The Lower Manhattan street furniture/grate will include some much-needed bike parking. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Rob Wilson)

Speak of the devil. Just this morning, I finally got around to writing about the anti-flooding grate prototype the MTA plans to install in flood-prone areas. A few minutes ago, the MTA unveiled the second grate prototype.

These grates — found in Lower Manhattan — are a street furniture collaborating between Grimshaw Billings Jackson with Systra/HNTB. The current prototype is on display in front of 151 Broadway between Worth and Thomas Sts. In addition to a few benches, these raised grates also provide bicycle racks for the neighborhood. The MTA plans to install this design at 15 locations on West Broadway between Chambers and Leonard Sts. and on Varick St. between Leonard and Franklin Sts. These units will range in length from 16 to 24 feet.

These grates are more functional than the ones prepped for Queens and northern Manhattan. The bike racks are a much-needed addition, and city officials praised this design. “Initiatives like this are critical to the continuous functioning of the City,” Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said. “The fact that this new street furniture does more than double-duty as protection from stormwater by providing seating and bike racks shows that good design can turn problems into assets.”

I’m glad to see such forward thinking from the MTA, and the incorporation of other modes of urban transport into something benefiting the subway should be applauded.

Categories : MTA Technology
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A grate prototype rests on Sutphin Boulevard in Queens. (Photo by David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

When the subways flooded in 2007, the MTA knew they had a grate problem. Run-off from the storms were sloshing underground through sidewalk grates, and the tracks along Queens Boulevard — buried just a few feet underground — were quickly rendered inoperable. While in other cities, such as DC, the subways are far enough underground to escape the problems of heavy rains, in New York, cut-and-cover construction techniques resulted in subways prone to flooding.

When the last big storms hit New York City over the summer, the MTA protected their tunnels by manually covering these grates with tarps. Clearly, this would not be the most efficient way, going forward, for the transit agency to operate every time bad weather hits the Big Apple.

To that end, the MTA has spent the last year developing a new type of sidewalk grate that would push water away from vulnerable subway areas and into proper sewage canals. Pictured above is that prototype, and a few days ago, CityRoom had the story behind these aesthetic and functional grates. Wrote David W. Dunlap:

hammered stainless steel and available in three different heights, their almost sculpturally undulating form is a deliberate reference to the problem they are supposed to help solve. “You’re aware that this is here for storm water,” said Rob Rogers, whose firm, Rogers Marvel Architects, designed the new grates in association with di Domenico & Partners. “It has a didactic purpose…”

The prototype shown on Friday at the corner of Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica was made up of one unit in each height, which formed a whole composition when combined. They can also be used singly or in pairs. The lowest unit, which would hold back flood waters up to six inches above the sidewalk, incorporates a seat. But the gentle troughs between the waves are not uncomfortable and could certainly serve as a temporary perch for someone, say, waiting for a bus.

As a flood-control device, the structure creates a protective collar, or sleeve, around ventilating grates that are typically set flush to sidewalk level. The idea is not to completely waterproof the platforms and tracks below, but to mitigate a devastating cascade of water, silt, mud and debris.

As Dunlap notes, these grates are still grates — The MTA needs to circulate air through their system as well — and water will find its way underground. But by elevating the grating, the MTA can ensure that runoff on the sidewalks will head to storm drains and not underground subway tunnels. Eventually, the MTA will install these grates in other flood-prone areas as well. Sounds good, right?

Well, I love the grates, and I’m glad to see the MTA taking a proactive step to address this problem. I have two concerns, albeit minor ones. Will the stainless steel get too hot when exposed to direct sunlight in the summer? We’ve heard about parents complaining about playground mats that get too hot. What will happen the first time someone gets burned on the bench?

I’m also less than thrilled with the reduction in sidewalk. Personally, I feel that New York as a walking city doesn’t afford its residents with enough sidewalk space. In the grand tradition of Jane Jacobs, I support widening the sidewalks, but these grates do just the opposite.

Of course, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have flood-proof subways and enough sidewalk space, and in this case, I’ll take dry subways and trains that aren’t delayed every time it rains.

