A few weeks ago, GOOD Magazine unveiled a new series called Cities, Rethought. The feature, created in collaboration with IBM, explores the problems urban areas face and the ways in which these systems can be fixed through novel uses of technology.

As part of the introduction to the series, GOOD posted the above graphic on its website. The Oliver Munday creation delves into the pieces and systems that make up New York City. For a bigger and more interactive version, click here.

As you can see, the subways feature prominently in New York’s make-up. They cost nearly $8 billion a year to run and ferry 7.4 million people per day. Although the subways come in fifth in expenditures to government, health, education and utilities, this graph helps to underscore one of my overarching themes on Second Ave. Sagas: We need a more forward-looking transit policy in this city because the subways are vital to the economic well-being and future success of the New York Metropolitan area.

Without the subways, the city would cease to function. Yet, politicians begrudgingly fund the MTA, and New Yorkers treat it as though it is an unloved but necessary part of the day. With the right level of investment, with the right leaders pushing for the right reforms, the system could be faster, smoother, cleaner and more vast than it is today. To stay atop the global economy, New York will need a sensible transit plan for the next few decades, but until people — the 7.4 million of us who ride the subway every day — start urging our politicians to invest, we’ll be stuck with what we have.

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  • On station agents: to miss them or not · With the station agent cutbacks now in effect for three weeks, Michael Grynbaum of The Times hit the subways to pick up some anecdotal feedback about the impact of the cuts. The results are as we would imagine: Some people are concerned about safety; some people with big items can’t navigate the turnstiles and locked emergency exit gates; others — mostly non-English speaking tourists — are getting lost and cannot find anyone to give directions while snack vendors and newsstand workers are reluctantly turning into de facto station assistants. Still others are not bothered by the lack of station agents and note that life underground will continue as usual.

    It is, of course, an interesting debate and one we’ve had on numerous occasions here. Yet, still the same questionable claims are being made. Norman Seabrook, an MTA Board member, heaves the terrorist argument. “We just witnessed a sleeper cell that was taken down for possibly contaminating the subway system,” he said to Grynbaum. “It’s imperative that we have as many eyes and ears as possible.” The NYPD and federal agents, though, intercepted this threat long before anyone working at a station booth could see something.

    Earlier this week, Straphangers guru Gene Russianoff called upon Jay Walder to restore the agents. Walder though noted that with tough economic times and fare technology that no longer relies on someone selling tokens, the agents became expendable. Until the cash is there, the agents will not be. In the end, I am left where I always am. In cases of crime, the station agents have a duty to call for help but no legal duty to interfere. Their mere presence can do serve a deterrent purpose, and they do serve a customer assistance and relations purpose. Although many station agents knew little to nothing about the neighborhood above them, people often need the help to navigate around or into and out of the system. To miss them or not, the debate continues. · (7)


Over the last three years, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to post good news about the Fulton St. Transit Center. Originally set to be completed two years ago but now planned for 2014, the massive Lower Manhattan project is now seven years and 100 percent over budget. Yet, earlier this year, when MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu promised an on-time completion date, I believed him.

Those comments from Horodniceanu came four months ago. Although there is still plenty of time for the project to yet again fall behind schedule, the latest dispatches from the MTA present us with a glimmer of hope. The MTA earlier this week told Community Board 1 that the Transit Center is still on time, and with stimulus funds supporting the project, it is in fact humming along quite nicely.

“We’re doing very well in terms of progress on the construction,” Uday Durg, the MTA’s project manager, said this week. “We have the funding for those projects and we’d like to use the current market conditions to get them built as quick as we can.”

Matt Dunning from The Tribeca Trib had more:

Often touted as the “Grand Central Station of Lower Manhattan,” the new Fulton Street Station will be partially funded by $424 million in federal stimulus money, a little less than 40 percent of the $1.1 billion grant that the agency was first promised from the federal government. A year prior, it was revealed that the original price tag of $755 million had almost doubled. Without the federal money, the station’s unique oculus design would have been scrapped.

Since the money was delivered in August, Durg said the agency was able to finalize several contracts earlier than expected, including deals for construction of a new mezzanine and elevators for the A/C and J/M/Z platforms, as well as new entrances to the station on Williams and Dey Streets. Those projects are expected to be complete between May 2011 and March 2013.

