Archive for F Express Plan
But there’s another story in the document, one regarding money and a desire to provide better service. It’s the story of how the MTA could make F express service if not more palatable for some areas in Brooklyn, at least more justifiable for certain stations. It involves a lesson in late 1990s subway history and approximately $100 million. We start in March of 1999 when a fire destroyed a 70-year-old switch control panel at Bergen St. The MTA was able to restore service to the station faster than expected, but repairs to the control panel weren’t completed until 2007. At this point, the lower level isn’t a functional passenger station.
To realize the best possible F express routing, restoring Bergen St. is essential. The station sees nearly 12,000 passengers per day, and by providing express service at Bergen St., many passengers who will lose service if the express plan is implemented would be spared that fate. But the MTA says this work is far too expensive. The agency would have to include accessibility upgrades to bring Bergen St. into compliance with the ADA; reconstructing stairs, platforms and station finishes; install communications and electrical systems; relocate cables; and restore signals that weren’t included in post-fire restoration work. The cost would top $75 million, and that is, apparently, $75 million the MTA does not have.
Meanwhile, at both Bergen and Carroll Sts., the MTA contemplated the queueing issues that could arise if the express plan is implemented. More crowded local trains means more congested station entrances. The MTA anticipates that riders would have to wait, on average, 32 seconds more to reach the stairs at Bergen St. and approximately 10 seconds more to reach the stairs at Carroll St. “This does not,” the MTA notes, “account for the modest amount of counter-flow that currently exists, which would further delay exiting riders.” Widening staircases and installing one elevator at each stop would cost at least $20 million, the MTA estimates. (The MTA doesn’t really address passengers transferring between the R line and theF train at 4th Ave.-9th Sts., another potential chokepoint that could negatively impact commute times or the effects this new service has on Red Hook, a true transit-starved area.)
At least part of this $100 million expense — widening the staircases, making Carroll and Bergen ADA-compliant — should be included in any final F express plan, but if the MTA wants to do it right, the full rehabilitation of the lower level at Bergen Street should be a pre-requisite. That would make this proposal, warts and all, a bit easier to take even as the gold standard remains maintaining F local frequencies while adding some level of express service.
Just a day after I explored reasons why a Brooklyn-based F express service won’t work without added East River capacity, the MTA dropped a bombshell on the Borough of Kings. After sitting on a feasibility report for months, if not years, New York City Transit finally unveiled the agency’s official position on F express service, and the agency concluded, with many obstacles still to overcome, that it could implement some form of F express service in the fall of 2017. Agency sources have said that, despite premature word from certain Brooklyn politicians, the restoration of F express service is not a done deal, but already, the controversial proposal that sees local stations lose as much as 50 percent of their current F train service has pit neighbors and politicians against each other as a transit-based Civil War has erupted in Brooklyn.
The idea itself is born out of history. The original pieces of the BMT and IND that make up the Culver Line included provisioning for express service. The IND segments offer full four-track express service between Jay St. and Church Ave. with a stop at 7th Ave. (and a former stop at Bergen St. that was closed following a fire in the late 1990s). South of Church Ave., there is a third track that could support some express service, but until certain interlockings near Kings Highway are modernized, this option is off the table.
The MTA’s proposal — presented here on the agency’s website and further explored in this pdf report — is something of a modified F express service with two-way express service between Church Ave. and Jay St. F trains running express would skip six stations in Kensington/Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Red Hook/Gowanus and Cobble Hill, many of which happen to be the most popular stations along the F line in Brooklyn. The MTA’s report has determined that the time savings for express riders would outweigh the time lost by local riders, but waits at popular local stations would be long — perhaps even as long as 15 minutes during the end of peak hours. (Analysis by Alastair Coote last year determined that F express service to Ave X would be a net loss for all F train riders, but the MTA’s modified plan seems to cut slightly in favor of express service.)
But there are some problems. It’s hard to overstate how unhappy local riders are over the reduced service, and that’s the big problem. Because of limitations further down the line, including merges with other trains and an East River chokepoint, the MTA cannot run F express service while maintaining local service. The G train doesn’t cut it due to a lack of access to Manhattan and the need for multiple transfers, and the G also cannot access IND Culver express tracks until the switch just west of 4th Ave. The MTA would need another Manhattan trunk link (Coney Island to, say, Second Ave. perhaps) to support current local service and additional F express. This service also reduces frequencies to 4th Ave./9th St., a major transfer point between the BMT and IND and results in less subway service for Smith/9th Sts. station that skirts and serves Red Hook.
