A glimpse into One Vanderbilt's Transit Hall. (Via KPF)

A Transit Hall and other improvements are a part of One Vanderbilt’s $210 million package. (Via KPF)

Since my office is now across the street from Grand Central, I’ve had a front-row view of the work at 1 Vanderbilt. In a way, it’s a peek into the potential future of MTA financing. As the old building goes down and a new skyscraper takes its place, we should ask if this model of value-capture is sufficient and sustainable. The new developers of the new building will guarantee at least $210 million in upgrades for the Grand Central subway stop, but is this truly a model that the city can replicate on a grand scale while addressing the needs of growing demand for transit?

The idea behind the funding for the transit improvements at 1 Vanderbilt is simple: In exchange for permission to construct the 68-story tower, SL Green will contribute a few hundred million to fancy up the Grand Central subway station. The dank Lexington Ave. line will see improved street level access, more platform space and a larger mezzanine. Ideally, these changes will help the station better handle both current passenger loads and anticipated increases in ridership brought about by the new building, the East Side rezoning and the eventual opening of the East Side Access project.

Transit advocates seem to like the idea. On Friday, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers and John Raskin of the Riders Alliance published an Op-Ed in the Daily News calling upon the city to pursue this type of funding on a wider scale. They write:

Over time, especially with systematic disinvestment from the federal government, we’ll need more funds to fill the gap. One promising source is sitting right there in underdeveloped land near the subway. Think of it as a kind of “value capture”: Landowners seek permission for large-scale bonuses to how big they can build. In return, they must offer transit improvements. In the past, many of the changes have been modest, as anyone stuck at the bottom of a non-working private escalator in the subways can tell you. We must be more demanding…

If we extend it to far more projects, the One Vanderbilt model could eventually bring in hundreds of millions of dollars as the city considers a new generation of super skyscrapers. (It’s true that real estate does pay citywide taxes that fund transit. But these are like the broad-based transit taxes on drivers, corporations and consumers — not tied to specific improvements.)

Many communities around New York City owe their existence to our number one capital asset — our subways. How fitting that desperately-needed subway aid should come from our number one home town industry, real estate.

In theory, it’s hard to oppose this deal. Mega-towers will likely tax the subways around them, and the MTA shouldn’t be left holding the bag as developers walk away with millions of dollars from these new towers. But in practice, I’m not yet convinced it’s a sustainable model for MTA funding.

The problem concerns, as Raskin and Russianoff put it, “underdeveloped land near the subway.” Is there enough underdeveloped land to generate enough revenue for the MTA to build multi-billion-dollar subway extensions? The land, for instance, around the Triboro RX line isn’t zoned for developments big enough to help offset anything more than a token amount of the costs, and asking developers in corridors with lower value than Midtown Manhattan may not be a fruitful exercise. This may work in Manhattan — and could help parts of additional phases of the Second Ave. Subway — but beyond that, I’m skeptical.

The MTA’s problems regard cost and sustainability. Can the MTA get a handle on its absurd capital costs? And is there a geographically neutral way to fund transit that doesn’t simply lead to more money for Manhattan and less for growing Outer Borough areas equally as overburdened? The 1 Vanderbilt model is a component to a capital funding plan, but it’s unlikely to be a panacea without significant other pieces.

Categories : MTA Economics
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A gap across the East River will leave L train riders scrambling for alternate service. (Click to enlarge)

A gap across the East River will leave L train riders scrambling for alternate service. (Click to enlarge)

So there’s really no good way around this, but for the next five weeks, there’s no L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. This is unavoidable work, but it’s definitely not ideal. The L’s weekend ridership across the river is nearly as high as it is during the week, and the alternative subway service options — the G to Queens, the J to Lower Manhattan, and sometimes the M through Manhattan — aren’t exactly up to standards. The MTA should run the M to Midtown at all hours during this shutdown, but accordingly to their website, this option is available only during the day.

