and create a new entrance to the Boardwalk at W. 10th Street.
Community Board 13 district manager Chuck Reichenthal applauded the news, saying that the neighborhood panel has begged the city for years to tear down the deteriorating walkway. The bridge — originally built 50 years ago to convey people from the F-Q stop to the then-new aquarium — has long been an orphan, with the MTA, the aquarium, and the Parks Department all denying responsibility for maintaining it.
Despite objections by local advocates that the bridge keeps “children and the elderly out of danger while crossing busy Surf Avenue,” wider sidewalks and a crossing light are a far better way to create a vibrant pedestrian-focused area than a bridge is, and daylighting the street underneath will help as well. The fish, albeit rusty, were always a kitschy cute touch.
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.