• With ambitious timeline, 7 line extension progressing apace · While most of our attention was on the Atlantic Yards plans, WNYC spent some time checking in with the MTA’s current 7 line expansion project. Matthew Schuerman interviewed Joe Trainor, the MTA’s chief engineer on the project, and it sounds as though the crews are making good progress. According to Trainor, by working with the Port Authority, MTA crews were able to work around the clock under Port Authority to build some of the tunnel-boring machine exits. Originally expected to take two or three years, this part of the project wrapped up in six months due to the inter-agency cooperation. Still, Trainor thinks the 2013 deadline the MTA has set for itself represents a lofty, if perhaps unrealistic, goal. [WNYC] · (5)

While this morning, I wrote about the naming rights aspect for the MTA’s restructured deal with Bruce Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yards land. For posterity’s sake, let’s go over just how much sweeter the MTA has made this sweetheart deal.

The short of the backstory is that Bruce Ratner doesn’t have the money to build much of what he wanted to build at Atlantic Yards and can no longer afford the below-market rate of $100 million for the Vanderbilt Yard land rights. He also can’t afford the $225 million state-of-the-art train facility he originally promised.

So what did the MTA do? Well, instead of opening up the process to a new round of bidders and requests for proposals, the agency has simply sweetened the deal for Ratner. Instead of a lump sum payment of $100 million, he will pay just $20 million upfront and cover his purchase in installments totaling $80 million over the next 22 years. He will pay $2 million a year from 2012-2016 and then $11 million a year for the following 15 years. Instead of a $225 million rail facility, he will supply one with three-quarters of the original plan capacity for $150 million instead.

As you can imagine, reaction from the MTA Board members and Atlantic Yards critics bordered on the incredulous. Whether the full board supports this project tomorrow remains to be seen.

“It is one month shy of four years since the board accepted Forest City Ratner, and this committee is being given less than 48 hours to understand a complex transaction,” MTA Board member Doreen M. Frasca, said. “I think that’s pretty outrageous.”

Various groups are planning to file suits to stop this new deal from going through. They probably face an uphill battle, but then again, so does the MTA. During an economic crisis, they’re relinquishing land and a rail facility for a below-market payment. The trains might run on time, but public opinion will not smile upon this sweeter sweetheart deal.

In the end, as some critics called it a “bait and switch” by Ratner, MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson had the final, understated word: “It’s not quite as good as we hoped.” And that was a choice made by the MTA with which it will have to live for a long time.

Categories : MTA Economics
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yankeestadiummousepad I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of the MTA’s sweetheart deal for the Atlantic Yards rights later today. If you want to read about this embarrassment of riches for Bruce Ratner and the MTA’s dereliction of duty ahead of time, check out Mike Grynbaum’s coverage on City Room.

Right now, I want to instead turn my attention to an intriguing bit of news that came out of the MTA Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Monday. For the first time, the MTA will be taking in money in exchange for the naming rights to a subway station. The Observer’s Elliot Brown summarizes this development:

Monday’s announcement, made at a meeting of the M.T.A.’s finance committee, did include one new, if small, income stream: The agency agreed to lease the naming rights for the Atlantic Avenue station, where the project is based. With payments of $200,000 a year for 20 years, the new name: “Barclays Center,” which an agency official said will appear alongside the existing name for the station.

So in a few years — whenever this hideous arena opens up — the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway station will become the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St./Barclays Center station. Talk about a mouthful.

For the MTA, securing a naming rights deal has been a long-term project. A few years, some subway conductors starting referring to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Center as “Top of the Rock” for the then-newly opened attraction at the top of 40 Rockefeller Center. The transit agency, however, drew in no money for the deal.

A few months ago, the authority tried again. When the city and the Mets dismantled Shea Stadium and opened the corporately-named Citi Field, the MTA tried to get some money to rename the Willets Point-Shea Stadium stop after Citi Field. The two sides could not reach an agreement, and the station is now awkwardly called Mets-Willets Point. It is one of the few stations in the subway system at which the attraction’s name — in this case, the Mets — precedes the geographical identifier — here, Willets Point.

This deal with Forest City Ratner for the naming rights should lead us to reconsider how subway stations are named, and it’s bound to engender a debate between the traditionalists and those who feel the MTA should milk funds out of the system. For the most part, stations are called by their closest streets. There are a few stops at 96th St., some at the city’s various 7th Avenues and others along Canal St. Other stops take on the nearest big landmark: 34th St.-Penn Station, Howard Beach/JFK Airport and Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue come to mind. Others — 42nd St./Times Square, Flushing-Main St., Forest Hills/71st Ave. — are geographical signals.

Until this Barclays agreement was finalized, MTA stations were named for convenience’s sake. Stations with similar names were modified to signify where along a street the station lay, and major neighborhoods were identified as well. Now, though, stations are open to the highest bidder. What is stopping Disney from buying the naming rights to Times Square? Who wants to get off at 42nd St./Times Square/Disney? What about 59th St./Bloomingdales?

