020315ferrymap

Over the past few years, I’ve been harsh on politicians who have opted to trumpet proposals for ferry service as a cure-all for the city’s congested transit networks, and Mayor de Blasio’s so-called five-borough ferry service was no exception. He unveiled the idea during his State of the City speech last week, and I tore it apart on Thursday.

Simply put, the mayor’s proposal is an expensive way to subsidize travel for the few people who both live and work along the city’s waterfronts, and most of those people have chosen to live in luxury housing on the water front knowing commutes may take a little longer. With the exception of the Soundview and Red Hook ferries, the New Yorkers who need the most help — the middle and lower classes in transit-poor areas — are left out of the mayor’s idea, and it falls short as a solution.

But if we step back for a few minutes and ignore the way ferries cater to NIMBYs by leaving car lanes, parking spots and lengthy and disruptive heavy construction projects to the side, we may be able to save parts of the ferry proposal. It takes creativity and work, and it would take some rethinking of road space and transit prioritization. It also doesn’t overcome the fact that a ferry service that costs the same as a MetroCard swipe is subsidized to the tune of $15-$30 per rider, but it’s a start.

1. Integrated Fare. No matter how much money the city is willing to sink into the ferry system, they won’t get significant buy-in from residents who have to pay two fares. Those who are willing to use the ferry system to save time won’t be so keen on paying a $2.75 fare for the ferry and another for connecting modes of transit on the other side. This of course involves cooperation between the city and the MTA, and although the MTA has not embraced the ferry proposal or any integrated fare system, a free transfer between boat and bus or boat and subway would do wonders for ridership and mobility.

2. Integrated Surface Transit System. Ferries on their own aren’t that exciting if the way to get them involves walking and hoping that some other transit system serves the ferry terminal. Along with a ferry system, the mayor should have announced an extensive feeder bus system that delivers riders to ferries and then brings them to their destinations on the other end as well as expanded CitiBike access at ferry stations. The 34th St. Transitway and Vision42 remain the pinnacle of hopes dashed for river-to-river access, and both would do wonders for the mayor’s ferry system. Select Bus Service or BRT routes to and from ferry stops would be acceptable. CitiBikes, which admittedly implicate other issues of integrated costs and fare payment systems, should be readily available at ferry terminals as well. Instead, the mayor’s proposal didn’t even acknowledge that getting to a ferry terminal is just as important, if not more so, than the ferry system itself.

3. The Subsidies Are Too Damn High. As I mentioned, despite the attempts at saving the ferry system, someone needs to justify the subsidies. Considering who the likely riders are and where the routes run, the subsidies are even less palatable. Why must they be so high? What can the city do to bring them in line with at least express bus service, already the highest subsidized mode of transit within the five boroughs? Should we even accept high subsidies without further question?

Even trying to save the ferry proposal rings hollow simply because it’s not going to do much to solve the MTA’s capital budget woes, its constant signal problems or overcrowding on numerous lines. It’s not going to get high-speed service to neighborhoods that rely on local buses at best. It’s a nice thing to have for some people, but for most, it’s an afterthought and another proposal from another politician uninterested in tackling the harder questions relating to transit access and funding.

Comments (75)

I crashed early last night and slept for 10 hours. So these are a bit late. Travel safely. Stay warm.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, 2 service is suspended in both directions between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St. Free shuttle buses operate in two segments:

  • Nonstop between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St.
  • Local between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St, making station stops at 149 St-Grand Concourse, 145 St, 135 St, 125 St, 116 St, and 110 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, 3 service is suspended in both directions between Harlem-148 St and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses run between Harlem-148 St and 96 St. 2 trains make all 3 line station stops between 96 St and Franklin Av. 4 trains make all station stops between Franklin Av and New Lots Av.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, 4 service is extended to/from New Lots Av. 4 trains will run local in Brooklyn.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, February 8, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, February 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St.


From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, February 7, and Sunday, February 8, 5 service is suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 shuttle trains run all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St.


From 6:45 a.m. Saturday, February 7, to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, February 8, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Hunts Point Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, February 9, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro. Use EFNQ trains between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street S shuttle operates overnight. Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 7, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 8.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, A trains are suspended in both directions between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip 88 St and Rockaway Blvd.

