Updated 5:36 p.m.: Tomorrow marks current MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander’s last day on the job, and MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger has named Helena Williams, current president of the Long Island Rail Road, as the interim replacement.

Sander, who announced his resignation on May 7, is leaving at the firm request of David Paterson. The New York Governor used the recent MTA rescue package as leverage to exert more control over the financially beleaguered transit agency, and Sander, a Spitzer appointee but probably the most qualified authority head in its 41-year history, lost his job. Williams will assume the interim title on Monday, following MTA Board approval.

In taking on the job, Williams will also keep her duties as head of the LIRR. She is, however, looking forward to the challenge of leading the agency. “I am honored to be asked to step in temporarily – pending approval of the MTA Board – to serve in this position while continuing my duties as President of the LIRR,” Williams said via press release this afternoon. “As we all know, the subway, bus, bridge, tunnel and commuter rail systems are the lifeblood of our city and of the entire New York metropolitan region. I’ve spent much of my career at the MTA, so this will be an exciting challenge.

Williams, a labor lawyer with a degree from St. John’s, has been at the MTA for 15 years and has served as the head of both the Long Island Bus and LIRR. She also worked as the deputy county executive to Tom Suozzi in Nassau County. As the press release notes, the LIRR has flourished under her leadership with record on-time performance figures and better customer communications.

“This is a time of transition at the MTA, but it is critical that we continue to serve our customers without missing a beat,” H. Dale Hemmerdinger, current chairman of the MTA Board, said. “Helena Williams is doing a terrific job at the Long Island Rail Road and will be an excellent steward for the entire transit system until a new Chairman and CEO is appointed.”

Williams was the first female named to head to LIRR, and by assuming this new position, I believe she is the first lead the MTA as well. When Paterson names a successor, she will keep her job as president of the Long Island Rail Road.

Meanwhile, gov. Paterson is expected to name a permanent successor in the near future. Time is, however, of the essence. As The Times’ William Neuman reports, the Senate adjourns for the summer on June 22. If Paterson has not named a replacement by then, he will either have to summon the legislatures back for a special session or live with Williams as the interim head for a few months. His office declined to comment on the search, saying simply that they are looking for a candidate with “a mandate, a philosophy and a record of complete transparency and accountability to taxpayers.”

Categories : MTA
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  • Mapping historical subway ridership levels · I love subway maps and maps about subways. I have an extensive collection of historical New York City subway maps at home and a few from other systems around the globe as well. Recently, though, something else piqued my attention. Mike Frumin, that man behind Frumination got his hands on historical subway ridership figures from every station in the system. Not only has he made the data readily available, but he has mapped it through a series of sparklines. He offers up his analysis of the map as well.

    Meanwhile, two other programmers have taken the data and turned it into colorful visuals as well. This flash map looks good but distorts the station-by-station data. The other, found here, doesn’t look as sleek but is presents a far more rigorous examination of the data. Check it out. · (2)
  • MTA to enter Lotto business · Buried at the bottom of Heather Haddon’s article on the fate of the Fulton St. Transit Center was an interesting note about the MTA’s search for revenue. According to the amNew York reporter, the transit agency has approved a six-month pilot program that restarts the sale of lottery tickets at eight underground stations. In return, the MTA receives three percent of the revenue of all sales. The MTA sold lotto cards underground in the 1960s but had to cease when littering became an issue. With proliferation of free newspapers these days, what’s a dropped lottery card anyway? As long as I can buy a ticket from Little Bit O’ Luck, I’ll be happy. · (3)


Will this be the final look for the Fulton St. Transit Center? Stay tuned.

The Fulton St. complex is a mess right now. The Cortlandt St. station on the BMT Broadway (N/R/W) line has been closed for nearly three years as work has progressed at a snail’s pace, and the Transit Center hub, originally scheduled for completion two years ago, has been delayed seemingly forever.

Yesterday, though, during the MTA Board’s Real Estate, Planning and Capital Construction Committee meeting, Capital Construction president Michael Horodniceanu proclaimed a firm deadline and a budget for Fulton St. According to Horodniceanu, construction on the complex will wrap up in 2014. The total cost will come in at $1.4 billion or twice its original projected cost. And the Transit Center’s dome — subject to much will it or won’t it debate — will be, well, something distinctive.

In a bold move, Horodniceanu guaranteed an on-time — at least for 2014 — delivery of the project. He first proclaimed the original 2007 deadline, set ten years ago when the MTA first broke ground at Fulton St., “totally unrealistic” and then said, “What I present today, I stand by. I expect you to hold me accountable to it.”

According to the plans presented yesterday, the Transit Center will still sit under a three-story building with 25,000-square feet for retail. The MTA has, however, scraped plans for a glass dome. For now, officials are simply promising something that will let in natural light to fill the glass-enclosed building. As expected, the dome was shelved because of costs.

Originally projected to run $750 million, the Hub will come in at $1.4 billion. The MTA has the money though for the project. Of the total, the original federal grant will cover $847 million, the MTA will kick in $129 million of its own money and stimulus dollars will cover the final $424 million.