The MTA has already had to clarify that this is a proposal only and not one that’s definite. The agency plans to bring it to community groups over the coming months and wouldn’t implement it until late 2017. Still, the F train civil war has come, pitting City Council representative David Greenfield against City Council representative Brad Lander. Following a Tweetstorm well worth reading on Tuesday, Lander released a strong statement against the F train. Noting that the MTA’s report “shows that the total number of riders who will suffer under this proposal is actually greater than the number of riders who will benefit” and F express service “comes at the expense” of many riders, Lander and his co-signers stated they are “furious” with the MTA:
“We are extremely dismayed by the utter lack of process on the part of the MTA regarding proposed new F-Express service between Church Avenue and Jay St-MetroTech stops in Brooklyn. The proposed service change harms more people than it helps, ignores our request for increased service, and pits Brooklyn residents against each other, creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ without sufficient information or dialogue.
We made clear from the start that we could only support an F-Express if overall service was increased on the F line and riders at local stops were not harmed. The MTA promised to share information with the community before making a decision – including information about what service increase would be needed to avoid harming riders at local stations.
Instead of providing a fair process, the MTA blindsided our communities, announcing the proposal in a newspaper, before providing any information to community stakeholders or the elected officials representing these areas.”
Meanwhile, Greenfield — who’s also taken to Twitter — at first seemed to think F express service would start this year, but then started patting himself on the back for securing this win for his constituents. “I’m very happy that the MTA has finally released this report, and I’m thrilled that after a decades-long absence, the F express will finally be returning to Brooklyn,” he said in a statement. “This is a long overdue move that will drastically cut commute times for riders in southern Brooklyn and restore transit equity to neighborhoods that have languished in transit deserts for decades.”
I don’t agree that areas of the city with steady F train service are transit deserts, and Greenfield’s claims that this gives service to those who had “none” don’t bear up to scrutiny. It indeed pits neighbors against neighbors and politicians against politicians.
It’s hard to say where this goes from here. The MTA is facing severe criticism from a lot of people who have chosen to live in areas along the F train on the basis of constant service. These people could see a 50 percent reduction in service with more crowded trains, longer exit times and generally worse transit all so that people further down the line could save a few minutes. It’s a bad situation, and if this is the only way to implement the F express service, the MTA should think long and hard about doing so even if it means upsetting some representatives in Brooklyn. Until the MTA can maintain local frequencies while adding express service, the status quo may just be the right answer here.
Every now and then, due, at times, to the never-ending rehabilitation of the Culver Viaduct or other track work in the vicinity, the F train in Brooklyn runs express between Jay St.-MetroTech and some station farther south. The transit cognoscenti know to look out for glimpses of a ghost station once that F train nears or leaves Jay St., and over the weekend, as the F went express, an eagle-eyed observer could catch the the abandoned lower level at Bergen St.
As ghost stations go, the Bergen St. lower level is hardly a secret. Multiple doors that are often kept unlocked dot the upper level at Bergen St., and the 1999 fire at that station earned headlines. For those in Brooklyn fighting for the restoration of the F express service, the Bergen St. station may or may not be the lynchpin. Trains can bypass the Bergen St. station, but as you can barely see from the video I shot over the weekend, there’s not much there. The station is an abandoned mess of darkness, and the MTA has used parts of it for storage. Yet, it’s future is as intriguing as its mere existence, a shadow of subway past.
The idea behind the F express service is one I have explored at length in the past, and it’s one that has garnered recent attention. The MTA apparently has a report on the idea sitting in a proverbial drawer, and this report has possibly been sitting in this drawer for three years. Yet, no one has seen the report, and politicians have again been agitating for F express service. The idea is an obvious one: The MTA could use dormant and pre-existing infrastructure — in this case, express tracks along the Culver Line to improve service to those more remote areas of Brooklyn. For some commuters, rides could be shortened by 5-10 minutes.
