• A little-noticed ‘Day of Outrage’ · For the TWU protesting the MTA’s legally permissible move to appeal a binding arbitration decision, yesterday was officially a “Day of Outrage.” The TWU hosted two protests at depots around the city, and unofficially, a text message circulated urging a slowdown. Union members were supposed to be meticulous in adhering to rules, and supposedly, this new-found awareness for regulations would lead to slower service along the city’s bus and subway routes. As The Times reports, though, this Day of Outrage went by unnoticed.

    For a union trying to make waves, the problem is one of expectancy and variation. It’s too hard to tell when our commutes are slower than they should be because slowdowns happen all the time. Someone pulls the emergency break; there’s a stalled train or a smoke condition; trains creep along tracks because of construction. Yesterday, in fact, my Brooklyn-bound F train sat at Carroll St. at 1 p.m. for about 10 minutes with no audible announcement. It could have been due to the Day of Outrage, but it was probably due to the workers digging up the express tracks on the Culver Viaduct. We just don’t know.

    If the TWU wants to make a wave and gain public attention, they’ll have to do more than attempt to slow down a notoriously unpredictable mass transit system. They were outraged yesterday, but no one noticed. · (4)

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S3 Tunnel Constructors work underneath Second Ave. to shore up the bracing system. (All photos via MTA Capital Construction’s CB8 Presentation. Click to enlarge.)

Whenever the topic of Second Ave. Subway construction comes up here — and considering the name of this site, it happens quite frequently — Upper East Siders bemoan the lack of obvious above-ground progress. Nothing is being done at the site, they say. Workers are just mulling about doing not much of nothing, and the project is a waste.

One commenter who lives and works near the Launch Box in the 90s on Second Ave. has repeated these claims for the last few years. “Remember,” commenter Peter Knox wrote over the weekend, “no work is being done on the SAS at all right now, nor has any substantive work been done for months. The thing is completely screwed up and people in the neighborhood are getting fed up.”

On Monday, he again observed idle workers above ground. “I wish it were only three guys looking into the hole,” he said in reply to a fellow UESer who noted similar conditions on the surface. “It is usually six looking and another five drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. There is no way they will be able to build the four stations, as they are now designed, in less than ten years.”

While it is true that the MTA is facing a significant delay in securing a blasting permit, the lack of movement above ground does not mean that nothing is happening at the site. In fact, in its recent presentation to Community Board 8, the MTA along the various contractors working on the project shared a few photos of the progress at the site and construction crews working. These crews though would not be visible to Upper East Siders because they are working underground.

The shot atop this post is just one of four images that show the state of the subway construction underground. The S3 Tunnel Constructors is currently excavating the upper bracing level and has begun installing the bracing system. It isn’t glamorous work, and with Second Ave. decked over with concrete, it isn’t visible to the community. But in order to get the launch box ready for the tunnel-boring machine, it is necessary work that is moving this project forward.

After the jump, three more pictures and some closing thoughts. Read More→

Comments (26)

Vision42

Imagine a Times Square unencumbered with cars. Imagine walking around 42nd St. in front of Grand Central without a steady stream of traffic passing by just inches from throngs of harried commuters. For years, that’s what Vision42 has desired.

Since Day One of Second Ave. Sagas, Vision42’s website has been on my blogroll, but I’ve never taken the time to explore the group’s initiative. With an article in The Times and an extensive post on The Transport Politic, today is definitely Vision42 day.

So we start with the organization’s mission statement. Vision42 is “a citizens’ initiative to re-imagine and upgrade surface transit in Midtown Manhattan, with a low-floor light rail line running river-to-river along 42nd Street within a landscaped pedestrian boulevard.” No longer would cars, trucks or buses of any kind be allowed on one of Manhattan’s most famous streets. Instead, sidewalks would be significantly widened and a fuel-cell powered light rail system would run from the 35 St. Ferry Terminal on the East Side, north toward the UN building and then along 42nd St. to the 39th St. Ferry Terminal on the West Side. The trams would stop at every avenue block from river to river.

According to the group’s report, a crosstown trip would take just 21 minutes, and trains would run every 3.5 minutes during peak times and every 4 minutes during off-peak hours. The trams would connect to every major north-south subway in Manhattan.

As far as its economic impact goes, the new tram would provide $700 million in economic benefits a year with an additional fiscal benefits in the form of property valuation increases of $175 million. Businesses along 42nd St. would see estimated economic increases of $430 million. (For more on the benefits of the project, check out page 30 of this pdf presentation.)

