Archive for Manhattan
Two minor transit stories surfaced today that warrant a quick mention. Toward the end of his tenure as MTA CEO and Chairman, Joe Lhota announced a plan to reduce the number of MTA Board meetings per year. Lhota proposed eight meetings and two public forums instead of 11 monthly meetings. This move lasted all of seven months as the MTA this week will vote on a plan to revert to its long-standing tradition of monthly meetings.
The Times first reported this story earlier today, and the details are buried in the Governance Committee materials [pdf]. Essentially, the change hasn’t fit in with operating procedures at the MTA. Data is gathered monthly even if it is reported to the Board only every six or seven weeks, and a long gap between meetings can slow down emergency appropriates and approvals needed to respond quickly to damage caused from, say, a major hurricane. Whether this is a case of a lumbering bureaucracy failing to adapt to a new normal or a clear sign that monthly meetings are required is up for debate.
In other news, renovations at two Northern Manhattan subway stops have begun, DNA Info reported. On its own, this isn’t exactly a pressing concern, but these aren’t normal stops. Back in 2009, a section of the ceiling at 181st St. fell on the tracks, and a subsequent inspection revealed structural concerns with the tiling at that station and 168th St. It’s stunningly taken nearly four years to get long-term repairs started.
The work will cost $42 million, and the MTA anticipates a completion time of 29 months. During the next two a half years, the 1 train will not run north of 137th St. for 13 weekends and 40 overnights. This is a prime example of a location where a total line shutdown would result in faster work, but many commuters north of Dyckman St. have no nearby alternate subway service.
For a few days now, I’ve been mulling over the debacle that has become 125th Street. Once planned to be Manhattan’s next crosstown Select Bus Service corridor with the M60 tabbed for off-board fare payment, express service and a dedicated travel lane, 125th St. fell the way of the 34th St. Transitway. Community opposition from an entrenched and vocal minority killed a project that would have benefited 32,000 travelers per day. I’d like to know how, why and what we can learn from the latest transit setback.
When DOT and the MTA announced on Tuesday their decision to shelve the Select Bus Service upgrades for the M60, they laid the blame on the area’s political bodies. “There are still a number of concerns about the project from the local Community Boards and elected officials that we have not been able to resolve to date,” the agencies said in a statement. “We do hope to have a continued dialogue with community stakeholders about ways that we can continue to improve bus speed and service, traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian safety along 125th Street. In the short term, we plan to work with the Community Boards to explore whether any parking or traffic improvements discussed during the SBS outreach process can improve 125th Street for all users.”
Theirs is a pretty damning position to take for two agencies that needs the support of Community Boards and elected officials, but it’s not an incorrect one. Senator Bill Perkins threw up nothing but obstacles, and Community Boards were more concerned with losing a few parking spaces and left-turn lanes than they were with the thousands who would benefit from smoother, faster bus rides. Minority obstructionism had trumped the needs of the majority yet again.
In the intervening days, various news outlets have tried to pinpoint the way this deal went sour. Responding to Perkins’ claim that the process was moving too fast, Streetsblog established a project timeline. WE ACT for Environmental Justice started calling for bus improvements in late 2011, and DOT and the MTA launched the project last September. For six months, the Community Advisory Committee held meetings and worked to develop plans for the bus corridor, but in March, Perkins threw his first fit. He claimed DOT had ignored public input but couldn’t cite specifics. In May, he held an emergency public meeting where the MTA and DOT produced plans designed to assuage his concerns, and in July, the bus lane dies.
Over the past 36 hours, Perkins has tried to spint the DOT/MTA decision every which way he can. In an interview with amNew York, he grew belligerent. “Not only is it premature,” he said of the move, “it’s a smack in the face of the community. We didn’t get the kind of process for input that was genuine and folks were feeling a little anxious about the project moving quickly without taking into consideration some of the concerns they had.”
The process. It’s all about the process. It was the process that the Community Boards objected to as well.
