It’s no secret that the MTA’s goal of achieving a State of Good Repair would always be a tough one to meet. The agency’s pace of work isn’t fast enough to keep up with the demands of a system sagging under the legacy of deferred maintenance, and as contractors slowly slog through even basic component replacement efforts, stations that were opened or refurbished in the past 20-30 years are starting to show serious wear and tear. Just how bad the state of the infrastructure is though was laid plain for all to see in a reporter issued this week by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

According to this audit, only 51 of the city’s 468 stations were free of defects, and only 25 percent had most of their station components in good repair. “New York City Transit reports it is making progress on repairing stations but the pace is too slow and much more work needs to be done,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Worn or damaged stairs and platform edges pose risks for riders, while broken tiles, lights and peeling paint leave riders with a low opinion of the transit system.”

The short report paints a grim picture. You can read the PDF, and I’ll excerpt accordingly. From DiNapoli’s press release:

According to the latest [New York City Transit] survey, more than one-quarter of all structural components had defects. At 94 stations, at least half of the structural components needed repairs. The subway stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest percentage of components with defects (one-third). Nearly half of all platform edges (43 percent), which are important to rider safety, had defects in need of repair. While 33 percent of platform edges had a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. NYCT data also showed that 27 percent of station components — such as ceilings or columns — needed to be painted. Also, the tile or other finish on one-third of all subway platform walls and floors did not meet the NYCT’s minimum standards and needed to be repaired.

From the report:

Among the four boroughs served by NYCT, the stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest share of structural components with defects (one-third). Only 1 of the 81 stations in Queens was free of defects, although 13 others had most of their components in good repair. In Brooklyn, 28 percent of the stations had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair. In the Bronx, 26 of 70 stations (37 percent) had at least 90 percent of their structural components in good repair. Manhattan had the lowest percentage of components with defects (22 percent), but only 40 of the borough’s 146 stations (27 percent) had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair.

…Platform edges, which are important to rider safety because they close the gap between the platform and the train, had the largest percentage of defects (43 percent) of any structural component. While 33 percent of platform edges showed a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. One-third of other platform components (such as ceilings, floors and columns) were structurally deficient, while similar components at the mezzanine level (i.e., the area between the platform and the street level) were in better condition.

These gory and concerning details though are almost besides the point, and in that sense, both DiNapoli and I have buried the lede. At one point, DiNapoli notes that the MTA had hoped to renovate all 468 stations by 2022 but will be unable to attain that goal. He also states that nearly 20 percent of all escalators and elevators have outlived their useful lives. In another, DiNapoli notes that while Transit has renovated 241 stations over the last 32 years, “once the work was completed, however, NYCT moved on to the next station for rehabilitation without committing the resources to maintain the renovated stations.” Thus, stations that were renovated have inevitably begun to break down.

What DiNapoli does not cover are the reasons and ways to close this gap. The MTA’s work takes far too long, and the structures aren’t in place to adequately maintain stations after they’ve been renovated. It is a fine mess brought about by a history of disinvestment, politics and operational challenges. There’s no easy fix, but if it seems as though the subway system is crumbling around its users, well, that’s because it is.

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Nearly two years after the storm, it’s easy to consign the floodwaters that consumed New York’s underground infrastructure as Sandy rolled in to memory. Thanks to the perfect storm and tidal conditions, nearly every tunnel into and out of Manhattan suffered from saltwater flooding, and as we’ve seen with the MTA, work to repair the damage has been time-consuming and costly. Even as the G and R train tunnels have reopened, eight other subway tunnels will require some degree or remediation and repair work.