  • For service to 88 St and Rockaway Blvd take the A to Aqueduct-North Conduit Av and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A.
  • For Service from these stations toward the Rockaways, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A.
  • A service operates between Inwood-207 St and Howard Beach/Far Rockaway.
  • Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 88 St, Rockaway Blvd, 104 St, and 111 St. Transfer between free shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, February 8, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, February 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, February 7, and Sunday, February 8, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St. C trains run every 15 minutes. Allow additional travel time.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, February 7 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 8, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.

  • For Service To 9 Av, Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 50 St, 55 St, 71 St, 79 St, 18 Av, 20 Av, Bay Pkwy, 25 Av, and Bay 50 St, take the Coney Island-bound D to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or Coney Island-Stillwell Av and transfer to a Manhattan-bound D train.
  • For Service From these stations, take a Manhattan-bound D train to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or 36 St and transfer to a Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D train.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express from 34 St-Penn Station to Canal St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Jamaica Center Parsons/Archer bound E trains skip 75 Av and Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, World Trade Center-bound E trains run local from Forest Hills-71 Av to Roosevelt Av.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, February 7 and 8, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Jamaica Center-Parsons Archer bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Forest Hills-71 Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip 75 Av, Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd.


From 9:45 p.m. Friday, February 6, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from 47-50 Sts/Rock Ctr to Roosevelt Av.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71 Av to Roosevelt Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Smith-9Sts to Neptune Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, L trains are suspended in both directions between 8 Av and 14 St-Union Sq. L service operates normal between 14 St-Union Sq and Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy. M14 buses provide alternate service.


From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, February 7, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, February 8, Q service is extended to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.


From 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. and 10:45 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, February 7; and from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 10:45 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, February 8, Forrest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Forrest Hills-71 Av.

42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 7, to 6:00 a.m. Monday, February 9, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (19)

020315ferrymap

Another year, another New York City politician jonesin’ for some panacea of citywide ferry service that won’t solve any problems. This time, the honors belong to our Mayor who, in his State of the City speech earlier this week, promised 13 bus rapid transit routes by the end of 2017 and six new ferry routes over the next few years. He later said on NY1, apparently without joking, that he feels the ferry service can alleviate subway crowds.

As far as ferries go, I’ve written about this topic more times than I care to revisit, but here we are. Politicians latch onto it because it’s easy. Adding ferry service doesn’t involve taking away an oh-so-precious lane of parking or — gasp! — driving and it doesn’t involve a multi-billion-dollar layout of cash that leads to disruptive and lengthy construction. It sounds good — because who doesn’t like boats? — and gets people talking because it’s different. Despite de Blasio’s claim, it won’t do one iota of good for subway service and doesn’t solve the intertwined issues of funding, congestion and reliability currently plaguing our aging transit network.

But let’s look at what de Blasio said. During his speech, he announced the idea: “Today, we announce that we’re launching a new citywide ferry service to be open for business in 2017. New ferry rides will be priced the same as a MetroCard fare, so ferries will be as affordable to everyday New Yorkers as our subways and buses. Residents of the Rockaways and Red Hook and Soundview will now be closer to the opportunities they need, and beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs.”

Later, his office released details on the funding plans. The map you can see above, and while the heavy lines demarcating preexisting service make the plan look more all-encompassing than it is, it’s stretching the boundaries of viable ferry service. de Blasio said the city will provide operating support, though the amount of subsidies aren’t yet clear, and will spend $55 million on capital commitments. The Coney Island-Stapleton-Wall St. route that will, on the leg between Brooklyn and Staten Island, attract approximately no riders wasn’t included in this cost projection.

As long-term readers know, I’m not a fan of this infatuation with ferries, and I’ll get into that in a minute. First, though, let’s stop to acknowledge that ferry service can be useful. It’s a complementary element of a robust transit network that can bridge awkward gaps. The service from Astoria Cove — a new development nearly a mile away from the subway — can bring residents who work at Manhattan’s East Side hospitals to their jobs. The service from Bay Ridge to Wall St. would be more useful with a stop at Industry City, but it too can solve a problem.

That said, no matter how many times politicians leap to embrace ferries, the same problems remain. It is, flat out, not a substitute for subway service and, because of the scale of ridership figures and planned routing, won’t help alleviate subway congestion. If it takes a few cars off the road, so much the better, but the mayor should be looking at high capacity solutions to the city’s mobility problems. Simply put, ferries aren’t the answer, and now, I’ll explain why.