Maybe the MTA shouldn’t be charging for these corporate names. Maybe it’s part of its public duty to identify the major attractions that around the station in question. Or maybe the MTA shouldn’t offer up anything more than those in-station gray signs if corporate naming-rights sponsors won’t pay. After all, the MTA doesn’t need to accept free advertising for a brand.

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  • Destroyed, but not forgotten, national rail stations · The history of the United States is pockmarked with terrible architectural and urban design decisions. We tear out trolley tracks in favor of cars. We build massive roadways without leaving rights-of-way in place for rapid mass transit. We tear down architectural gems such as Penn Station and replace them with, well, Madison Square Garden. Today, Infrastructurist examined 10 train stations along with an endangered one that faced the wrecking ball during the Twentieth Century. How and why city planners decided to destroy these beautiful and useful buildings make up some of the saddest tales of transit neglect from the last 100 years. · (10)

Riders will create a garbage can wherever they can. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When I interviewed New York City Transit President Howard Roberts in the fall, he spoke at length about his desire for cleaner stations. Roberts talked about the various plans in the works to beef up the maintenance crews around the system. Ah, to be in October. Those were simpler times.

Today, facing financial constraints and extreme internal budget-tightening, New York City Transit has been faced with a maintenance reality. The agency no longer has the money to support expanding the cleaning programs and in fact has had to cut back. Stations are, as Heather Haddon reported this morning, dirtier, and Transit’s cleaning staff is down by 100 workers. She reports:

Because of budget constraints, the MTA has curtailed station cleaning, with Transit officials acknowledging they are down by about 100 workers. The agency has also slashed overtime for cleaners, and workers say they simply can’t keep up with the mounting trash…

In recent years, the cleaning department has struggled to keep up with the surge in ridership. In 1993, the MTA employed 1.5 station cleaners per million riders. By 2007, the ratio had slipped to 1 cleaner for every million, according to Transit figures…

In a survey last year, the Straphangers Campaign found that the L and No. 7 made big improvements and were the system’s cleanest. A 2008 Transit report found that track fires also declined on the lines.

But running the pilot sapped precious manpower, which has fallen in the last several years as cleaner jobs went unfilled to save money, [union leader Marvin] Holland said. A hiring freeze implemented earlier this year has compounded the problem. Cleaners are now often scurrying to hit as many as five locations in one shift, whereas in the past they would usually just do two. And now stations only have cleaners on-site for an average of four hours a day, according to the Transit report.

The subways have never been known for their cleanliness. Oblivious or discourtesy straphangers treat every available surface as a garbage can. Food is left to rot on station platforms, and the worst offenders clip their nails onto the floors of train stations and cars.

Roberts though wants to add more cleaners. He says he can’t though because of the budgetary constraints and a worse-than-expected outlook. He hoped that internal belt-tightening would allow him reallocate resources for cleaning, but that is an optimistic prediction today.

In the end, the people who suffer most are, well, those same riders. More trash leads to more rodents. More trash leads to more track fires. More trash leads to a more unpleasant commute. Sadly, it sounds as though we may need to get used to that idea.

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  • Live coverage of the MTA committee meetings · The various committees that make up the MTA Board are set for a day of meetings today, and I’ll be covering the events as my day job allows. While I missed the Capital Construction update, the New York City Transit committee is meeting now, and the Finance committee will tackle the Atlantic Yards plans. I won’t be liveblogging the events here, but if you follow me on Twitter, you can see my live hits on the events. Any major news, I will of course write up here. · (0)

Later this morning, the various committees that make up the MTA Board will meet for their monthly sessions. Ahead of next Sunday’s fare hikes, the news probably won’t be rosy for the financially-troubled transit agency. While we will await the meeting to assess the MTA’s bleak economic outlook, there is one storyline that warrants a preview because it will have an impact on both the MTA’s finances, the face of Brooklyn and the power real estate moguls have over this city.

Earlier this month, I explored how Bruce Ratner wanted a sweeter sweetheart deal for the Vanderbilt Yards, the MTA-owned railroads that make up a large chunk of his Atlantic Yards development. While the MTA originally agreed to sell the land rights to Ratner for a below-market $100 million, the Ohio native wants to pay just $20 million for the land. After all, the bad economy impacts him as well.

Over the last few weeks, Ratner has been utterly skewered for this move. In the four years since he first earned approval for the project, he has scaled back nearly every aspect of it. Just recently, he announced that Frank Gehry would no longer be designing the planned Nets arena. Instead, the venue would look like Any Sports Venue, USA. It’s boring and not worthy of New York City.

Recently, Atlantic Yards Report has wondered what — other than 8.4 acres worth of railroad land — $20 million can buy in the city. Norman Oder, the author of the Atlantic Yards watchdog site, has noted that $20 million can’t buy two sites in Alphabet City, can buy a 50-foot-wide piece of land in Chelsea and 46,000 square feet in Manhattan, among others. Needless to say, the $20 million offer is a joke.

