A Brooklyn driver, perhaps taking inspiration from this Nissan Rogue comemrcial, somehow managed to drive over a concrete wall, through a fence and on top of a Q train at Albermarle Road this morning shortly before 5 a.m. The suspected driver fled the scene, and no subway passengers were hurt. The Q train sustained minimal damage, though when I arrived at 7th Ave. a few hours later, Coney Island-bound trains were still running express through the area. The images are dramatic, but the idea that this how we’ve come to expect people to drive in New York City is decidedly not.

Categories : Brooklyn
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At Grand Army Plaza, a subway stop I use on a daily basis, the fare control areas are designed to encourage riders to use the emergency exits. At the western end, four turnstiles sit atop a staircase with the emergency exit closer to both the stairs leading from the platform and those leading out of the station. At the eastern end, the stairs lead to two exit-only iron maidens on the south side and an emergency exit door on the north side. As you can imagine, I’ve seen those emergency exits used for nearly every type of egress, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen them used in an emergency.

On the one hand, this isn’t that much of a problem. So long as fare scofflaws aren’t ducking into the emergency gates, riders are using the path of least resistance to clear out of the subway system, and the straphangers using the emergency doors aren’t providing a humanity-laden counterflow against those trying to enter the system to catch a train.

This isn’t limited to Grand Army Plaza. I see it at Times Square near the Shuttle where the emergency exit is often the only way to avoid people entering; I see it at Union St. where the three turnstiles can’t handle the mass of exiting commuters at rush hour. I see it at Yankee Stadium where cops are on guard for fare jumpers, and I saw it, before Transit reconfigured fare control, at West 4th St., where it just made sense to use the emergency exits.

But there’s a catch, and that catch is the incessant, loud, obnoxious blare of the emergency exits. Much like the boy who cried wolf, the alarm sounds, and no one blinks. It’s just another noise in a city full of them, one relegated to background status, except its a background noise that pierces everything around it and may just be unsafe for human ears.

Over at The Times, videographer Ken Webb takes on the emergency exit issue, and he put together the film I’ve embedded atop this post. This is an issue no one wants to solve; it involves elements of ADA compliance and other regulations concerning safety. Self-important New Yorkers ignore the “emergency” part of the exit doors, and Transit is content to let the alarms blare throughout subway stations. And yet, there must be some way to fix it if only we thought about it for a few minutes. After all, nobody loves the sound of the emergency exit in the morning. Or at night. Or ever.

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The kicker to Charles Bagli’s latest Times article on economic shenanigans surrounding development at the World Trade Center site is a brilliant one. After delving into the fighting over a $1.2 billion loan the Port Authority is considering issuing to Larry Silverstein, Bagli coaxed out a quote from Kenneth Lipper, PA commissioner and Silverstein opponent, that highlights just how far away the Port Authority is from any sort of transit-related mission.

“It’s not a question of whether to build it,” Lipper said. “We’re only talking about timing and who’s going to pay for it, the public or the private sector. I want to finance it consistent with our mission, regional transportation.”

You may pause at that quote and wonder what financing another office building near Ground Zero when the first one isn’t fully rented has to do with regional transportation. You may wonder why the Port Authority is even considering giving out a $1.2 billion loan when that money could go toward better airports, another trans-Hudson rail tunnel, traffic studies or a whole slew of transportation-oriented studies. You may wonder, in fact, just what the Port Authority’s mission is these days and when it’s going to get back to it. Good question.

Since the days of 9/11 launched the Port Authority into an endless money pit of litigation and construction and since New Jersey and New York seemingly forgot, a few years later, how to run the agency, it’s been nothing but trouble. The PA is building the world’s most expensive subway station and the world’s most expensive office building. It’s not devoting resources to the region’s needs that it’s been tasked with overseeing, and it is debating whether or not to issue another loan to Larry Silverstein for another building.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell:

Eager to get the building up, Mr. Rechler, the authority’s vice chairman, crafted a proposal with the developers’ advisers at Goldman Sachs: The Port Authority would guarantee a $1.2 billion construction loan — half the cost of the building, and double the previous commitment — for Mr. Silverstein. That essentially promises Mr. Silverstein’s lenders that the authority would pay the loan if he could not. The developer would also have the use of $1.3 billion in tax-exempt bonds, which can be attractive to investors.