We’ve heard over the years that Amtrak’s tunnels suffered similar fates. Already nearing the end of their useful lives, the saltwater corrosion has sped up the process, and now the rail provider is warning that very disruptive repairs are required to maintain and rebuild the tunnels. In a PDF statement, Amtrak announced that a new engineering report has recommended a phased approach to rebuilding the tunnels that involve taking individual tubes “out of service for extended periods.” The agency had more to say:

Superstorm Sandy created a storm surge that resulted in sea water inundating both tubes of the Hudson River tunnel and two of the four tubes of the East River tunnel. The report found no evidence that the tunnel linings themselves are unsound, but it did find that chlorides and sulfates caused, and are continuing to cause, significant damage to key tunnel components such as the bench walls and track systems as well as the signal, electrical and mechanical systems.

The tunnels are safe for passenger train operations. Amtrak has a robust tunnel inspection program, conducts regular maintenance work and will be performing interim work as needed. However, a permanent fix is required soon so that the tunnels remain available for long- term use by the traveling public. Amtrak engineers are working with expert consultants on designs to rehabilitate the two damaged tubes of the East River tunnel and will coordinate with other agencies to minimize impacts to train service and other projects.

Now, the coverage of this announcement has been rightly dire. The Times, The Journal and Capital New York all ran stories about how problematic service could become. To perform even basic remediation work, which could begin in late 2015, Amtrak needs to close one of the East River Tubes, which could cause a reduction in Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit service by around 25 percent. If and when Amtrak has to close one of the Hudson River Tubes, service could fall by as much as 75 percent.

The real problem is that the work that must go on — full saltwater remediation — can’t and won’t happen, Amtrak says, until another Hudson River crossing is built. In a way, this engineering report gives Amtrak another platform upon which to base their argument for the Gateway Tunnel, but as Amtrak officials have noted, it’s likely to be another decade before Gateway is open. That timeline is of course contingent upon funding, and right now, the money isn’t there. One way or another, Amtrak anticipates only approximately 20 years of life left in their Hudson River tunnels.

This news has raised the spectre of the ARC Tunnel, and in a twist of the knife, to The Journal, a spokesman for Chris Christie stated that the New Jersey Governor “has always recognized the need for additional trans-Hudson transit capacity.” For now, Amtrak is moving forward on design and planning while awaiting the money. “Amtrak,” the agency promised, “will ensure the safety of all passengers and balance efforts to minimize service impacts while also advancing as soon as possible the permanent fix needed for the long-term reliability of the tunnels for train service to Penn Station, New York.”

Categories : Gateway Tunnel
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Over the next few years, the MTA will restore LIRR service to Elmhurst.

Sometimes, buried amidst the billions of dollars of expenditures in the MTA’s capital plan, a surprise or two will leap out of the page. Signals and station improvements are run-of-the-mill state-of-good-repair work while the MTA’s planned expenditures for their next-generation fare payment system, at a few hundred million dollars, is underwhelming. But buried in Long Island Rail Road’s planned project is a $40 million spend for a new LIRR station in Elmhurst.

Technically, an Elmhurst LIRR station isn’t new. For decades, trains stopped right here in Elmhurst, but the LIRR closed the station in 1985 due to general decline. The neighborhood was in decline, and, more importantly, ridership had bottomed out at the station. While proposing closing a subway stop causes riotous uproars, commuter rail stations in the boroughs are passing concerns, done in by incongruent fare policies.

Over the past few years, though, Queens politicians have latched onto the idea of reopening the Elmhurst station. We first heard about it in mid-2012 when The Journal reported on some LIRR officials who were considering an in-fill station. In 2013, Queens politicians all expressed support for the station as a way to improve access to Midtown, and now the MTA has set aside $40 million for just that purpose.

The new Elmhurst station will be a part of the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch. It will be two blocks away from the Elmhurst Ave. Queens Boulevard local subway stop and will cut travel times to Penn Station by around 12-15 minutes. The politicians are thrilled; I’m still a bit skeptical, but for the dollars and per-rider benefits in unpublished studies I’ve seen, the project seems fine.

