Archive for Manhattan

Alphabet City finally has easier subway access as the MTA marked the opening of an Ave. A entrance to the L train’s 1st Ave. station. (Photo: MTA / Trent Reeves)

As the L train project continues apace, the MTA celebrated a milestone on Monday morning when the agency finally — finally! — opened a new eastern entrance to the L train’s 1st Avenue stop. The staircase leads down to the Brooklyn-bound platforms and connects to the world above at Avenue A, finally opening the subway to the eastern reaches of the East Village and Stuy Town, 95 years and change since the BMT’s 14th Street-Eastern Line opened in June of 1924. A similar entrance on the 8th Ave.-bound side will open in a few weeks and elevators on both sides will be in service when the L project work wraps next year.

The MTA held a perfunctory opening ceremony on Monday morning complete with the requisite comments from local politicians. “The East Village and Lower East Side are some of the biggest [subway] deserts in Manhattan,” City Council Representative Carolina Rivera said, “and these new entrances are going to make a big difference for the thousands of residents who have to walk up to half a mile to reach this station. These accomplishments are helping to restore faith in our city and state’s ability to get big successful projects done right, and I can’t wait for the rest of the entrances, elevators, and the L train project to be completed.”

The mutual admiration society that accompanies these types of projects may seem rote, but it’s important. I’ll explain in a second. In the meantime, you can see some footage from the new entrance in the video embedded below, and the MTA posted a handful of photos on the agency’s Flickr page.

While seemingly minor in the grand scheme of New York City’s transit needs, I think the opening of this new entrance is worth considering. First, entrances like this one are a key part of expanding transit access in the city and should be a normal part of the MTA’s year-to-year strategy. Because of the design of the L train station at 1st Ave. where all exiting and entering passengers are filtered through a small fare control area at the extreme western end of this station, this stop has long been a good candidate for a second entrance, and citing it at the extreme eastern end can held with crowd control while providing better subway access to thousands of riders coming from Stuy Town, Alphabet City and points east.

In fact, as East Side L train ridership has exploded over the past twenty years, it’s almost a scandal that the MTA hadn’t been planning an Ave. A entrance until the Sandy recovery work forced the issue. This is an entrance the city and MTA should have opened 10 or 15 years ago as the East Village population swelled and L train usage grew, and it’s hard to overstate how important it is for encouraging transit use to give people a notably shorter walk to the subway. It’s too bad the MTA’s current cost and construction productivity crisis meant that the agency couldn’t realistically work an Avenue C stop into its L train plans.

Furthermore, openings such as this one give politicians a reason to show up for MTA events. As we saw from the politicians’ statements, local pols like to milk these events as low-hanging, constituent-focused events, and the MTA could enjoy political support by aggressively identifying stations that could support new entrances or where entrances closed amidst crime fears in the 1980s and 1990s are reopened. Plus, as I mentioned, cutting people’s commute times to transit stops — especially when those commutes take potential straphangers past shuttered entrances — can help encourage transit use, and that’s a goal both the city and MTA should be pursuing these days. I’d suggest starting with this comprehensive list of unused station entrances and working from there. If the MTA truly hasn’t opened some of these entrances over ADA compliance concerns, the new push to drastically expand accessibility in the subway should also lead to the reopening of closed entrances.

Yet, not everything is perfect with this new entrance. As you can see from the video above, the MTA is still using the same turnstile design and still included emergency exit doors, both of which are under scrutiny as part of the hand-wringing over fare evasion. Testing new fare gate designs that make turnstile jumping harder and eliminate emergency exits which are easy to prop open could have been a part of the new entrances at Ave. A. Plus, the new turnstiles aren’t OMNY-equipped so another contractor will have to head down into the system in a few months to install the new readers.

These are minor gripes with a good project though, and the MTA should look for low-hanging, lower-cost fruit to help open up transit stations and reduce walking distances to station entrances above ground. It would take only a small political push and can pay immediate dividends for thousands.

