With subway construction come neighborhood gripes. As the Second Ave. Subway continues what one reporter recently termed its “unhurried pace” toward completion, residents along Second Ave. are learning that life with subway construction and life with an eventual subway line isn’t as rosy as it first sounds. Today, we will explore two stories about life on the East Side and the real estate problems presented by the Second Ave. Subway. Please note that for all images, click to enlarge.

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We start at the corner of 2nd Ave. and 97th St. with a ventilation shaft pictured above. It’s big; it’s ugly; it’s windowless; it will lead to the eviction of some residents and businesses; and the people who live near it are not happy. Can you blame them? Look at the thing.

Of course, it serves a functional purpose as well. Around the city, various properties are mysteriously vacant. There’s an old building on 96th St. between West End and Broadway used by the MTA, and the Greenwich Village substation is an obvious. The Second Ave. Subway, though, will feature something new. A train line for the 21st Century, the SAS will no longer subject straphangers to hot and sticky platforms. Instead, glass walls will keep out the heat and allow for air conditioning to maintain a semblance of normalcy in underground temperatures.

Of course, with air conditioning comes the need for ventilation, and the MTA plans to build eight of these ventilation shafts of various shapes and sizes along the current 34-block stretch that makes up Phase I of this subway line. Yesterday, The Real Deal explored residents’ reactions to these neighborhood eyesores. Some of these buildings, reports Sarah Ryley, are going to be up to nine stories high, and while others fit into the neighborhood, most stick out like sore thumbs.

Stanford Eckstut, an architect who helped PATH design its ventilation shafts, called the MTA’s versions behemoths with facades resembling “an improved parking garage.” He said, “These are buildings that are going to last forever; they should be contributing to the street scene. They should not just be a wrapping to hide mechanical things.”

Thomas Nobel, a co-op owner at 69th St. which, according to Ryley, is next to the largest of the structures, bemoaned them too. “It’s going to be a real detriment to the neighborhood,” he said. The MTA has yet to release renderings of the planned nine-story ventilation shaft for the 69th St. spot.

Still, Ryley continues, most Upper East Siders are willing to pay the cost:

Some Upper East Side residents are wary of locking horns with the MTA, fearing that a protracted legal battle would delay or kill the subway project. Instead — through elected officials, civic groups and the law firm Herrick Feinstein — they have attempted, with some success, to negotiate behind the scenes.

“People in the Upper East Side want this subway. When it’s finished, all in all, it’s going to be a great boon to the neighborhood,” said Noble, who is also an architect. “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have the process grind to a halt yet again.”

The fact that the structures need to be built is nonnegotiable — they are needed to house utilities, smoke evacuation systems and emergency exits, said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, noting that sidewalk grates now violate the city’s building code.

And indeed, as Ryley reports, the MTA has been very willing to negotiate on height. Some groups have gotten 50 percent reductions in the heights of these ventilation shafts, and the MTA that the renderings which I present below are simply plans. Nothing is set in stone, and there is still plenty of time for the MTA and the Upper East Side to work together to build community-friendly structures that don’t overwhelm the sidewalks.

In the end, some residents are concerned about property values, and one real estate assessor says these people have reason to be. He claims the few properties directly abutting these structures could see a decrease in value, but that overall, property values on the Upper East Side should increase by 15 percent due to the added convenience of a nearby subway line. That’s a trade off most should be willing to make.

After the jump, more images of the planned ventilation shaft. All are courtesy of the MTA. Click to enlarge. Read More→

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Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on the Obama Administration’s plan to promulgate federal regulations for local transit agencies. At the time, I was vehemently opposed to the regulations on three grounds, and I remain convinced of that position despite a recent editorial from The Times urging the FTA to pursue a national safety regulatory scheme.