Crews will finish later this year pouring the foundation for the new station’s vaunted main concourse, which will encompass a balcony of retail stores and restaurants and topped with an angled, cone-shaped dome to allow natural light to reach even the lowest levels of the complex. The next part of the station to be returned to everyday service, Durg said, would be the northbound platform of the Cortlandt Street R/W station, closed in 2005 due to work on the adjacent World Trade Center site.

While the cost of this project is questionable considering its final utility — after all, does Lower Manhattan really need Grand Central without an airport connection? — this development is definitely good news for a delay-plagued project. Barring any unforeseen troubles, the MTA should be able to wrap up the Fulton St. Transit Center by 2014.

At some point, Jay Walder should tell us what exactly went wrong here. This hub should have been finished two years ago, and now we’re celebrating the news that it’s still on pace to open in four years. For now, though, we’ll just recognize that Horodniceanu is sticking to his word. If he can keep this up for a few more years, perhaps the MTA really can turn over a new capital construction leaf.

Categories : Fulton Street
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  • Gearing up for a bad weekend · Although I won’t receive this weekend’s service advisories until tomorrow afternoon, the MTA has given us a sneak peek at the weekend, and it ain’t pretty. According to the weekend service advisories, every line except for the M and the two Shuttle trains will be diverted this weekend. With 24 different advisories in place, shuttle buses will be running along parts of various subway lines in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens this weekend. According to Deirdre Parker, a spokesperson at transit, the agency is trying to wrap up major work on outdoor tracks “before snow, cold and high winds set in.” I’ll have more on this on Friday, but forewarned is forearmed. · (11)


New York City Transit will roll out the Lo-V Nostalgia Train for an afternoon ride up to Yankee Stadium. (Photo via NYCTSubwayScoop on Twitter)

With tonight’s and Friday’s 6:07 p.m. start for the first game of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Minnesota Twins, the MTA is facing something of a logistical challenge. In the past, playoff games have started toward the end of the evening rush, and the MTA never really had to juggle service. This week, though, Metro-North is beefing up its pre-game service, and New York City Transit is rolling out the Nostalgia Train for a ride to the Bronx.

We’ll start with the fun news. At 3:45 p.m., the four-car Lo-V Nostalgia Train will leave Grand Central Terminal en route to the Bronx. It will make all express stops along Lexington Ave. and should arrive at Yankee Stadium at around 4:20 p.m.

These Lo-V cars were first put in service in 1917, six years before the first Yankee Stadium opened its doors. They were retired in the 1960s and have been retrofitted for Nostalgia Train rides. They provide quite the counterpoint to the R142 series cars in use along the 4 line. The ceiling fans and rattan seats are far cries from air conditioners and molded plastic.

“Taking the subway is always a great way to get to the ballgame, but being able to travel there on the nostalgia train makes an already enjoyable trip extra special,” Steven Feil, senior vice president of subways for NYC Transit, said. “These cars were in operation back when Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were wreaking havoc on the American League and now they’re back again for fans to see Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez patrol the Yankees’ infield.”

Meanwhile, to meet demand, Metro-North is adding special direct stadium trains along the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines tonight and Friday. Three extra Yankee Clipper trains will run on the Hudson Line, and the Harlem and New Haven Lines will both see one extra direct Yankee Clipper train. The stadium shuttle from Harlem/125th St. will run every 20 minutes starting at 4 p.m.

Howard Permut, Metro-North’s president, noted the difficulties of scheduling these extra trains. “Despite a game time that is in the heart of Metro-North’s evening rush hour, the railroad wants to give fans the opportunity to try our great game day service and experience the ease of beating stadium traffic,” he said. “Although the railroad does not have a lot of extra train cars or a lot of extra track capacity on a weeknight at 6 o’clock, we felt that this playoff home stand series will allow us to attract fans who we hope will become regular customers.”