In return, Mr. Silverstein would have to put up about $450 million in cash and, unlike the old deal, pay interest and fees to the authority, which would also have to right to foreclose if Mr. Silverstein defaulted on his payments for the $1.2 billion loan.

I don’t think that’s a particularly great deal for the Port Authority (though Steve Cuozzo disagrees). Maybe this loan can push 3 World Trade Center higher; maybe it can help the PA begin to reach the cap of $25 million a year in rent payments it could receive when every square foot of space in the yet-to-be-built building is rented. But maybe not.

Outside of the maybes, it’s another real estate project funded by an agency that’s not a real estate investment firm. It’s another project that takes dollars away from solving Laguardia’s physical issues, from expanding JFK’s runways, from modernizing Newark, from building out the PATH. It’s a monetary move that isn’t consistent with the Port Authority’s mission, and it’s a New York-based chit that will push New Jersey to ask for a similarly diversionary expenditure on the other side of the Hudson.

As Ted Mann reported in the Journal this past weekend, a panel will soon convene to study ways to overhaul the Port Authority. It’s a tall order, requiring cooperation across a political aisle and a wide river. As Mann reports, PA appointees want “to return the authority’s focus to its core mission of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure in the region.” Something has to give to get there, and yet another billion-dollar loan should be just the thing to go.

Categories : PANYNJ
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  • Quick Hits: MetroCard ‘Problem Solvers’; Transit’s data breach · For a variety of reasons, none of them bad, I don’t have the time this evening to write a full post in advance of Monday morning. I’ll have something up later in the day, but in the meantime, I have two important items, one much more serious than the other.

    We’ll start with the good: This Wednesday plays host to my Problem Solvers Q-and-A at the Transit Museum on the future of the MetroCard. I’ll be interviewing Michael DeVitto, Vice President and Program Executive for fare payment programs at NYC Transit, and we’ll be discussing what’s next for the 21-year-old card, what will replace it and when. I have a sneaking suspicion DeVitto will not reveal that we’re heading back to the age of the token, but you never know. The 6:30 p.m. event is free, but the Transit Museum requests you RSVP. I’m looking forward to this one.

    And now the bad: I didn’t have a chance to give this story its due last week, but there was a major data breach concerning personal information of over 15,000 salaried Transit employees. As The Post reported, the information — including names and social security numbers of current and retired workers — was discovered on a CD-ROM that had been left instead a refurbished disk drive. The MTA is investigating the cause of the breach, and officials have noted that the existence of such an unencrypted disk is a breach of internal policies. So far, the data, as The Post notes, has not been used for “malicious purposes.” · (3)

There’s an exceedingly small threat of snow for Sunday night into Monday that seems to be growing smaller with each new weather forecast. It’s going to be cold again next week for a few days, but we’re getting used to a late winter of temperature fluctuations. No matter the forecast, this weekend’s work is going on as scheduled.

Before I jump in, don’t forget to RSVP for Wednesday’s Problem Solvers. I’m talking about the future of fare payment systems with Michael DeVitto, Transit’s head of fare payment programs. We’ll delve into the MetroCard’s immediate fate and various other topics relating to fare payment.