My argument was a three-pronged attack on the idea. First, rail transit just isn’t dangerous enough to warrant federal intervention. While auto travel features an injury rate of 100 per 100 million miles and a fatality rate of around 1.27 per 100 million miles, train injury rates are 1.362 per 100 million miles, and the fatality rate is negligible. Second, past practices have shown how burdensome federal safety regulations are. Commuter rail lines and Amtrak trains are made to be too heavy to run at top speeds just so they can meet standards. Finally, because this would be another unfunded government mandate, it would be too much fiscal pressure on public transit authorities already struggling to stay afloat. In other words, it’s just a bad and unnecessary idea.

The editorial board of The Times thinks otherwise. Here’s their take:

The Obama administration wisely wants to end this disjunction by proposing that Congress extend federal standards to subway and light-rail lines now haphazardly regulated in more than two dozen city and regional systems. The safety rules and monitoring are shockingly toothless in too many jurisdictions, with the systems averaging less than one overworked safety worker.

The Washington accident happened on the second-busiest subway line in the nation. It is theoretically monitored by a tri-state committee that was found, however, to have no regulatory authority or enforcement workers.

Under the administration’s approach, the safety of subway and light-rail lines could remain under the jurisdiction of local authorities only if they agreed to upgraded equipment and monitoring standards set by the Department of Transportation. The alternative would be direct federal regulation. Federal money already subsidizes subway and light-rail growth, and it should be cut off to systems that cling to risky standards.

The government was barred from regulating subways and light rail in 1965 when home rule was a priority. But new systems have boomed since then, along with collisions and derailments. The National Transportation Safety Board has warned about the dangers for decades.

The choice for Congress is stark: Improve safety on light rail and subways, or wait for the next train wreck.

Apparently, according to The Times, because Washington’s three-headed WMATA doesn’t have sufficient safety oversight, other transit agencies should have to suffer under the weight of federal regulation as well. Why? Because they accept federal money to operate and grow. Meanwhile, The Times claims that “collisions and derailments” have boomed when that reality has not arrived.

This approach is, simply put, wrong. If the WMATA needs more stringent safety measures, then fine. The Feds oversee a third of the DC Metro and can do with it what they see fit. But cutting off federal funds to other transit agencies who refuse to follow stringent and oftentimes misguided regulations would set a bad precedent. In a time when we need to encourage more transit growth and use, the Administration should not implement measures antithetical to that goal.

If the federal government is willing to subsidize the implementation of costly safety standards while foisting maintenance costs onto local authorities, I would be more willing to support this measure. But the government should not be denying funds to agencies that can’t afford to upgrade already safe systems to meet stringent requirements. Considering that the largest local transit system in the country is in its own backyard, the editorial writers at The Times would do the city well to promote this plan and not the one they espoused today.

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LoseSomething

We’ve all seen the SubTalk poster promoting New York City Transit’s Lost and Found unit. Because of the presence of dentures, a seemingly used razor blade and a set of prosthetic legs, the ad generally elicits a disbelieving chuckle. There’s no way anyone has ever lost a pair of legs on the subway, right?

In a City Critic piece in The Times this weekend, Ariel Kaminer went behind the scenes at Transit’s Lost and Found department underneath the A/C/E platform at 34th St. and 8th Ave and found that, yes, a long-forgotten set of legs is in residence. You can see the legs right here.

But that’s just a part of the sideshow. Kaminer’s article is a generally optimistic take on the lost-and-found unit. She intentionally loses a few items and mostly recovers them a few days later. Along the way, she meets one formerly forlorn straphanger who was able to reclaim a lost cell phone; another who retrieved his wallet with the $70 still inside; and a third who recovered a blue canvas bag with most of her identifying papers in it. It is seemingly a minor miracle of the subway system.

Of the Lost and Found system, now mostly handled via its website, Kaminer writes:

Usually it takes 7 to 10 days for an item to make its way from a station attendant’s booth to a dispatcher, and so on up the line, but the station pickups are once a week, so if you’ve just missed one, it can take longer; Lost Property agents assured me that everything but perishable food is turned in.

