David Yassky, center, and Mayor Bloomberg, left, announcing a residential parking plan in 2008. (Photo via flickr user cmyassky)

During the debate over the Ravitch Plan, New York City drivers and their advocates often acting as though free East River Bridges were a constitutional — or at least a God-given — right. How could transit advocates even think of tolling the East River bridges, that bastion of “free” roads? Never mind the tolls on bridges into and out of Staten Island or various points between Manhattan and Queens and the Bronx.

In a similar way, the debate over free on-street parking features much of the same themes. While other cities — Philadelphia, D.C. — have implemented residential parking permit programs, New Yorkers have been loathe to adopt one for dubious grounds. Generally, these programs allow municipalities to charge a rate closer to the market price for convenient parking while filling their coffers for much-needed transit, sidewalk or road improvement projects.

In New York, though, anti-RPPers find interesting and creative ways around the idea. When a program was proposed around three years ago as a way to combat a lack of space, a Brooklyn business association determined that, in Brooklyn Heights, an area saturated with subway lines, there was less than one space for every four registered vehicles. On to the shelf the program went.

Now, though, three New York politicians — Councilman David Yassky, Assembly member Joan Millman and State Senator Daniel Squadron — are at it again. The three Brooklyn Democrats are pushing for another residential parking permit program. This one help fund the MTA while also ensuring drivers a spot close to home. Veronika Belenkaya has more:

If the bill passes, the city and individual neighborhoods would decide whether they want the residential permits, which wouldn’t be allowed on commercial strips and would cover 80% of residential neighborhood streets…

“It’s a real hardship. Anyone who lives here and has a car can’t find parking,” said Brooklyn Heights Association President Judy Stanton.

The current plan, in which the permits would have to be purchased and the revenue would go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund city buses and subways, got a more positive review from the partnership. “If the idea here is to connect drivers and supporting mass transit, that is an interesting approach . . . but the devil is in the details,” said the [Downtown Brooklyn] Partnership’s director, Michael Burke.

While the politicians seem to like this plan for the money it brings in and for the congestion-curing possibilities, the policy wonks don’t agree. Department of Transportation officials feel that an RPP plan can cure congestion only with the help of a congestion fee as well. Without such a plan, we don’t believe this bill will actually solve neighborhood parking problem,” Seth Solomonow, a department spokesman, said.

My only issue with the plan is the projected price point. According to NY1 News, the permits would cost around $50. Considering the true market value of a parking space, the city could charge far more for it. If this plan though can generate more money for the MTA and more money for the city’s transportation coffers, only fear of challenging the free driving mindset will prevent it from becoming a reality.

Update 9:45 a.m.: For a more robust look at Squandron, Millman and Yassky’s efforts than the one presented by the Daily News, browse on over to this Brooklyn Paper article. Mike McLaughlin crunched some numbers from prior reports and notes how, currently, some Brooklyn areas have nearly 700 more cars than spaces.

Any RPP plan also has an added benefit I originally neglected to mention: By requiring permits, the city can make sure that its residents have registered their vehicles in New York City. Right now, due to price discrepancies many short-term New Yorkers keep their registrations active in their native states. It is, as always, all about paying for the resources one uses.

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Oh, those pesky station agents. Last week, in voting down the Doomsday fare hike, the MTA Board noted that station agent cuts remain on the table. As it always does, the topic engendered much discussion about the impact — real vs. perceived — that these agents have on subway safety.

It has long been my take that these agents offer up a deterrent force but don’t actually do much to stop crimes or quality-of-life violations in progress. A potential perp may be less likely to hop a turnstile in plain sight of a station agent, but no one will stop him or her from defacing a poster or littering.

As the MTA gears up to assess the fate of their maroon-vested employees, advocates and politicians are decrying the planned cuts. amNew York’s Heather Haddon has more:

Transit groups and some city officials are blasting the MTA’s plan to shrink the number of station agents roving the system, saying the cut saves little money while putting riders at risk.

In an average year, the red-vested station agents signal for emergency responders 85 times per station, according to the most recent data available from the Straphangers Campaign.

“All the statistics in the world about crime being down is not going to take that fear and concern (about security) away,” said Bobbie Sackman, an advocate with the Council of Senior Center and Services.

