For a crowded subway line with infrequent off-peak, the BMT Brighton Line — more commonly known as line serving the Q and the B trains — sure has been feeling the love this week.

Nicole Brydson, a freelance writer and self-proclaimed gentrifier, penned a paean to this subway line for The Observer. She is sincere, if a little naive, in her treatment of central and southern Brooklyn, and the piece reads as a warning for people fearing gentrification.

Brydson, as I am, is a 20-something Manhattan native who’s settling down in Brooklyn. Her Observer column details her life out here in the wilds of Prospect Heights. She is a gentrifier, always searching for the Next Big Neighborhood, and proud of it too.

In her piece on the Brighton Line, Brydson bases her analysis around the 7th Ave. stop. She writes about how “biggest factor in finding an apartment was its proximity to this train line and especially to the 7th Avenue station.” Southern Brooklyn, she says, “seems to be getting a makeover.”

As she praises the Q and B, she calls these trains more reliable versions of the L, that great symbol of gentrification. We don’t suffer through endless years of construction, inexplicable delays and sluggish rides into and out of Manhattan. Plus, the Q and B, as the L did years ago, are taking people into uncharted territories.

But for all this pomp and circumstance, the Q and the B just aren’t another L train. The Brighton Line travels through some of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods. The train once served Ebbets Field and the countless families who grew up in central Brooklyn, children of immigrants. It stretches into some of the more Orthodox religious communities in the city and extends its tentacles into strong ethnic enclaves in Brighton Beach. It even features some of the city’s best pizza just steps away from the Ave. J stop. While Williamsburg and Bushwick were ripe for development, the neighborhoods along the Q and the B have far deeper roots and much stronger communities than did the stops along the L train.

Now, I love the Q and the B as much as the next person. I ride the B everyday, and the Brighton Line trains, when they show up, offers the fastest ride to and from Manhattan. The trip across the Manhattan Bridge certainly makes for a serene five minutes as well. But perhaps we’re taking this love of the Q and the B a little bit too far.

Outside of the quaint neighborhoods and slice-of-life glimpses the Brighton Line offers, the trains — especially around rush hour — don’t make for a very pleasant commute. Try cramming yourself onto a stuffed Q train at 8:45 a.m. or a Brooklyn-bound B at 6:15 p.m. You can’t without pushing, shoving, cursing under your breath, sucking in your gut and stepping on someone’s toes. The trains don’t score high on the Straphanger Campaign’s cleanliness metrics; and as Flatbush Vegan pointed out, the new trains make for less seating capacity than ever. (The new R160s have more standing room but 120 fewer seats per train than the old R68s.)

When it’s not rush hour and one can actually find a seat, the wait times, particularly when the B isn’t running, often seem interminable. Trains run every 8-20 minutes at nights and on the weekends. When the B is running, the 7th Ave. wait lines shouldn’t be longer than five minutes. But further down the line at the local stops and during off-peak hours, those 20 minutes just drag by.

Like every subway line in the city, the BMT Brighton Line has its special charms. It has a zoetrope in an abandoned station, an earthen embankment section that runs near the site of the worst accident in New York subway history and a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline as it crosses the Manhattan Bridge.

But the line is not some train mecca, and its neighborhoods are more worthy than to be considered the next great frontier in the endless gentrification of New York City’s outer boroughs. Let’s love it — along with its the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods — for what it is and not what Manhattanites priced out of their home borough would like it to be.

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  • Double the pleasure for new buses · The MTA’s double-decker bus prototype made its maiden voyage this morning, and The Daily News’ Matthew Lysiak and Pete Donohue were on board soliciting rider feedback. They found that everone liked it. The only complaints focused around the fact that headroom on the lower level is just 5’11″ and on the upper level a meager 5’7″. This bodes well, at least initially, for the MTA’s plans to bring more of these buses to New York. · (1)

While digging up some background information on my post this morning about the MTA’s anti-terror ad campaigns, I came across a gem of a subway public service announcement on Korey Kay & Partners’ website. KKP has long been the MTA’s go-to advertising agency, and one of its favorite ads to promote comes to us from the dark ages of 1993.

I remember seeing this one in the subways, and at the time it was very appropriate. As you can see above (click here for a larger version), the ad plays on the MTA’s notoriously unreliable public address system. Fifteen years, the MTA swore they were working to improve the PA system. Based on what I hear on the trains and in stations every day, I’m guessing that the PA overhaul is one project not quite there yet.

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As September 11 dawns, the city takes a collective breath. It’s always a little quieter, a little more somber around New York as we all think back to 2001 when nothing made sense.

This year, the MTA has, perhaps coincidentally, released an update to that ubiquitous” anti-terrorism campaign. “Si ves algo, di algo,” our MetroCards exhort us in Spanish. “If you see something, say something.”