The MTA’s capital plan lumps the Elmhurst station in with design work for a Republic station on the Main Line in Suffolk County. Actual construction for Republic won’t be funded until the 2020-2024 capital plan while Elmhurst will see environmental review, design and construction over the next few years. The Elmhurst work includes new 12-car platforms, staircases, railings, shelters, vending machines, lighting, communication and security system, general site improvements, and elevators.

The areas representatives, as I mentioned, are happy. They blame changing train schedules in the 1980s on the station’s closure and see it as part of Elmhurst’s potential. “Restoring LIRR service to Elmhurst will help a burgeoning neighborhood reach its full economic potential and become a destination for all New Yorkers,” Joe Crowley, Grace Meng and Daniel Dromm said. “We are thrilled to learn the MTA agrees that investing in this community is a win-win and that they have included critical funding to rebuild the station in their recently proposed capital budget. For years, Elmhurst residents have called for greater transportation options and we are now one step closer to turning this idea into a reality. We will continue to work with MTA officials to ensure this project remains a top priority and look forward to the day when Elmhurst will be the next stop for millions of New Yorkers.”

I think Crowley, Meng and Dromm are overstating their case. After all, LIRR stations near subway stops don’t see frequent service or heavy crowds. Still, I’m stuck where I’ve been over the past few years: The City Ticket price makes LIRR service from Elmhurst to Penn Station very expensive. Few people in a middle class area will spring for the added cost to save 10 minutes of travel time, and I can’t foresee particularly high ridership. Still, for $40 million — a rounding error for the MTA — why not?

Categories : LIRR
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Whenever the MTA’s five-year capital plan comes up for debate and discussion, some familiar proposals re-enter the public sphere. The Triboro RX circumferential line made headlines during last year’s mayoral campaigns while the idea of Utica Ave. or Nostrand Ave. extensions were bandied about amongst transit-watcher circles. Ultimately, the MTA unveiled a plan with only one new extension — Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway — and while many were sad to see their pet projects omitted, Staten Island expressed its displeasure with a sigh louder than normal.

Vincent Barone of the Staten Island Advance set the stage:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled its $32 billion, five-year capital plan this week with no aim to fund either the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or West Shore Light Rail projects. Staten Islanders have rallied behind the two major plans over the years in order to create more public transportation options in booming Island areas.

Allen Cappelli, Staten Island’s MTA board member, was outraged by the exclusion of projects, calling the current budget a “betrayal” to Staten Islanders. “[The New York Wheel and Empire Outlets] are going to exacerbate transportation conditions on North Shore,” he said. “This is a continuation of the neglect of serious mass transportation needs on Staten Island.”

The West Shore Rail Line is in need of $5 million for an Alternative Analysis study, while the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit needs about $365 million in funding for construction to begin. The original MTA plan was to use Sandy recovery money to build the BRT line, but the proposal hit a wall last year when the MTA decided not to submit the project for federal funding.

On the one hand, considering the relatively modest pricetags, that these projects should be included is almost a no-brainer. The $370 million in total expenses would amount to approximately 1 percent of the proposed $32 billion total. On the other hand, I’m holding out hope for some sort of rail restoration along the North Shore line and am not totally disappointed this project won’t see the light of day quite yet. It could also come about through later joint efforts with DOT as part of Mayor de Blasio’s promised 20 new SBS routes. Why the West Shore Rail Line Alternative Analysis wasn’t included is a good question. We should also look at bring the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line into Staten Island as well.

What Staten Island is getting includes $300 million for brand new rolling stock for the Staten Island Railyway. While we don’t know full details, these new cars will be compatible with Staten Island’s new real-time arrival system. According to the MTA’s capital plan, “other SIR work includes mainline track replacement, radio system enhancement, and component repairs at various stations.” That’s not much of an investment, but it’s something about which borough officials care deeply.(It’s worth noting that SI will also get two new ferries as part of a federal grant for storm resiliency.)