1. Connectivity

A good transit network connects homes and offices. On a good night, I can leave work and be home in 30 minutes, and my ride is a zero- or one-transfer, one-fare journey. The utility of any transit network should be based on that concept, and the ferry system falls flat. It may be a nice way to travel, as many defenders have pointed out, but it doesn’t really connect people’s homes and jobs. At best, it serves those folks who live on the Brooklyn waterfront with their jobs at Wall St. which brings me to….

2. Poorly Placed Subsidies

It’s never cheap to operate a ferry network. In fact, the Rockaway ferry was running the city as much as $30 a passenger in subsidies. With the exception of the Soundview and Rockaway ferry proposals, the mayor’s routes by and large connect to areas of people who can afford waterfront housing and bring them to their high-paying jobs in Wall St. and Midtown. This reeks of a subsidy for people who don’t need subsidies. Is that how to solve concerns about middle class viability in New York City, as the mayor stressed, and mobility?

3. The Fare Structure

In effect, the fare issues are a subset of points 1 and 2. The mayor wants an affordable fare, which is a commendable goal, but he won’t be able to ensure one-fare rides or a transfer between ferries and subways and buses. The MTA hasn’t expressed any willingness to forego revenue for the sake of a city-run ferry network, and I don’t blame them. Thus, anyone trying to get from a ferry stop inland is looking at a two-fare ride, and few New Yorkers want to subject their wallets to a double dip like that.

4. The Rockaways, Again

A crazy part of this specific proposal is the Rockaway ferry route. For some reason, this has become a hot-button political issue in a neighborhood that de Blasio would love to see vote for him in 2017. Amusingly, though, the mayor canceled this very same Rockaway ferry route four months ago because it was too expensive and nobody rode it. What will change between now and 2017? Probably nothing except that the mayor will be up for reelection. Color me skeptical.

5. Ferries Aren’t A Solution

For $55 million in capital funds and, optimistically, $20-$30 million in annual operating costs, the city could do wonders for the bus network. Instead, de Blasio is spending his political capital on a system that likely won’t see daily ridership exceed that of 1 or 2 peak-hour subway trains. These routes — most of which don’t parallel subway lines and aren’t faster that the trains — won’t alleviate congestion as subway ridership continues to climb at steep rates. In fact, the ferry plans take away from a real debate on sustainable funding, political support for transit and high-capacity growth.

So there you have it: one thousand words on ferries at a time when literally no politician wants to tackle issues of cost control, congestion pricing or capital plans. That’s de Blasio’s New York for you.

Comments (126)

(Updated at 9:30 a.m.): Six people are dead and 15 injured after the deadliest accident in Metro-North history. Shortly after 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening, Metro-North train number 659 traveling north from Valhalla struck a black Jeep Cherokee that was, by some accounts, stuck or at least stopped in the at-grade crossing at Commerce St. near Kensico Cemetery. The driver of the car who was not in her vehicle at the time of the collision is among the dead as the force of the commuter rail pushed the Jeep nearly 10 train car-lenghts forward, and a fireball engulfed the train.

“This is a truly ugly and brutal sight,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference a few hours after the collision. The National Transportation Safety Board has already announced that it will investigate the accident, and the federal agency plans to review the MTA’s signaling and gate system at at-grade crossings.

I’m familiar with that intersection as I have family members buried in Kensico. It’s a very tight and blind curve heading north on Commerce St. into the intersection with both the Metro-North tracks and Taconic. For now, Metro-North and its investigators are not clear on the sequence of events, but Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino indicated that preliminary examinations indicate that the Jeep driver was likely at fault. One report notes that the crossing gate came down on top of the Jeep before the collision and that the driver exited her car to investigate what struck her car, apparently unbeknownst to her, a train barreled down.

The Times, meanwhile, has first-hand reports from the horrific scene:

Passengers were evacuated through the back of the train. About 400 of them were taken to a local rock-climbing gym for shelter, where buses were to take them to the next working station, said Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority. One passenger, Scott Miller, 45, said he was riding in the second car of the train when he heard a bang. “The train screeched to a halt, and you immediately started smelling smoke,” he said. “People started screaming, ‘Run to the back of the train,’ ” he said.

He grabbed his coat and bag and started walking down the aisle toward the back of the train with other worried passengers, he said. “It was kind of crazy,” he said. “You had firemen trying to bang open the doors. People were jumping out of the windows.”