But there is a rub; there is always a rub. As currently configured, F express service would lead to reduced service for some of the F’s busiest Brooklyn stations. Carroll St., Smith-9th Sts., 4th-9th Sts., and 15th St.-Prospect Park, to name a few, would see less frequent F train service, and the ridership from those stations far outpaces the number of riders who would gain a few minutes from the express service. If the MTA can’t rehabilitate the lower level at Bergen St. to permit passenger service — an undertaking that would be quite expensive, according to 2012 comments from one Transit official, another 11,000 riders would see F service slashed. Simply put, based on current load guidelines, the MTA cannot add F express service while maintaining local service frequencies that handle customer demand.
So why not, you may ask, just run more F local trains? It seems like a simple solution, but it’s not quite that easy. Most importantly, the MTA would need additional Manhattan and East River capacity to run more F trains, and based on various F service patterns — interlining with the G in Brooklyn, the M in Manhattan and the E in Queens — the route cannot support additional trains. Second, the MTA doesn’t have the rolling stock to add F express trains. That’s a more solvable, albeit an expensive one, for a solution that seems to create more problems than it solves. Of course, with an additional East River crossing — perhaps a Phase 5 of the Second Ave. Subway were we all to live that long — the problem would be resolved, but now we’re talking in decades rather than years.
Word is that the MTA’s own studies on the F express plan show little to no net travel gains from the F express plan, but the idea is a political hot potato that the agency isn’t comfortable quashing quite yet. So the idea percolates every few months or years as that idea that will save Midwood from its schleppy F train service. I can’t blame anyone from hoping, but that lower level at Bergen St. seems more like a taunt that a promise of future service. Every now and then, we get a glimpse of a different plan, but it remains out of reach, perhaps for good reason.
Nothing proves the old maxim “You get what you pay for” quite like watching a City Council Transportation Committee hearing. New York City dedicates a laughably low amount of money to public transit, but the Council still has the ability to haul in public officials for berating. Oversight without the power of the purse combined with reticent MTA officials facing off against Council members who clearly don’t understand MTA economics makes for hilarious and frustrating hearings.
Yesterday’s hearings followed that format. While some committee members came prepared with pointed and intelligent questions, committee chairman James Vacca screeched about station cleaners while ignoring costs and Peter Koo railed against some conditions at his nearest station. These council members weren’t out there to protect constituent interests; they just wanted to lord over public agency officials.
David Greenfield, a representatives from Brooklyn, was one council member who wanted answers on specific projects. With the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation set to wrap up
before the Apocalypse in the near future, Greenfield asked the MTA about the state of the dormant F express plans. As long-time readers may recall, the calls for an F express study grew in 2007 as a way to improve service along the Culver line and perhaps alleviate crowding at some high-traffic stations with express service. The MTA said that work along the viaduct would preclude implementing any F express service and that the agency would revisit the matter when the rehab wrapped.
Now that the rehab is coming down the homestretch, Greenfield urged the MTA to act now. His constituents out in Borough Park and Midwood suffer slow rides along the F, and he wants the MTA to speed up commutes. He says his office fields more complaints concerning F train service than anything else.
In response, Aaron Stern, the director of Transit’s Office of Management and Budget, vowed a study. Now, promising a study doesn’t mean much. So the question is: What should we expect from the study? Despite my support for this project, I believe the answer is “not much.”
Already, The Daily News has thrown cold water on the idea but without supplying details. Basically, the concerns are two-fold. First, the MTA doesn’t necessarily have the rolling stock to add F express service (but that’s a problem that can be addressed). The second and more valid concern though focuses around service to local stations. By adding express service, and coordinating with, at different spots, the G, M and E trains, the MTA would reduce local service, and considering how many of the most popular F stops in Brooklyn are local, this idea just won’t fly.
To make matters more complicated, Bergen St. — one of the busier local stops — has express tracks that need millions of dollars of work. The lower level at Bergen St. was effectively destroyed in a fire a bunch of years ago, and although the MTA stores runs bypass trains through that station, it cannot be used for revenue service. F express service without stops at Bergen, Carroll, Smith/9th or 4th Ave. would leave many, many riders with reduced service.
Still, despite the forces aligning against F express service, the MTA may try to find a limited way to add some express service. During a September meeting of the Transit Riders Council, MTA officials spoke about potential F options. The minutes are available online, but I can summarize.