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Renderings show the new look for the Times Square terminal of the 42nd St. Shuttle.

The 42nd Street Shuttle is a quirky relic of New York City subway history. When the Interborough Rapid Transit Company opened city’s first subway in 1904, the current east-west jag across 42nd Street wasn’t a shuttle at all. Rather, it was a key part of the route from the now-abandoned City Hall stop to 145th St. and Broadway. But 101 years ago, on August 1, 1918, the 42nd St. connection was severed when the Dual Systems’ H system went into service, and thus it has remained a three-track shuttle since then. The Times Square terminal is even on the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, three tracks will be reduced to two, and the 42nd St. Shuttle will see its most significant overhaul in a century, the MTA officially announced on Friday. The work will result in two-track island platforms at each end of the Shuttle, two fully ADA-compliant platforms, six-car trains and a new passageway from Times Square connecting the Shuttle to the Sixth Ave. trains. Work is scheduled to begin on August 16 and will wrap in 2022 to coincide with the planned opening of the East Side Access project.

“Making our system accessible and easier to use for all New Yorkers is essential to modernizing the MTA, and this 42 St Shuttle transformation project is another example of our progress. Instead of simply fixing the most urgent conditions, we’re taking this opportunity to truly transform the 42 St Shuttle,” MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim said in a statement on Friday (while Andy Byford was on vacation). “The project will allow the MTA to move more people, run longer trains and simplify transfers for customers between the city’s busiest transit hubs. We’re making crossing Midtown Manhattan quicker and easier for millions of customers.”

A new staircase where the Walgreens currently sits in Times Square will improve passenger flow into the Shuttle area.

The MTA is calling this a “modernization” project, and here’s what that entails, per the MTA’s press release:

  • Expanding current 4-car train length to 6-car trains: The consolidated track operation will also allow longer 6-car trains to enter the terminals, increasing total peak-hour capacity on trains by 20 percent
  • Centralizing the three-track operation to two tracks on one platform: This will make it easier for customers to identify and get to the next arriving train
  • Reconfiguring the current operation from three tracks on a curve to two straight tracks: This will eliminate large platform gaps, making the shuttle fully accessible for mobility-impaired customers, including wheelchair users, and increasing overall platform safety
  • Replacing the current signal system, which dates back to the 1930s, with new modern signals
  • Upgrading the terminal’s electrical infrastructure and adding new crew facilities

It’s not clear though if this is a true modernization effort, leading to a fully automated shuttle, and the six-car configuration could lead to two-person train operations along 42nd Street. It’s also not clear what the reduction from three tracks to two will do to train frequency, but considering short run times, any change in the number of trains per hour should be minimal. The reconfigured track layout will reduce delays on the Times Square side, and the MTA promises a 20% increase in capacity.

The Grand Central terminal will feature one of the largest platforms in the entire subway system.

They key to both ends of this project though are the reconfigured platforms. Track 2 met its demise back in 1918, and now Track 3 will be covered over. At Grand Central, the new platform, according to the MTA, will be one of the largest in the entire system. At Times Square, the trains on Track 1 will no longer open toward the IRT and BMT complex, and the new platform will be 28 feet wide.

The MTA doesn’t plan to shelve Shuttle service while this project unfolds, but the agency warns of “a few extra minutes of travel time” during a.m. and p.m. peaks. At some point, after all, one the Shuttle tracks will be out of service long before the project wraps. Still, it’s about time — the MTA has been talking about this project, as I mentioned, for years.

A diagram of the new track configuration at Grand Central.

It is worth at least a short aside on the value of this project. It’s not immediately clear how much this project will cost. In the capital dashboard, costs are a shade under $240 million for ADA accessibility upgrades and around $30 million for the station reconfiguration work, but the press release did not include a price tag. The MTA states that over 100,000 riders per day take the Shuttle, and the train alleviates pressure on the 7 — which would be unable to pick up most of the slack. Short of turning 42nd St. in a true transitway — Vision42, anyone? — the Shuttle work is required for ADA compliance purposes and to streamline operations.