In their press release, the MTA is touting is “the next generation” of the See Something/Say Anything ad campaign. No longer content with bragging about the 1944 people who bothered to say anything, the MTA is again pushing the message that unattended packages should be viewed suspiciously. Korey Kay & Partners, the ad campaign contracted to product the creative, has released a few television commercials (here, here and here) and new placards and print ads.

The ads are very reminiscent of the first generation placards. Again, the MTA is focusing on something — a box, a backpack, a suitcase — that is alone on a platform unattended. No one is around to notice it; no one is around to claim it as his or her own. It’s minimalism at its finest.

“The security of our customers is our paramount concern,” MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sanders said. “These new ads remind our customers not to be complacent about what they see around them. They also reinforce the important role our customers play in ensuring the safety of transit users throughout the entire MTA system.”

The MTA also informs the world in their press release that they’ve licensed this catchy awareness slogan to 37 other transit networks around the globe, and in fact, the authority earned a trademark in the phrase last December. But is it an effective slogan?

As I look at the ads and think about the responses the MTA has — or hasn’t — gotten as a result, I wonder if they’re driving the point home hard enough. It’s not easy to associate a forgotten bag with a potential terrorist weapon. We see forgotten bags on the subway all the time, and so far in New York, none of them have blown it. Collectively, we know it can happen; we’ve seen it, on TV and in the papers, in Madrid and London. But those images seem remote to us in New York City where, seven years after the World Trade Center attacks, our city has that false aura of impermeability around it again.

The MTA can’t use scare tactics to convince its customers to report any potential package. With a vast, open system filled with easy access points, due diligence on the part of the riders is a necessity for any anti-terror efforts. But perhaps it’s time to refresh the old “If you see something, say something” refrain. It’s old hat by now, and if it’s one thing New Yorkers manage to look past, old hats are it.

Categories : Subway Security
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As the MTA stares down the barrel of a financial crisis, the agency has, rightfully, adopted a new motto: no fare left behind. As tangible talk of a fare hike swirls, New York City Transit has already beefed up its fare-enforcement efforts, and now the authority is putting Staten Island on notice.

The Staten Island Railway is one of the quirkier aspects of the MTA’s transit network. It runs for 13 miles from the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George south to Tottenville. The railway features a daily ridership of around 17,000. And very few of them pay a fare.

The SIR, you see, only has fare-collection points at the ferry terminal and the Staten Island Yankees’ ballpark stop a few blocks away. Otherwise, the ride is free, and many riders enter and exit at Tompkinsville, a half-mile walk away from the ferry terminal.

But those halcyon days will soon be over. As CityRoom reported late last week, the MTA is set to introduce turnstiles at Tompkinsville too. Gone are the free rides. Jake Mooney has the details:

The Tompkinsville station is being renovated to install turnstiles, which means that come next summer, riders will have to pay to get off the train there, too. The closest free stop to the ferry would then be Stapleton, a little over a mile away, and whether people will get off and walk from there is an open question…

John G. Gaul, the chief officer of the railway, provided some background in an interview on Thursday about the decision to add fares at Tompkinsville — a decision that was not greeted too warmly this week.

First, Mr. Gaul said, the shift was motivated, “in large measure, but not totally,” by the desire to get $2 apiece from some of those people who are now getting off the train to avoid paying. That, he said, would yield about $661,000 more in annual revenue — about a 10 percent increase over the line’s current revenue.

Gaul goes on to explain how MetroCards rendered the SIR’s manual, on-board fare collection efforts moot. With the technological advances of the MTA, apparently, they could no longer collect tokens from the riders. Supervision dropped; crime rose; and now the MTA is, eleven years after introducing MetroCards, taking the time to address this problem.

The efforts at Tompkinsville — some HEETs and closed-circuit security cameras — are something of a test run for the rest of the Staten Island Railway. If it succeeds in capturing more revenue, the MTA may expand the pilot program down the line. The only catch is that these renovations are going to cost $6.8 million and result in just, as Mooney reported, an additional $661,000 a year. It’ll take a while for the revenue to pay for the renovations, let alone standard operating costs.

Of course, the riders are begrudgingly accepting of the MTA’s efforts to collect the proper fare, but some of them plan to walk the mile from Stapleton to the ferry. While I admire the exercise and effort at which people will go to avoid the fare, at some point, the $2 — or less with a pay-per-ride discount or Unlimited MetroCard — seems like less of an effort. People will do anything for a buck or two in New York City.