Essentially, Transit operations officials believe the impact at local stops would outweigh the benefits to express riders. If any express service is implemented, it would likely be limited to weekday peak hours only and would not involve Bergen St. as it would be too expensive to repair the station for only limited service. That’s not a rosy picture.
Eventually, the MTA will release an official study on F express service, and the conclusions will likely weigh against express service. It’s a shame to underutilize preexisting infrastructure, but sometimes, from both cost and operations perspectives, such service just doesn’t make sense.
The F line, much maligned and often overcrowded, is near and dear to my heart. I live nearby the stop at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn and often find myself relying on it for travel to and from home and parts of Brooklyn or Manhattan. A few years ago, securing F express service became a cause célèbre for me and a few Brooklyn transit advocates.
During our discussions about F express service, the MTA informed us that the option would not be available until after the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation is finished in 2013. We were prepared to wait, but our efforts aroused the attention of a State Senator from the area. With complaints mounting about the F service, Daniel Squadron asked the MTA to perform a comprehensive study of the 27-mile F long. The agency released report — available here as a PDF — on Friday, and it is a rather critical of the current conditions along the second longest subway line in the city.
Citing the fact that parts of the line are 90 years old, the report notes how prone to delays and problems the F is. “Reliability of the F, as on all other lines in the subway, is affected by infrastructure condition, maintenance and renewal; in the case of the F, the need to renew key assets in the coming years is becoming critical, due to their age and condition. As assets age, they become more prone to breakdown, thus adversely affecting reliability,” it reads. Simply put, the F line is falling apart.
The report features a lot of technical MTA-speak. It delves into a discussion on merges and diverges, shared trackage and component replacement plans. It discusses the mean distance between car failures and talks about who the F rolling stock features five different classes of cars — many of which are slated for retirement in 2010. It analyzes controllable on-time performance and absolute on-time performance. It examines ridership numbers and a passenger environment service.
In the end, though, the report boils down to a few main conclusions: The F is a patchwork line made out of parts of varying ages and varying quality. Its oldest sections — between Ditmas Ave. and Ave. X — are 90; its youngest piece — South of W. 8th St. to Coney Island — is just five years old. Because of these discrepancies, the F line is overtaxed and in need of maintenance, oversight and investment.
The report, however, doesn’t make too many out-of-the-box recommendations. In fact, many of the suggestions are in the process of being implemented and capital investment projects are already underway. It urges the following and notes the implementation timeline:
- Reorganizing line management, to provide greater accountability over multiple disciplines (July 2009).
- Establishing a task force of senior managers to review F line operations and develop strategies for improvements (Fall 2009).
- Reviewing the schedules and service design of the F to assess potential operational and service changes, including modifications to Queens/Manhattan service (underway) and express service in Brooklyn (to be undertaken prior to the completion in 2013 of the ongoing Culver Viaduct project).
- Undertaking a train load analysis to provide line management with critical information for evening out train loads (underway).
- Assigning more reliable cars to the F (July 2009), reducing the number of separate car classes operating on the F from 5 to 2 (July 2009), assigning a dedicated car maintenance manager to the F (September 2009), and continuing to place new cars into F service (underway).
- Modifying delay management strategies to reduce reliance on skipping stations (July 2009).
- Renewing aging infrastructure, including, but not limited to, reconstructing the Culver Viaduct (underway), rehabilitating key stations like Jay Street (underway), and modernizing critical components of the signal system (planned for the 2010-14 Capital Program).
- Developing strategies to reduce the impact of maintenance and infrastructure renewal work on operations (underway), including coordinating previously separate maintenance activities, establishing a “Scheduled Maintenance System” for signal repairs and heavy maintenance gangs for track repairs, and installing track barriers during long-term projects to reduce the need to slow down when passing work zones.
New York City Transit President Howard Roberts noted that many of the projects are already in place. “While we are already in the midst of several capital projects aimed at improving service for F Line riders, there are measures underway that will move our customers closer to the type of service that they pay for and that they deserve,” said Roberts.
To me, this report doesn’t say anything new. The MTA knows the F is a problem, and the authority already had measures in place to fix those problems. Why did they fulfill Squadron’s request for a report? How much did it cost them? Would we see similar results if this investigation were repeated on, say, the J or the R line? Is adding another layer of management going to solve these problem?