The work, according to Transit, will involve a “number of critical repair, cleaning, and maintenance jobs necessary to keep the line in a state of good repair.” It will also involve “replacement of components, inspection and servicing of fire safety systems, water remediation, pump room improvements, and asbestos abatement.”

All in all, though, this is a tough time for this work (though no time is convenient). With temperatures forecast to be in the 70s on Saturday, Smorgasburg will kick into gear but without an L train. Some vendors have organized a shuttle service, but it too is sporadic at best. So this is the new normal between now and the weekend of May 15.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 96 St and 242 St-Van Cortlandt Park. AC trains, M3, M100, and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. For service between 96 St and 168 St, use free shuttle buses or the AC at nearby stations. For service between 168 St and 191 St, use the M3 or free shuttle buses. For service between Inwood-207 St and Van Cortlandt-242 St, take free shuttle buses. Transfer between buses and A trains at Inwood-207 St and between A and 1 trains at 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and April 19, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Franklin Av and New Lots Av. Use 4 trains and free shuttle buses instead. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av, making all stops. Transfer between 23 and 4 trains at Franklin Av. Transfer between 4 trains and free shuttle buses at Crown Hts-Utica Av. 4 trains run local between Franklin Av and Crown Hts-Utica Av all weekend.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 19, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 19 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run express from Grand Central-42 St to 125 St. Woodlawn-bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St due to CPM ADA platform work at 23 St.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 7:30 a.m. Sunday, April 19, and from 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av, making all 3 Line station stops.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, April 18, and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester-Dyre Av and Bowling Green.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 17, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 17, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, A trains are suspended in both directions between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service via 80 St. Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip 88 St.

  • For service to 88 St, take the A to 80 St and transfer to free shuttle buses.
  • For service from 88 St toward the Rockaways, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A.
  • A service operates between Inwood-207 St and Howard Beach/Far Rockaway.
  • Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 88 St, Rockaway Blvd, 104 St, and 111 St. Transfer between shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 17, to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, April 18, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 145 St to Tremont Av.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 19, Norwood-205 St bound D trains are rerouted on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Av to 36 St.

From 12:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, and from 12:15 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound E trains run express from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills-71 Av.

From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Jamaica Center- Parsons/Archer bound E trains skip 75 Av and Van Wyck Blvd. To 75 Av, take the E to Union Tpke and transfer to a Manhattan-bound E or F. To Van Wyck Blvd, take the E to Jamaica-Van Wyck and transfer to a World Trade Center-bound E. From these stations, take the E or F to Union Tpke or 71 Av and transfer to a Jamaica Center-bound E.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, World Trade Center-bound E trains run local from Forest Hills-71 Av to Roosevelt Av.

From 10:45 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip 75 Av, Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71 Av to Roosevelt Av.

From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19, Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Broadway Junction.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, L trains are suspended in both directions between 8 Av and Lorimer St.

  • L service operates between Lorimer St and Rockaway Pkwy.
  • M service is extended to the 57 St F station, days and evenings.
  • Free shuttle buses operate between Lorimer St and the Broadway G station, stopping at Bedford Av, Marcy Av J/M, and Hewes St J/M.
  • Transfer between free shuttle buses and J/M trains at Marcy Av or Hewes St.
  • Consider using the A or J to/from Manhattan via transfer at Broadway Junction or the M via transfer at Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs.
  • M14A buses provide alternate service along 14 St between 8 Av and 1 Av, and connect with the JM at Delancey-Essex Sts station.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday April 18, and 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, April 19, M service is extended to the 57 St F line station.

From 10:45 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 20, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19, Forest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from Queens Plaza to Forest Hills-71 Av.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In a bill some (OK, so far, just me) have called “underwhelming” and the “bare minimum of support for public transit,” the City Council passed a measure this week requiring NYC DOT to . . . write a report about Bus Rapid Transit and submit it to them in two years. DOT will have to update this report every few years and maybe implement some of the bus routes they identify in the report. But whether these are bus rapid transit routes, Select Bus Service or some watered down version of everything remains to be seen.