Despite these above-ground concerns, though, work has continued underground, and the MTA set a series of deadlines for the complex. Looking ahead, riders on the A and C lines at Broadway/Nassau St. can expect 40 months of construction with service delays on nights and weekend.

Downtown Express, linked above, runs through a series of future deadlines: The Cortlandt St. station’s northbound platform will open in December with the southbound side closed until 2011. A new entrance on William St will open in 2011 as well. In 2012, the Dey St. entrance will open and the 4/5 station will get an overhaul. The work on the A/C mezzanine won’t wrap up until the spring of 2013.

I’m almost tempted to say, “So that’s that for the Fulton St. Hub,” but it’s not nearly that simple. The MTA has yet to choose a design for the top of its glass station house, and while that part of the project will be the proverbial icing on the cake in terms of projected completion dates, architectural decisions are never easy.

So the clock is ticking. Who knows how long Horodniceanu has as the head of Capital Construction? He’s been far more willing than prior heads to take public responsibility for missed deadlines and delayed projects and should, when the MTA rescue package dust settles, retain his position. He has five years to deliver a project that should be opening this year. He has $1.4 billion with which to work. The race is on.

To grasp the true scope of the bureaucratic mess surrounding the project, read back through the topic’s archives. For images of what the Hub and Transit Center will look like sans oculus, mosey on over to the Lee Harris Pomeroy page with some architectural renderings.

Categories : Fulton Street
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The MTA and Siemens have had a rocky relationship. The technology company won the contract to install train arrival boards along the L line and to equip the line with computer-based train control. As those projects are both behind schedule, the two sides have engaged in some finger-pointing in the past.

Now, as New York City Transit tests CBTC-equipped trains on the L line, the two companies are again dealing with some issues concerning the technology. According to an engineering report, the CBTC works as it should with one major exception: The trains suffer through an “uncomfortable jerk” as they pull into stations. Heather Haddon of amNew York has more:

In February, NYC Transit started running some overnight L trains on “automatic train operation,” where a driver simply taps a button as a computer handles most of the driving.

So far, the software may need tweaking to stop the jerking motion, along with braking errors at fast speeds, according to a report prepared by McKissack + Delcan, engineers hired to oversee the MTA’s major projects.

The snafu has not endangered passengers, NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said. Siemens Transportation Systems, the contractor, will be held responsible in refining the software, he said.

Union leaders, worried about the potential loss of jobs that completely mechanized trains represent, used these problems to rail against CBTC. Curtis Tate, current head of TWU Local 100, called for an investigation into these problems. “We continue to have serious safety concerns,” he said.

Meanwhile, transit advocates continued to express dismay with the way Siemens has handled its projects. “This has been an ongoing saga,” Karyl Cafiero of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said to Haddon. “Is this fine tuning going to take a month or six months?”

At some point, CBTC is scheduled to be deployed on the 7 line as well as the L. For now though, with a $28 million contract for 64 cars looming large, the city’s subways are kicking and screaming their way into the 21st Century.

Categories : MTA Technology
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As New Yorkers and the MTA adjust to life in the post-rescue plan era of transit planning, it is worth revisiting and old — and contentious — proposal to fund transit. Lost in the debate over Richard Ravitch’s proposal to toll the East River bridges was another suggestion that Ravitch intentionally did not include in his report: a congestion fee.

Now, we know how this works. The city would charge drivers of all vehicles a certain amount each day to enter Manhattan’s central business district. Generally, this would include all of the island from 60th St. south. The system would be set up by a $350 million grant from the feds — a grant which is still available — and the projected $400-$500 million in revenue would head into the MTA’s coffers for the capital plan.

While many New Yorkers were willing to support this plan, politicians balked at the idea and turned it into a pseudo-populist cause. How would the lower class drivers afford to pay the fee? How would the businessman in for himself afford to pay it?

Never mind that lower class — and middle class and many upper class — residents of New York City don’t even own cars. Never mind that few business owners spend their days driving back and forth from the outer boroughs to Manhattan’s CBD. Never mind that a congestion fee would improve traffic, speed up trips into Manhattan and virtually pay for itself for those few that do. This was not an issue proponents would win with common sense.

But as that TransAlt graphic up there shows, a congestion fee makes far too much sense. It has an environmental and social component; it has an economic component; and it contributes to mass transit expansion. The benefits would far outweigh the costs.

With news that the money from the feds is still out there, a few political commentators and urban planning enthusiasts have been looking at ways to reframe the argument. At FiveThirtyEight, Robert Frank suggested reframing the debate and offer up a cookie in the form of a voucher:

Most people who commute regularly by car into Manhattan are not poor, and most low-income workers in Manhattan already use public transportation for their daily commute. The problem cases are low-income workers who must occasionally drive into the city on weekdays. For such people, congestion fees would indeed constitute a new burden.

But this burden could easily be eliminated by giving every low-income worker in Manhattan an annual allotment of transferable congestion vouchers. On the rare occasions when these workers needed to drive into the city, they could do so free of charge. And they could earn some extra money by selling any vouchers they didn’t need on Craigslist.