The question is though why isn’t Staten Island getting more, and while I haven’t had many conversations about this with many people, I believe it’s a political matter driven by the fact that many prominent Staten Island officials do not embrace transit. I use State Senator Andrew Lanza as a frequent example and that’s not without reason (1, 2). When these State representatives use their platforms to advocate against incremental transit reforms and do not fight for state dollars that could be used to expand transit, the MTA doesn’t respond. They’re not in the business of always lobbying for new projects without political support and until someone on Staten Island starts arguing for a North Shore or West Shore reactivation (let alone a connection to the subway via the harbor or the Narrows), the MTA won’t allocate money on its own.

This discussion also implicates the ferries in a tangential way. As part of a mid-1990s campaign promise, Rudy Giuliani dropped any fare on the ferries, and they are now a subsidized means of transit for everyone. I continually question why the ferries should be free; after all, people live on Staten Island knowing that the connections to Manhattan job centers are a boat ride away, and others who live in areas of the city isolated from the subway system sometimes have to pay multiple fares. Lately, the Borough President asked the city’s Independent Budget Office to assess a tourist-only fare, and the IBO determined that such a fare could generate as much as $67 million over 15 years [pdf]. Imagine what a marginal fare for everyone could do.

Maybe it’s time to have those difficult conversations with Staten Islanders. Maybe it’s time for those who want transit upgrades to propose ways to fund them. It’s not always easy to realize, but nothing comes to New Yorkers for free, especially in the transit realm. I don’t have the answers; I have only some thoughts. But to me, it starts with the elected officials. As long as the Senator Lanzas of the world are getting reelected, we’ll never have conversations regarding funding, fare policies and transit expansion that Staten Island needs and deserves.


A short while ago, I got home from a screening of The Warriors at BAM. This was the first showing of BAM’s Retro Metro film festival, and if tonight’s crowd is any indication, the series is going to be a huge hit. The 9:45 screening of The Warriors was packed, and I imagine Sunday’s screenings of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 will be as well. I’m aiming to see the 2:30 showing. Say hi if you see me. Meanwhile, the full listings are on BAM’s site. Can you dig it?

As a note on the weekend service advisories, these always are sent to me by the MTA’s press office, and lately, they’ve removed the entrance sentence concerning why trains are rerouted. I’ve always enjoyed that line as it shows that the MTA is implementing these weekend changes for a reason, and I think omitting it creates a gap between the public’s understanding of what’s happening and the MTA’s need to make changes. I’ll see if I can find out why that information is no longer included with these emails. Meanwhile, here’s the extensive slate of changes.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Wakefield-241 St-bound 2 trains run express from 3 Av-149 St to E 180 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College bound 2 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, New Lots Av-bound 3 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, 4 trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Grand Cantral-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run express from Grand Cantral-42 St to 14 St-Union Sq.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run express from Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr to Franklin Av.

From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Eastchester-Dyre Av bound 5 trains run express from 3 Av-149 St to E 180 St.

From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 7:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, Eastchester-Dyre Av bound 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester-Dyre Av and Bowling Green, and local between 125 St and Grand Central-42 St.

From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 3 Av-138 St to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Brooklyn-bound 6 trains run express from Grand Cantral-42 St to 14 St-Union Sq.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Mets-Willets Point.

Until 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Far Rockaway/Lefferts Blvd-bound A trains skip 88 St, and Lefferts Blvd-bound A trains skip 104 St.

  • For Service To/From 88 St: To 88 St, take the A to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A. From 88 St, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Far Rockaway or Lefferts Blvd-bound A.
  • For Service To/From 104 St: To 104 St, take the Lefferts Blvd-bound A to Lefferts Blvd and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A. From 104 St, take the Q112 bus. Or, take the A to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Lefferts Blvd-bound A train.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 D trains are suspended between Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr and 34 St-Herald Sq. Take the FNQR or special shuttle trains instead. D service will operate as follows:

  • Between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr (express between 36 St and Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr).
  • Between 34 St-Herald Sq and Norwood-205 St.
  • Special shuttle train operates every 20 minutes between Grand St and W 4 St Wash Sq, stopping at B’way-Lafayette St.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer bound E trains are rerouted via the M line from W 4 St Wash Sq to 21 St-Queensbridge.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 World Trade Center-bound E trains skip 75 Av.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Stillwell Av-Coney Island bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29 Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Van Wyck Blvd, and 75 Av.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run local in Queens.