OK, OK. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical. Perhaps I’m predisposed to think anything short of monetary and policy support in the face of loud protests from drivers and inanities from vocal Community Board members have led me to view City Council through a biased lens, but perhaps I’m not so far off. At a time when transit advocates are struggling to drum up support for anything related to the MTA’s capital plan or an expansion of our transit network and a time when the subways are sagging under the demands of record ridership, the City Council’s measure, two years in the making, strikes me as something that should have been implemented a decade ago.

Here’s what the legislation does:

  • DOT has to consult with the MTA. (n.b. DOT already consults with the MTA.)
  • DOT has to issue a report by September 1, 2017 identifying areas of New York that need BRT (all of them), strategies for serving growth areas, potential additional inter- or intra-borough BRT corridors that may be established by 2027 (ambitious!), strategies for integration with the current bus network, and costs.
  • Every two years thereafter, DOT has to provide status updates on implementation and explain why DOT deviated if it did. No word if “whiny Community Board members who can’t sacrifice 30 seconds of their drive to Vermont” is a valid excuse.

When you consider that Brad Lander first introduced this bill back in 2013, it’s amazing that anything gets done with regards to transit in a city that sees a combined 8 million bus and subway rides per day. That this is some crowning achievement is telling. And therein lies in the rub and the source of my skepticism. This move essentially codifies DOT’s current practice, but it does nothing to speed up implementation of BRT or SBS routes. It certainly doesn’t encourage best practices — proof of payment throughout the system or pre-board fare payment on every popular route. It also doesn’t bolster DOT’s efforts at overcoming minority resistance to a better bus network.

Over at Streetsblog, Stephen Miller picked up on that latter point as while City Council passed this toothless bill, DOT trimmed back plans for a BRT/SBS corridor through Kew Gardens to Flushing over concerns from a very loud minority. He summarized the problem in a few sentences:

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

The city encountered vocal opposition to bus lanes from Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz. Actual bus riders, however, seem to be missing from the discussion: At a public meeting about Flushing-Jamaica SBS earlier this year heavily attended by civic association members, most people said they rarely ride the bus.

This is a story repeated throughout the city. In Harlem, politicians afraid of losing a driving lane and those entrenched Community Board members claim a bus lane would affect traffic based on the fact that they drive through the area rather than based on traffic engineers’ studies. So tens of thousands of bus riders have longer rides while a few hundred drivers stand to benefit instead. That’s not how a city of transit riders excels or expands its network. But hey, at least we’ll read a bureaucrat’s report on this whole mess every two years. After all, that’s what the City Council demands.

Categories : Buses, MTA Politics
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Warning: For those with sensitive ears or no headphones at their desk, the video contains some NSFW language.

Early on Wednesday morning, this video from Above Average started making the rounds, and it truly hits at something every subway rider thinks at least once or twice. To some note a few years ago, Transit’s automated announcements stopped apologize for unavoidable delays and simply started thanking riders for their patience. It was a sea change in the psychology of MTA announcements, and while it hasn’t solved the problem of unavoidable delays, the MTA is no longer apologizing on a regular basis for what they view as normal operating conditions.

Above Average has taken that concept to its comedic end as their video features a monologue from a conductor who is definitely not apologizing for a delay. “From now on,” she says, “we’re no longer going to apologize when we have nothing to be sorry for.” It’s the blunt approach to the MTA’s own shift in tone.

My favorite part of the video is the truth bomb. As the subway riders grow leery of the hijacked announcement, the conductor grows more petulant. “If you don’t like it,” she says after excoriating the passengers to act like adults, “you can go to some other city with a sh***ier subway system. Oh right, that’s every other city.” Spoken like a true New Yorker.

