• For the 19th straight month, toll traffic declines · The MTA released the May numbers for its bridges and tunnels division yesterday, and for the 19th straight month, toll volume has declined. According to the most recent numbers, May 2009 saw 799,890 tolled trips per day, down from a high of 837,537 per day in October 2007. Comparing years, May 2008 saw 200,000 more drivers than did May 2009, and overall toll traffic is down 3.1 percent from 2008 through the first five months of the year.

    Bill Henderson, member of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, told The Post’s Tom Namako that the slumping economy and ongoing job losses are the culprits behind the declining toll traffic. I like to think commuters are being more economically and environmentally responsible by heading to the subways while eschewing driving. As the MTA raised the rolls on its bridges and tunnels just nine days ago, it will be interesting to see if those increases cause an even bigger slump in toll volume for July. · (1)

Waiting for Walder

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One week ago, Gov. David Paterson officially named Jay Walder as the next MTA Chair. During the introductory press conference, Walder made clear his knowledge of the severity of the MTA’s financial situation. He pledged a fully-funded capital plan and noted the uphill battle the man at the top of the MTA must face.

In the wake of the nomination, the city’s papers were full of praise for Paterson, a rare occurrence indeed. Newsday said that Walder had “the right resume and the right attitude.” The Daily News called him “a highly credible candidate.”

Beyond the praise, though, these endorsements were notable for their warning. Newsday’s editorial staff expressed its concern for the process. “Get started now on Walder’s confirmation,” they wrote following a note of dismay:

Let’s get the public hearings started to make sure he is the right person for the job. But State Senate Democrats are threatening to delay his confirmation. Brooklyn Sen. Carl Kruger, chairman of the Finance Committee, says the process could take months. These so-called leaders seem to be playing politics to exact revenge on Paterson for making them work two weekends. How petty.

The News fingered the Fare Hike Four. The four obstructionist Senators were on the verge of holding Paterson’s nominee hostage for no good reason:

It’s now up to the state Senate to vote yes or no on confirming Jay Walder to a post that is critical to delivering 8.5 million rides every weekday. Which leaves New Yorkers in the hands of the same muscle-flexing, shortsighted, wrongheaded bunch that took the Senate hostage, consequences be damned. This is bad. Very bad.

Senate President Malcolm Smith, Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Conference Leader John Sampson and Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger yesterday began holding Walder’s appointment for ransom while exacting revenge on Paterson for trying to force them back to work.

Rather than expeditiously convening a hearing and voting on his qualifications, the quartet announced that they would hold conclaves in the MTA service region before someday getting around to his appointment. It could take months, Kruger said. This time, Smith, Espada, Sampson and Kruger are putting personal agendas over the interests of straphangers.

Seven days later, nothing has happened. A very qualified candidate with a realistic idea of what he has to do sits in limbo. Meanwhile, Kruger, Espada, Hiram Monserrate and Ruben Diaz, are being called “the laughingstock of the city” by Albany watchers.

It shouldn’t be like this. Transit is waiting on the edge of a financial crisis. The MTA is teetering on the brink, and the State Senate is playing petty revenge with this city’s lifeblood. One day, we’ll have to exact electoral justice on the Fare Hike Four. For now, just confirm Walder and give the MTA the leadership it needs.

Categories : MTA Politics
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  • The B62 to ease B61 congestion · Currently, the B61 is one of the city’s longest and slowest bus rides. It heads from the Ikea in Red Hook to Queens Plaza in Long Island City. Its route is a zany, meandering one that ambles through Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, Williamsburg and Greenpoint before reaching its northern terminus. Now, in an effort to ease congestion along the route, NYC Transit is considering splitting the route into two this January. Based on the preliminary plan, the B62 would head from Downtown Brooklyn to Long Island City, and the B61 would go from Downtown Brooklyn to the Ikea in Red Hook.

    As amNew York’s Heather Haddon notes, some riders may find the split and Downtown Brooklyn transfer inconvenient. Most riders in the northern parts of Brooklyn, however, use the bus route to deliver them to the 7 or L trains in Long Island City or Williamsburg. This break-up will, according to Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges, create “more consistent and efficient service.” If approved by the MTA Board, it will go into effect in January. · (11)

The noisy, noisy subways

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Every day, my morning commute exposes me to countless noises. According to a recent study, those noises could be very damaging to everyone’s ears.