If Perkins carries some of the blame, so too do the Community Boards. They refused to vote for the project and seemed more concerned with parking — empty space for idle vehicles — than for bus improvements. Opponents have claimed that the M60 is a treasure for Laguardia riders that doesn’t take into account community needs, but 90 percent of bus riders aren’t going to the airport. (Many others are Harlem residents who use the bus to commute to work at Laguardia.)
Yesterday, Ted Mann delved into the Community Board opposition with a piece that focused on tangential complaints. CB 11 refused to support the M60 SBS route because the MTA refused to heed their complaints about another bus line. Mann gets to the meat of the issue:
One issue with the M35 stop is that it led to crowding at the already-busy intersection, the board said. But there’s another problem: the people who ride that bus, according to records of community meetings compiled by the DOT.
Neighbors have complained about psychiatric patients and homeless people traveling to the neighborhood via the M35 from facilities on Ward’s Island, records from a September 2012 public workshop led by DOT to plan bus improvements show.
“Patrons of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, and the Charles Gay and Clarke Thomas homeless facilities on Wards Island disembark the M35 bus at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue,” a summary of the workshop says. “They hang around the immediate vicinity all day, creating excessive congestion. They panhandle and disturb the public at this busy intersection.”
CB 11 members tried to claim their concerns were about crowding at the intersection, but Mann’s reporting betrays their cover-up. The MTA too dismissed the complaints about the M35 as unrelated to the 125th St. SBS corridor. “In deference to concerns from Community Board 11, NYC Transit has weighed the pros and cons of both moving the bus stop and rerouting the bus route,” an agency spokesperson said to The Journal. “All the options studied present operational issues and are inferior to the current M35 route and stop configuration.”
So CB 11, it seems, also did not like the process. All of this talk about process leads me to think that the process isn’t actually the problem. Rather, stakeholders can blame “the process” when things don’t go their way. In fact, “the process” is actually just a code word for “we didn’t get what we want so we’re going through an obstructionist fit instead.” We’ve seen it on 34th St.; we’ve seen it with Citi Bikes; we’ve seen it with a subway to Laguardia; and we’re seeing it with a bus route on 125th St.
Eventually, the needs of the many have to trump over the needs of a select powerful few. It’s democratic to give community members outlets through public meetings, elected officials and Community Boards, but it’s also democratic to realize on both sides of the table what a collective sacrifice may be and what measures will improve a neighborhood. Now, 32,000 riders will continue to take a bus that’s slower than walking because Community Board members held the bus route hostage over an unrelated issue and politicians cannot come to grips with the idea of losing a few parking spaces along a busy two-way travel corridor. It’s not actually the process that’s the problem.
Entrenched NIMBY interests have won again. Despite the fact that it can be faster to walk along 125th St. than it is to take the bus, despite the fact that 32,000 neighborhood residents, commuters trying to reach their jobs in Queens and even some airport-bound travelers would benefit, intense opposition from Senator Bill Perkins and a few drivers worried about a handful of lost parking spots has led the MTA and DOT to shelve plans for Select Bus Service on the M60 and a dedicated bus lane along 125th St.
In a statement provided to me a few minutes ago, the MTA had the following to say:
There are still a number of concerns about the project from the local Community Boards and elected officials that we have not been able to resolve to date. As a result, NYCDOT and MTA New York City Transit have decided not to proceed with the M60 Select Bus Service project at this time. We do hope to have a continued dialogue with community stakeholders about ways that we can continue to improve bus speed and service, traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian safety along 125th Street. In the short term, we plan to work with the Community Boards to explore whether any parking or traffic improvements discussed during the SBS outreach process can improve 125th Street for all users.
This decision stems from months of protest from the Community Board and Senator Bill Perkins’ office over these Select Bus Route plans. This powerful stakeholders who are not representative of the community’s voices or needs claim that dedicated a lane to buses on 125th St. isn’t possible because too many parking spots would be removed and too many others would become metered. These voices have argued that implementing metered parking along a small section of 125th St. would make parking unaffordable to public housing residents (who can otherwise afford to own a car in Manhattan anyway). And they’re annoyed at the inconveniences turn limits would place on drivers.