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When we first heard word of a looming New Jersey Transit fare hike — the first since 2010 but fifth since 2002 — initial reports indicated the raise could be as much as 25 percent. Now that the budget numbers are coming into view, that steep hike seems to be off the table, and fares may go up by only nine percent in the coming months. But the reprieve may be only temporary as a variety of factors are at work that could push NJ Transit fares even higher in coming years.

The Wall Street Journal broke news of the hike last night. The nine percent figure is designed to help close a budget gap of $80 million. Andrew Tangel reports:

NJ Transit is expected to propose a 9% fare increase as the operator of commuter trains, buses and light rail faces a budget shortfall, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The agency is expected to announce the proposed fare increase—its first in five years—along with potential service adjustments as soon as this week, this person said. Any fare increase would be subject to public hearings and an eventual vote by the agency’s board.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much individual fares for NJ Transit’s various systems might rise under the proposal. But the proposed increase is well below the last one, in 2010, when the agency raised fares by 22% on average. NJ Transit faced a $300 million budget gap then. This time there is an $80 million deficit to close…

NJ Transit officials have said they realize the previous increase was difficult for riders to stomach. This time, they have said, the aim is to keep any increase in the single digits as they try to close the gap in the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1. In recent weeks, NJ Transit officials have been looking to trim expenses across the agency, and said they had found about $40 million in savings. But the agency has faced rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs, and it remains in negotiations with unions representing its employees.

But that’s all short term. There are a pair of long-term issues that could affect New Jersey transit fares in the coming years. First, an annual subsidy of nearly $300 million from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority may end after next June, and second, due to a federal mandate that Amtrak run the Northeast Corridor like it a business, rent owed by New Jersey Transit to Amtrak may increase by around $20 million annually. If this worst-case scenario comes due, NJ Transit may have to hike fares by 30 percent to continue to maintain current service levels.

As I noted last month, this constant talk of NJ Transit fare hikes is in stark contrast to the fact that New Jersey’s gas tax hasn’t increased in a generation. For a state that, whether it admits it or not, relies so heavily on its rail network and can’t take more traffic on its clogged roads, this situation will quickly grow untenable. Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?

Categories : New Jersey Transit
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Assembly Rep. James Brennan has put forth legislation aimed at addressing the MTA's capital funding gap.

Assembly Rep. James Brennan has put forth legislation aimed at addressing the MTA’s capital funding gap.

As the MTA enters a fourth month of uncertainty regarding the agency’s proposed five-year plan, we’ve heard a big fat nothing from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, and within the city, Mayor de Blasio is content to let Albany fiddle while asking the feds for more national support for transit. But while the Move New York fair tolling plan garners a groundswell of support, Assembly representative James Brennan is set to introduce a new piece of legislation aimed at shoring up capital funding for transit.

Brennan’s plan, announced via a Dana Rubinstein piece and subsequent Facebook post, could generate additional revenue against which the MTA could bond out its capital plan through a combination of gas and income taxes and would force New York City to pony up more money. That latter piece is important, and I’ll return to it soon. Brennan’s proposal is far from the platonic ideal, but it’s the first sign of real life we’ve seen from Albany on the MTA’s capital funding woes.

“To say that the MTA’s $14 billion shortfall is extremely alarming would be an understatement,” the Brooklyn representative said. “Now more than ever we need to think creatively about how to address our transportation funding needs as well as how to generate reliable consistent funding for our state’s infrastructure. For too long the state’s infrastructure and mass transit systems have operated with unreliable funding.”

His plan revolves around a new New York State Transportation Infrastructure Finance Authority that would issue the bonds to finance $20 billion in various MTA and other state infrastructure projects. My issuing the money under a new authority, Brennan’s proposal would not necessarily add more debt to the MTA’s already-sagging books, and it would instead rely on a new state agency to carry the fiscal load. To generate the revenue needed to issue these bonds, Brennan has called for a ten-cent increase in the state gas tax and an increase in the income tax rate for those earning between $500,000-$2 million a year of ½ of 1 per cent.