And here’s the rest of everything for the weekend:

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, South Ferry-bound 1 trains run express run express from 145 St to 96 St due to steel repair work south of 125 St to 133 St.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, Bronx-bound 2 trains run express from E180 St 241 St due to switch repairs south of 219 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, 2 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, March 14 to Sunday, March 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, 3 service is suspended due to track work at Times Sq-42 St. Take 2 trains or free shuttle buses running between 135 St and 148 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Franklin Av and New Lots Av due to subway car testing south of Crown Hts Utica Av. Take 4 trains for service between Franklin Av and Crown Hts Utica Av. Free shuttle buses operate between Crown Hts Utica Ave and New Lots Av making all 3 line subway station stops.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, 3 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 16, 4 trains are suspended between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Woodlawn in both directions due to panel installation at Bedford Pk Blvd. Take the D train or free shuttle buses.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 4:00 a.m. Sunday, March 17, Bronx-bound 4 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq.

From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and from 7:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, March 16, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester Dyre Av and Bowling Green due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq. Bronx-bound 5 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to station renewal work at Middletown Rd and Castle Hill Av stations.

From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza. Use E FNQ trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all subway station stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street Shuttle operates overnight.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, Manhattan-bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St Columbus Circle due column reinforcements between Canal St and W 4 St Wash Sq.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, Manhattan-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St Columbus Circle due to column reinforcements between Canal St and W 4 St Wash Sq.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, E trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills 71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17Queens-bound E trains run express from Canal St to 34 St Penn Station due column reinforcements between Canal St and W 4 St Wash Sq.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, Queens-bound F trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, F trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills-71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, Queens-bound G trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 5:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15 and Sunday, March 16, J trains are suspended between Delancey St Essex St and Hewes St due to track work on the Williamsburg Bridge. Take free shuttle buses.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, Ditmars Blvd-bound N trains are rerouted via the D line from Coney Island Stillwell Av to 36 St due to design survey work near 20 Av.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, Q trains are suspended between Prospect Park and Kings Hwy in both directions due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av. Take free shuttle buses.

From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 16, Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd to replace partially-suspended 7 service due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza.

(42nd St)
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 15 to 6:00 a.m. Monday, March 17, 42 Street Shuttle trains operate overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In a scathing report concerning Metro-North’s recent safety troubles, the FRA accused the railroad of prioritizing trumped-up on-time performance over everything else, including safety, and urged the agency to make top-to-bottom changes to ensure the accidents we’ve seen over the past year do not become routine. The report comes just over three months after the fatal Spuyten Duyvil crash and a few days after a train struck and killed a worker on the Park Avenue viaduct.

The 31-page report is available on USDOT’s website. It does not hold back. In all aspects of operations, ranging from procedures near at-grade crossings to operations, the FRA urged the MTA to refocus on safety. “The overemphasis of on-time performance has had a detrimental effect on safety, adversely affecting the inspection and maintenance of track and negatively impacting train operations,” the report says. “Interviews and observations by FRA during the course of Deep Dive indicate that safety on Metro-North was routinely overshadowed by its emphasis of on-time performance. Employees across all crafts expressed concern with this emphasis, and further expressed the view that, while their individual safety is important, the need to maintain on-time performance is often perceived as the most important criteria.”

Furthermore, while the lack of PTC is directly to blame for December’s crash, overall, the FRA found “safety culture” lacking. “Currently, no single department or office, including the Safety Department, proactively advocates for safety, and there is no effort to look for, identify, or take ownership of safety issues across the operating departments,” the report states. “An effective Safety Department working in close communication and collaboration with both management and employees is critical to building and maintaining a good safety culture on any railroad. Metro-North’s current safety culture fails to create a positive and productive environment that encourages safe operations, and the Safety Department is ineffective as a proactive safety advocate.”

Metro-North leaders, in a press conference this morning, vowed to respond quickly. “Safety must come first at Metro-North. I will not allow any Metro-North trains to run unless I’m confident that they will run safely,” Joseph Giulietti, Metro-North president, said. “Safety was not the top priority. It must be and it will be.”

Transit advocates embraced the report’s recommendations. “Metro-North Railroad must act promptly and decisively to put its operation in order,” Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council Chair Randolph Glucksman said.
Failing to make real and meaningful changes in railroad rules, practices, and culture not only threatens the safety of Metro-North’s operation, but puts at risk the trust and faith of its riders. Metro-North’s reputation among its riders has been built over thirty years, and now is the time for management to refocus on the foundations of their operation and once again earn the riders’ confidence.”