Categories : MTA Technology
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Those fancy new bus stops that keep poppig up all over the city come to us from Cemusa, a Spanish company that forked over millions of dollars to build New York’s new street furniture. While these bus shelters have been vandalized and bright, fluorescent beacons of light on otherwise dark city streets, nothing is worse than the one, above, Vanishing New York reported on earlier this week.

Cemusa, in printing up their new signs, noted a bus stop at the corner of Prince St. and Bowery St. At no point in the city’s history was the Bowery ever a street. Once upon a time, prior to 1807, the boulevard was called Bowery Lane. Today, it’s just The Bowery. Time for Cemusa to brush up on its New York City history.

Categories : Buses
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As I left my parents’ house this evening and walked towards the 96th St. stop, one of the MTA’s Mobile Wash Units went zooming north up Broadway. “There goes a crew pretending to clean the subway,” I said to my friends, and we all commented on the utter lack of cleanliness in New York City’s subways.

Journey elsewhere, and the subways range in cleanliness from spotless — Washington, DC, and Singapore come to mind — to utterly filthy. While New York’s system is clean compared to, say, Rome’s or Madrid’s, it’s not going to win any awards. Mostly, the tracks and platforms are littered with trash, and the MTA’s efforts to take out the trash often result in a stream of garbage juice stinking up the stations. While now and then, MTA workers attempt to clean stations, that effort is about as effective as those street cleaners the Department of Sanitation employs.

Today, Pete Donohue of The Daily News explores the cleanliness of the subways. It would take, he says, $100 million to maintain “an acceptable level of cleanliness” throughout the subway system. While Donohue doesn’t quite lay out what that level would be, it would represent a vast improvement over the current state of our stations.

He reports:

NYC Transit would have to hire an additional 1,575 cleaners, and spend nearly $230,000 per hub, to reach and maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness across the entire system, according to an agency analysis.

“That’s a lot of money,” William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said. “In today’s climate, that’s an awful lot of money.”

The total cost would be about $100 million, which NYC Transit can ill afford as it faces down a large 2009 deficit and tries to stave off service cuts.

As the MTA is wont to do lately, the officials quoted point to the line manager program as indicative of the success of cleaning efforts. The L and 7 stations now report heavy litter just 10 percent of the time, down from 33 percent prior to the start of the line manager program.

But that overlooks the real cause of the increased cleanliness. The stations along these two lines are enjoying substantially more cleaners than the rest of the system. Two hundred and twenty five MTA cleaners are assigned to the 45 7 and L stations. In other words, 26 percent of the cleaning crew is assigned to just under 10 percent of those stations. Of course, they’ll wind up cleaner.

In the end, this is another case of the MTA’s simply not having the money. There’s no way they can come up with $100 million right now to fund a cleaning program. It’s too bad; we could really use a tidier subway system.

Graphic courtesy of The Daily News.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • The problem with double-decker buses · When last we saw the double-decker buses, the MTA was gearing up for a test-run along some busy city arteries. Since then, however, New York City Transit has run into a little problem: As predicted, the bus the MTA is using for its trial is too tall. While passengers love the bi-level buses, the MTA had to postpone trial runs along Riverside Drive and Fifth Ave. because the tree branches hang too low. Oops. · (3)

The Tappan Zee Bridge’s days are numbered, and a transit-laden span will soon replace it. (Photo by flickr user vb.rm)

After years of talks and study, state officials on Friday unveiled their $16-billion plan to build a new span crossing the Hudson River to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge. This new river crossing will high-speed, dedicated bus lanes and Metro-North tracks as well, ushering in a new age of transit along the area’s river crossings.

William Neuman had had more about the ambitious plan:

Officials did not say how they would pay for the project; they said they would work with a financial adviser to come up with financing options. The state transportation commissioner, Astrid C. Glynn, said that the state would seek federal financing for part of the project and that a partnership involving some form of private financing would also be considered…

Officials said the bridge itself would cost $6.4 billion. A high-speed bus corridor running from Suffern to Port Chester would cost $2.9 billion. And it would cost an additional $6.7 billion to build a new rail line that would go from the Metro-North station in Suffern and across the bridge, connecting with Metro-North’s Hudson Line south of Tarrytown.