Brennan estimates these tax increases would generate around $1.25 billion per year. Yes, it’s true there are tax increases,” he said to Capital New York. “The idea of this is we are not running away from our problems.”

The third piece of this puzzle is more intriguing. Brennan’s legislation would demand that New York City pony up a mandatory contribution, starting with $60 million in year one and increasing each year of the five-year plan by $60 million annually. The contribution under this bill would thus be capped at $300 million. How the city generates this money is up to Mayor de Blasio and the City Council.

And therein lies the rub. Brennan’s plan isn’t Move New York. As Stephen Miller at Streetsblog wrote, “It lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform.” But by essentially forcing the city’s hand, Brennan’s plan could spur City Council to pass a a home rule resolution requesting Albany approve a Move New York plan to help generate the revenue required by Brennan. It’s a roundabout solution to a tricky problem, but, as I said, someone is thinking about it.

So far, de Blasio’s and Gov. Cuomo’s offices have issued platitudes. Cuomo’s office said that efforts to solve the funding gap “will continue with all stakeholders” while de Blasio said he is “committed to investing in our infrastructure, which will only come with strong partnership between all levels of government.” The MTA, which won’t go to bat for any particular solution, expressed a desire to “engage in a robust dialogue” on closing the $14 billion gap.

For now, Brennan’s plan is the dialogue, but as the state has passed its budget, watchers expect Cuomo to begrudgingly turn some attention to the MTA’s funding gap. The ideas today start with gas and income taxes. Where it goes after is up for debate.

Comments (29)

No word if the Mayor plans to attempt a subway ride this weekend. If so, he’ll have to contend with the following service changes.

From 6:45 a.m. Saturday, April 11 to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, April 12, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Hunts Point Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to Mets-Willets Point. For service to 33 St, 40 St, 46 St, and 52 St, take the Flushing-Main St bound 7 to 61 St-Woodside and transfer to a 42 St-Times Sq bound 7. From these stations, take a 42 St-Times Sq bound 7 train to Junction Blvd, 61 St-Woodside, or Queensboro Plaza and transfer to a Flushing-Main St bound 7.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 12, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted on the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains run local from DeKalb Av to 59 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express from 34 St-Penn St to Canal St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, April 12, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Avenue U.

From 10:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip 75 Av, Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd.

From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, Jamaica Center-Parsons Archer J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Broadway Junction.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday April 11, and 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, April 12, M service is extended to the Chambers St J station. After Essex St, M service is rerouted via the J line to Chambers St, making stops at Bowery and Canal St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains skip 49 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains run local from DeKalb Av to 59 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, April 10 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, April 12, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, April 13, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound Q trains skip 49 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, Bay Ridge-95 St bound R trains skip 49 St.

Categories : Service Advisories
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‘So you’re saying you ride this thing every day twice a day and it’s all underground?’ (Photo by Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office.)

Thursday morning was a big one for Mayor Bill de Blasio. He had his security detail drive him from Gracie Mansion all the way back to the Y on 9th St. near 6th Ave. in Park Slope because, apparently, the Mayor of New York City can’t find a gym on the Upper East Side. Then, he took the subway for 20 minutes from 4th Ave. and 9th St. all the way to City Hall as a way to put public pressure on Congress to pass a comprehensive federal transportation bill. It reeked of inauthenticity while drawing apathy and derision from New Yorkers and exposes a big divide between the Mayor’s words and his actions.

On its own, APTA’s #StandUp4Transportation day was a worthwhile initiative. Federal funds for transit initiatives serve a wide range of public good in the United States (and help sustain job growth as well), and it’s not a sure thing that the current Congress is going to pass a bill that will encourage and support local transit investment. To hear from local politicians and constituents will only help move Congress in the right direction.