Meanwhile, this debacle is going to come to a head today and Wednesday. On the one hand is the MTA. The transit agency has been working with Bruce Ratner to modify the agreement to better the suit the desires of the developer. The Finance Committee will see the amended agreement during their 11:45 a.m. meeting and will recommend it to the full Board for a Wednesday vote. On the other hand are our elected officials who are trying to stop the MTA.

Last week, a group of New York politicians sent a letter to the MTA (available here) in protest. “We respectfully suggest that a hasty decision to modify the obligations of the developer could be detrimental to the needs of the mass transit system and that any decision should only be made after the public and elected officials have had a fair opportunity to present their views,” the council members, State Senators and Assembly representatives wrote.

It doesn’t end there. State Senator Bill Perkins has also asked the MTA to delay voting on the deal, and Chris Smith of New York Magazine wrote a must-read piece on how the MTA is set to screw itself on this deal. He writes:

As disappointing as the cash may turn out to be, there’s another significant change in the works. “The thing to watch is whether the MTA gets screwed on the rail yards,” one party to the negotiations says. Ratner had agreed to build a new and improved rail yard for the LIRR. But he’s trying to cut back there, too, possibly delivering a new yard with 25 percent less capacity than the existing facility. “That would be a real loss,” the official says. “Ratner is supposed to build a rail yard that’s worth $200 to 300 million.”

This deal has the potential to be a flat-out giveaway. The MTA is going to give away valuable public lands. They’re going to give away provisions requiring a modern rail facility. They’re going to gift wrap this for Bruce Ratner.

The MTA has long suffered from a credibility problem. People don’t understand why the fares have to go up. They don’t understand delays and service advisories. What New Yorkers see is this blatant back-room bargaining. No wonder, as I said three weeks ago, few trust the MTA. They’re on the verge of squandering a public asset, and we’ll have to see if they can step back from this brink before it’s too late.

Categories : MTA Politics
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As the weekend draws near, I thought I would take a few minutes to promote the site a bit. Tomorrow, I’ll be riding the Nostalgia Train to the Bronx, and when the train goes above ground, I’ll upload some pictures via Twitter.

To that end, you can find Second Ave. Sagas on Twitter right here. Follow me for mass transit musings and updates in 140 characters or less. My more personal, non-blog related Twitter account is here. We’re also on Facebook, but that’s far more passive.

Finally, if you’re interested in advertising on Second Ave. Sagas, please contact me. I’m always looking for more advertisers, and this site attracts a solid number of high-value eyeballs. Competitive rates, preferential placement available. You know the drill.

Now on to the service advisories. As always, these are as provided to me by New York City Transit and are subject to change. Check the fliers posted at your local station and listen for announcements on board.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 20 and from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, June 21 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Manhattan-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Eastern Parkway, Grand Army Plaza and Bergen Street due to switch renewal.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, 4 trains run in two sections due to cable work:

  • Between Woodlawn and 125th Street and
  • Between 125th Street and New Lots Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip 138th Street due to cable work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, there are no 5 trains between East 180th Street and Bowling Green due to cable work. Customers should take the 2 or 4 instead. (Transfer between the 5 and 2 at East 180th Street. Transfer between the 2 and 4 at 149th Street-Grand Concourse.)

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to station painting near Westchester Square.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Queens-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Street, then on the F to Jay Street, then local to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 168th Street due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers should take the A instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 21, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to track cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 21, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 20 and 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 21 and Monday, June 22, Jamaica-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Jefferson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to station rehab work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 22, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Highway due to Brighton Line station rehabilitation.

Comments (2)
  • Non-voting LIRR rep joins MTA Board · Clearing out an item from the past week, the MTA announced on Friday, June 12, that Ira R. Greenberg of Sunnyside, New York, has begun his term on the MTA Board. Greenberg joins the board at the behest of the Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council and will sit on the Long Island Rail Road/Long Island Bus Committee. He is a non-voting member tasked to serve on the board until Jan. 1, 2013. He carries with him a background in transportation policy and has long been a supporter of the East Side Access project. Greenberg sounds as though he is a highly qualified representative, and the MTA Board could use more members like him. · (0)
  • Ridership, fare revenue down for 2009 · As NYC Transit releases its monthly ridership figures, the news begins to sound the same. Due to a worse-than-expected economy and high job-loss figures in the city, subway and bus ridership numbers as well as farebox revenue are worse than expected. As The Post reports today, NYC Transit’s April 2009 numbers saw a 3.6 percent decrease in weekday ridership totals over the April 2008 figures. With a drop-off of about 189,000 rides, Transit reportedly saw revenues fall short of their April projections by $7.4 million. Bridge and Tunnel usage is down as well for the year, and at some point, the MTA will have to make up for this shortfall. How? I don’t know. · (1)
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