Even after DOT scaled back plans for the bus lane to just a few of the more congested avenues and did away with the metered parking and turn restrictions, Perkins and the Community Board were not satisfied. And so 32,000 New Yorkers who need the M60 but find that it runs slower than 3 — three! — miles per hour are left holding nothing. The people who can’t afford faster transportation get shafted.
If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn’t be so upset, but it isn’t. Across the city, politicians and Community Boards are barriers to progress on transit expansion. They object to bus lanes that benefit tens or hundreds of thousands because a few people may lose direct curbside access to their buildings or may have to work harder to find a free parking spot in congested neighborhoods. The message is clear: If you need the bus, the city and its politicians and community representatives do not care about you. Keep pressuring DOT for upgrades; vote out Senator Perkins. Something has to change.
Can you believe there exists a State Senator who thinks NYC DOT moves too quickly in implementing Select Bus Service improvements? Can you believe there is yet another Manhattan community intent on suffering through crippling crosstown traffic rather than enjoy a realignment of street lanes that would better prioritize transit? In the public farce of New York City, you better believe it.
This time, the corridor in question is the M60 via 125th St. Ostensibly a bus route that feeds Laguardia Airport, most of the M60 ridership uses the bus as a crosstown connection along 125th St. while some use it to access Astoria and Queens. A small portion — some travelers, some airport employees — use it to reach Laguardia. It is absurdly slow as it inches along the congested corridor at 2.7 miles per hour and spend approximately 60 percent of the time at a standstill.
To better accommodate the bus, DOT has proposed a series of changes. Streetsblog summed them up in March:
DOT is proposing off-board fare collection to speed bus boarding, transit signal priority to hold green lights for buses, and converting the M60 to a Select Bus Service route serving six stops along 125th Street. A one-mile stretch of 125th Street between Morningside and Third Avenues would be remade with camera-enforced, offset bus lanes, located between the parking lane and the general travel lane, much like the set-up that has significantly improved bus speeds on First and Second Avenues.
Along with the reduction of general travel lanes in each direction from two to one, DOT will introduce left-turn restrictions at most intersections between Morningside and Third Avenues. Left turns would still be permitted at Madison Avenue, to allow access to the bridge across the Harlem River.
DOT also proposed adding parking meters on 125th Street west of Morningside Avenue and east of Fifth Avenue. Between St. Nicholas Avenue and Lenox Avenue, the agency is also considering extending meter hours until 10 p.m. Putting a price on the curb speeds buses because it cuts down on double-parking and cruising for open parking spots.
It all sounds sensible and progressive — which, apparently, is cause for concern. In a letter to DOT, State Senator Bill Perkins urged the agency to “slow down.” (It’s hard to imagine DOT moving any slower on SBS rollouts while still making forward progress, but I digress.)
Despite community meetings and a public comment period, some people don’t like the plan, and they have Perksin’ ear. These folks argue that implementing metered parking along a small section of 125th St. would make parking unaffordable to public housing residents (who can otherwise afford to own a car in Manhattan anyway). And they’re annoyed at the inconveniences turn limits would place on drivers.
DOT has since revised the plan. The bus lane will run only from Lenox Avenue to Third Avenue. The turn limits will be rescinded, and no parking meters will be implemented along the corridor. Yet again there is no balance between the experts and the amateurs as another busy street has decided it prefers the congested status quo to a smoother ride for all.
DNA Info spoke to one person — Detta Ahl — who understood. “It was an holistic approach that would have made things safer for pedestrians and transit users. It’s not just people using the M60 that would have benefited,” she said. If only everyone else would understand as well, then, we wouldn’t have to suffer through sub-par bus service from Manhattan to its closest airport.
When last we checked in on the Sandy-ravaged South Ferry station, three months had elapsed since the storm, and the new southern terminal of the 1 train was in ruins. Work had yet to begin in earnest on the station reconstruction, and the photos were a stark reminder of the destructive power of salt water. Nearly every inch of the new station had been touched by the storm surge, and no one seemed to know when conditions would return to normal.