My commute starts out at 7th Ave. on the BMT Brighton Line in Brooklyn. If I have to wait, inevitably a Coney Island- or Bright Beach-bound train will idle in the station with its air conditioner humming. When my ride arrives, the brakes squeal as the train pulls into the station. As the train heads north to Manhattan, it rumbles through tunnels at various speeds, and after leaving Atlantic Ave., the train curves its way to De Kalb Ave. with metal-on-metal screeching through the tunnel.

This noise doesn’t even count the various on-car noises. The PA systems on the B train are in a terrible state. Constant high-pitched feedback has become the norm, and on-board announcements run the gamut from inaudible to deafening. Personally, I don’t listen to my iPod in the morning, but plenty of people do. I know this because I can hear the loud, loud music leaking out through shoddy headphones. In the end, that’s a lot of noise.

Just to drive home the point, though, a bunch of academics have verified that, yes, the subways are very loud. A survey conducted last month by a bunch of students at the University of Washington and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health founds that subway rides expose us all to “high enough to potentially increase the risk of noise induced hearing loss.”

The release about the study had more:

Using sensitive noise dosimeters, the team of researchers…conducted hundreds of measurements of noise levels at platforms and stations, as well as inside of vehicles on New York City subways (MTA and PATH), buses (MTA), ferries (Staten Island), commuter railways (LIRR, SIRR and Metro North), and the Roosevelt Island tramway.

The scientists found that on average, the MTA subways had the highest noise levels, at 80.4 decibels (dBA), followed by the Path trains, at 79.4 dBA, and the tram, at 77.0 dBA. The lowest average levels measured, 74.9 dBA and 75.1 dBA, were obtained from the LIRR and Metro-North trains, respectively. The very highest levels measured in the study were found on an MTA subway platform (102.1dBA) and at a bus stop (101.6 dBA).

In contrast, the noise level of a whisper is 30 dBA, normal conversation is 60 to 70 dBA, a chainsaw is 100 dBA, and gunfire is 140 dBA.

In general, noise levels were significantly higher at platforms compared to inside vehicles for all forms of mass transit, except for ferries and the tram. The borough with the highest mass transit noise levels was Manhattan, followed by Queens and the Bronx. Major hubs were noisier than local stops and underground trains and stations were significantly louder than those aboveground.

The researchers warned that their findings were alarming. “At some of the highest noise levels we obtained, 102.1 dBA on the subway platforms, as little as two minutes of exposure per day would be expected to cause hearing loss in some people with frequent ridership, based upon the International Organization for Standardization models for predicting hearing impairment from noise,” Robyn Gershon, a Columbia scientists, said.

Experts have urged New Yorkers to use ear muffs and ear plugs, but the vast majority of commuters do not. As the MTA replaces its rolling stock, the more modern cars are quieter with better brake technology. As the ancient track beds are modernized, the MTA is trying to implement infrastructure that will dampen the noise.

Still, though, are commutes are loud. As we wait for trains in the morning and bury ourselves in newspapers, books and iPods, the trains fade into the backgrounds. But the truth remains: That is one very loud background.

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This video may just push me to get an iPhone. It’s a video of a yet-to-be-approved iPhone app that calculates a user’s location and shows the nearest subway stations. It will be available from acrossair as soon as Apple approves it, and you can drool over it find out more information right here.