From 5:00 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, G trains run every 20 minutes between Long Island City-Court Sq and Bedford-Nostrand Avs. The last stop for some G trains headed toward Court Sq is Bedford-Nostrand Avs. To continue your trip, transfer at Bedford-Nostrand Avs to a Court Sq-bound G train.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, N trains run local between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Ct and 59 St in Brooklyn, terminating at DeKalb Av.

From 5:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Sunday, September 28, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains run express between Astoria Blvd and Queensboro Plaza.

From 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, September 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, September 29, R trains are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn. Take the N instead. R trains run between Bay Ridge-95 St and 59 St.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Gov. Cuomo actually got on a moving subway to assure New Yorkers all was OK underground. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

While waiting for a train to take me back to Brooklyn from the Upper West Side on Thursday afternoon, I scrolled through the latest news and came upon word of a security threat to the New York City subway. The concern had its origins in brief remarks Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made at the U.N. He noted “accurate reports” from Baghdad that Islamic State terrorists were going to plan attacks against the New York and Paris subways.

New York officials know the subway remains an open target, and having seen international systems suffer attacks, they sprang to action. By the end of the day, four New York higher-ups had determined that, in the words of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, “no credible threat” existed to the subways, and everyone is itching to get more information out of al-Abadi. Still, security will be beefed up through the city over the next few days, weeks and months.

To assuage concerns, Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast hopped an E train from World Trade Center up to Penn Station and spoke of recent security improvements. The governor had previously announced a new set of anti-terrorism initiatives with New Jersey. For the MTA, this will, for better or worse, include an increase in uniformed police officer sat high volume stations by 30-50 percent, more random bag checks, additional perimeter and curbside sweeps and video of high profile locations.

“Our administration has been coordinating at a high level with local, state and federal partners. I want to assure the people of New York that we are monitoring these reports closely and are in close communication with officials in Washington,” Cuomo said.

The safety of the New York City subway has always been one of those things no one likes to ponder. We’ve seen images from Moscow and London and Madrid and countless other cities, but we’ve relied on the fact that anti-terrorism officials have stopped attacks in the planning stages (or before). For now, it seems there is in fact no credible threat, and New Yorkers can keep riding the subways as they do everyday.

Categories : Subway Security
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As the MTA gears up for a full-court press in Albany and City Hall concerning funding for its next five-year capital plan, reactions are coming in from across the spectrum. Few people are openly discussing congestion pricing, but one developer and MTA Board member spoke at the meeting yesterday advocating for East River bridge tolls. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks and months. After all, the MTA doesn’t expect to resolve this $15 billion gap for another year or so.

I’ll have more on the specifics of the plan soon, but let’s round up the news and reactions in rapid response form.

The tireless Dana Rubinstein has two excellent pieces on the capital plan. They’re both worth a read. In one, she notes that the capital plan has appeared before the MTA Reinvention Commission had a chance to do much more than hold a bunch of hearings. They were supposed to come up with ideas to better fund and support transit in and around New York City, but I have been skeptical of the idea since the start.

In her other piece, Rubinstein tackles the thorny question of city funding. Direct contributions from City Hall to the MTA’s capital plan peaked during construction of the 7 line extension but still accounted for only around 10 percent of the total funding. In this five-year plan, the MTA expects very little from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York, but various factions in the agency want to change that. Can the MTA convince the city to fork over a whopping $125 million a year (up from $100 million) in direct contributions? I would hope so.