On the six-month anniversary of the storm, NBC News has again ventured underground to check out the conditions below the surface. Their piece — aimed at a national audience — rehashes a familiar story with with some small updates. Carlo Dellaverson offers up a tale of a station that needs to be rebuild nearly from scratch. “It’s a complete gut job,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. “Every component of the station needs to be replaced.”
The NBC producer has more:
As communities rebuild and residents return to their homes, dozens of workers at the South Ferry station are taking the very first steps toward getting the station back online, starting with scrubbing mold from virtually every surface. Before the storm, 30,000 people passed through South Ferry each day, shuttling between Staten Island and Manhattan and around the labyrinthine streets of New York’s financial district.
Now, the stillness of the station is unsettling. The 90-foot platform sits empty, with strings of construction bulbs lighting two tracks and tunnel walls still covered with debris and dirt from the storm. Drywall and tiles have been ripped up by construction workers to expose the film of mold that quickly built up in the dark, humid space after the storm hit six months ago. The air is thick and pungent.
But the greatest damage inflicted from Sandy is not visible. The salty ocean water that flooded the station eighty feet below street level corroded nearly every piece of equipment in the space, adding considerably to the cost of recovery. Over 700 relay components – devices critical to the signaling systems of trains – were destroyed. A separate room of signaling equipment at the end of the platform flooded to the ceiling and is now a “complete loss,” said Joseph Leader, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chief maintenance officer, who is overseeing the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the station.
The MTA has attached a $600 million price tag to the reconstruction efforts, but details on the timing and process are still being hashed out. When push comes to shove, the agency is likely to strip the station down to a bare cavern and start the construction process all over again. Engineers will have to figure out how to harden the station to protect against future storms and future storm surges, and straphangers will have to face the reality of the loop station for a few years at least.
For now, the top priority is mold abatement. When I was there in January, the smell of the water-logged station was pervasive. Soggy ceiling tiles marred crew rooms and fried computer equipment sat where the storm waters had deposited it. The recovery and rebuild will be substantial, and when it’s all over, the second round of $600 million spent at South Ferry should last longer than the first. Otherwise, we’ll just keep paying for this station with tax-payer dollars storm after storm after storm.
With the reopening of South Ferry set for tomorrow morning at 5 a.m., the MTA has released a seven-minute video of B-roll footage from the loop station. Take a trip through the tunnels, watch gap-fillers in action and enjoy the pan through the gussied-up station. Meanwhile, for a trip down memory lane, the last time we had video from South Ferry, it looked like a bunch of scenes out of a disaster movie.
The 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station will reopen at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning, the MTA announced this afternoon. The loop will operate for the foreseeable future while the newer two-track South Ferry terminal undergoes extensive repairs following its destruction at the floodwaters from Sandy’s storm surge. Those repairs should take a few years and will cost around $600 million according to estimates.
The reopening of the old loop marks the first time the MTA has closed a station only to reopen it later, but the agency did make a few key improvements. By removing a wall and building out an additional passageway, the connection between the R at Whitehall St. and the 1 at South Ferry remains in place. (I’m not sure, however, how useful such a transfer truly is.) However, only the first five cars at South Ferry will open at the curved station, and station egress points are limited. Still, just over five months after Sandy washed away the nearest subway station to the Staten Island Ferry, a temporary, imperfect solution is better than no service at all.
In a few days — some indeterminate time next week — the MTA will recommission an old station when the 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station reopens. With a new connection to the R train at Whitehall and some restored mosaic work, the reopened southern terminal will be just good enough, if far from perfect.
Late yesterday, the agency posted a series of photos ahead of next week’s reopening. There is still no set date for the first train to service South Ferry, but it’s going to arrive as April does. Staten Island Ferry customers will rejoice, but the station will come with warts and all. It’s still just a five-car loop; it still isn’t ADA-compliant; it still features narrow platforms and few egress points. Yet, a subway station is a subway station is a subway station, and with the new South Ferry terminal years away from restoration, reactivating the loop is a welcome move.