Ultimately, though, the Franklin Ave. Shuttle is better, and I will stand by that opinion.

Categories : Manhattan
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Transportation Alternatives has expanded on the RPA’s modest call for a pedestrianized few blocks of 14th St.

There’s been a low-level drumbeat, sometimes crescendoing, over the past decade regarding Manhattan’s river-to-river cross streets. Vision42, an on-again/off again advocacy group, has long pushed for a car-free 42nd Street devoted to light rail and people, and a plan put forward by the Bloomberg Administration and doomed by recalcitrant Community Boards would have converted 34th St. into a Transitway primarily for the benefit of tens of thousands of daily bus riders who use this popular corridor. Now, the looming L train shutdown may give advocacy groups and the city a third bite at the crosstown apple.

Although the L train shutdown isn’t likely to begin before 2019, the MTA has to announce its plans later this year, and various groups are jockeying for a voice at the table. Although I think the effects of the shutdown have been blown out of proportion, the city’s and MTA’s options for dealing with the shutdown are both obvious and limited, as I explored in January. I offered then a seven-point plan to address the shutdown including expanding all nearby and connecting subway service while turning the Williamsburg Bridge into a bus-only route, and now Transportation Alternatives has taken this idea one step further. Building on a proposal from the RPA, the TA wants 14th St., from river to river, to be a peopleway, both during the L train shutdown and after.

The TA held a launch event for this idea last night after issuing a release with the general outline of the plan last week. Here is their thinking:

Right now, approximately 50,000 people use the L train every day within Manhattan alone. In 2015, average weekday bus ridership on the M14 line was 32,868 commuters. Given that the M14 will not be able to meet the demand resulting from an L train shutdown, we need to transform 14th Street into a PeopleWay, a public transit corridor that maximizes bus ridership and facilitates an increase in biking and walking to accommodate stranded weekday commuters.

Private motor vehicle trips are the least efficient form of travel in terms of capacity. The City would not be able to cover the loss of the L train with car trips without tearing down buildings to create additional street space. Sidewalks, protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes carry 15 times as many people as lanes for private cars. A combination of two-way protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes and expanded sidewalks could double the corridor’s current capacity, serving up to 24,500 people per hour or more than 500,000 people per day, according to figures from NACTO.

The Regional Plan Association has proposed closing 14th Street to private cars between Irving Place and Sixth Avenue, with expanded bus service. We share the vision that the City should turn the entire 14th Street corridor into a “PeopleWay,” replacing existing private vehicle traffic and suspended subway travel with bus rapid transit, bikeways, and more sidewalk space. We believe that the City should not only create this PeopleWay to meet the challenges of the L train shutdown, but also make it permanent as part of the effort to create a more sustainable and efficient transportation system for New York City’s future.

The RPA’s plan is far too modest, and it’s obvious the problems that would arise by closing just an avenue and a half to cars. But a river-to-river repurposing of 14th St. during the L train shutdown, as the TA has proposed, would be truly transformative. Buses would run frequently and smoothly along the path of the L train, and the MTA and DOT could reconfigure peak-hour routes off of the Williamsburg Bridge and up or down 1st or 2nd Avenues to provide a busway from Brooklyn as well.

It’s no small task to implement an idea like this. Residents concerned primarily with door-to-door private car access who suddenly forget how to walk a block or two have been loud, vocal opponents of these types of ideas, but at some point before 2019, the city is going to have to do something to address the mobility challenges and L train shutdown will bring. A Peopleway is a prime opportunity to show this idea — handing city streets over to transit and pedestrians and bikers — can not only work but be very successful. Business owners along the route who recognize that their customers walk and use transit are on board. Now it’s up to the city to join the plan. If, or when, it works, the Peopleway is an idea that could just stick around for a while.