A worker at a nearby gym, Michael McGuinn, 22, said he saw sparks flying from the front of the train and heard a huge crash. He said he saw the train braking and the car catching fire. “I knew immediately that it was a car and that it was going to be really bad,” Mr. McGuinn said. A short time later, he heard passengers moaning and trying to leave the train. “I just saw a lot of dazed and confused people,” he said. “They all looked shellshocked.”

For Metro-North, this is another in a series of recent fatal accidents. It’s their first since the December 2013, but that’s small consolation as the commuter rail’s safety practices have come under fire over the last few years. This one, at least, seems to have been outside the control of those driving the train, but serious questions about how the third rail was able to pierce so much of the rolling stock and whether evacuation options are sufficient remain.

As to service patterns for Wednesday’s rush hour commute, trains will operate from Wassaic to Southeast, where customers will be able to board a bus to Beacon for Hudson Line trains. Electric train service will operate from Brewster to Goldens Bridge. There, riders can board a bus shuttle to North White Plains where they will get back on a train. From Goldens Bridge to Pleasantville, Harlem Line riders can board buses for the trip to North White Plains. Trains will operate normally from North White Plains south while there will be no service to Valhalla or Hawthorne. Metro-North will cross-honor tickets across the system. I’ll have more as the story unfolds. Check out some photos after the jump. Read More→

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (51)
  • Link: Four months after Fulton’s opening, The Post piles on · So apparently the 7 train is all messed up because of an ice condition brought about by an umbrella on the tracks that somehow caused a power outage. Although many have used this is a prime example of why subways shouldn’t run in bad weather, if anything, this proves the opposite as the tracks would have been cleared of ice all day except for the umbrella-inspired power outage. The other elevated lines didn’t have problems today, eh?

    Anyway, I’m swamped at work this week and don’t have much time to write anything long-form. Today, I’ll urge you to read Steve Cuozzo’s takedown of the Fulton St. Transit Center. In New York Post style, he eviscerates the complex, and while some of his criticism is off base — the MTA couldn’t re-route 100-year-old subway lines to create truly clear passageways, other remarks hit the nail on the head. Cuozzo thinks claims of untangling hallways was overblown while some wayfinding signs leave much to be desired. The expensive headhouse, he complains, with its fancy oculus is still devoid of retail, but in a year or two, when it’s full, no one will care.

    The issue though was the price tag. It cost $1.4 billion, and we got no new stations or new track mileage out of it. I ultimately think the Fulton St. Transit Center is a huge improvement on what was there before it, but Cuozzo’s kicker contains a kernel of transit politics I’ve written about before. “The ugly truth is that the Fulton Center was never about unraveling a maze. It was about building a monument to politicians’ and planners’ egos, crowned by a useless glass dome.” · (36)
  • This post is delayed by Super Bowl party clean-up ahead of it · I’m too busy trying to figure out what the Seahawks’ coaches were doing on 2nd and goal with time running out and the Super Bowl trophy within their grasps to think of much else tonight. I also need to continue to clean up from the part the Future Mrs. Second Ave. Sagas and I hosted tonight so you’re stuck without much in the way of original content. If you’d like to read up on more about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s overreaction to last week’s snow forecast, check out Kate Hinds’ piece on how at least some subway service should run no matter the winter weather. According to the WNYC reporter’s interviews with MTA sources and other transit experts in the know, even with an historic blizzard bearing down on New York City, the MTA could run service through most of its system. For its part, the MTA is looking at “amending [winter] plans moving forward.” Clearly, this won’t be the last we hear of this story. · (42)

It’s cold out — perhaps dangerously so — so the MTA has decided to cancel all subway service this weekend scale back the weekend work to appropriate and safe levels. What a concept. Anyway, I digress. Here are your service advisories.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30, to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, February 1, 2 service is suspended in both directions between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St. Free shuttle buses operate in two segments:

  • Nonstop between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St.
  • Local between 3 Av-149 St and 96 St, making station stops at 149 St-Grand Concourse, 145 St, 135 St, 125 St, 116 St, and 110 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30, to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, February 1, 3 service is suspended in both directions between Harlem-148 St and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses run between Harlem-148 St and 96 St. 2 trains make all 3 line station stops between 96 St and Franklin Av. 4 trains make all station stops between Franklin Av and New Lots Av.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30, to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, February 1, 4 service is extended to/from New Lots Av. 4 trains will run local in Brooklyn.


From 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, February 1, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester-Dyre Av and Bowling Green.