The MTA has until May 17 to submit a safety plan, and the feds plan to meet with Metro-North officials next month to begin planning. The public’s trust in Metro-North, once the shining star amongst New York City’s commuter rail lines, depends upon it.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (11)

It’s been a rough decade for New Jersey Transit. What started out so promisingly with the ground-breaking for the ARC Tunnel has devolved into today’s mess. One of the busiest commuter rail lines in the nation and a key artery between New York and New Jersey has become bogged down in scandals surrounding inept responses to a hurricane and poorly planned Super Bowl contingencies. Even with a new leader, old stories continue to plague an agency trying to move forward against the tides of the past.

Earlier this week, Ronnie Hakim, a one-time MTA exec and former head of New Jersey’s Turnpike Authority, hosted her first board meeting as the new executive director of New Jersey Transit. After botched the Sandy prep and the Super Bowl logistics, Jim Weinstein finally lost his job at the end of February, and Hakim is the one in charge of picking up the pieces. So far, she’s saying the right things.

For the first month of her job, she’s conducting a listening tour. She’ll speak with riders and workers, with politicians and the public, about New Jersey Transit and ways to improve operations, customer service and morale. “The average service time of our employees is over 20 years” she said this week. “They are people who take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do — and that pride has been beaten on. It has been really difficult. It’s almost like you want to say, this is not ‘Groundhog Day,’ right? Every day is not about the past. Every day should be about the future, and my job is to refocus us on the future.”

Yet, the ghosts of problems past continue to haunt NJ Transit. Earlier this week, the New Jersey State Assembly held a hearing on the problems that arose on Super Bowl Sunday, and New Jersey Transit failed to show. John Wisniewski, head of the Garden State Assembly’s Transportation Committee, succinctly summarized why NJ Transit’s issues that day should be of major concern to the region’s transit advocates. “We saw what happened at the Super Bowl almost as an advertisement as to why you should not take the train,” he said.

NJ Transit officials plan to speak with the Assembly at some point this year, and the agency’s board is conducting its own review. There is no word as to when their findings will be released. Newspapers in New Jersey remain skeptical.

Meanwhile, even the ARC Tunnel, once New Jersey Transit’s savior, reared its zombie head this week in an extensive Times profile of Gov. Chris Christie’s relationship with the Port Authority:

Mr. Christie also used the agency to help him out of political jams. When he came into office, his state’s Transportation Trust Fund, traditionally financed by the gas tax, was nearly empty. But Mr. Christie, as a candidate, had pledged not to raise taxes. The Port Authority’s involvement in a major project, it turned out, presented a perfect solution.

In 2010, Mr. Christie canceled construction on a planned railroad tunnel under the Hudson River that would have eased congestion for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, and used $1.8 billion that the Port Authority had planned to spend on it to fill the trust fund.

This isn’t really anything we didn’t know or at least surmise about the long lost ARC dollars. They never went to transit improvements, as Christie once said, and the governor’s claims that he was primarily concerned with cost overruns still rings semi-hollow. Yet, the fact that there is no ARC Tunnel, that Gateway is decades away, that New Jersey Transit is stuck with the century-old pair of tracks leading to New York City will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future.

So Hakim takes over an agency whose ship needs righting. Hopefully, she’s up for the job, but it’s a thankless one without much support for her own bosses. Is there a clear way forward for New Jersey Transit? We’ll find out soon enough.

Categories : New Jersey Transit
Comments (13)

It’s no secret around these parts that I’m not much of a fan of the “Showtime!” crews that roam our subways. I find their antics tiresome, and over the past few years, they’ve grown more aggressive with moving weary straphangers out of the way, blasting loud music and coming precariously close to kicking New Yorkers in the face. What was once a gimmick has become a nuisance.