So what exactly goes into restoring a subway station not in service for nearly four years? From the mundane to the intricate, the MTA offered up a checklist. Cleaning, of course, is top on the list as is painting and installing new signage, electricity, better lighting and a PA system. The MTA had to refurbish the gap fillers, repair wall tiles, build a new staircase and entryway, repair some escalators and reinstate fare control and the station entrance. It’s quite the laundry list of tasks, and it all happened within five months of Sandy.
So as I ponder these photos and the station virtually on the eve of its reopening, I have to wonder why everything else in the subway system seems to take so long. With right pressure from Board members and politicians, the MTA reconstructed South Ferry in a few months. Everything else seems to take forever.
We know the old South Ferry loop is set to reopen in April, and all signs are pointing to this impending recommissioning. While exiting at Times Square this afternoon, I spotted the above sign hanging on the wall. It’s a familiar one to riders of the 1 train, and it serves as a reminder that we’re getting back an old station with all of its warts.
This sign will soon be going up in 1 trains across the city, and although it has a few more languages and some snazzy colors at the top, it’s a throwback to the days before the new South Ferry terminal opened. There’s still no official timeline on the when the new station will be rebuilt and rehabilitated, but at least ferry-bound riders and those trying to reach Battery Park will have convenient West Side subway service starting in just a few weeks.
To provide better train service to Staten Island Ferry-bound customers, the MTA will recommission the 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today. The station — the first ever to be shuttered and then reopened — will require around $2 million worth of work and will see revenue service begin again during the first week in April.
According to Cuomo’s office — which has now begun to take credit for every bit of good news coming out of the MTA — reactivating the old loop will help ease commutes for more than 10,000 riders while allaying some of the crowding that has plagued the 4 and 5 trains in Sandy’s aftermath. Despite this move, the MTA will not drop its $600 million to reconstruct and harden the new South Ferry terminal.
“The MTA has a long, tough job ahead as it tackles the immense job of virtually rebuilding the new South Ferry terminal station that was flooded 80 feet deep during Superstorm Sandy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “For the extended period of time it will take for this work to be completed, we are returning the old station in the complex to service, making travel easier and more convenient for Staten Islanders and others who work and visit this area.”
According to Cuomo, it will take the MTA approximately two years to restore the new South Ferry station, and Staten Island politicians and MTA Board reps called upon the agency to do something sooner. Over the past few weeks, crews have been working around the clock in the old station, and a recent video clearly showed a station nearing recommissioning.
“As MTA New York City Transit assessed the extent of damage to the new South Ferry station, it became clear that the time necessary to repair it would be too long a period to deny our customers a direct link to lower Manhattan,” MTA Interim Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast said. “We are working to ensure that all elements and systems are fully operational, safe and reliable before restoring service to the old station, but our primary goal remains restoring the new South Ferry station as soon as possible.”
To reopen the old station, the MTA built a new connection between the new mezzanine and the old loop station, thus maintaining the transfer between the 1 and the R at Whilehall St. Crews also had to refurbish the platform edge extenders and reinstall electrical feeds, closed-circuit television systems to monitor the platform, customer assistance intercoms, security cameras and radio communications in the dispatcher’s office. Remaining work includes rehabbing the fare control area and restoring and repainting lighting in the station and adjacent tunnels.
Furthermore, the problems with the old loop station have not been resolved. Doors in only the first five cars will open at South Ferry, and gap fillers will be used to bridge the space between the car doors and the platform. Additionally, the station is rather narrow and was not, in 2009 when it closed, ADA accessible. It’s better though than a two-year wait.
Considering the MTA’s turnaround time on this project, it’s something to see what the MTA and its contractors can accomplish in short order with the right amount of political pressure. Six months after Sandy and less than four months after officials starting making noises about it, the South Ferry station will be reopened after a prolonged period of time without train service. Now if only they could do something about that price tag for work at the new station.