The times for these special trains follows:

  • Hudson Line: Depart Croton-Harmon at 3:55 p.m. and 4:57 p.m. from Poughkeepsie at 3:30 p.m.
  • New Haven Line: Direct train departs from New Haven’s Union Station at 2:45 p.m. and makes major New Haven Line stops and then runs express from Stamford to Yankees – E. 153rd, arriving at 4:21 p.m.
  • Harlem Line: Direct train departs Southeast at 3:20 p.m. and makes all local stops to Mount Vernon West at 4:31 p.m. then operates non-stop to Yankees – E. 153rd Street, arriving at 4:52 p.m.

For up-to-date information, check out Metro-North’s Playoff Schedule website, and for all of your Yankee needs, you can find me at River Ave. Blues.

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During his New York introduction on Monday, new MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder spoke at length about buses. Surface transit, he believes, is one area in which New York could see massive improvement in short order. As the MTA attempts to rescue its buses from the travels and travails of surface congestion, Walder could make an immediate impact on the commuting landscape in New York City, and bus lanes are the key.

Right now, New York City buses are the third wheel in the transit picture in New York. For many, they are a convenient way to transverse the city, but for the vast majority of people, they are slow and inconsistent. They rarely arrive as scheduled; they stop every two blocks; and they are sometimes slower than walking. Many might wonder why should we judge the buses in the city as anything other than a failure.

Elsewhere, though, buses can serve as the complement to a vibrant rail system. It’s true that buses will never be as fast as subways, and without running at super-high capacity levels, buses will never service as many people as subways can. But with a little bit of innovation and some dedicated lanes, buses can be an integral part of an integrated rapid transit system in any urban environment, including the congested streets of New York City.

When the MTA first started implementing bus rapid transit — known here as Select Bus Service — the city appealed to Albany for a home rule measure that would allow them to enforce bus-only lanes. David Gantt, an upstate representative from the Rochester area, blocked this effort, and NYCDOT and the MTA have tried to figure out ways around this Albany denial. At the time, Gantt worried about the civil liberties concerns behind red-light camera enforcement of bus lanes. Recently, though, Albany has seemed more amenable to granted the city the ability to enforce bus lanes.

To that end, Jay Walder believes bus lanes are key to improving the city’s bus-centric future. In an interview with WCBS TV, Walder talked about his belief in the power of bus lanes. “You and I would never think of stopping our car on a train track, but some how the idea of stopping a car in a bus lane seems acceptable. It’s not,” he said.

Walder stressed his belief in bus lane enforcement. “You go through a process of saying you recognize the license plate, you issue tickets and when you begin to prove to people that a bus lane is meant for a bus and that there’s actually an enforcement that takes place people respond. They respond,” he noted.

Although the CBS coverage features man-on-the-street comments from New Yorkers who know little to nothing about public transit, the truth is that bus lane enforcement — or even physically separated bus lanes — could revolutionize bus transportation in New York City. Imagine bus routes with prioritized signal that do not need to fight with cars and taxis for lane space. Imagine buses that don’t have to worry about parking in bus stops or double parking in traffic lanes. Imagine buses that can go three times as they fast as they currently go.

Jay Walder understands that buses are a more cost-efficient way of adding transit capacity. He understands that while projects such as the Second Ave. Subway cost billions of the dollars, the entire city could be outfitted with select bus service for just that cost. Bus lane enforcement is just the first step, and if Walder can deliver that, we can look forward to numerous transit improvements under his watch.

Categories : Buses
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  • Taking a lesson from the City · While the MTA is still trying to figure out what to do with its massive amounts of scheduling data, the City of New York has decided to pursue an open source policy. In fact, as The Times Bits blogs announced today, the City is hosting an application development initiative targeted to the city’s developers and programmers. The City will make available, as Jenna Wortham reports, “170 data sets supplied by over 30 city agencies, including weekly traffic updates, schedules of citywide events, property sales, restaurant inspections and mappable data around school and voting districts.” The winners will receive up to $20,000 in cash, and the applications will be available to the public. While Department of Transportation information will be included in the data sets, the MTA’s information will, sadly, be absent from the competition. This is the path the MTA should follow as it searches for ways to open its data to the public. [NYC Big Apps via Bits] · (1)
  • Inside the legal fees for the MTA/TWU dispute · The Post today reports that the MTA has already spent $1.2 million in legal fees to fight the binding arbitration decision that guaranteed TWU workers 11 percent raises over three years. Of course, everyone is outraged — OUTRAGED! Curtis Tate, acting TWU boss, called it “this ridiculous waste of public resources.” Gene Russianoff, slightly less hyperbolic, questioned the outside expenditures: “They spent a lot of dough, and I wonder why they can’t do more of that in-house.”