From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, January 31, 5 service is suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 shuttle trains run all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, February 2, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza. Use EFNQ trains between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street S shuttle operates overnight. Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 1.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 2, Queens-bound A trains run local from 59 St-Columbus Circle to W4 St-Wash Sq.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 2, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run local from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 9:45 p.m. Friday, January 30, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 2, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts/Rock Ctr.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 2, L trains are suspended in both directions between 8 Av and 14 St-Union Sq. L service operates normal between 14 St-Union Sq and Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy. M14 buses provide alternate service. – Define normal. As I understand it, the headways on L trains will be marked longer than usual this weekend.


From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, January 31, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, February 2, Q service is extended to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.

42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31, to 6:00 a.m. Monday, February 2, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (12)

When I published my postmortems this week on the decision to halt subway service amidst the threat of snow and on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain, I didn’t think I’d be revisiting those topics any time soon. I knew they would both be in the news, but I thought we could let them rest. I was wrong.

The Snow Plan

I’ll start with the snow plan. MTA head Tom Prendergast journeyed to Albany on Thursday to discuss the state of the MTA’s budget. He was there to lobby for the capital plan, but the talk turned to the snow. Since Prendergast is in the position — as we all are — of answer to his boss, he did his best yet again to defend the MTA’s reaction, but it’s been clear that Prendergast is out there as much to protect Cuomo as anything else.

At one point during the State Senate hearings, Prendergast discussed the reasons for the closure and decided to argue for public safety. “If people were inconvenienced,” he said, “that’s far better than somebody dying.” Of course, this ignores 110 years of New York City history in which no one has ever died in a snow storm walking to or from the subway, and it is in fact, as I’ve said, safer to keep trains running in a storm than shutting them down for the simple fact that some people will have to travel and should be accorded the respect to make the decision to go out in bad weather conditions.

But that’s an argument I’ve exhausted. I want to instead talk about the MTA’s plans. I had the chance to read the MTA’s 2014-2015 Winter Operations Plan. It contemplates running service in all kinds of weather from cold temperates (Plan I) to a declared snow emergency (Plan V). This is a 360-page document designed to maintain subway service through inclimate weather while working to ensure that no one is stranded.

On Tuesday — during a planned snow emergency — here’s what should have happened: The MTA would have moved trains from outdoor yards to underground express tracks while all service ran local. If conditions warranted, the agency could “order the orderly closing of lines to prevent incapacitated trains and uncertain travel plans for passengers.” As the plan notes, “if weather becomes too extreme…the Brighton, Sea Beach, West End, Dyre, Rockaway, Culver, and Canarsie lines will experience outages so that lines can be cleared and back to full service as soon as possible.”

This wasn’t some fly-by-night plan, and the idea, as some have put forth, that the public couldn’t handle on-the-fly service changes betrays the daily reality of service changes. It is, frankly, insulting to the public. With proper communication, people can get around relatively safely, and service changes are less confusion than stranding people miles from home. Ultimately, the MTA had a plan, and Cuomo made them deviate. We should understand why, and the explanation, which may very well be a political one, should be thorough.

Early on Thursday, the Daily News reported that the MTA may explore running trains in snowstorms. It’s a funny way to put it because the MTA already has a plan to run trains through serious snow storms. Prendergast and Cuomo could certainly reconsider the plan and implement a Plan VI shutdown that’s a bit more thought-out than Monday’s decision. Ultimately, they should remember though, as Glynnis MacNicol wrote, not everyone has the choice to stay home no matter how bad the weather gets.

The Cost of the LGA AirTrain

At the same public hearing up in Albany, Prendergast got to talking about the Governor’s plan for the LaGuardia AirTrain, and, oops!, it might cost more than $450 million. Prendergast mentioned under questioning that the $450 million was at the low end of a cost range, and that the upper bounds of the project’s budget is closer to $1 billion. It made little sense at $450 million; it makes no sense at $1 billion. And does anyone believe the MTA, the Port Authority or whichever other entity the State of New York tabs to build this thing would deliver it at under half a billion dollars? I don’t.

For more on the Albany hearing and Prendergast’s answers on the AirTrain costs, check out Dana Rubinstein and Jimmy Vielkind’s coverage at Capital New York. The MTA is trying not to come across as blind-sided by Cuomo’s proposal, but it seems clear that they were.

Categories : MTA Politics, Queens
Comments (37)
Gov. Cuomo announced a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point and the Grand Central Parkway.