At the same time, Vision42 estimates that the full project would cost approximately $380-$580 million to install and could be ready to go in two years from the start date. Although utility relocation would be a concern, the group notes that heavy streetcars ran over utilities for decades with no problems. Utility relocation, though, remains the lion’s share of this project’s cost.

The article in today’s Times talks about the group’s make-up and the city’s unwillingness to support the project. Writes Alison Gregor:

While three large owners of real estate on 42nd Street and a real estate company that manages office buildings there have signed on to support the proposal, advocates for Vision 42 said they had not been able to engage the city in a discussion.

“We think the mayor considers this competitive with his No. 7 subway line extension,” said Roxanne Warren, an architect who is co-chairwoman of Vision 42.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office said it was not inclined to support the proposal and deferred to the city’s Department of Transportation for comment. Scott Gastel, a spokesman for the department, said in an e-mail message, “While there are no plans for a project like this at this time, we are working closely with the M.T.A./N.Y.C. Transit to extend the 7 line, which will greatly improve commuter access throughout the corridor.”

The 7 line extension is a real estate-driven project whose wisdom has been questioned. It wouldn’t benefit people moving into and out of the 42nd St. businesses corridors and shouldn’t be equated with a proposal to radically reconceptualize an urban thoroughfare.

At TTP, Yonah Freemark talks about the costs of the project and who would foot the bill. He notes that the MTA won’t be paying for this project any time soon and urges the high-powered and deep-pocketed real estate ventures support the project to come forward with private investment. “Vision42 should be not working to change the Mayor’s mind,” he writes, “but rather to deliver a check to City Hall covering the line’s entire costs upfront. The administration might then find it easier to support the project.”

Drivers would protest the closure of this street, but in the end, the city would be better off for it. Unfortunately, both the political will and capital are lacking to push through a project of this scope. With it, though, you could truly meet those dances on the avenue streetcars are taking you to.

Categories : Manhattan
Comments (37)

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A screenshot from New Jersey Transit’s new website. Click to enlarge.

With the MTA’s website stuck in neutral, looking as though it belongs in the 1990s and featuring a lot of information and no easy way to find any of it, two of its regional competitors have unveiled redesigned sites over the last two weeks. New Jersey Transit has streamlined its site and now presents up-to-the-minute line status, and the Port Authority unveiled its first site overhaul in 13 years last week.

We start with the new New Jersey Transit site. Shown above in the screenshot, this new site is a pared-down and streamlined version of their old one. The home page is modular with easiy-to-find information. It features the at-a-glance service updates and urges customers to sign up for e-mail and text message transit alerts. While New York City Transit’s TripPlanner is nowhere to be found on the MTA’s homepage, NJ Transit’s is front and center on the redesigned site.

In terms of information integration, NJ Transit’s new site represents a real step forward for the commuter rail. One of its main new feature is a system-wide rollout of DepartureVision. This monitoring system “displays train departure boards on your computer or mobile device” and is now available online by navigating to most of the stations on the new website. Imagine a similar feature for our subways.

On the page discussing the redesign, NJ Transit explores the theory behind their new website. It is all about reducing the number of clicks a user must make to find anything.

Throughout the site, information is better organized to give you what you need with as few clicks as possible. Need to find parking? Traveling to Newark Airport? Planning a trip to Prudential Center? You can access all of this information and more right from the homepage. We’ve also improved our presentation of service advisory information, by conveniently organizing it by rail line or bus route.

That is, in a nutshell, one of the MTA’s biggest problems. The information is there, but it is not presented in any logical way. Navigating through the various sub-agencies’ pages takes far more time than it should, and the home page has no structure to it. As more and more transit agencies overhaul their websites, the MTA just gets left further behind in the technological dust.

New Jersey Transit isn’t the only local agency unveiling a new site. Late last week, Port Authority did just that. Take a look and click to enlarge:

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“In recent years we’ve worked on multiple fronts to make the Port Authority more accessible and transparent to the public we serve. Our new web site is a major advance on these efforts, by providing more information about our various businesses and making that information available in a user-friendly way,” Port Authority Chairman Anthony R. Coscia said.

This new site features a minimalistic home page with numerous features behind it. Customers can access real-time alerts, an improved trip finder and more thorough explanations of ongoing PA initiatives and projects. Good luck getting real status updates on the MTA’s capital programs.