Categories : Manhattan
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The Doughnuttery is one of 39 businesses in Columbus Circle's new TurnStyle market. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The Doughnuttery is one of 39 businesses in Columbus Circle’s new TurnStyle market. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As a new experiment in underground retail space opened on Tuesday, a question I never really thought I would ask crossed my mind: Will New Yorkers stop in the subway to buy artisanal mini doughnuts? It’s very much a question of the moment, but with Goldman Sachs fronting over $11 million for Columbus Circle’s TurnStyle, the first privatized retail concourse in the subway system, there is a lot riding on the answer.

TurnStyle has been in the works for years. It’s the brainchild of Susan Fine, a principal at OasesRE who has overseen the rebirth of retail spaces in both Grand Central and Rockefeller Circle, and it was originally supposed to open last year. But time is a fleeting concept when it comes to MTA projects, and TurnStyle, a 30,000 square foot market outside of fare control and underneath 8th Ave. from 57th St. to around 59th St., opened yesterday.

Before the renovation to the Columbus Circle, this passageway was a bit forlorn with a few uninspiring shops and empty spaces. The MTA booted everyone out seven years ago, and now, after a $14.5 million private investment that included a $8.7 million construction loan and a $3.6 million equity investment from Goldman Sachs, the space reopened with a veritable New York 2016 feel. Whether you find that to be a positive or a negative is an inherently personal conclusion.

The subway entrances on 57th St. were decked out in orange for TurnStyle's debut. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The subway entrances on 57th St. were decked out in orange for TurnStyle’s debut. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

So what is this thing called TurnStyle anyway? It has a cute name and 39 retail spaces, including 20 that the company is calling “gourmet eateries.” It features takeout windows, like the doughtnut shop, and sit-down joints, ranging from sushi to pizza to crepes to grilled cheese. Eater has a full rundown of the food spaces. There are retail and pop-up spots that included a clothing boutique and a hat store, and of course, there’s a Starbucks, a florist and a wine shop for when you need to grab that bouquet and a bottle on the way to the D train.

“We bring choice, convenience and modern, clean design to the 90,000 daily commuters who use this Midtown hub,” Fine said. “TurnStyle is leading the movement to make urban public space more dynamic and engaging. Our vision was to reimagine the subway experience by bringing Main Street underground, and make TurnStyle a destination in its own right and become a new part of the fabric of this neighborhood.”

The question is: Will it work? It helps that Columbus Circle is the seventh busiest subway stop in the city with 23.3 million entries last year. Located at a popular spot for workers, residents and tourists, the built-in audience is tremendous. Plus, the spot looks good. With better lighting and fixtures, it’s brighter and cleaner with colorful tiles and digital signs. Even those subway riders who didn’t know about it stopped to note the environment last night. It could be a model for other underused open spaces in the subway — so long as these spaces can attract the right passenger volume.

Colorful tiles and brighter lights lend TurnStyle a more welcoming air than the typical subway stop. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Colorful tiles and brighter lights lend TurnStyle a more welcoming air than the typical subway stop. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

It’s possible then that TurnStyle works only because of where it is. It’s likely a model that could be implemented to great success in the concourse underneath 8th Ave. at 42nd St. and perhaps in a few other closed off areas of the subway (such as the passageway under 6th Ave. in the upper 30s or between 7th and 8th Avenues underneath 14th Street). It’s unlikely to work in, say, a G train station with wide and empty mezzanines because the foot traffic isn’t there.

But for now, it’s a novelty and a well executed one at that. The MTA profits off of the rent, and Fine and her partners draw in revenue as well. It may not be an all-encompassing solution to the dreariness of everyday subway riding, but it’s a brighter spot in one corner of the New York City subway system.

Categories : Manhattan
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Upper East Siders stalled this project for four years over the location of one entrance.