A nice idea, but is Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain the right one?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut the subway system on Monday night wasn’t the most surprising transit development coming from the governor’s office this past week. Prior to this week’s snow brouhaha, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s other idea — an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport — dominated the transit press coverage. As you’ll recall, seemingly out of nowhere, Cuomo announced a plan to build an AirTrain for $450 million from Willets Point to LaGuardia via the Grand Central Parkway. In theory, improving rail access to LaGuardia is a great idea that needs a champion; in practice, Cuomo’s idea isn’t one we should rush to embrace by any means.

When I had a chance to delve into Cuomo’s proposal last week, I wasn’t too impressed. He picked the worst choice out of three or four possible routings, and the money seemed optimistically low. Since then, I’ve learned that, much like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea to send the 7 to Secaucus, the Govornor’s AirTrain proposal doesn’t have much backing it. The cost estimates can’t be traced to any recent (or, for that matter, old) study, and it’s not clear from those at the MTA how or why the governor chose this plan or why the Port Authority is not involved as it was with the JFK AirTrain.

I’m not alone in casting a skeptical eye toward Cuomo’s plan, and as part of today’s postmortem — likely not to be the final word on this idea — I’d like to look at three other takes. The first comes to us from Yonah Freemark who dusted off The Transport Politic to share his thoughts on the proposal. Freemark’s headline sums it up: The LaGuardia AirTrain “will save almost no one any time.” He writes:

Governor Cuomo’s project would not have any of the negative community effects the proposal from fifteen years ago had. Its elevated tracks would be hidden behind a much more noisy and already-existing highway. Moreover, its terminus station at Mets-Willets Point would be surrounded by parking lots and sports facilities. These attempts to shape a project that does nothing to disturb existing communities, however, has produced a proposal that would be worthless in terms of time savings for people traveling from the airport in almost all directions…

Transit travel times from LaGuardia to destinations throughout New York City — from Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan to Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn to Jamaica in central Queens to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx — would be longer for passengers using the AirTrain than for passengers using existing transit services already offered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This finding suggests that for most people in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island, AirTrain services will not be beneficial from a time perspective.

Given the fact that the AirTrain services would likely be automated, therefore reducing labor costs, it may be reasonable to assume that existing transit services to the airport would be eliminated to save costs. In other words, people may be forced to switch into the new, slower rail option.

That, alone, should be enough to doom the project, and based on Freemark’s study, both an AirTrain from Jackson Heights or a direct extension of the N train from Astoria would be the preferred build as both have essentially equal travel times from popular destinations. As Freemark states, “It’s hard to imagine how the state can justify spending half a billion dollars on a transit project that will increase travel times for most people.”

Over the weekend, Nate Silver offered his analysis of public transit options for airport travel. Picking up on my piece and Freemark’s analysis, Silver determines, unsurprisingly, that transit options to U.S. airports are by and large terrible. Even with the AirTrain, most travelers would be far better off taking a cab from LaGuardia to popular destinations factoring travel times and cab fares in a cost-benefit analysis. A viable proposal would seek to flip that result.

Finally, I urge you to read Alon Levy’s analysis of the political theory behind Cuomo’s decision. Levy brings up the idea that, by starting the debate with the Willets Point plan, he has framed it in such a way that he wins. Cuomo’s approach to transit planning is a top-down one that omits community feedback and benefits a very specific constituency — airport travelers. With no stops in populated neighborhoods that need transit access, Cuomo can allege to stifle NIMBYism without actually offering anything useful.

Levy, in fact, thinks we should ignore Cuomo’s plan altogether. He writes, “In such a climate, as soon as we talk about tweaks to Cuomo’s plan, Cuomo’s already won; whatever happens, he will reap the credit, and use it to buy political capital to keep building unnecessary megaprojects. Even trying to make the best of a bad situation by making the airport connector better is of little use, since Cuomo will support the plan that maximizes his political capital and not the one that maximizes transit usage even within such constraints as “must serve LaGuardia.'”

I believe Alon has a very good point, but I’m trying hard, and usually failing, to be less cynical about this plan. LaGuardia access seems to have a champion even if we don’t know what his true motives or underlying rationale are. The key though is opportunity. If New York sees through Cuomo’s plan, we’ve built something, but is that something good or even good enough? We have to remember that we have only one chance. Once the first dollar is allocated and the first pylon is sunk, New York will stuck with whatever Cuomo has decided. Based on the current proposal with its circular routing, slow travel times, and mysterious budget, that’s a scary thought for our future.