On that brief note, the weekend service advisories. Remember: These are from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Please check the signs in stations as you travel and be sure to listen to on-board announcements.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, July 18, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, July 19 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to rail installation and switch renewal.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Manhattan-bound 2 and 5 trains run express from East 180th Street to 3rd Avenue due to signal cable installation south of East 180th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, downtown 4 trains run local from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, uptown 4 trains run express from 14th Street to 125th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, there are no 5 trains between Bowling Green and 42nd Street-Grand Central due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers may take the 4 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to 3rd Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 18 and Sunday, July 19, free shuttle buses and shuttle train service replace the A between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and the Rockaways due to rail work on South Channel Bridge.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, there is no C service due to Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector. A trains replace the C making local stops between 168th Street and Jay Street and F trains replace the C between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to repair of retaining wall and viaduct at the Coney Island Yard.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Brooklyn-bound D trains skip DeKalb Avenue and run express from Pacific Street to 36th Street due to track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Manhattan-bound EF trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Jamaica-bound EF trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Queens-bound E trains run express from Queens Plaza to Jackson-Heights Roosevelt Avenue due to rail work north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, F trains run on the G line from Jay Street to Euclid Avenue and G trains replace the F from Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to Jay Street station rehabilitation and construction of underground connector.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and Pacific Street due to a track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Brooklyn-bound N and Q trains run on the R line from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to a track chip-out at DeKalb Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 20, Queens-bound R trains run express form Queens Plaza to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to rail work north of Queens Plaza.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Any head of the MTA will inevitably have to work with the city’s various transit labor unions. To that end, Jay Walder is no novice. While at Transpot for London, he constantly interacted with labor unions more prone to strikes than ours are, and many observers and labor proponents in London wonder if Walder is up for the job.

Pete Donohue in The Daily News yesterday had more:

Bus and subway workers could be in for a bumpy ride if former London transit chief Jay Walder becomes MTA chairman, a London labor leader warned Tuesday. Walder pushed for work-rule and job-assignment changes contrary to contracts with London’s subway and bus workers, British labor leader Bob Crow told the Daily News. He was a behind-the-scenes figure who had the ear of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, said Crow, head of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

“I predict there will big problems with labor at the MTA as a result of his appointment,” Crow said. “He believed the contracts with our members were too restrictive to run the system efficiently. He wanted the workforce to be at the beck and call of management.”

…Longtime union activist John Samuelsen, who is running for Local 100 President, said he has consulted with Crow about Walder and his work in London.

“He didn’t strike me as anti-union, but he certainly was surprised at the antiquated methods of operation on the Underground and no doubt the duplication of roles and the way staff can certainly spend some time not doing anything at all,” Dick Murray, transport reporter for the London Evening Standard, said of Walder.

Since the 2005 transit strike, the MTA and its various unions have reached an uneasy truce. Many union members feel the authority doesn’t do enough while some transit advocates believe the labor deals are the main force behind the MTA’s unsteady finances.

No matter the reality of that situation, Walder will have to both confront and work with the transit labor officials. It is just another task on the growing list of challenges the new MTA Chair must confront.

Categories : MTA Politics
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At some point over the next few months, the State Senate will vote to confirm Jay Walder as the tenth chairman of the MTA Board. The one-time agency CFO and long-term transit veteran knows he faces an uphill climb, but he couldn’t really turn down the job.

In The Times yesterday, Michael Grynbaum explored Walder’s rational for taking on this Herculean transit task. “It’s a big risk,” Robert E. Paaswell, a transit expert at the City College of New York, said. “Jay has every tool imaginable to run the system, but brilliance may not cut it.”

In the end, though, it really boils down to one characteristic: The MTA is still the top dog among the world’s untamable transit beasts. “To run the M.T.A. is the sine qua non of transit jobs,” Paaswell said to Grynbaum. “If it’s available, no matter where you are, you take it.”

It’s all well and good to talk about the reasons behind taking the job, but the truth is that Walder has a tall task ahead him. He needs to prioritize certain aspects of the job, and right now, I’d like to offer up my take on the top challenges facing the MTA over the next few years. This is a roadmap to the job Jay Walder should aim to do as the head of the MTA.

1. Get Albany on our side — There is really no good reason for any New York City-based state representative to be anti-transit. Yet, time and again, we see groups such as the Fair Hike Four espouse an anti-transit point of view. It’s an indisputable fact that millions of New Yorkers a day rely on the MTA to get them to and from work, school, doctor’s appointments, errands, baseball games, museums and, well, just about anything. Albany needs to recognize the importance of sensible transit funding options to the city, and Walder has to guide them there.