Staten Islanders are getting two new boats out of the feds for Sandy recovery and a brand new fleet of rolling stock from the Staten Island Railway. Still, advocates are not happy the next five-year plan does not include money for the North Shore BRT line or the West Shore light rail plan. More on that soon.

As part of a funding scheme, the MTA wants to use the payroll tax to bond out more capital money. This could lead to pressure on the operating budget (in the form of toll and fare increases and more debt obligations), but it is one way the MTA can stretch its existing revenue streams to beef up its capital spending.

That should give you enough to read and ponder for now.

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When the MTA unveiled their latest iteration of the subway map a few years ago, they did so with a caveat. The confusing service status box, detailing various changes at different times of day, disappeared, and the map was intended to represent peak-hour and midday service during the week only. A short-lived Night Map was available, depicting overnight service, and weekend changes are handled via signage and The Weekender. Last week, though, the status box made a triumphant and streamlined, albeit still flawed, return.

As many have noted and as I photographed last week, in addition to the reopened Montague St. Tunnels, the September printing of the subway map also contains a new guide to weekend and overnight service. Using subway bullets and better descriptors, the guide presents information in an easy-to-digest format. It lacks information — such as when these so-called “late night” service patterns begin — that isn’t readily available in the system. For some reason, the MTA hasn’t been keen to announce last trains on routes that don’t run 24 hours or when exactly, say, the D train will start running local in Brooklyn. That’s just something regular riders pick up, and the new feature doesn’t cover the gap.

Still, this is a welcome return of an old feature that shouldn’t have gone away in the first place. It’s not perfect, but it’s information that people need to ride. Otherwise, they may find themselves simply too confused by the subway map to make heads or turns of our ostensibly complicated network. Don’t believe me? Just talk to Bim Adewunmi instead.

If this looks familiar to some, it’s because this is a story I covered via an Instagram posting a few days ago but didn’t have a chance to write up until now. Follow Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram for more sights and scenes from the city’s subways.

Categories : Subway Maps
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MTACapPlan Update (4:00 p.m.): The full proposal for the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Plan has been posted online in pdf form. You can read the glorious details as the MTA plans to spend over $30 billion on repairs and expansion work it and New York cannot afford to delay. I’m particularly intrigued by the gondola proposal on page 228 of the packet. Read on for my take on the whole thing.

* * *
It takes a lot of gumption to ask for approval to spend $29 billion, but that’s what the MTA is poised to do on Wednesday. As the last item on the agenda for this week’s Board meeting, the MTA’s fiduciaries will vote to approve all $32 billion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, including a request to the state’s Capital Program Review Board to approve $29 billion of the plan. It is the MTA’s most costly plan in the 30+ year history of five-year spending programs and arguably one the agency needs to see approved the most. It should usher in a new discussion focusing around the question of just how we’re going to pay for all of this.

The two-page staff summary included as the final pages in this month’s Board books list out the planned expenditures, and although I’m still anticipating some fancy materials from the MTA detailing the spending plans, we have a glimpse of the various priorities to anticipate the full-court press. The MTA plans to spend over $23 billion on the so-called “core program” which includes rolling stock and vehicle purchases, PTC and CBTC installations, an indeterminate number of Select Bus Service routes, a contactless fare payment system, double-tracking the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma branch and, for some reason, Help Point intercoms at every subway station.

Another $5.5 billion will be spent on the sexier stuff. This request includes money to finish (ha ha) East Side Access, money to start Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway which would bring the line north to Lexington and 125th St., and money to add four Metro-North stations and bring the rail line into Penn Station. (That plan, called Penn Station Access is a minefield for New York State and City political interests.) The final $3.1 billion, which doesn’t require CPRB approval, will go toward the MTA’s bridges and includes money for open-road tolling at the Henry Hudson Bridge, a sign that the ongoing pilot has been a success.

So that’s the good. How about the bad? According to the MTA, they’ve managed to cobble together barely half of the money needed to fund this beast. They get a meager $657 million from the city, a few billion dollars from the feds, $6 billion in bonding, $3 billion in local funds, and $200 million from developers earmarked toward station improvement. All in, this leaves a funding gap of $15.2 billion, also the largest in MTA capital plan history.