According to Haddon, those who oppose the planned cuts — including mayoral hopeful and current comptroller William Thompson — plan to protest on Monday in front of the 77th St. station on Lexington Ave. The MTA has long defending the cuts by noting that every station will have at least one employee on duty at all times. Of course, that’s little consolation for lost passengers if that employee is on the wrong side of, say, Brooklyn’s 4th Ave. in a station with no connection between the downtown and uptown platforms.

The telling part of Haddon’s story though is Sackman’s quote. Crime is down, and station agents seem to ring for emergency responders every four days. We probably won’t find out just how much subway crime will increase until and unless those agents are eliminated. Is that a chance we should be willing to take?

Categories : Service Cuts
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  • March ridership, fare revenue less than expected · As the U.S. economy continued to struggle and shed jobs this spring, the MTA ridership numbers and the agency’s projected revenue suffered in turn. According to today’s Post, New York City lost 86,400 jobs in March, and MTA subway ridership levels were at 2.5 million fewer trips than expected. As such, the authority lost out on around $7.1 million in projected revenue.

    Overall for 2009, ridership levels were down by nearly 4.7 million rides for the first three months of the year as compared to 2008. This decline has led to a budget gap of slightly less than 1.5 percent, as the economy is not expected to rebound fully until 2010, the authority should probably not expect an uptick in these figures for 2009. · (2)

Hot on the heels of Friday’s rather controversial post about the funding and benefits issues facing the MTA, today we have a pair of stories about the dicey fate of MTA employees. We’ll start with the one about conductor-less trains right now and end in a few hours with another tale about the station agents.

Over the weekend, the Daily News reported that, in an effort to save on staffing costs, the MTA is considering cutting train conductors on numerous routes throughout the city. These so-called One Person Train Operations would reduce on-board staffing figures by 50 percent as only the driver would remain. This practice has been in place on lines, such as the G and shuttles, that run smaller cars, and if Transit is to implement this on a wider range, it would be the first reduction of on-board personnel in some time.

As with any publicized personnel cuts, transit advocates and union officials are none too pleased. “Axing the conductor may save the MTA money, but it comes at the expense of the safety and security of the rider,” Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, said to News reporter Pete Donohue.

Donohue reminds us of another time during which the MTA tried to pull conductors out of trains:

The MTA took conductors off the L line in 2005, but had to put them back after an arbitrator ruled that its contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100 required approval by the union. The following year, the same arbitrator stopped the MTA from taking conductors off G trains on weekdays.

After the second ruling, the MTA stopped putting OPTO plans in its annual budgets and four-year fiscal plans. Sources told The News that the MTA is again seeking the staffing change as a way to save money.

Transit officials have argued in the past that trains can run safely with just a motorman, as police and firefighters quickly respond to track fires and other emergencies. Officials also have argued that train evacuations between stations are infrequent and have been conducted without passengers suffering injuries.

I let those official statements speak for themselves. The cuts are well and good if they save money and eliminate redundant personnel, but the one time Transit needs to run an evacuation, the lack of a conductor will become an issue. Of course, it’s easy to train one person to handle a subway full of panicking passengers, but advocates will always argue for safety in numbers.

The TWU has already begun its defense of the conductors. “Of course, this is one of management’s demands. This is something the MTA has been pursuing the last two or three bargaining rounds and we continue to completely disagree with them,” a Local 100 spokesman said to the News.

In addition to the G and L lines, in the past, the MTA has pegged the J, M and 7 as candidates for conductor-less trains. I say, “Why not?” The safety concerns, while reasonable, seem overblown, and the L line has the technology to run completely unmanned trains. The driverless trains along the Paris Metro’s Line 14 have been a success, and if the MTA can reduce costs by cutting, it is at least a plan to consider.

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Let’s end the week where we started it — with news of fare hikes. This time, we’ll focus on fare hike protests.

The first is close to home. On Monday afternoon at exactly 12 noon, a group of Staten Island drivers plan to protest the Verrazano Bridge toll hike with a little civil disobedience. A Staten Island-based driver is organizing an effort to pay the $10 toll with 1000 pennies.