2. Winning the PR battle — As I mentioned more than once over the last few weeks, the MTA has a public relations problem. No matter what they do right — no matter how many innovations come out of Transit and no matter how often the trains run smoothly — the bad news always dominates the headlines. Walder has to turn the MTA from a whipping boy into a body that, if not respected, is at least given its dues by New Yorkers. If he can turn the media just a bit, the public will be far more willing to embrace the MTA.

3. Offer more service for fare hikes — It is simply an economic fact of life that the MTA will have to raise fares. It is first the only means of balancing the budget not dependent upon politicians, but it is also rational to do so based on inflation. The public can understand this latter reasoning but wants something in return. And so, when the MTA raises the fares, they should attempt to explain what new service they are brining on board. Even if it something as mundane as extending the 5 into Brooklyn during off-peak, mid-day hours or terminating the G at Church Ave. instead of Smith/9th Sts. People will not grumble as much if they get something in return.

4. Fund the capital campaign — Right now, the MTA’s next capital campaign is expected to cost nearly $30 billion, and it will include extending the Second Ave. Subway, funding the East Side Access project and various other minor station repairs and rolling stock purchases. Walder has to find a way to secure the funds for this program without incurring more debt and with an eye toward ensuring future investments as well. He knows the enormity of this task, and for better or worse, it will dominate his first few months as Chair.

5. Bring the MTA into the 21st Century — Every article and blog post about Walder makes mention of the fact that he brought the RFID-based, contactless Oyster Card fare payment system to the London Underground, and we all know he wants to do the same thing here. Bring it on, I say. The MTA is a system relying on late 20th century technology for its fare collection and early 20th century technology for some of its signaling. It’s time for the MTA to enter the 21st century. We want real-time train arrival boards, better fare payment methods and a website that doesn’t look as though it is stuck in 1997.

For the most part, none of these five bullets are that innovative, and right now, the city doesn’t need a particularly innovative chair of the MTA. What we need is someone with the drive and will see these goals realized. Can Jay Walder do that? We’ll find out soon enough.

Categories : MTA
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Yesterday afternoon, I offered up a short piece and a link to the Straphangers Campaign annual state of the subways report card. I didn’t have time then to really drill down on the findings and offer up my critique of the survey. So let’s jump in now.

First up were the Straphangers’ various findings. You can see the tables of subway grades on the report’s site. Unfortunately, they’re available only as PDFs and not, in 2009, as online tables. Anyway, technology gripes aside, the top-line findings:

  1. The best subway line in the city is the 7 with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.55
  2. The L came in second behind the 7 with a MetroCard Rating of $1.50.
  3. Both the L and 7 are in a “line general managers” program, which has promise to improve service.
  4. The C was ranked the worst subway line, with a MetroCard Rating of 50 cents.
  5. Overall, we found a mixed picture for subway service on the three measures we can compare over time — car breakdowns, car cleanliness and announcements.
  6. There are large disparities in how subway lines perform.

Those last two points in the survey require some further digging. Both in that top-line summary and in the subway line profiles, the Straphangers reveal widely divergent results without explaining they whys of it.

They only time, in fact, that they do explain why is in point three. The 7 and L performed better because the pilot program for the Line Managers had more resources available than the rest of the subway lines currently enjoy or will have in the future. In that regard, the Straphangers’ assessment doesn’t consider how Transit has seemingly weighted any line analysis in favor of a pilot program for which they wanted full approval.

In discussing points five and six, the Straphangers offered up some numbers. We’ll focus on two of them:

  • The car fleet breakdown rate worsened from an average mechanical failure every 149,646 miles in 2007 to 134,795 in 2008 — a drop of almost 10%. This is a bad trend, raising questions about the condition and maintenance of the aging transit fleet. We found: fifteen lines worsened (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, F, G, L, Q, R and V), while seven lines improved (2, B, D, J/Z, M, N and W).
  • Accurate and understandable subway car announcements improved, going from 85% in our last report to 90% in the current report. We found that: sixteen lines improved (1, 6, 7, A, B, C, E, F, G, J/Z, M, N, Q, R, V and W), two worsened slightly (D and L) and four remained unchanged (2, 3, 4 and 5).