A whole bunch of years ago, back in late 2011, I covered sort of an ugly story concerning Upper East Side residents who lived on East 69th St. and a classist and racist reaction to a plan to build a new entrances to the perennially overcrowded 68th St. stop on the 6 train. This plan is now back in the news, and although 68th St. will get its additional entrances and ADA-compliant accessibility, the NIMBYs have seemingly won and at a cost to the MTA — and taxpayers — to boot.

Let’s take a quick trip back to late 2011. It was in October that the MTA announced plans to build two entrances at 69th St. — one facing toward Lexington and the other facing down 69th St. The latter did not go over well with some residents who said the increased foot traffic would “ruin the fabric of the neighborhood.” As another resident said, “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.”

A few months later, those same residents dug in and threatened legal action. They talked about the “pristine nature” of East 69th St. and the “bucolic” street that would be ruined by a new subway entrance. The dog whistles could not have been more deafening, but their tactics worked. It’s four years later and only now is the MTA getting ready to make the 6 train station accessible and with more entrances — but at a cost.

In last month’s MTA Board materials, the 68th St. station work resurfaced. By the MTA’s own admission, the project is four years late. Design work was supposed to be completed by April of 2012; instead, the agency expects to finish shortly. And why? In bureaucratic-speak, “this delay is due to additional time needed to address community concerns, raised by adjacent property owners at 69th Street regarding the location of the proposed street stair entrances.” In other words, NIMBYs have meant that thousands of subway riders — 68th St. sees 36,000 riders per weekday — have suffered through worse commutes for nearly half a decade.

The end result isn’t particularly comforting either. Here’s what the MTA had to say:

After extended negotiations, an agreement has been reached to place the stair entrance east of Lexington Avenue inside the Imperial House Apartments (between 68th Street and 69th Street). This entrance is in lieu of the street entrance at the Southeast corner of 69th Street and Lexington Avenue. The additional time is necessary to complete the property acquisition, environmental study, and additional design for the new work items.

The costs of this project have increased by around $8 million to approximately $65 million due to the MTA’s need to acquire property that belongs to the Imperial House Apartments. It’s also still not clear what the final scope will be as compared with the 2011 plans. DNA Info recently reported that the MTA could still pursue those plans, but MTA sources tell me the Imperial House plan is essentially the only way this project moves forward as East 69th St. residents will throw up substantial legal roadblocks otherwise. Construction may start later this year and end in 2020, well over three years after this project was supposed to wrap.

So did the NIMBYs win? I guess so. The project is more expensive and has been delayed, as MTA sources tell me, thanks to the back-and-forth between the agency and community groups. The scope will be reduced, and access to the station will be cut back by a half a block or so. It’s not nearly as encompassing as it was first proposed. But that’s what happens when a vocal minority of a community with resources bands together to fight something they see as intrusive. The rest of us suffer through worse transit options because of it.

Categories : Manhattan
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The L train shutdown will affect Manhattan riders too, but the MTA could tack on additional improvements during Sandy repairs. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

The L train shutdown will affect Manhattan riders too, but the MTA could tack on additional improvements during Sandy repairs. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

When it comes to crosstown subways, New York City isn’t particularly well-served by the current set-up. The E and M cut across 53rd St., and the Shuttle and 7 provide service across a portion of 42nd St. But no train provides nearly full-island coverage as the L train does. With five stops from 8th Ave. to 1st Ave. that provide connections to 14 subway routes (and every other Manhattan trunk line), the L is a lifeline for 14th St. and one that could disappear entirely if the MTA implements a full L train shutdown for Sandy repairs.

So far, in all the discussions over the L train shutdown, the focus has been on Brooklyn and rightly so. But the L train’s five stops in Manhattan are popular in their own right, and although riders have alternate routes that aren’t too far away, the end-to-end nature of the 14t St. stops means riders in Manhattan will run into problems too. Now, as the MTA inches closer to determining some sort of solution for the L train, we have a better sense of what a shutdown means for Manhattan as well.