Various state representatives, all of whom voted against the toll, support this effort. “This protest is a great way for Staten Islanders to show their frustration and send a strong message to Albany that Staten Islanders are tired of being treated like an ATM,” Assemblyman Lou Tobacco said. “I applaud the efforts of protest organizer Scott LoBaido and believe that we need more grassroots efforts like this one, locally and statewide, in order to truly reform New York state government.”

The MTA is ready for it and says that paying the tolls in pennies is not illegal. “We’re sure the bridge staff is going to handle any event professionally and with safety being the highest priority,” Judie Glave from MTA Bridges and Tunnels said.

Meanwhile, State Senators from Duchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties are convening a task force of area residents who want more service from the MTA. The task force will put together a list of specific service enhancements that those in the area wish to see.

“The MTA tax is unfair, unreasonable and unequally distributed” State Senator William Larkin said. “This task force will give the Hudson Valley the voice to be heard in New York City and bring our transit needs into the open for discussion and future action. If they expect businesses to pay for services that the vast majority don’t use, they had better make room at the table to hear our concerns.”

I would imagine the upstate Senators will be far more successful in their efforts than the Staten Island residents will be. Now on to the service advisories:


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, uptown 2 and 3 trains run local from Times Square-42nd Street to 96th Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, downtown 23 trains run local from 96th Street to Chambers Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street. Note: Overnight, downtown 3 trains run local from 96th Street to Times Square-42nd Street.


From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 11 p.m. Sunday, May 17, free shuttle buses replace 3 trains between Utica Avenue and New Lots Avenue due to track panel installation south of Van Siclen Avenue and switch work south of Junius Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 3rd Avenue to Hunts Point Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 17, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to Parkchester due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 17, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.


From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, May 16, Manhattan-bound 7 trains run express from Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation.


From 4:30 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, May 17, there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to rail work along the Davis Street curve. The N and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Street, then on the F line to Jay Street, then resume local service to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Broadway-Junction, then express to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts., then resume local service to 168th Street due to track repairs.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project. Customers should take the A instead.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, free shuttle buses replace trains between 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track chip out north of Bedford Park Boulevard.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to work at the 38th Street Yard.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound E and R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to rail vent maintenance.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to pump equipment rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Queens-bound F trains run on the V from 47th-50th Streets to Roosevelt Avenue due to maintenance work on insulators and cables along the track.


From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, May 16, Manhattan-bound F trains skip 169th Street, Sutphin and Van Wyck Blvds. due to track drain installation.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, Queens-bound J trains skip Hewes Street, Lorimer Street and Flushing Avenue due to installation new ties along the track.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track repair near Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and Pacific Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between Canal Street and DeKalb Avenue due to subway tunnel rehabilitation. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, free shuttle buses replace Q trains between Prospect Park and Kings Highway due to rehabilitations of stations along the Brighton Line.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.

Comments (9)
  • Bus cuts on the table as Transit addresses driver shortage · Since late January when the MTA started hosting public hearings on the Doomsday budget proposals, the future of the transit authority seemed uncertain. Albany had not yet committed to a rescue package, and the MTA Board had to go ahead with what they viewed as necessary cuts. As such, the agency couldn’t hire for numerous positions as they became available, and today in amNew York, Heather Haddon explores how this hiring freeze led to a bus driver shortage.

    Basically, says Haddon, Transit has around 230 open bus positions, and it’s going to take them until the summer to address the vacancies. In the meantime, bus service on a few lines around the city will be less frequent than usual. “It would have been fiscally irresponsible for us to have filled positions we would have cut,” Paul Fleuranges, NYC Transit spokesman, said to Haddon.

    The free daily also brings news of some permanent bus cuts on the table. Haddon says Transit may “save $4.8 million by scalling back bus trips on 35 routes across the city.” The documents presented to the board call for the agency to “more closely align service with customer demand.” Seventeen routes would enjoy more service as the MTA looks to spend along routes that need the service. · (0)

When the MTA Board passed a new fare structure earlier this week, the leaders of the transit agency stressed the fact that the so-called cuts to the public — fewer trains, less frequent service — would be voted down soon as well. The officials though also made clear that numerous positions within the MTA would not be filled. The station agent program, in particular, is slated for termination, and with it comes the elimination of over 800 jobs.