In the end, New Yorkers benefit from these redesigned websites. It’s easier to find information that helps us commute around our area. But at the same time, the MTA’s old site just looks worse and worse. I don’t know of any agency plans to overhaul the site, but for the MTA to improve its customer relations and its transparency, a new website is a necessity.

Comments (11)
  • Time Warner knocks me out · Unfortunately, I have no Intenet service at home right now, and after a few weeks of battling with Time Warner, I am convinced that theirs is an organization far more corrupt and inept that the MTA. I’ll be back by around 9:30 a.m. with some fresh topic. · (6)

Tomorrow, the New York State Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case that could clear the way for Bruce Ratner to construct an arena for the Nets and his Atlantic Yards project above the MTA’s Vanderbilt Railyards. If Ratner wins, the state will be able to use eminent domain to clear out the last remaining residents on Yards’ land. With success for Ratner looking likely, the real estate mogul is now facing a new roadblock from a suit aimed at the MTA over their sweetheart renegotiation of a sweetheart deal.

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn along with four state representatives and the Straphangers Campaign have filed suit against the MTA for renegotiating the Ranter land sale without going through the proper legal procedures. According to the files, the MTA did not have the current value of the property appraised and did not open up the property rights sale to a competitive bidding process. Both procedures, the plaintiffs allege, are required under state law, and they are seeking an annulment of the sale.

“We have laws in this state that forbid these kinds of sweetheart deals. With the Atlantic Yards, the MTA violated our legislation and the public trust. Their sale of the Vanderbilt Yard to Ratner must be annulled,” State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery said.

Both The Brooklyn Paper and The Times have coverage about the lawsuit. As I summarized in June, this new deal for Ratner is blatantly outrageous. I wrote four months ago:

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.

At the time, MTA Board members protested the deal, and now the politicians are angry. This could be a long fight for the MTA, and an injunction against the sale could impact Ratner’s ability to secure financing. He has until the end of the year to secure $700 million in tax-free bonds for the Barclays Arena.

“While the MTA is forcing service cuts and fare increases on the people of New York, they are giving Forest City Ratner just about a free ride,” Montgomery’s statement said. “You can’t shortchange the public to benefit a developer.”

Categories : MTA
Comments (1)
  • MTA earns $2M federal grant for third-rail heaters · With a little help from the federal government, the MTA will get to explore the joys of central air. Last week, the MTA secured a $2 million stimulus grant that will fund the installation of 350 wireless control points for a third-rail heating system. The MTA will be able to monitor third rail heaters from a central location and turn them on or off depending on outside weather conditions. The agency says this technological innovation will reduce energy consumption by around 23,000 megawatt hours and save $1.6 million annually.

    This central heating program will replace the MTA’s current “always on” system. Right now, the 1000 third rail heaters are left on throughout the fall, winter and early spring regardless of whether or not icy conditions exist. The wireless central system should be operational by January 2012. “This project is part of the MTA’s overall commitment to lower energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint while putting more people to work as we continue to modernize our infrastructure,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder said in a statement. · (1)

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The current contract plan for the Second Ave. Subway. (Via the MTA’s Sept. 24 presentation to CB 8. Click to enlarge.)

Over the weekend, a few SAS commenters got into a long discussion about the pace of work — or lack thereof — along Second Ave. People who are in the neighborhood on a daily basis see little day-to-day progress while those who come through the Upper East Side see that something has happened but aren’t quite sure what.

Meanwhile, as time ticks on, the MTA’s plans for a tunnel boring machine launch fall further behind schedule. At one point, the TBM work was set to wrap up by Christmas of 2009. Later on, the TBM should have launched in July. Now, with unstable buildings and negligent landlords plaguing construction, utility relocation work is progressing south of the launch box area, but the tunnel boring machine and the excavations that require blasting are in limbo.

OldScheduleLargeA few weeks ago, at a Community Board 8 meeting, the MTA unveiled a new schedule of contracts for the Second Ave. Subway. Ben at The Launch Box wrote upsome observations and analysis of this new document, and I’ve posted it above. Click the thumbnail at right for a comparison to a schedule released three years ago on July 11, 2006.

If we didn’t know about the myriad delays that have plagued the Second Ave. Subway, it would be shocking to see a timeline of this project pushed back four years over the span of 36 months. With contract lengths receding ever on into the future, it is of little wonder that people in the neighborhood think nothing is getting done.