But for de Blasio, the mayor of the city with the largest transit network and greatest use of transit in the nation, the approach was all wrong. Setting aside the fact that the mayor drives 10 miles to his gym, he came across as far too excited about a subway ride that’s routine for millions. He tweeted about it last night, Vined it this morning, and posed with Chuck Schumer a little later. It was a Big Day, drawing Times headlines, as the two rode the R train. (Meanwhile, millions of us take the train twice a day to and from work, and we all have to Stand Up 4 Transportation because the MTA can’t run enough trains to meet demand and allow for some available seats during rush hour. But I digress.)

In addition to his super exciting ride on the Sub-way, de Blasio penned a piece in amNew York yesterday. Again, it’s on the right track, but there’s a big “but” and I’ll get to that shortly. In urging Congress to act, he said, “We are making it clear that failure to invest in our subways, buses, roads and bridges is nothing less than failure to invest in our country’s future…As every commuter knows, if you are standing still, you are falling behind — and in terms of maintaining and building our transportation infrastructure, we are standing still… Without a strong federal partner, maintaining existing infrastructure and preparing for the future will be virtually impossible.”

The mayor isn’t wrong with his words, but he’s wrong with his actions. His current budget so far commits a $40 million a year to the MTA’s $6 billion per year capital plan — down from $100 million under Bloomberg. The Mayor claims he will up that amount when the budget is finalized and that $40 million is just a placeholder. Still, the city’s contributions are laughably low, and even at $100 million, the contributions wouldn’t nearly sufficient. As a recent IBO study found, had city contributions kept pace with inflation over the past 33 years, NYC would be contributing $363 million to the MTA’s capital budget — a still low amount but moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, on the operations side, the picture is equally dismaying. The Student MetroCards, for example, run the MTA over $240 million a year. They are a way for the city to foist its obligations to provide transportation for its public school students onto the backs of the MTA and its riders, and even after a massive fight five years ago, the city’s contributions are still only $45 million — the same they’ve been since the late 1990s. Simply put, de Blasio’s New York isn’t doing its job funding transit operations or transit’s capital plans.

Ultimately, the problem with Thursday’s stunt is how it fooled no one. It came across as inauthentic because it was. De Blasio didn’t take the 4 train back uptown to Gracie Mansion, and come next week, he’ll drive back to the Park Slope Y for his daily workouts. In a city that relies so heavily on its subways to remain viable and prosperous, standing up for transit starts at home and shouldn’t just be a one-time event when the cameras are rolling. That, though, is what it’s become for de Blasio, Schumer and countless other New York politicians. At least they took the train yesterday — which is more than anyone can say for our governor.

Categories : MTA Politics
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One of the problems with aging infrastructure is facing the unexpected. For the MTA, these problems arise internally when signals malfunctions, switches fail and rails break, but the agency also has to contend with everything in between the subway tunnels and the street above. On Wednesday night, a water main broke at 14th St. and 7th Ave., and it of course shut down the West Side subways for some time.

As of this writing, the 1, 2 and 3 trains are not running between Chambers St. and Times Square. Some 2 trains are running via the 5, and otherwise, shuttle buses have replaced 7th Ave. IRT service in Manhattan. The MTA hopes to have everything running normal again by the morning rush, but keep an eye on the MTA’s website for the latest.

Since the water main break happened at a station with wireless signals and wifi service, the Internet played home to some dramatic images as water started filling up the local tracks. Early on, we saw the YouTube video I posted above — which isn’t of some pilot program for an in-station subway carwash system, and there were plenty of other images.

While the immediate problem was at 14th St. and 7th Ave., the MTA again had some issues with communicating amidst an unexpected service problem. I took the 4 train home from Grand Central at around 8:30, and by the time my train rolled into Nevins St., 2 and 3 trains were operating with 15-minute headways. There were no announcements about connecting service, and Transit opted against running the 4 and 5 trains local to pick up the slack. Riders waiting for trains at Chambers St. had no idea of the problem as the MTA made no announcements. Of course, the agency had bigger fish to fry — or really puddles to drain — but keeping riders who are already in the system aware of their options in real time has always been a challenge for the MTA.