    Of course, anyone with a little knowledge of the legal world would have an understanding of the situation. The MTA stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year if the arbitration is upheld. Furthermore, outside law firms have the expertise and manpower to adequately combat a so-called binding arbitration decision. While the MTA’s in-house counsel can provide support, the lawyers at Littler Mendelson are much better suited for the task. The $1.2 million for a corporation the size of the MTA is but a drop in the legal bucket, and although the story makes for populist outrage, it’s a non-starter. · (0)

It must be tough to live through day one at the helm of the MTA. In a city of know-it-alls, everyone wants to be the first, second or even third person to tell you how to do your job, and Jay Walder yesterday was no exception.

Fresh off the plane from England and living on little sleep, Walder took the reins of the MTA and promised big changes. But first, he needs an action plan. “By the end of my first 100 days at the MTA, we will produce an action plan for moving forward with concrete goals and timelines,” Walder said to reporters on Monday. “We will make the objectives clear and the communities we serve should hold us accountable for achieving real results.”

Who wants to wait for Walder though? Heather Haddon of amNew York offered up her brief list of priorities, and Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers, in a press release not available online, also listed what they consider to be Walder’s priorities. The Straphangers’ list is fairly typical: Block maintenance and station agent cuts; improve bus service; utilize the line manager program; support public authority oversight. Ho hum.

With this lists in mind, I’m going to — surprise! surprise! — offer up my own list of the top five initiatives that Walder should tackle. He doesn’t need 100 days to put this action plan together, and in fact, at least one of these suggestions could be accomplished before the 100 days is up.

1. Overhaul the MTA’s Website
This particular initiative is really not that ground-breaking, and yet, it is a topic upon which I have harped for years. As I said in January, the MTA’s website pales in comparison with those of its competitors. When we examine the WMATA’s site, Transport for London’s homepage and the Chicago Transit Authority’s site, we see transit network websites designed with clear interfaces, easy-to-find trip planners and information at our fingertips. When we look at the MTA’s Internet home, we see a mess.

To make matters worse, the MTA’s site hasn’t really improved its look in six years. Don’t believe me? Take a look at its homepage from Oct. 8, 2003. The site has more information than it did during the early 2000s, but the look and navigation remain outdated and impossible to use.

Overhauling the MTA’s website will give the agency a much better public face and presence on the Internet. It’s 2009; those qualities go without say.

2. Open MTA data
In mid-September, I explored how the MTA is struggling in an age of open information. They had been pursuing spurious copyright claims against iPhone application developers, and while these actions have since ceased on the part of the transit agency, the data remains inaccessible. Hand in hand with a website redesign is an overhaul of the MTA’s data policies. The agency should open its scheduling information to developers and allow them to run wild with it. It can only contribute to transit interest and ridership demands.

3. Come clean on the Second Ave. Subway
When the Second Ave. Subway project got off the ground earlier this decade, Phase I was supposed to open in 2012, and the other Phases were to follow by 2020. On the precipice of 2010, we now know that Phase I may not open until 2018, and the other Phases remain unfunded ideas. In fact, in its next five-year capital plan, the MTA is requesting funds to finish Phase I but no money for Phase II or beyond.

While the MTA Inspector General is working on a report, Walder should commission an internal review of the Capital Construction department. Why is this project six years behind schedule and counting? What can be to speed up the pace of construction and restore a drive to see a full Second Ave. Subway with the next 10 or 15 years? What is wrong with the MTA’s process that multi-year delays plaguing multi-billion-dollar projects become the norm rather than exception?

4. Improve Surface Transit
New York City Transit’s buses are so slow that the Straphangers award them medals for lack of speed. Meanwhile, our city streets are so congested with unnecessary cars that buses can’t get anywhere. Make a strong push to reclaim the streets for transit. There is no reason that every avenue in Manhattan without a subway line under it can’t have Select Bus Service by the end of next year or 2011. There is no reason why outer borough thoroughfares should be held captive to automobile traffic at the expense of those using the buses. It might even be time to take a look at Vision42’s plan to remove cars from 42nd St. Since subway line construction is proving fiscally impractical right now, Walder should become a drive to give substantial surface space to bus lines.