I waited 10 days, then went to see if anything had turned up. Having expected the equivalent of a big cardboard box, I was impressed to find an operation closer to the Dewey Decimal System. Everything was sorted according to category and the month lost, and logged in a searchable electronic database, with an additional file of paper receipts for good measure…

My lost items were not anywhere near that valuable, which was a good thing, because after almost two weeks, all I got was an automated e-mail notice Friday afternoon saying one of the items may have appeared. The Lost Property Unit had already closed for the week, but I saw enough teary-eyed success stories to feel optimistic about the whole lost trove. I have a feeling I haven’t seen the last of that “Star Wars” umbrella.

It’s a nice story for a Sunday column, but to me, it seems to be nothing more than just a story. Two years ago, an MTA Inspector General’s report condemned the lost and found operations. At the time, just 18 percent of lost items were recovered, and 23 of 26 intentionally lost items were never logged into the system. Since then, Transit has debuted its new web-based system, and the recovery rate may have gone up.

Personally, I had a tale of Lost and Found woe earlier this year when my sunglasses fell out of my backpack. I didn’t notice for a few hours that I had lost them and when I did come to this realization, I was distraught. I filled out the detailed online form — where I lost them, when, what color, what brand — and waited. A few days later, I received an e-mail that said, “Based on the information provided, there is a possible match with an item(s) that has been received at the Lost Property Unit. Please contact or visit the Lost Property Unit for further information.”

At first, I tried calling the Lost Property Unit but with no luck. The phone would ring and ring and ring with no answer. So I hopped the train to Penn Station, went inside this windowless room and issued my inquiry. The woman who helped came back with some sunglasses, but none of them were mine. Apparently, according to the woman staffing the LPU, the system, in getting my hopes, didn’t differentiate between glasses cases or rely on the extensive description I had provided. It was a “possible” match but not a definite.

I appreciate Kaminer’s tale. It’s heartwarming to think that if one of the millions of people who ride the subway every day happens to lose something, he or she might actually get back it. It’s also highly improbable. That lost Star Wars has a new home, and it most likely isn’t a storage bin at Transit’s Lost Property Unit.

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With tourist season upon us, work is clearly slowing down across the city. Although the weekend service advisories are numerous, they generally don’t impact much of the service to and from Manhattan’s Central Business District. The Upper West Side is spared the 96th St. advisories, and trains are running through Fulton St. after last week’s troubles.

Anyway, you know the drill. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s version right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, 125th, 137th, and 145th Streets due to flood mitigation work.


From 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, November 29, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Avenue due to track repairs and maintenance work at Jackson Avenue.


From 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, November 29, there are no 5 trains between 149th Street and East 180th Street due to track repairs and maintenance work at Jackson Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Saturday, November 28 to 12 noon Sunday, November 29, there are no 7 trains between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square-42nd Street due to track repairs and maintenance work at Court House Square. N trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. (Also, the 42nd Street shuttle will be in operation during this time.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street, then normal service to 207th Street. These changes are due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street and the track chip-out at 163rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to Euclid Avenue due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Far Rockaway and Beach 98th Street due to station rehab work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no C trains running due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street. Customers should take the A instead. (Note: A trains run local in Manhattan and Brooklyn with exceptions. See above.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, uptown D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street (The D replaces the suspended C at 135th Street.)


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 29, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to track panel installation at 20th Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, downtown D trains run local from 34th Street to West 4th Street due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street. (The D replaces the rerouted F.)


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Jamaica-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to power cable work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the E line from Roosevelt Avenue to 42nd Street, then on the A line to Jay Street due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to track maintenance and power cable work. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 29, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation at 20th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, free shuttle buses replace Q trains between Kings Highway and Coney Island Stillwell Avenue due to station rehab work at Avenue U and Neck Road.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, November 28 and Sunday, November 29, Queens-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to power cable work.


