• In DC, underground cell coverage expanded · Over the last few years, I’ve followed the MTA’s attempt at bringing cell phone service to its underground platforms while, at the same time, exploring how Washington’s WMATA has far surpassed the MTA in this technological effort. This past weekend, the Metro moved yet another step ahead of New York City as it expanded cell service at its busiest stations. While Verizon customers have enjoyed underground coverage for years, Friday marked the start of underground service for AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile at the system’s 20 most popular stations.

    Friday’s service debut was just the start of an ambitious roll-out of cellular subway service. By the end of next month, D.C. straphangers will enjoy continuous street-to-platform coverage, and in a year from now, the unwired 27 underground stations will be hooked into the cell network. In Oct. 2012, full underground service inside the tunnels will debut. As D.C. moves ahead, here in New York, we’re just spinning our wireless wheels waiting for someone to bring cell service to the subways. · (14)
  • At Grand Central, one extra minute · For those commuters destined for Metro-North and running a few seconds later, worry not. As The Times reported this weekend, those MTA train schedules are a minute off. It is, according to Metro-North, the railroad’s policy to hold trains at Grand Central Terminal for one minute beyond the scheduled departure time so that late-running passengers have a chance to catch their trains. Michael Grynbaum tested this claim and found that, on average, trains leave 58 seconds late with some trains staying for more than 80 seconds beyond their scheduled departure time. This extra minute of “gate time” has been in place for decades, and the trains quickly meet their timetables at subsequent stops where the scheduled departure time always applies. How’s that for customer service? · (6)

On Friday afternoon — a very good time to deliver some bad news — Gov. David Paterson did just that. The state, he said, faces a projected budget deficit of nearly $50 million over the next three and a half years, and to close a gap of $3 billion for the current fiscal year, the Governor has proposed a slew of cuts that include pain for the MTA. The state may cut $113 million in MTA subsidies, and that dreaded F-word may be back on the table.

For the MTA, this news is bad. Although the budget proposal requires legislative approval, it’s hard to imagine the already-stingy state subsidies surviving these fiscal cutbacks unscathed. As William Henderson, the executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee said to The Times, “I would never bet against the state taking money back from the MTA.”

Meanwhile, the MTA’s finances are precarious as it stands now. With fewer state subsidies, the agency would be thurst again into a politically-charged financial crisis. How, then, would the MTA address th? Why, by foisting into the riders through either fare hikes, service cuts or some combination of both. Michael Grynbaum explores the pain the MTA might have to suffer through:

Any loss of financing means cuts, and the authority would have to choose from a limited list of unpleasant options. Fare increases may be the least likely option. In July, the authority announced a budget with no fare increases in 2010, a reprieve that was characterized as a sort of miracle after the crisis of late spring, when a last-minute rescue plan from Albany closed a gaping shortfall.

An abrupt fare increase could be a political disaster. Still, fare increases of 7.5 percent are planned for 2011 and 2013, so a sudden loss of financing could spur an accelerated schedule. “The money has to come from someplace,” Mr. Henderson said. To make up a $100 million shortfall, the authority would have to raise fares again by roughly 2 percent, assuming no other cost-saving measures. Fares and tolls rose about 10 percent this summer.

Service cuts could also help close the gap, but even significant changes rarely amount to big savings. Removing nearly 300 station agents from the subways last month saved $5.7 million. Overnight closing of four downtown stations on the N line would save $390,000; eliminating the W train would save $3 million; and closing the Z line and shortening the M would save $2.4 million, according to authority projections in March, when those closings were being considered.

Paterson’s office claimed that the budget cuts would not leave the MTA in an untenable financial situation, but a spokesman noted the across-the-board impact of the state deficit. “Whether it’s the state government, or the city government, or the MTA,” Matt Anderson, an Albany spokesman said to The Times, “everyone has to manage reductions in resources responsibly to maintain their credit rating.”

And so we are left right back where we started the year — or the decade. The state is going to try to further reduce the money it sends to the MTA, and an agency straining to meet ridership demand for service is going to see its budget slashed further. We need a true commitment to mass transit funding, and as the state may be in fiscal straits, the MTA will suffer for it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Friday already. This week flew by. Anyway, while the New York media is not all a-panic over the service changes, this weekend is pretty much about as bad as last weekend. Shuttle buses and service changes abound. Check out Subway Weekender for the map.