The problem, ultimately, is one of access to yards. If the Canarsie Tubes are shut down completely, the MTA could consider 14th St. shuttle service in Manhattan, but with a major caveat: Trains would not be able to reach a yard. There are no access points from the L to any yards in Manhattan, and any problems in Manhattan would leave the line dead to rights. In The Wall Street Journal today, Andrew Tangel explores this problem. He writes:

A future shutdown of the L train’s East River tunnel for repairs has had Brooklyn residents and businesses on edge, but Manhattan could get its own transit headache. A full closure of the tunnel—and both of its tracks potentially for more than a year—could lead to a shutdown of the L train stops in Manhattan in addition to halting subway service under the East River, cutting off a key crosstown route…

The L doesn’t merge with other lines in Manhattan, meaning a full tunnel closure could prevent subway cars from getting to a yard in the East New York area of Brooklyn where they undergo maintenance, repairs if they break down, or routine inspections. “Those trains could then be trapped,” this person said. “It all depends on the construction schedule and the plan.”

…Business leaders worry that a tunnel shutdown could prevent customers from getting to popular nightlife and dining spots in places such as the Williamsburg area in north Brooklyn. “A full shutdown will cripple that entire part of Brooklyn,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. While closing down one direction of the tunnel at a time would let the MTA keep L trains running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, such a plan could sharply reduce service, transit experts said. The heavily used line’s capacity would drop by 75%, said Rich Barone, vice president for transportation at the Plan Association, a civic group focused on urban planning.

Although the MTA has not yet settled on a plan, their internal efforts seem to be focused around one of two solutions — successive single-tube shutdowns or a full line shutdown. The idea of seven years of inefficient repairs only on nights and weekends doesn’t have many proponents within the agency. As part of these efforts the agency will have to serve Manhattan riders as well as Brooklyn customers, and while I suggested a seven-layer solution to Brooklyn’s problems, we can add another layer for Manhattan. The 14th St. corridor should devote significant space to 24/7 bus lanes to serve those riders stranded by an L train shutdown.

As Tangel reports, the RPA is set to propose a dedicated right of way for buses along 14th St., and the opportunity that may arise due to the Sandy shutdown could give the city cover to see how a crosstown busway works. As you may recall, the previously proposed crosstown transitway 20 blocks to the north died a sad death at the hands of NIMBYs five years ago, and a 14th St. corridor could showcase how this idea should and can work in New York City. It is of course a silver lining to a disruptive cloud, but that L train storm is coming one way or another. Every option for a better solution during (and after) the shutdown should be on the table.

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Residents in some Upper West Side buildings are already bemoaning these short queue-jump lanes, a small part of the modest SBS-like improvements to the M86 unveiled Monday. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

In an alternate universe where New York City politicians and planners aren’t afraid to take risks, yesterday was a big day for the M86. In this alternate universe, after a short planning process, Transit’s second busiest crosstown route, averaging 24,000 weekday riders, saw massive upgrades as the city opted to close Central Park’s 86th transverse to cars during peak hours, install a signal prioritization system from river to river, ensure bus bulbs and dedicated lanes were in place and generally treat the M86 as worth being a crosstown route over 30 blocks north of the nearest cross-Manhattan subway line.

That’s not what happened. Instead, as part of the Mayor’s promise to call 20 routes “Select Bus Service” by some indeterminate time that was originally supposed to be the end of 2017, a bunch of politicians gathered on the West Side to celebrate the launch of the M86 SBS. After eight years of talking about it, the M86 got a pre-board fare system, multi-door boarding, a few queue jump lanes that are already drawing NIMBY complaints, those weirdly unappealing new forward signs that replaced the hallmark SBS flashing blue lights, and the promise of some bus bulbs.