From 12:01 am to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, November 29, the 42nd Street shuttle runs overnight as a replacement for 7 service which is suspended for track maintenance and repairs at Court Square.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no S trains to Rockaway Park due to station rehab work at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets. Customers should take the A instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Pictures from the D train murder · As more stories from the 30 witnesses to last Saturday’s D train murder have come to light, so too have some photographs from inside the train car. Paola Nuñez Solorio, a 30-year-old photography student, was on the way home last weekend when Gerardo Sanchez allegedly stabbed Dwight Johnson. She pulled out her single-lens reflex camera and started taking pictures. The Times has published four of them, including a graphic one of the victim.

    Interestingly, Solorio says that the passengers grew quite panicked after Vincent Martinez pulled the emergency brake. They realized they were trapped in a subway car with someone who had just stabbed a man to death. “Everyone started running toward us. We thought there was a fight. Then we saw this guy with blood coming out of his mouth, and the killer right behind him, putting this thing away. I didn’t know what it was.” she said, later adding, “We didn’t know what to do. We were stuck with the killer.” · (2)

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The street-level entrance on the newly-reopened northbound platform at the BMT Broadway’s Cortlandt St. station. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, two subways around Lower Manhattan were badly damaged, but the MTA sprung into gear. Although both Cortlandt St. stops were destroyed, the station along the R/W and the 1 line south of Chambers St. — but not its Cortlandt St. station — reopened for service on Sept. 15, 2002. In 2005, though, the R/W station was again shuttered, this time to make way for various projects around Ground Zero.

On Wednesday, one platform at Cortlandt St. on the BMT Broadway line — the R/W station right near Century 21 — reopened. Although the southbound platform will remain closed until Sept. 11, 2011 to allow for Port Authority construction of their PATH train hub, the northbound platform — sans the Fulton St. Transit Center’s Dey St. connection — is in service for the first time in four years.

“Today we celebrate a significant step forward in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan,” MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The MTA has played a key role in the revival of Downtown and we’re excited to provide customers with an improved station just in time for the holidays. The opening re-establishes a key travel link for Lower Manhattan residents, commuters, shoppers and tourists.”

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The new station isn’t a radical departure from the past as the new South Ferry is. Rather, Cortlandt St. features some basic improvements. The station, which used to service approximately 15,000 passengers a day, has wider staircases and platforms. The walls have been retiled, and the station is sporting a fresh coat of paint.

“The opening of the northbound platform signifies an important milestone towards the completion of the Fulton Street Transit Center Project,” Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, said. “This is an important day for the community and we will continue this great momentum so that customers enjoy additional benefits as each element of the project is completed.”

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As MTA officials and New York politicians gathered yesterday to celebrate the reopening, the station though remains dominated by blue construction walls. The southbound side is now fully encased behind blue construction walls, and what will eventually be the Dey St. Connector to the rest of the Fulton St. complex will not open until 2012. Still, politicians praised the gradual debut of pieces of the new Fulton St. Transit Center.

“Today’s reopening of the uptown platform of the Cortlandt Street subway station is another step toward repairing the damage inflicted by the September 11th terrorist attacks,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “Projects like the Dey Street passageway, which the Cortlandt Street subway station was closed to make way for, are making Lower Manhattan an even more attractive place to live and work, and will draw families and businesses in the process.”

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With renderings of the Dey St. passageway and eventual Fulton St. hub decorating the station, the Cortland St. platform is a welcome readdition to the Lower Manhattan transit picture. Slowly, slowly, progress builds apace.