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The open gangway of an articulated train in Paris.

While visiting Montreal last year — a city on the same landmass as ours — I had the opportunity to enjoy a few subway rides on the city’s rubber-tired Metro. The trains had a special sound to it, generally quieter than the screech of New York’s subways, and the trainsets were a revelation as well. The concept of open gangways — articulated subway cars with no doors or gaps between cars — has filtered through the United States, but it is alive and well in Montreal, lending more capacity to a modest Metro.

In New York City, where capacity problems are obvious every morning, every evening and every weekend, the MTA’s response has been halting and insufficient. As I wrote recently, the agency is ill prepared to deal with the crowds today and hasn’t adequate prepared for tomorrow. Even a fully funded 2015-2019 capital plan won’t do much to solve the subway’s capacity crunch, and although the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway is a start, by itself, it won’t be the answer.

There are incremental solutions though, and open gangways are an easy one. London, in fact, has found that open gangways could increase train capacity by ten percent alone. The MTA hasn’t really dabbled with open gangways but has acknowledged their existence. The 2013 Twenty-Year Needs Assessment identified open gangways as a potential innovation on the horizon, and transit advocates noted that the MTA is one of the largest system in the world without such cars. Could this be yet another case of New York exceptionalism? It certainly seems so.

Over at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark wonders why American transit agencies have ignored open gangways. Looking at available data, Freemark finds that nearly every transit agency except those in the United States have embraced this type of rolling stock, and he doesn’t understand why. He writes of global trends and New York, in particular:

Open gangways provide a number of advantages: One, they expand capacity by allowing riders to use the space that typically sits empty between cars. This added capacity means that a metro line can carry more people with trains of the same length. Two, it allows passengers to redistribute themselves throughout the train while the vehicle is moving, reducing problems associated with many people boarding in the same doorway, such as slow exiting times and poorly distributed standees. Three, it increases safety at times of low ridership by increasing the number of “eyes” in the train. There are no obvious downsides…

[The MTA], like others around the country, has the opportunity to address some of its problems through the purchase of these trains. On the congested Lexington Avenue Line…about 45.6 feet of each train’s 513.3-foot length is used up by the empty four feet between each car and the 10 feet reserved for the cabs at the center of the trains. That means that, if the Lexington Avenue Line were transitioned to trains with open gangways, the line could gain almost an entire car-length of capacity on every train. That’s practically as much relief as the Second Avenue Subway will provide—at the cost of trains that would be purchased anyway…

Open gangways are hardly the end-all be-all of transit operations. They won’t guarantee better service or necessarily attract more riders. And they may not be able to resolve some issues, such as the fact that Washington’s Metro runs trains of different car lengths on each line. But the fact that every U.S. transit agency—with the exception of Honolulu’s—has failed to adopt to this trend and has no plans to change, raises important questions. Just how much are the management of these transit agencies isolating themselves from world best practice? This is hardly an isolated case. The fact that transit agencies around the world are transitioning infrequent suburban rail operations into frequent regional rail services seems to be lost on most U.S. commuter rail agencies.

Freemark notes as well his own skepticism that “this technology is just ‘not possible’ on historic U.S. systems,” and his is a skepticism I share. That it has worked everywhere else is a clear sign that whatever barriers to implementation exist in the United States are those set up by our own agencies’ failures rather than by something unique to this country.

For its part, the MTA has claimed developing a new subway car would cost too much in design spending, but as we reach a capacity crisis, what’s the alternative? If it takes 10 years and billions of dollars just to build a new subway stop, the next rolling stock purchases should all have open gangways. At this point, though, we won’t see such designs in New York City for at least ten years, if at all, and that’s just a failure of problem solving at a time when we need executives to be thinking outside the (American) box.

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