Transit should certainly be praised for a critical self-examination, but Straphanger Joe and Jane could just as easily evaluate the F line. We know it’s a subpar line. Now, we have to see if a report produced at the behest of a State Senator can improve these poor conditions.
When the MTA first announced plans for the Culver Viaduct, work was supposed to begin in the fall of 2008. Shockingly then, this project is already delayed, but after months of silence, the MTA is set to award a contract to Judlau Contraction for the rehabilitation work. Gary Reilly to a story in The Daily News about the project: In its board meeting today, the MTAwill officially award a contract to Judlau Contracting for the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project.
According to the Daily News (via Gary Reilly), the MTA delayed this project to give the potential contractors more time to submit their bids. On the plus side, though is word that because so many contracts are looking for work in a depressed economy, the winning proposal will be for $62.5 million less than the original MTA estimates. Meanwhile, those who rely on the F and G at Smith-9th Sts. will now face station closures in 2011 instead of 2010. At least now the viaduct won’t look like it’s about to collapse every time a train rolls past it, and maybe, just maybe, when it’s all over, we’ll have that F Express service too.
In their year-end review of Brookly, The Gowanus Lounge named the F Express effort as the borough’s number two participatory democracy effort of 2007. While we depressingly know that the F Express option won’t be back on the table until the completion of the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation, the accolades for Gary Reilly’s project are much deserved. [The Gowanus Lounge]
With the impending (in 2010) closure of the Smith-9th Sts. F/G stop due to work on the Culver Viaduct, pols in the area are already calling for shuttle bus service. Member of the NYC Assembly Joan Millman, as Brownstoner notes, is calling on the MTA to start this service now to alleviate chornic overcrowding on the F. The bus would run from Red Hook to Smith-9th Sts. and through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Sounds good to me. [Brownstoner]
The designs for the Culver Viaduct work at 4th Ave. are a huge improvement over the current bombed-out shell of a subway station. (Source: New York City Transit)
The Culver Viaduct sure has been on our minds for the better part of 2007. A key component to the dreams of Brooklynites to enjoy the F as an express train, the Viaduct is in terrible shape and living seemingly on borrowed time.
Earlier this month, the MTA announced the details of their viaduct rehabilitation plans which will turn the Viaduct stations — one at Smith-9th Sts. and one at 4th Avenue — into crown jewels of the subway system. Recently, at a Community Board 6 meeting in Brooklyn, New York City Transit unveiled the architectural renderings and track work plans for the extensive renovations. There is, of course, good news and bad news.
The good news first: The renderings of the stations look fantastic. On top of this post is what the station at 4th Ave. will look like in a four years. At left is what the station looks like now. (Click to enlarge.) The difference is night and day. Gone are the boarded-up windows and grungy outside.
With views up and down Brooklyn’s admittedly less-than-scenic 4th Ave., the station will no longer be an isolated island in the subway system. Meanwhile, the stations will look just as nice on the inside (see left). Looks good. Too bad we have to wait so long for the finished product.
Finally, in the good news department, comes news of the G train. Beginning next year, the MTA will run the G out to Church Ave., and that service addition will be permanent. In an effort to alleviate F train overcrowding, Manhattan-bound passengers in Kensington and Park Slope can now take the G to Hoyt-Schermerhorn and transfer to the A or C. Otherwise, the G will now allow riders to take a one-seat ride from Greenpoint to Kensington. The good folks at Kensington (Brooklyn) are quite pleased with his news.
But — and this is a rather big but — the project comes with its fair share of bad news, both centered around things we already knew. As I’ve reported in the past, the F Express Plan won’t come to fruition until this viaduct work is completed, but that’s bad news only in the abstract. Worse is the news that the Smith-9th St. stop will be closed for the better part of 2010 with service changes (details available here in PDF form and below) affecting the line for the better part of four years.
This project will be divided into four phases, each with varying degrees of impact. Take a look:
Phase 1 – Set to kick off next fall, the first phase, lasting 15 months, will have only a minimal impact on the line. The center express tracks will be closed as crews will be conducting structural work on the viaduct. At this point, the G will begin running to Church Ave., and the F will run normally.