5. Look to the Future
In early 2008 as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the MTA, then-CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander unveiled an ambitious if impossible 40-year plan to bring transit to, well, everywhere. In his vision, the major avenues would feature physically separated bus lanes, and a TriboroRX line would connect underserved areas in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. To many this plan is but a dream, but as Walder takes over, he should keep that dream in mind. While the subways need a lot of work today, we can’t be afraid of pushing for a better future. Only by keeping those goals in mind can we realize and overcome the problems facing a healthy and vibrant transit system in New York City.

Categories : MTA
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Jay Walder chats with reporters during his ride into Manhattan on the 7 train. (Photo courtesy of MTA/Patrick Cashin)

Nearly five months to the day since Elliot Sander stepped down as MTA CEO and Executive Director, the citys’ transit agency has a new permanent leader. Today marked the first day of work for the incoming CEO and Chairman Jay Walder. A veteran of the MTA and the man credited with modernizing the London Underground, Walder will spearhead the agency at a time of fiscal distress and amidst a public outcry for better service.

To begin his six-year term, Walder has engaged in a press tour lately. He spoke with the Daily News and a reporter from WNYC over the weekend. This morning, he greeted commuters at Flushing/Main St. on the 7 line and rode the subway into Manhattan with those who cover transit for the city’s news outlets. While I couldn’t make the meet-and-greet due to an early-morning class, Walder’s comments seem consistent across the medium: He wants to improve the customer experience, and he wants the agency, notorious for its slow rate of adaptation and innovation, to improve its response time and generally pick up the pace.

“By the end of my first 100 days at the MTA, we will produce an action plan for moving forward with concrete goals and timelines,” Walder said this morning. “We will make the objectives clear and the communities we serve should hold us accountable for achieving real results…”New Yorkers should be able to expect the same type of customer experience riders enjoy in London, with accurate arrival information and modern fare technology.”

While streamlining internal operations will be high on his priority list, the sexier issues he plans to tackle focus around technology and customer service. Known as the person who brought the Oyster Card to London, Walder understands the benefits of a faster fare-payment system, particularly as it applies to bus loading times, and wants to see countdown clocks implemented faster than the MTA currently plans to do so.

“I think we have to find a way to accelerate that timetable,” he said to WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman. “It helps. If you watch the London Underground, if you simply see people coming down into the station, they walk down to the platform. Everyone does exactly the same thing. They look up at the sign and find out exactly when the next train is coming and whether that sign says the train is coming in two minutes or four minutes or eight minutes they feel better with the knowledge that the system is running, that the train is coming and they can deal with that [wait] accordingly.”

In a more general sense, Walder wants the MTA to become more user-friendly. “We really want to have a system that provides an ease of use all around that we don’t have today, whether that’s the ticketing system or whether that’s electronic information that tells us what’s happening or whether that’s a website that gives us the information about what’s happening with the system because we’ve become accustomed to getting that in other environments,” he explained to Schuerman.

He talked further with Pete Donohue and the Daily News about improving both technology and the bus system. I am particularly pleased to hear Walder touch upon the MTA’s website as it is currently stuck in 1999. A new information-laden site would do wonders for the agency’s public image and ease of use.

It’s hard not to get excited about Walder. He has more power than Lee Sander did and comes from a similarly qualified background. He isn’t a real estate mogul (Peter Kalikow) or a politically-connected rich lawyer (E. Virgil Conway), and he should serve out his full six-year term.

That said, he faces a Herculean task. He has to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that currently surrounds every facet of the MTA; he is coming on board at a time of strained labor relations; and he has to figure out a solution to the MTA’s $10 billion capital funding while working to ensure that the agency’s operating costs are funded as well. In other words, he is trying to modernize the system while trying to keep it afloat as well. Walder, all six feet, six inches of him, handled London. Now let’s see how he does in New York.

After the jump, a photo of Walder as he greets passengers who are much, much shorter than he is. Photo courtesy of MTA/Patrick Cashin.

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