As part of the upgrades, every politician representing both the Upper East and Upper West Sides sent out a statement of support as though these upgrades are worth multiple rounds of back-slapping. In a moment of utter hilarity considering its taking nearly a decade to get here and the bus route was still late by a few weeks, State Senator Adriano Espaillat thanked NYC DOT for “quickly completing this project” while Jim Clynes, chair of Manhattan’s CB 8, noted that M86 SBS will have “a subway feel.” That everyone felt the need to gather in the first place is telling.

What DOT and the MTA did with the M86 will represent massive improvements in travel time for crosstown bus riders. Dwell times — especially at key locations where the M86 intersects busy subway lines at Central Park West and Lexington Ave. — represented the single biggest challenge to speedy crosstown operations, and if the city isn’t willing to give buses dedicated road space during commuting peak hours, pre-board fare payment and multi-entrance boarding are low-hanging fruit that pay key dividends for those 24,000 daily riders.

But these improvements are run-of-the-mill upgrades that are viewed as best practices for local buses the world over. The MTA didn’t eliminate any M86 stops; the bus still makes two stops on the same block of 86th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. DOT didn’t reallocate street space except for some limited queue jump lanes that allow buses to get a hard start at red lights. So why the press conference?

When I posed this question earlier in the day, a few of my Twitter followers suggested, perhaps cynically but also accurately, that these improvements wouldn’t happen at all if politicians don’t have the opportunity to grab camera space while trumpeting them. Sadly, this is true, but on the flip side, I wondered if these improvements wouldn’t be treated as revolutionary if 15 politicians didn’t insist on showing up to press conferences or sending out statements every time the MTA and DOT implement on one bus line what other countries consider to be system-wide best practices. Every crosstown bus should feature a proof of payment that allows for multi-door boarding, and such a system should be implemented as soon as the fare payment kiosks are installed, not eight years after the first Community Board presentations.

Until we as a city and our politicians as our city leaders get over the need to have a press conference about something as mundane as a new fare payment system on one bus line and a few queue-jump lanes, we are doomed to watch our transit system die from a lack of Great Ideas and the will to implement them. Politicians should be asking “what took so long?” and “how soon can we get these improvements rolled out on the M79, M96 and M106?” rather than falling over themselves to congratulate the M86 for catching up with most of London’s regular bus service. Don’t slap a fancy name on these ops upgrades. Aim higher. Be better.

Categories : Buses, Manhattan
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The Grand Central subway's mezzanine level will see more space as columns are narrowed. (Via KPF)

The Grand Central subway’s mezzanine level will see more space as columns are narrowed. (Via KPF)

When last we checked in with plans to rezone Midtown East and build up a new tower across the street from Grand Central, we delved into the fancy renderings of the transit improvements. The carrot of $200 million in badly needed upgrades to the Lexington Ave. IRT stop at Grand Central is a hard one to resist, and I’ve been supporting this project from the get-go. As my office is now a few blocks away, I’ve seen the Modell’s empty out, and the building be prepared to be replaced.

Now, the effort is one step closer to reality as the city’s planning commission has approved the necessary rezoning. The whole project isn’t out of the woods yet as it heads to the full City Council, and the Council is sure to push for changes. But it seems more likely than not that we’ll get a tall building across from Grand Central and a far more pleasant subway experience thanks to it. More platform space, better passenger flow and easier access from street level all funded through developer contributions are all part of the deal.

Ryan Hutchins had more:

The biggest obstacle for the so-called Vanderbilt Corridor remains: Passage by the City Council, which is likely to push developer SL Green Realty Corp. to alter its plans for a 1,400-foot-tall commercial skyscraper…While de Blasio’s [rezoning] pitch has not met fierce resistance from community board members and local elected officials, it has been repeatedly attacked by the relatively unknown owner of Grand Central Terminal, Andrew Penson.