Remember: This service changes are coming to me from the MTA and are subject to change with no notice. Listen for on-board announcements and check signs at your local subway station. You know the drill.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, downtown 1/2 trains skip 86th, 79th, 66th, 59th, and 50th Streets due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.

From 5 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Avenue due to rail repairs.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, 3 trains are extended to/from 34th Street due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.

From 1 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run local from 125th Street to 42nd Street-Grand Central due to cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no 5 trains between Dyre Avenue and 149th Street-Grand Concourse due to cable work. Free shuttle buses replace the 5 between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street. 2 trains make all stops between East 180th Street and 149th Street-Grand Concourse.

From 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 5 trains run local from 125th Street to 42nd Street-Grand Central due to cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 207th Street and 168th Street due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Fort Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A trains at 168th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, downtown A trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace the A and S between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and the Rockaways due to rehabilitation work on the South Channel Bridge and station rehab work at five stations. Customers may transfer between the A train and the Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park shuttle buses at Howard Beach.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, downtown C trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, D trains run local between 34th Street and West 4th Street due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, D trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 36th Street due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to switch repairs at Bay 50th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, E trains are rerouted on the F line between Manhattan and Queens due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization:

  • There are no E trains between 34th Street and World Trade Center.
  • Queens-bound E trains run on the F from 34th Street-Herald Square to 21st Street-Queensbridge; trains resume normal E service from Roosevelt Avenue to Jamaica Center.
  • Manhattan-bound E trains run on the F line from 47th-50th Streets to 34th Street/Herald Square.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, Queens-bound E platforms at Queens Plaza, 23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Lexington Avenue-53rd Street and 5th Avenue stations are closed due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization. Customers may take the R, G or 6 instead. Note: Free shuttle buses connect the Court Square G/23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Queens Plaza, and 21st Street-Queensbridge F stations.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there is no F trains service between Jay Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, October 16, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization. Brooklyn-bound G customers may take the R to Queens Plaza and transfer to a shuttle bus connecting to Court Square. Queens-bound G customers may take the R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace G trains between Bergen Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound J trains skip Flushing Avenue, Lorimer and Hewes Streets due to rail work at Flushing Avenue and Lorimer Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues due to a track chip-out at Jefferson Street station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street in both directions due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, N trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, Q trains run local between 57th Street-7th Avenue and Canal Street due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, shuttle trains will operate all weekend between 95th Street and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no R trains between 34th Street-Herald Square and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance. Customers should take the N or 4 instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
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When plans for the current iteration of the Second Ave. Subway were first unveiled, the MTA opted against making the SAS a four-track line with express service. Only at 72nd St. would there be a third track, and that track, subsequently shelved due to rising costs, was included to orchestrate the Q’s merge from the Broadway line onto the T’s Second Ave. line and to provide for a mid-route turnaround.

Transit watchers were not pleased with the lack of express service. Considering the length of the route and its projected ridership — around 200,000 per day for just Phase I and 500,000 per day for the entire line — Second Ave. was ripe for an express line. Instead, the MTA altered the spacing of the stations and lengthened mezzanine station access to better serve neighborhoods. The 72nd St. station, for example, will have an entrance between 74th and 75th Sts. while the 86th St. station will have a southern egress between 83rd and 84th Sts. Thus, a station stop at 79th St. was deemed to be unnecessarily redundant.

Today, at the excellent Greater Greater Washington, Matt Johnson tackles the lack of express tracks in the DC Metro, and his discussion on foresight and the reasons behind including and not building a four-track system is certainly relevant to the SAS. Noting that the threshold for express service is around 300,000 riders per day, he tackles the politics and economics behind express service in the context of the WMATA’s planned Dulles extension:

Think about the position in which these planners found themselves. Considering the three-state makeup of the region, it is amazing we even have Metro. The funding problem is perhaps one of the most complex in the nation and a four-track subway would have roughly doubled the cost of the system.

Given that, had planners pressed for a four-track system, Metro would either be half the size it is today, would have taken twice as long to build, or would have been killed outright. The debate we’re having with the Tysons/Dulles Silver Line right now is case-in-point. Already the project has been sliced and diced in terms of frill, and it’s still uncertain whether it will ever reach the airport. The first phase dangled right on the cusp of being too expensive for FTA’s criteria, and several times the project looked all but dead. If things like redundant elevators and the familiar hexagonal tiles might be enough to kill the project, can you imagine the reaction of FTA if Virginia demanded four tracks?