Click through for a slideshow from the new station. Read More→

Categories : Fulton Street
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  • MTA, and SAS, operating on a Sunday schedule · With a big national holiday upon us, New York City Transit is operating on a Sunday schedule throughout the day today. While no work-related service advisories are in place, no weekday-only trains will run, and wait times will be longer than usual. As I have to trek all the way to the hinterlands of the Upper East Side, this will be my only post today. I’ll be back on Friday as long as Time Warner – an awful, awful compnay – manages to restore my Internet and cable service. Have a great Thanksgiving! · (2)

Over the next few hours, hundreds of thousands of people will flock to airports around the country. Some will take buses and taxis while others take subways and commuter rails. Many will rely on monorails to navigate through terminals, and others will have a short walk to the gate all in a mad dash to get somewhere before Thanksgiving.

It is, then, fitting that Michael Grynbaum started the day on The Times’ City Room blog with a paean to the Train to the Plane. For New Yorkers old enough to remember the 12-year subway experiment, the Train to the Plane was a three-car subway that made seven stops in Manhattan — three in midtown along the 6th Ave. line with a switch to the 8th Ave. line south of W. 4th St. — and one at Jay st. in Brooklyn before going express to Howard Beach. In the days before the JFK AirTrain, airport-bound passengers then had to take a shuttle bus to the terminals.

The fares for an express bus with luggage racks and on-board officers weren’t cheap. The ride, as Grynbaum, relates, cost $3.50 in 1978 (or $11.60 in 2009 dollars) and rose to $6.75 by the time service was discontinued in 1990. The train remains part of subway lore though, and Grynbaum tells more of the story:

After a year, the train was handling about 2,000 rides a day, or 12 percent of all trips to J.F.K. from Manhattan. Gas shortages and two strikes on the city’s bus lines helped attract interest — not to mention the infectious theme song, composed by Charles Morrow, a celebrated jingle writer and one-time collaborator with Simon & Garfunkel.

But there was backlash. The train ended before the actual airport, so passengers had to switch to a bus. “Internally, we used to call it ‘take the train to the bus to the plane,’ ” said Trudy L. Mason, who helped oversee the express train service at the transportation authority.

And everyday subway-goers had to be reminded not to step onto the specially marked express trains, which loaded at the regular subway platforms. “One erring passenger did find his way aboard,” a reporter for The Times noted in May 1979. “When the conductor tried to collect the $3 fare, the man apparently thought he was being shaken down and refused to pay.”

The trains, graffiti-free and patrolled by a police officer, were the cleanest in the system, which some riders seemed to resent. “These brand new air-conditioned J.F.K. trains pull into stations with horns blaring,” Joseph J. Filippone of South Ozone Park, Queens, wrote to The Times on July 18, 1979. “They go gliding by, almost always at least three-quarters empty, while thousands of commuters are resigned to stuff themselves into already overcrowded, hot and dirty trains.”

By June 1980, The Times was already wondering: “JFK Train: Wasteful or Wonderful?” The train was running a $2.5 million annual deficit, and officials began discussing an early demise.

As passengers eventually realized that they could reach JFK by taking a slightly longer trip but paying just the regular fare by riding the A train, the Train to Plane fell to the wayside. Every few years, City officials begin a push for a true raillink, a dedicated track that would connect Lower Manhattan to the JFK Airport. We missed an opportunity to build one out to then-Idlewild when Robert Moses built his highways, and due to an estimated cost of nearly $10 billion, we saw a recent effort die in spite of a guaranteed $2 billion federal grant.

And so we remember jingles and long-gone express trains. As many travel for the holidays, we take moderns trains to modern monorails to over-capacity airports. One day, our Train to the Plane may come, but it won’t arrive any time soon.

Comments (16)
  • Northbound Cortlandt St. platform reopens today · At 2 p.m. this afternoon, MTA officials and New York politicians were gather at Cortlandt St. for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the northbound Cortland St. platform. For the first time since August 2005, Queens-bound R/W trains on the BMT Broadway line will stop at the Cortlandt St. station. Unfortunately, due to prior plans, I won’t be able to make the ceremony at which MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Dan Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilman Alan Gerson will appear. I do, however, hope to snap some pictures of the renovated station later today. The southbound platform will remain closed until at least early 2011. · (10)
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