His worry? That the rezoning, which will allow developers to fund public improvements in exchange for permission to construct bigger buildings, would devalue the air rights above the landmarked terminal. For example, SL Green would receive additional floor area for its tower, One Vanderbilt, by making about $210 million in improvements in and around Grand Central.

…Specifically at issue, [Council member Dan Garodnick] said, will be whether the $210 million in work SL Green has committed to is enough to warrant the bonus the company will receive. “We just have to throw that onto the scale against a 30 F.A.R. building,” Garodnick said.

To me, this is a potential model for future transit improvements, and the City Council shouldn’t ignore this reality. For the MTA, it’s a new model that encourages public-private partnerships and allows the MTA to fund work it wouldn’t otherwise have the money to perform. Especially at Grand Central — the second busiest station in the system — the dollars will have an immediate impact on a problematic customer experience.

We’ll know soon enough what the future holds for this project, but after Community Board approval and a planning commission okay, it’s likely to pass the City Council in some form or another. The station improvements alone will be a welcome element.

Categories : Manhattan
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Cortlandt St., seen here on September 28, 2001, is still a few years away from reopening. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit)

It’s hard to believe, but an entire generation of New Yorkers have come of age or come to a city without a Cortlandt St. subway station on the 1 train. For decades, Cortlandt St. fed Radio Row and then served as the West Side’s best access point to the World Trade Center. The station, though, was destroyed on September 11, 2001 and, as work has consumed Lower Manhattan over the past 14 years, it has remained closed since then. Based on recent MTA documents, it may still be a few years yet before the station reopens.

In this month’s Board materials, the immediate fate of the Cortlandt St. station makes an appearance, and no, the MTA isn’t considering keeping it closed. As buildings grow at the World Trade Center site, the 1 train’s pass through Lower Manhattan remains a key access point for thousands of West Side and Staten Island commuters who will need transit service to their offices.

The news concerns the MTA’s assumptions of a Port Authority contract for work at Cortlandt St. The details of the politicking are rather mundane. Essentially, Cortland St. had to remain closed while the Port Authority rebuild the Ground Zero site, but the MTA and Port Authority have struggled to coordinate work and finalize cost-sharing arrangements for the repair of the subway stop. A few years ago, the Port Authority issued an RFP a key construction contract with the work split into two phases. Judlau won the bid, but it’s been slow going.

Phase 1 was the easier part. It was a $20 million for structural and demolition work, and it’s nearly complete. Phase 2 was supposed to be around $69 million, and it included a variety of systems work and a complete station fit-out. Work hasn’t begun, and now the MTA is going to assume it from the Port Authority with an expanded scope, more dollars and a longer timeline. The Board’s Transit Committee will vote tomorrow.

In fiscal terms, the MTA will increase the Phase 2 work to a total of $100 million; the money is accounted for in the 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 capital plans. The bad news is that this contract is set to last 36 months now. It’s possible the station could be back in revenue service before Phase 2 wraps, but it seems likely that Cortlandt St. will remain closed for the time being. All in, the station won’t reopen until over 15 years after 9/11. For such a key link to the World Trade Center site, that’s a big gap in service that won’t be restored yet.

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I’ve tinkered with the site a little today to bring some before and after images of the planned transit upgrades for the One Vanderbilt development. For background on the $200 million in expansion word SL Green is prepared to spend, make sure you check out my morning post first, and then come back here for some good ol’ before-and-after fun. All images in this post are courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox.

These new street entrances will bring straphangers to and from the Shuttle platform along East 42nd Street.

By narrowing columns and staircases as well as installing a new fare control area, developers and the MTA hope to improve passenger circulation in the cramped IRT mezzanine above the 4, 5 and 6 platforms at Grand Central.

Narrowing columns will also create more space for subway riders waiting on the IRT platforms and computer renderings that look like Robert de Niro alike.

Opening up unused mezzanine space will improve congested conditions.

A new entrance from the Shuttle platform will provide direct access to One Vanderbilt for those entering the building.

Categories : Manhattan
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