Off the bat, we can see that the TBM launch box duration is a major source of delay. Originally slated to take 37 months, that aspect of the project is now scheduled for 51 months. It didn’t get started on time and won’t wrap up until June 2011. The station work too is set for a longer timeline. In 2006, the MTA budgeted 54 months for the 96th St. station work, 25 months for a retrofitting of the current 63rd St. stop on the F and 49 months each for the stations planned for 72nd St. and 86th St. The systems work and test runs were to take 53 months.

Those timelines have been blown out of the water. The 96th St. station is set to take 72 months to build; the 63rd St. stop will be under construction for 30 months; the actual work on the 86th St. stop will take 60 months; and the 72nd St. stop will be completed in 62 months. Systems work will last for 67 months, and Transit plans to run non-revenue tests for three months before an estimated December 2016 completion date. At the Launch Box, Ben notes that overall construction time has increased from seven years and one month to nine years eight months.

So what then are the causes? Soon, the MTA Inspector General will release a report that promises to be critical of the pace of construction. The Launch Box targets four specific problem areas: Utility relocation took far longer than expected; contracts were awarded later than expected; final design elements were not finalized until late in the process due to requests from the community for additional review; and real estate acquisition and stabilization problems have slowed down the overall process.

In the end, we knew the Second Ave. Subway has suffered through delays. With the hard evidence, though, it’s very tough to believe the delays are a thing of the past and that this subway line will open by the end of 2016 or the start of 2017. At what point does the MTA throw in the towel? When do we look for surface-based, light-rail solutions to the East Side transit congestion problems? Can the city afford to wait another seven or eight years for a subway line that may never fully open when more cost-efficient solutions are out there?

Comments (21)

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New luggage racks are coming to seven airport-bound bus routes. (Photo courtesy of New York City Transit)

As urban airports go, New York City’s are generally transit-accessible. Subway lines to JFK’s Airtrain lead to 50-minute rides from midtown Manhattan, and although no subway heads directly to LaGuardia Airport, the M60 is a popular route for those flying out of the city’s soon-to-be 70-year-old commercial airport.

And yet, despite this transit-oriented approach to air travel, it is remarkably inconvenient to take a suitcase on public transportation. Have you tried lugging a giant wheeling suitcase on the subway, let alone the M60? It is a royal hassle.

Today, at the end of a semi-three-day weekend during which many New Yorkers travel, New York City Transit has unveiled a pilot program to equip airport-bound buses with luggage racks. The new racks, shown above, “should make for a more comfortable ride for passengers carrying luggage onboard while providing more room for everyone,” says the agency’s press release. No longer will suitcases block the narrow bus aisles. Instead, a good six bags can be stored on these luggage racks leading to more space and freer aisles.

Although the convenience of these racks is nearly indisputable, MTA plans a trial run and slow roll-out on seven airport-bound bus lines. The first luggage rack went into service today on the M60, and the rack is located across from the bus’ rear exit door.

“We believe that the racks will be a great amenity, making things more comfortable for our customers and even helping our bus operators speed their trips. We are going to have our managers out monitoring these buses, asking our customers and bus operators if they are seeing an improvement,” Joseph Smith, the Department of Buses’ senior V.P., said. “If the results are positive, we will expand the installation of the racks to other buses on these routes.”

For now, look for the customer-focused initiative to pop up on the M60, B15, Q3, Q10, Q33, Q48 and Q72 routes. Ten buses total will be outfitted with these luggage racks, and it won’t be long before taking the bus to airport is even easier than it is today.

Categories : Buses
Comments (10)
  • How were your weekend travels? · For the past five days, we’ve heard a lot about the substantial service changes that were in effect this past weekend. On Wednesday, news outlets started proclaming the end of days, and nearly every line suffered a diversion. Still, when I took the trains this weekend, it just wasn’t that bad. My Q went local in Manhattan; my N local in Brooklyn. My travels took a few extra minutes and were probably more circuitous than they otherwise would have been. I was however expecting a lot worse.

    Apparently, I was the exception to the rule. I didn’t need to rely on the L and its shuttle buses, the F and its shuttle buses or any of the Upper Manhattan stops. Glenn Collins of The Times tracked down a bunch of unprepared straphangers, and they related their horror stories to the Grey Lady. People bemoan the construction without understanding its purpose, but more telling are their approaches — or non-approaches — to informing themselves about the service change ahead of time.

    Every weekend, the MTA changes service, and it’s hard to believe that people haven’t yet learned to look for advisories ahead of time or come prepared for longer commutes. I am sympathetic to a point because getting around on the weekends is no longer easy, but straphangers need to take the initiative to solve their commutes. The information is out there. Go forth and plan. · (9)
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