Categories : Staten Island
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  • E-ZPass, I just can’t quit you · While MTA officials, past and present, have received their fair share of flack for the overly-generous free E-ZPass perks they once enjoyed, it seems that not everyone is so keen on giving them up. The E-ZPasses were recalled in June, and three months later, a whopping 20 percent of them remain outstanding, according to The Daily News. Of those that have come back, not everyone is so keen about giving up the perk. Warren Dolny, a 79-year-old last on the MTA Board in 1996, plans to sue. Dolny was the number one abuser of the privilege, racking up $30,000 worth of trips in one year. His 918 rides in 2007 amounted to 2.5 a day. ‘Nuff said. · (0)
  • A congestion pricing primary day vote · Today is Primary Day for many New York City politicos hoping for reelection. While the New York machine is alive and well and most incumbents won’t lose, here’s your chance to express displeasure with our elected representatives for the way they handle mass transit issues in and around the New York Metropolitan Area. As TSTC’s Mobilizing the Region reminds us, Sheldon Silver was one of congestion pricing’s primary opponents and the man ultimate responsible for its death in committee. If you live in Manhattan’s District 64, go vote for his opponents. While Silver will probably win, he doesn’t deserve the support. · (4)

This bus is on loan to New York from Belgium. (Photo courtesy of NYC Transit)

Outside of red telephone booths, nothing screams “London” quite like a double-decker bus. The ubiquitous vehicles line the streets of England’s capital day in and day out, and they are positively European.

Four months ago, NYC Transit President Howard Roberts mused about the return of double-decker buses to New York City. His dreams, it seems, will become a reality.

In an effort to increase bus capacity and respond to ridership demands, the MTA is set to audition double-decker buses on the streets of New York. The first prototype, a bus on loan from a Belgium-based transportation company, will hit the streets on Thursday and will run as part of a 35-day test as the transit authority attempts to assess how these buses navigate New York City streets and traffic, what level of maintenance they require and how they handle loading and unloading.

“This is not for show. This is not just to titillate the New York public. We really like this bus,” MTA CEo and Executive Director Elliot “Lee” Sander said during a press conference yesterday. “There is a very real chance that New Yorkers will see this in the future. We hope it passes the test.”

Pete Donohue of The Daily News has more on this unique bus:

The agency will seek rider opinions, which likely will include notice of low ceilings. The first level measures 71 inches – 5 feet 11 inches – from floor to ceiling. The upper deck is just 67inches, or 5-feet-7. The average American man is 5-feet-9.

Except for tourist buses, double-deckers haven’t been a regular feature of the city streetscape since the early 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower was President, gasoline was 20 cents a gallon and television shows were in black and white.

A double-decker with 81 upholstered seats and tinted windows will start making runs on Thursday. The largest bus currently in service, the so-called accordion or articulated bus, has 62 seats. During the 35-day test, the double-decker is expected to be deployed on several routes, most likely including the x17 express between Manhattan and Staten Island, the M5 Limited and the M15, officials said.

It’s tough to get a sense of how much standing room these buses have. But it sounds as though these buses will more than complement the buses currently on the street. Notably, these double-decker buses are more fuel-efficient than the articulated buses current running on the crowded Manhattan streets. As they also take up less horizontal space, it’s a win-win situation for both the MTA and other Manhattan drivers.

On the down side, these buses can’t handle cross-park traffic. The transverses in Central Park don’t feature clearance high enough to allow these double-decker buses to run across town through the park.

In the end, it’s hard not to like this idea. It combines practicality, environmentalism and nostalgia all in one. These buses, if they pass the test of a public not so keen on the buses, would be a welcome addition to the New York City public transit system.

Categories : Buses
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While much of the news focus surrounding the proposed 2009 MTA fare hike has focused on the burden this imposes on we the riders, every now and then, an astute editorial draws attention to the real issue: unacceptable levels of government subsidies for the MTA. Today’s comes to us from The New York Times’ editorial board:

Neither the city nor the state is paying its fair share, despite what they claim. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a budget gap of nearly $1 billion next year, direct subsidies from both governments last year totaled about $600 million, not much more than what they were a decade ago, according to the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. Adjusted for inflation, subsidies have actually declined, saddling riders with an ever-increasing burden.

The main problem is that New York’s state legislators have failed to put a dependable source of financing — like congestion pricing — in place. Transit has been forced to rely on fluctuating taxes from real estate and other sources and, increasingly, rising fares…

The M.T.A. has said it needs the city and state together to contribute an additional $300 million next year. State lawmakers say they are awaiting the recommendations of a commission led by Richard Ravitch, expected after the November elections. Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that the city has already done its part, contributing $1.2 billion last year.

But Mr. Bloomberg gets to his $1.2 billion figure by including not only the city’s direct subsidies, which are what really matters, but also an assortment of other kinds of payments that do not directly benefit the M.T.A. They include $344 million in interest payments on money the city borrowed for previous transit aid.

A safe, clean and reliable mass-transit system is not only environmentally sound; it is also essential to New York’s economy. We know the city and state have their own huge, looming budget gaps. But both need to dig deeper to keep mass transit moving.

I’m quoting at length here because the point is a very important one. The government — but the city and the state — need to find a way to fund our mass transit network. New York’s economy depends on it, and if these legislatures don’t kick back more money, the city, the region and the state will suffer.

Categories : MTA Economics
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