Phase 2A – During the second stage of work, things get dicey. For four months, the northbound local tracks will be out of service. The F and the G will run express from Church Ave. to Smith-9th Sts. with southbound trains providing service to 15th St.-Prospect Park and Ft. Hamilton Parkway. Northbound trains will service 4th Ave. via a temporary platform, and Smith-9th Sts. will be closed completely with shuttle bus service running along the path the train currently takes. Good thing that’s only four months in MTA time.
Phase 2B – The second part of Phase 2 will last 8 months, but service will slowly return to some semblance of normality. The F and G will run local on the northbound tracks except the trains will bypass Smith-9th Sts. for the first five months of this phase. Smith-9th Sts. will reopen after nine months of repairs and renovations in the middle of phase 2B, but at that point, northbound, only the G will stop there while southbound both the F and the G will service that station.
Phase 3A – This is, in effect, the opposite of Phase 2A. Southbound trains will run express from Smith-9th Sts. to Church Ave. with northbound service only to 15th St.-Prospect Park and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Temporary platforms will service southbound F and G riders at 4th Ave. and southbound G riders only at Smith-9th Sts. This phase will take around five months.
Phase 3B – The last ten months before things get back to normal constitute phase 3B. Here, F and G trains return to local service south of Smith-9th Sts., but Smith-9th Sts. will be service southbound by G trains on a temporary platform. Northbound service will be normal.
Phase 4 – For the last three months of work, riders along the newly-extended G line and F line won’t notice a thing. NYCT is installing new switches on the express tracks just north of 4th Ave. that should allow for that long-awaited F express service.
So there you have it. That is a 45-month project to completely renovate the Culver Viaduct. When all is said and done, the G train will be vastly improved, and if NYCT holds to its word, express service will start along the F line. But for now, as residents in Brooklyn face around four years of service delays and shuttle buses, it’s no wonder that many residents are not too happy.
Look, mom, it’s a brand new photo of the oft blogged-about Viaduct on the F line. (Source: flickr user Betty Blade)
When last we saw the pesky Culver Viaduct, the MTA had just dropped a bombshell on residents of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens. That bombshell: In 2010, the Smith-9th Sts. subway stop on the F and G lines will be closed for nearly an entire year due to the Culver Viaduct Rehabiliation. For Brooklynites trying to get to the nearest subway and New Yorkers of all stripes angling to get to Ikea, this was decidedly bad news.
Today, we get some more details courtesy of The Brooklyn Paper. In an article in this week’s edition of the free Brooklyn weekly, Mike McLaughlin goes in depth on the MTA’s plans for the viaduct. The MTA, he reports, plans to turn this station, currently in terrible shape and wrapped in a protective black tarp, into one of the crown jewels of the city’s subway stations. Even better news for residents of the area is the time frame. The MTA now says the station will close for just nine months starting in February of 2010 instead of the original twelve. I’ll believe that one when I see it.
McLaughlin has more on the neighborhood’s reaction to the plans to reconstruct this 70-year-old viaduct:
The MTA is sure to hear complaints from Red Hook and Carroll Gardens riders at the CB6 meeting about the inconvenience it is going to cause them. To lessen this disruption, shuttle bus service will run between the Carroll Street and Fourth Avenue stations, which will stay open for the duration of the renovations on the elevated track, known as the Culver Viaduct to transit buffs.
One piece of good news is for G-train riders, whose train will make all stops between Smith–Ninth, where it currently terminates, and Church Avenue because the viaduct work will make it impossible for the G to turn around between Smith-Ninth and Fourth Avenue.
This short article tells us so much about planning at the MTA. Originally, the G train was set to hit Church Ave. by the end of this year. That date was eventually pushed back to 2008, and now, with work on the viaduct not set to begin until 2009, the G train probably won’t go out to Kensington for another year. Anyone still want to bet that the Smith-9th Sts. stop is closed for just nine months?
While some residents want to turn this station with views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and, um, Lowe’s Home Improvement and the Gowanus Expressway/BQE into a grand destination complete with panoramic restaurant, I’m just happy to hear that F express service will probably come to Brooklyn once this viaduct rehabilitation is finished. Too bad we have to wait four more years.