While many of these spots will be flat-out eliminated, a good number of MTA positions will be eliminated through attrition. As workers retire, the positions will remain vacant, not to be filled until and unless the MTA finds a sound financial footing.

This is an interesting way to eliminate jobs, but there is seemingly more at work than simply a reduction in workforce. Some MTA watchers believe this reduction-by-attrition method says more about the MTA’s future pensive obligations than anything else.

Nicole Gelinas is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an editor at City Journal. For the last few months, she — and few other transit watchers — has tackled the uncomfortable issue of the labor unions’ relationships with the MTA. Gelinas feels that much of the MTA’s supposed Doomsday could have been avoided had the transportation authority been willing to take a harder line in negotiations with its workers.

Most recently, Gelinas tackled just that topic in a Wall Street Journal column. She wrote:

The blunt truth is that New York City and state spent the good years giving its public employees generous raises, without asking for benefits concessions in return. City benefits costs, too, have piled up to an unsustainable $13 billion annually. That’s a third of the city’s tax revenue. Political leaders did nothing about it. When the transit union went on strike nearly four years ago to protect its pension benefits, Gov. George Pataki caved in and kept the status quo.

Gov. David Paterson and Gov. Pataki before him (let’s just leave out the farce of Eliot Spitzer) didn’t even need the unions’ cooperation to reduce pensions costs for new workers. Lawmakers could have passed legislation that would have cut benefits and increased contributions without union input. They didn’t.

Instead the state expanded its Medicaid program, which now costs the city $5.6 billion a year, up 44% over the past seven years. The city, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, similarly ramped up education spending by 70% to nearly $21 billion. Education spending has shot up 42% faster than spending on the MTA, even though public-school enrollment shrank while MTA ridership soared.

This April column is but the tip of the iceberg. In December, Gelinas called upon transit unions to sacrifice some of the financial upper hand. She wants the union workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans and believes that a wage freeze would not be inappropriate. In March, she wrote about runaway pension costs.

The real issue here is one of a political cognitive dissonance. New Yorkers are, by and large, pro-labor, pro-union Democrats. Gelinas raises issues that don’t fit that bill, but they are ones transit advocates should consider. At a time when everyone else is being asked to shoulder the costs of our transit system, shouldn’t the unions contribute as well?

Categories : MTA
Comments (33)
  • Congestion pricing money New York’s for the taking · For the last few months, we’ve been covering the MTA’s budgetary woes nearly non-stop. The city’s transportation authority is facing a massive budget crunch, and advocates would prefer to see the hole plugged through contributions from drivers. That way, public transit will thrive while congestion, an environmental and social evil, will be curtailed. The solution out of Albany does not such thing.

    Last year, the city had a chance to take a first step in that direction, but the state legislature declined to pass a congestion pricing plan. That plan would have guaranteed around $400-$500 million a year for the MTA’s capital program and would have netted the city around $350 million in federal funds as well. Officials voted down the plan over concerns from drivers and worries that the MTA wouldn’t do an adequate job administering and spending the money. That’s quite the excuse from Albany.

    Streetsblog today points to a NY1 article in which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promises that the money for the city is still there if we want it. Earlier reports had indicated that the city had lost the opportunity, but LaHood does not want to close the door on anti-congestion innovation in the nation’s largest city. “The money that was going to be provided for that particular project is still at the Department of Transportation,” LaHood said. “If New York got its act together around that kind of opportunity, I think we would look at it.”

    Is it time to renew the push for congestion pricing? I saw we get on that. The MTA needs the money; the city needs a commitment to mass transit growth; and we all benefit from congestion reduction. · (21)

Over the last few days, we’ve heard rumors about various people who may or may not be nominated to head the MTA. Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson broke his silence on the issue and put forth a stunning defense of Marc Shaw, the one man the Senate seems intent on denying the position.

Elizabeth Benjamin reported on the diatribe yesterday while I was finishing up my last final of my first year of law school. A NY1 reporter asked Paterson to respond to the anti-Shaw sniping that has consumed the media over the last few days, and Paterson responded with a rant:

“I very much resent that people who I don’t even remember being in the meetings have so much comment on the governor’s staff and the governor’s perspective appointees and even the entire process.