No. We cannot fault Metro’s designers on the four-track front. Politics is the art of the possible, and thanks to their hard efforts, unlike many cities that were considering heavy rail in the 1970s, we actually built our system. And we finished it. Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Miami never achieved their full transit vision. Even here the belt-tightening Reagan years contributed to an extended construction period. Metro was supposed to be finished by 1983, but it wasn’t actually complete for another 18 years. Not until the Green Line to Branch Avenue opened in 2001 did the dashed lines on the Metro map turn solid.

New York’s MTA isn’t in quite the same position as the WMATA. It is beholden only to the state (and city) for funding as opposed to two states and the federal government. Yet, the same problems and lessons apply. It would be too costly today to fund express tracks along Second Ave. We talk about how the SAS is, per mile, the most expensive subway ever built. The cost would be prohibitive with just an added track for one-way rush hour express service let alone a four track tunnel.

The real problem though will come in the future. What will we do when trains break down and hold up the line? What will we do when express service is needed because the local trains are at capacity? The untenable solution would be to construct a time machine and convince New York to build this subway system in the 1930s or 1940s or 1950s when the four-track option was on the table. For now, we’ll just have to live with a two-track line if and when it opens.

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Since Albany approved a .34 percent payroll tax designed to fund the MTA’s budget gap, the State GOP has protested the tax at every turn. Take, for example, this short Newsday article. Alfonso Castillo reports:

Republican state lawmakers gathered Thursday with business owners and nonprofit groups to call for the MTA to repeal its recently enacted employer payroll tax…The tax was the foundation of a massive state bailout plan that pulled the Metropolitan Transportation Authority out of an unprecedented $1.8 billion operating budget deficit earlier this year.

“It’s an outrage that taxpayers are expected to carry this heavy burden on their backs in order to bailout the MTA,” said Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who joined other members of the Senate’s Republican Long Island delegation at a rally in front of the Roosevelt offices of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County – one of many nonprofits hit by the tax.

Representatives from other organizations, including several public libraries and education centers, also blasted the tax, which will first be collected next month.

A few weeks ago, Jay Walder expressed his support for the payroll tax. It is, he said, “absolutely essential” for the future fiscal health of the MTA.

So on the one hand, we have anti-tax Republicans representatives, and on the other hand, we have pro-transit representatives who know that the MTA needs funding. At this point, the pro-transit crowd will win, but the payroll tax has created something of an untenable position for the MTA.

Somehow, transit has become a politicized venture in our city and country. Some politicians support pro-transit, pro-pedestrian measures while others are pro-car and anti-tax. The truth is that without transit, New York City would not be a functional urban center. Our streets could not handle the auto traffic that a sub-par transit system would generate, and businesses would lose time and money to inefficient transit.

Yet, still people protest fees, fares and taxes. At some point, the pro- and anti-transit forces will clash, and it will get ugly. For now, the payroll tax will stand, and the MTA will get its money. What happens when the capital plan comes up for budgeting and when the MTA next has to go, hat in hand to Albany, though may not be pretty. Unless a better funding solution arises, New York City will suffer for it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Take the R or W north from Rector St. or south from City Hall, and as the train passes the midway point is slows to a crawl. Alert straphangers will glance out the windows and remember the Cortlandt St. station. Closed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the station reopened in 2002 after extensive repairs.

In 2005, as part of the Fulton St. Transit Center project, the station was again shuttered. The MTA had to build the Dey Street Passageway, connecting Cortlandt St. with the rest of the Fulton St. complex, and at the time, signs promised a spring 2006 reopening. As we know, that date was but a pipe dream, and the MTA kept pushing back the reopening of this Lower Manhattan station.

Now, half of it is truly finally reopening soon. As the above picture — courtesy of New York City Transit (and click on it to enlarge) — shows, workers are heading down the home stretch of work on the northbound platform, and in December, the northbound side only will reopen with a connection to the rest of Fulton St.

Passengers on southbound BMT trains will have to wait, though, until at least September 2011 for the southbound platform to reopen. Due to that platform’s proximity to Port Authority work, the MTA has to coordinate with the PA to firm up a schedule and projected opening date. Half an open station is better than one fully closed station.

Categories : MTA Construction
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  • 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)


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→

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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
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