Categories : Queens
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Gov. Cuomo ordered subway service suspended amidst a winter storm. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

Let’s start today with a proposition: New York City didn’t get as much snow as initially expected, and the supposedly disappointing nature of the storm has clouded the commentary. That said, even if the city had gotten 20-30 inches, I contend that, with service properly curtailed in the right spots, the New York City subways could and should have operated as originally planned. This is a widely, but not entirely, accepted contention, but it’s one that gets to the heart of the role transit plays in city life and the MTA in planning transit.

The trouble, as we well know by now, started when Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to shut the subway system late Monday night. He spent a little bit of time consulting with MTA leaders, but by all accounts, this was a decision he imposed upon the agency. It wasn’t part of their well-developed snow response plan, and it was one that was unprecedented in New York City history. As I discussed last night, before we knew the storm wouldn’t be as substantial as threatened, the subway system can withstand the weather so long as the proper precautions are implemented.

In the aftermath of Cuomo’s decision, the Monday Tuesday Morning Quarterbacking has been nothing but blowback. We learned early on that Mayor Bill de Blasio — who admittedly has no political control over the subways — knew about the shutdown approximately 15 minutes before Cuomo announced it, if at all, and in a post on The Upshot on The Times’ website, Josh Barro delved into the economic costs of effectively closing down the city for a day. Barro explores the argument I made last night concerning a seeming overreaction to the storm, and he too feels that shutting down the subway should be implemented rarely and with great deliberation.

Meanwhile, WNYC’s Kate Hinds delved into the plans the MTA had at the ready. Her piece is informative and important as it highlights how the operations teams tasked with managing the subway were more prepared than the governor. She writes:

The MTA has a winter playbook it turns to when it comes to snowstorms, detailing just how much service it can safely provide. And speaking at a lunchtime press conference on Monday, as what looked like a blizzard bore down on the East Coast, the agency’s chief said it was time to put one piece of it into action. “We’re going to put a Plan V in effect,” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said, “which occurs when we have a storm of this magnitude.”

Plan V is meant to prevent debacles like the December 2010 storm which blanketed the city in 20 inches of snow. [After that storm, the MTA] revised and expanded its winter operations plan. According to that 360-page document, a copy of which was obtained by WNYC, Plan V governs operations during a declared snow emergency. To protect the fleet, subway cars are to be stored on underground express tracks, reducing service. Some lines which duplicate service, like the B or the Z trains, may be suspended. Lines that run outdoors — such as the N or the A lines in Brooklyn and Queens — may run less frequently. The plan also details specific crew actions, and even talks about where to position diesel trains in the event that a regular subway car gets stuck in the snow.

Plan V indicates how committed the MTA is to keeping subways running in the worst of winter weather. Since 2010, subway service has been occasionally disrupted during snow, but never completely shut down. And the system had never, in its 110-year history, been entirely closed because of snow until New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to on Monday.

The MTA’s eventual ex post excuses rang hollow because they were. As we’ve seen before, Tom Prendergast must stand by his boss, and he did that during a press conference Tuesday when he said closing the system allowed for a quicker restoration of services. That wasn’t a factor last winter when Transit implemented its severe weather policies, and it wouldn’t have been an issue this week even with 20 inches of snow. In response, the Straphangers Campaign has asked for some soul-searching. “What role,” they asked, “did Governor Andrew Cuomo and other non-MTA officials play in the decision to shut down the transit system?”

But, to return to my proposition, why should the subway run in bad weather? Because the city keeps running, even if at reduced speeds, and New Yorkers need to see that transit is a safe and reliable option when cars aren’t. Emergency workers and first responders need to get to their hospitals and firehouses and precinct houses. Low-wage workers who don’t have the benefit of taking a day off because it snowed need to get around. Cuomo’s move in fact made it more dangerous as people were left to trudge six or seven miles through the snow. That’s not, as I noted last night, how New York operates, and it’s not how the city and its subway is designed to operate. The system can weather the storm, and that’s a point that seems to be lost on the governor.

If Cuomo wanted the credit for responding to a Serious Weather Event, he has to take the blame too when his initial reaction was the wrong one. Giving him a pass would simply set the stage for another subway shutdown driven seemingly by long-term political concerns rather than short-term benefits to the eight million New Yorkers whose city never really sleeps.

Categories : MTA Politics
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