“I think that when people want equity, they should come to court with clean hands, and the Senate, on a number of occasions, handed in suggestions that didn’t even add up – and I’m talking about the numerical add-up, not the logic aspect of it.

“And I really would call on the leader of the Senate to implore – at least publicly – his members that the governor has the right to make an appointment without deriving antagonism from a process where the appointments hasn’t even been made yet, and all you’re doing is damaging the character and service of a man who has been exemplary serving both parties, serving multiple administrations, serving as a deputy mayor to Mayor Bloomberg and a chief advisor to myself.”

Paterson ended his rant by eschewing the high road and taking some shots at the supposedly obstructionist Senators. “If it keeps up, maybe I’ll illuminate my feelings about some of the people who are commenting from time to time. Did that answer your question, Josh?” he said to Josh Robin. “We’ll work all of that out without the intervention from any more sourced or unsourced outsiders who really know very little about the process.”

It’s all well and good for Paterson to take such a strident approach, but the truth remains that he has little power in this state. He ushered through a sub-par MTA rescue package after months of deliberations. He has the lowest approval rating of any governor in recent history, and now he’s trying to pick a fight with the people who control the fate of his MTA appointee.

Paterson should just leave well enough alone. He should drop the idea of a Marc Shaw nominee. After all, Shaw was one of the former MTA leaders who spent the MTA into a debt-fueled oblivion. He should look for someone as policy-savvy as Elliot Sander is, and he should find someone whom the Senate will accept as well. That man is probably Richard Ravitch, but considering how the state just dumped the Ravitch recommendations, it’s hard to believe he would accept the post.

In the end, despite promises of reform and a new era in New York City transit policy and politics, we’re left with more of the same. Paterson is showing more of the same ineptitude and more of the same out of touch attitude that has nearly destroyed the MTA in the first place. Oh well.

Categories : MTA Politics
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A Brooklyn streetcar roams the streets of San Francisco. (Photo by flickr user phrenologist)

Once upon a time, Brooklyn was the borough of streetcars. Powered by catenary wires, this ubiquitous green cars would take Brooklynites from one end of the borough to another. With the advent of the automobile and the rise of buses, streetcars become obsolete. The tracks were ripped up and the wires torn down.

Now, though, New York officials are making sounds about a streetcar revival in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago while speaking in Toronto, NYC Department of Transportation head Janette Sadik-Khan praised the streetcar revival currently sweeping the nation. Streetcars, says, Sadik-Khan could streamline intra-borough transit while encouraging people to take advantage of their neighborhoods. “In Portland they just started a new streetcar and were able to leverage $3-billion in investment,” she notes. “We need to rebalance the transportation network and make it as efficient and effective as possible.”

Last week, Yonah Freemark of The Transport Politic unveiled a very comprehensive study of potential streetcar routes in Brooklyn. Freemark analyzed current transportation patterns in the borough and proposed the following as a potential streetcar route. (Click the map to enlarge.)

It is a very appealing vision, and it’s easy to see how Freemark’s network fits in with my proposed Select Bus Service qualifications. These streetcar lines connect various subway routes at points deep in the borough, and they bring transit to underserved areas. This scheme offers up the option to connect into Queens, and the line terminating at Starrett City could easily extended out to JFK Airport.

There are of course very real objections to streetscars and very persuasive arguments in their favor. This came last summer when we discussed America’s streetcar renaissance. I’ll rehash them from this comment thread.

First, streetcars are clean technology. They rely on electrical power and do not emit exhaust. Buses on the other hand are only at their environmental best when full. Otherwise, they are historically inefficient automobiles. Streetcars encourage development along their routes; they run faster; and they eliminate some congestion by discouraging short-distance driving.

On the other hand, unless a city builds a dedicated right-of-way, these streetcars are beholden to surface traffic patterns. They can’t maneuver around accidents or traffic the way a bus can, and the catenary wires are rather unsightly in an urban environment. With the right-of-way, they aren’t appreciably more cost-efficient than bus rapid transit systems.

As Freemark notes, a streetcar system would require a serious transit investment. It would require infrastructure and rolling stock as well as a drastic overhaul of the Brooklyn streetscape. While we might want to toy with the idea, for now, it just might be a pipe dream

Categories : Brooklyn
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