What is happening here is clear: The subway lines that enjoyed a rollout of new R160s during 2008 saw marked improvements in their scores. The B and W— two lines showing improvements in the maintenance department — inherited newer cars when the Q and N received new cars. Meanwhile, the BMT Nassau St./Jamaica line trains (the J, M and Z) also were the recipients of new trains. Thus, those lines were nearly guaranteed improvements across the board.

Point six suffered from the same new train bias. The N, according to the Straphangers, had a breakdown rate nearly 200,000 miles above average. That’s because the R160s haven’t yet started to break down or even age yet. Instead of praising the line for its successes, the Straphangers should be praising the MTA for investing in new rolling stock.

In the end, this survey is what it is. We all know that it’s tough to get a seat at rush hour, that the antiquated public address system isn’t really adequate and that stations are both crowded and dirty. The real reasons for the improvements — new cars, new management programs and an unequal and unsustainable redistribution of cleaning services — make for a far more compelling story than the one the Straphangers told yesterday.

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A close-up of the planned realignment of the uptown IRT platform at Bleecker St. (Courtesy of Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects. Click to enlarge.)

A long, long time ago — May 30, 2007, to be exact — I unveiled architectural renderings of a station connection decades in the making. That day, we explored Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects’ plans for a complete renovation of the Bleecker St./Broadway-Lafayette complex.

The overhaul includes a fully ADA-compliant station, but the real catch is a true connection between the 6 on the upper level and the IND stop on the lower level. For decades, this station provided a transfer point only for those coming from and going to the downtown 6 trains but not the uptown trains. The two IRT platforms were off-set by a good 300 feet, and a full transfer to the uptown trains was impossible.

Now, the MTA is overhauling the station. As part of the $94 million project set to wrap up in November 2011, the uptown IRT platform is being extended 300 feet south to line up with its downtown counterpart. The mezzanine above the IND stop at Broadway/Lafayette but below the IRT will be extended east to provide a full transfer, and elevators and escalators will provide all sorts of access.

The project commenced with little fanfare a few months ago, but this week, we’ve seen a flurry of Bleecker St.-related stories emerge. For the subway construction porn aficionados among us, LHP Architects has updated the project page with new renderings, and I’ll show a few at the end of this post.

On a more ground-level basis, Curbed has some stunning pictures of the state of the IRT tunnel as well. These photos — available here and here — show corroding bricks lining the walls to the 105-year-old tunnels. Curbed also notes plans to open a new station entrance in front of the Puck Building on Houston St. for the southern end of the uptown IRT platform.

Finally, of course, we arrive at the construction hiccups. Earlier this week, Heather Haddon reported on some unanticipated problems concerning the nearby Peace Pentagon. This bastion of liberal activism at the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette Sts. is apparently sinking, and the building has been surrounded by scaffolding since 2007. The perilous state of this building is preventing the MTA from embarking on some of the work on the project.

To further complicate things, the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, the owners of the so-called Peace Pentagon, do not have the money to pay for the building upgrades, and everything remains in limbo. While Haddon reported that the MTA is looking into a solution, Transit officials assured me earlier this week that these problems would not delay completion of the station renovation. Paul Fleuranges, Transit spokesman, offered this update:

We are rescheduling this work to start in Jan. 2011 partially due to the scaffolding interference. Moving this work to 2011 will not delay the overall project completion. We have been in touch with the building owner and their lawyers to resolve the issue but have not received any report concerning the building’s condition. We are looking at options that would have our contractor modify the scaffolding to allow him to perform the work.

And that’s that. Exciting times for a station overhaul decades in the making.

After the jump, two additional glimpses into the station renovation. Click the images to enlarge.
Read More→

Categories : MTA Construction
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  • Straphangers give 7, L high marks · The Straphangers Campaign released their annual State of the Subway survey this afternoon, and I’ll just provide you with a link to the results right now. I’ll have time to give some more analysis and thoughts on this survey later. The winners are the 7 and L, the two lines that were both under the auspices of the Line Manager pilot program in 2008. The C was the lowest rank line, unseating the W for that dubious distinction. · (6)
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