I know I’m not alone either. In a recent poll here, nearly three-quarters of my readers expressed similar sentiments. I’ve found that people who really love Showtime are enthusiastic supporters while those of us who don’t like it hate it with a passion. Now, we can count NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton amongst our ranks.

In an interview with Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, Bratton discussed some quality-of-life issues when he mentioned his time riding the subway. (For some reason, the police commissioner’s subway rides are headline-making news, but that’s a concerning development for another day.) Lately, cops have been targeted panhandlers and illegal subway peddlers as part of a ticking blitz, and it seems that Showtime is next.

Bratton has always been a believer of the broken windows theory of law enforcement, and we could debate for hours whether ticketing panhandlers, who have no money to pay fines, and sleeping straphangers, who aren’t hurting anyone, is a worthwhile use of NYPD resources. The Showtime crews are a more active menace. “The issues of concern are those quality-of-life issues, the acrobats, the aggressive begging, the people manipulating the swipe cards in the turnstiles,” Bratton said. “We’re going to be having significant focus on those issues. You’ll see more police and you’ll see them more aggressively going after those so-called quality of life issues, which create fear, frustration and sometimes anger.”

So there you have it: The NYPD chief doesn’t like “the acrobats.” The War on Showtime is going to enter an entirely new battleground soon.

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NextStopis With the tragic explosion at 116th St. and its impact on Metro-North dominating the news on Wednesday, I didn’t have the chance to unveil the latest episode of “The Next Stop Is…”, the one and only podcast for Second Ave. Sagas. So now that everything’s back to normal along the Park Avenue Viaduct, let’s dive in.

We start out with a reminder of my upcoming Problem Solvers session on the future of fare payment. Get your tickets now as the Transit Museum tells me they’re going fast. Then, Eric and I tackle a few hot-button issues from the past few weeks. We discuss the Brooklyn and Queens launch of BusTime and the way it can improve bus travel in the area. Then we delve into the problems and political popularity of ferries, and we explore how air rights could affect future development of Moynihan Station.

This week’s recording checks in at just over 19 minutes — a perfect running time for your morning ride when you don’t really want to think about it anyway. You can grab the podcast right here on iTunes or pull the raw MP3 file. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe to updates on iTunes as well and consider leaving us a review. If you have any questions you’d like us to tackle, leave ‘em in the comments below. I’ll be back with more in the morning.

Categories : The Next Stop Is
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Update 4:45 p.m.: All Metro-North service to and from Grand Central has been restored, the MTA has announced. The Park Avenue viaduct is safe and sound, and service on all four tracks and all three Metro-North lines is running. The agency notes, however, that “trains will run at reduced speeds through the collapse zone to protect nearby employees and reduce vibrations as rescue and recovery work continues.” Expect crowding and delays during the evening rush hour.

* * *
Posted (3:55 p.m.): The latest and greatest from the MTA, as of shortly before 4 p.m. on Wednesday:

MTA Metro-North Railroad is restoring some New Haven and Harlem line service from Grand Central Terminal after an explosion and building collapse next to Metro-North’s tracks running above Park Avenue. Customers who use the Hudson Line should take the B, D or 4 subway lines to 161 St and walk to Metro-North’s Yankees – East 153rd Street station.

Metro-North structural engineers have verified the integrity of the Park Avenue elevated structure. Two of the four tracks on the structure – the two farthest from the explosion site – have been restored to service after being cleared of debris, inspected for track and third rail integrity and approved for operations by Metro-North and the New York City Fire Department.

As more tracks are restored, the level of train service will increase. Train speeds may also be reduced to protect nearby railroad workers and to limit vibrations at the explosion site.

New Haven Line and Harlem Line customers should expect crowding and delays due to track limitations, with some local and express trains combined. The track configuration does not allow Hudson Line service to operate to and from Grand Central until more tracks are restored to service. Customers are urged to delay travel until later if possible.

The subway system is cross-honoring Metro-North tickets, and the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines are cross-honoring Hudson Line tickets. More as service is restored.

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