As the 53-year-old bridge has long been the victim of overuse, this is good news in general for the region. That the planners have opted to include transit options from the start speaks volumes of the progress road planners have made over the last few decades. When the original span was constructed in 1955, none of the area’s numerous bridges or tunnels had space for transit, and in fact, Robert Moses used his power within New York City to ensure that key arteries — such as the BQE — intentionally neglected mass transportation options.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign addressed the transit aspect of the new bridge:

The full corridor BRT/Rockland-NYC commuter rail combination is projected to attract more new and total transit riders than any other combination the team considered: 79,900 average weekday riders, with 31,200 of those being new riders not diverted from other transit systems..

The BRT service would begin operation on “day one” of the bridge’s opening, according to NYSDOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn, but the commuter rail line might not, depending on the construction schedule and whether sufficient funding was available. Glynn said that project design could begin in 2010 with construction starting in 2012, if the team stuck to an “aggressive schedule.” Needless to say, the study team does not have a good track record when it comes to timeliness.

In the end, this plan still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. There will be multiple hearings and a search for the money. Then, we’ll have construction along with skyrocketing construction costs and a requisite multi-year delay. But no matter the final completion date or price tag, the study team should be praised for their attention to the times. A rail line from Grand Central up the Tappan Zee corridor will be a boon for the entire region. While it’s coming decades too late, transit is finally getting the respect it deserves in an automobile-centric world. I yearn for the day when all of our river crossings have dedicated bus lanes and rail lines running over them.

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Shea Stadium, pre-blue paint, looms over the 7 train. (Photo courtesy of NYC Subway)

When the Yankees said their good byes to Yankee Stadium last Sunday, the MTA honored the House that Ruth Built with a Nostalgia Train ride from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium. Tomorrow, with the Mets primed to send off the regular season portion of its time at Shea Stadium, the MTA will again be running old train cars from Grand Central out to Flushing.

While Shea doesn’t have the same cachet as Yankee Stadium, it has long played an integral role in New York City history. When the Dodgers wanted a new stadium on the site of the Atlantic Yards, Robert Moses proposed the current location of Shea Stadium as a compromise. For a whole lot more on Shea Stadium, both inside and out, check out Paul Lukas’ ode to the stadium on

Meanwhile, for railfans and baseball fans, the 7 has long represented the Mets. It was back in 1999, in a Sports Illustrated interview when John Rocker said, “Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” Never again would any New Yorker degrade the 7.

The MTA plans to run the nostalgia train just once at 11 a.m. It will run local, arriving at Shea by noon on Sunday. The cars include a 50-year-old R12 and a 1964 World’s Fair Car. The latter cars were service as recently as six years ago as the creaky red birds that run on the IRT. All in all, it’s a nice way for the MTA to recognize the 44-year history of Shea Stadium.

Categories : Subway History
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So the City of New York and the MTA are in a little bit of a fight. Earlier this week, the MTA voted to bill city agencies for their E-ZPass use. This move could generate around $12 million in annual revenue for the cash-strapped transit authority.

The City, of course, objected to this deal, and the Mayor’s representatives on the MTA Board basically told the MTA not to expect any favors from the City any time soon. Well, it turns out that the MTA’s move this week wasn’t the first salvo in a billing war between the two agencies. As The Daily News reported today, the City charged the MTA $12 million for water, bus shelter maintenance and NYPD overtime hours.

So now that we’re all even, with the MTA’s billing the City for $12 million and the City’s billing the MTA for a similar amount, perhaps we can all just move on from this ridiculous scuffle, and figure out who should pay for these annoying weekend service advisories.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Sunday, September 28, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street due to structural and tunnel lighting at 168th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Sunday, September 28, there is no C train service between 145th Street and 168th Street due to structural and tunnel lighting at 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, downtown AC trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, Manhattan-bound AC trains skip Rockaway and Ralph Avenues due to station painting work at both stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to electric cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, there are no E trains between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization. Take the A or C instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29 (and weekends through October 6), Manhattan-bound E trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, Queens-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, (and weekends through October 6), Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From12:30 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, Queens-bound F trains run local from 21st Street-Queensbridge to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 29 (and weekends through October 6), Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28, Q trains run in two sections due to track rail and plate removal:

  • Between 57th Street (Manhattan) and Brighton Beach and
  • Between Brighton Beach and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue
Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Ikea to scale back free service · While Ikea’s free shuttle bus service has been something of a transportation boom for non-Ikea bound Red Hook travelers, the Swedish furniture giant announced yesterday that they will soon be cutting back this service. Starting Oct. 1, Ikea plans to curtail morning shuttle service and will decrease the frequency of their shuttle buses. Due to fewer-than-expected number of passengers after Labor Day, the buses will run every thirty minutes from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. So it’s back to the MTA for all the free-loading passengers. · (0)

Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller, has delved into the MTA’s books, and he doesn’t like what he has found there.

Three months ago, amidst talks of regular fare hikes and budgetary concerns at the MTA, DiNapoli announced he would conduct an audit of the MTA’s books. This week, he released his report on the MTA’s financial outlook, and the picture is not pretty. While the authority’s internal budget gap-trimming measures have been relatively successful, DiNapoli still sees budget gaps climbing to $1.8 billion by 2012. The financial future of the nation’s largest public transit authority has never been more in doubt.

In the report — available here as a PDF — DiNapoli urges the MTA to wean itself off government funding and warns that the recent economic problems coming out of Wall St. may spell financial doom for the agency. In fact, DiNapoli goes one step further and warns the MTA not to expect any additional government funding. Additionally, with the MTA so dependent on taxes and fare revenue, any widescale loss of jobs — such as the collapse of Lehman Bros. or the banking crisis in general — could significantly impact the future finances of the transportation authority.

“The turmoil on Wall Street has created serious fiscal challenges for the City and the State, which will likely limit their ability to provide additional assistance to the MTA,” DiNapoli said, in a statement. “To its credit, the MTA has directed its agencies to develop contingency plans, but the focus must be on administrative costs, not service cuts. Like everyone, the MTA has to learn to do more with less.”

DiNapoli’s office summed up the vital parts of the report in a press release:

In July, the MTA projected operating budget gaps, on a cash basis, of $1.1 billion in 2009, $1.9 billion in 2010, $2.1 billion in 2011, and $2.3 billion in 2012. These gaps represent 11 percent of revenue in 2009 and more than 22 percent of revenue by 2012. The DiNapoli report found that while the MTA’s budget gap estimates were reasonable when they were presented in July, the State has lowered its forecast of dedicated transit taxes by $381 million over the financial plan period.

To balance the 2009 budget and narrow the budget gaps for subsequent years, the MTA has proposed a $6.4 billion gap-closing program. The report found that the gap-closing program is risky because it relies so heavily on actions that are either outside the MTA’s direct control or are still unspecified. Nearly half of the resources are expected to come from additional State and City aid. Less than one quarter would come from internal actions, and 37 percent of those savings remain unspecified.

After assessing the gap-closing program and other risks, the report concluded that the MTA still faces budget gaps of $522 million in 2009, $1.4 billion in 2010, $1.6 billion in 2011, and $1.8 billion in 2012. DiNapoli noted that even if all of the MTA’s gap-closing measures were successful, it would leave a gap of $250 million in 2010 – or the equivalent of a five percent fare hike.

Basically, the MTA, which already relies more on farebox revenue than any other transit system in the nation, will have to keep pushing riders to pay more or else they’ll have to cut service to meet financial expectations. No organization — outside of the federal government — can operate by racking up $4.8 billion in debt over three years, and I have to wonder if the MTA is going to collapse under the weight of its borrowing before the next few years are out.

Meanwhile, as the MTA has increased fares at a rate outpacing inflation by 52 percent, the capital budget is still facing a seemingly insurmountable $15 billion gap. The MTA is also facing the prospects of unfunded pension liabilities reaching nearly $2 billion.

In the end, DiNapoli’s report is long on the doom and gloom and short on answers. He warns the agency not to expect state and city money, and he urges the agency to consider cutting services. From a practical, governmental perspective, DiNapoli’s suggestions are sound, but from a customer service viewpoint, the MTA — enjoying sixty-year ridership highs — can’t really cut service. How this plays out is anyone’s guess.

Categories : MTA Economics
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