To address this gap, the MTA proposes two solutions, and it is the closest the MTA comes to an ultimatum on requesting money from Albany:

“The MTA will work with its funding partners and stakeholders to developer proposals to fill this gap from the system’s many beneficiaries, including such option as dedicated revenue sources, partnerships that leverage private investment, additional appropriations from state, federal and local governmental partners, or new MTA debt…In the alternative, the gap can be overcome by reducing the size of the proposed programs, or increasing fares and tolls, or a combination of these options.

Fully funding the proposed Capital Program is critical to enabling the MTA to renew, enhance, and expand its to meet the mobility needs of the region. A reduced program will not keep pace with state of good repair renewal needs, adversely impacting the MTA’s ability to continue delivering safe and reliable service at current levels, and would compromise the ability to deliver enhancement and expansion projects that address the evolving needs of MTA customers and the region and to make the MTA system more resilient.”

“Dedicated revenue sources” might as well be an indirect call for Albany to debate some sort of congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s MOVE NY proposal, and I wonder if this extremely expensive and extremely underfunded five-year capital plan will finally push the state down this inevitable path of most resistance. If so, you won’t hear a peep about the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan until after Election Day, and even then, such a funding proposal won’t go down easy. It may, though, be the only one around a gaping hole that amounts to $15.2 billion and won’t get much smaller.

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Michael Bloomberg will be but a distant memory when the 7 line finally opens. Here, he gives the thumbs up at a premature ribbon cutting in late 2013. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Mark your calendars. Save the date. Scratch out the last reminder. For real this time, the MTA has re-announced a new opening for the 7 line extension, and if all goes according to the latest plans — a big “if” recent developments considered — the one-stop westward swing will be in revenue service by February 24, 2015, only 14 months after then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s photo op/ribbon-cutting ceremony in the waning days of his tenure.

For the MTA, capital delays are nothing new. No major project has opened on time, and even something as simple as the Fulton St. Transit Center headhouse has been pushed back until October. The 7 line has been beset by delays throughout the course of this project as it was originally proposed as part of the 2012 Olympics bid, should have been opened mid-way through 2013 and then prior to the end of Bloomberg’s tenure. At the December ceremony, the MTA discussed a spring opening, and then they mentioned summer, and then they mentioned fall and Q4 2014. Now, it seems this thing, with its problematic ventilation fans and prickly elevators, will open next year. Maybe.

According to materials released by the MTA on Friday, the project will be approximately $16 million under budget, but challenges remain to meet even that February date. According to these materials, the MTA is still struggling to see ventilation fans and communications system pass factory acceptance tests, and the elevators too remain a question mark. Final tests on the vent fans are planned for November while the high-rise escalators and incline elevators will undergo their examinations next month.

In an independent examination, though, the MTA’s external engineers noted that a February start date may be aggressive. If the accelerated schedule for wrapping the tests cannot be met, the MTA and its contractors won’t meet the February date, and in fact, the Independent Engineering Consultant predicts a March 2015 revenue service date for this project, one month later than the MTA’s goals. We’ll find out soon enough.

One of the problems with this project was the way it was scheduled. Original plans contained no contingency time in order to meet the goal of finishing with Bloomberg was still in the office. The MTA has blown past that deadline with an end vaguely in sight; yet, the agency still promises an on-time completion for the Second Ave. Subway. We’ll find out about that soon enough too.

Meanwhile, the IEC urges the MTA to finish its coordinated review of Capital Construction projects to ensure adequate resources are allocated internally. With Sandy work ongoing, and moving at a brisk pace, it seems there is a push and a pull on the MTA’s finite resources. Improving management and on-time delivery will help garner public support for the next few billion dollars in capital expenses. Right now, we’re just waiting for the 7 line to open.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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