Ryan Avent thinks this approach is worth a shot. As Avent notes, “the crucial opposing push came from self-interested drivers, mostly middle and upper income individuals who wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the vouchers.” But there’s something else at play: Albany blocked congestion pricing. As Avent’s readers noted, the City Council, Mayor, MTA and NYC DOT all approved the plan before Sheldon Silver killed it in committee.

So maybe now, it’s time to try again. In the aftermath of the Senate package, it’s clear that the MTA’s capital plan rests on shaky ground. The money that is there will last just two years, and the MTA needs a true source of long-term revenue. Congestion pricing would do just that, and people in the city are far more willing to support it than they are East River bridges.

Soon, in the not-too-distant future, someone in Albany or New York City will have to step up to the plate for the MTA. He or she will have to assemble a group of politicians and planners willing to go out on a limb for transit in one of the most transit-dependent urban centers around the world. Why not now? Why not congestion pricing?

Categories : Congestion Fee
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A construction fence marks the start of the lengthy Culver Viaduct rehab. (Photo for Second Ave. Sagas by Twitter user JeffreyNYC.)

The Culver Viaduct work and the extension of the G train deeper into Brooklyn are two stories near and dear to my heart. I first reported on the potential for increased G service in one of the very first posts on Second Ave. Sagas, and when it looked as though the Culver Viaduct rehab would start in 2007, I examined how the G train extension could just be a temporary service upgrade.

In November 2007, after months of agitating for F express service partly on the basis of the extended G service, I delved into the viaduct plans. At that point, the project had been delayed considerably and was scheduled to start in the fall of 2008.

As budget woes have plagued the MTA and the project has since been pared down, its fate seemed up in the air. Up in the air until this week, that is. As one of my readers noted late last week, a construction fence has gone up on the Viaduct, and starting in July, the G train will finally be extended along the Culver line to a new terminus at Church Ave.

Both The Post and Urbanite reported on this change earlier this week. According to the amNew York blog, the MTA Board has to approve this $2.5 million service extension in advance of the viaduct rehab project.

For now, this move is still billed as a temporary one. The G will gain stops at 4th Ave.-9th St., 7th Ave., 15th St.-Prospect Park, Fort Hamilton Parkway and Church Ave. as well as a transfer to the M and R at 4th Ave.-9th St. The extension will allow for a one-seat ride from Williamsburg and Greenpoint to Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, and if successful, the MTA will consider making it a permanent service extension. Sign me up for that one.

Categories : Brooklyn
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  • Bringing the bell cord back · As a little kid riding the New York City buses in the late 1980s, nothing would bring me more joy that the “Stop Requested” bell cord. With the cord hanging just above my head, I would have to restrain myself from yanking on the cord until my mom gave me permission to produce the familiar “ding” of the Stop Requested sign. As buses have grown more modern, that cord gave way to pushable yellow strips and now buttons in the newest hybrid vehicles. The bell cord was phased out of city buses unceremoniously in 1992.

    Now, though, New York City Transit is reversing course to save money. The push buttons are being phased out and bell cords are back in. Charles Seaton, a Transit spokesman, told The Times that all new buses will feature the pull cord. Currently, 270 buses are equipped with a cord, and the whole fleet is set for this nostalgic retrofitting. According to Seaton, the reintroduction of the bell cord is a cost-saving measure. The yellow strip and button system costs $1056 per bus while a bell cord costs $293 and is easier to repair. In other words, if it ain’t broke and costs too much, don’t fix it.

    Bus history buffs like the retro move too. For these bus aficionados, pushing a button never felt as real as a cord. “When you pulled the cord, you had a general feel — the cord in your hand, you heard the buzzer — of contacting the driver,” Stanley I. Fischler said to The Times’ A.G. Sulzberger. “You feel like you were doing something.” · (10)

David Yassky, center, and Mayor Bloomberg, left, announcing a residential parking plan in 2008. (Photo via flickr user cmyassky)

During the debate over the Ravitch Plan, New York City drivers and their advocates often acting as though free East River Bridges were a constitutional — or at least a God-given — right. How could transit advocates even think of tolling the East River bridges, that bastion of “free” roads? Never mind the tolls on bridges into and out of Staten Island or various points between Manhattan and Queens and the Bronx.

In a similar way, the debate over free on-street parking features much of the same themes. While other cities — Philadelphia, D.C. — have implemented residential parking permit programs, New Yorkers have been loathe to adopt one for dubious grounds. Generally, these programs allow municipalities to charge a rate closer to the market price for convenient parking while filling their coffers for much-needed transit, sidewalk or road improvement projects.

In New York, though, anti-RPPers find interesting and creative ways around the idea. When a program was proposed around three years ago as a way to combat a lack of space, a Brooklyn business association determined that, in Brooklyn Heights, an area saturated with subway lines, there was less than one space for every four registered vehicles. On to the shelf the program went.

Now, though, three New York politicians — Councilman David Yassky, Assembly member Joan Millman and State Senator Daniel Squadron — are at it again. The three Brooklyn Democrats are pushing for another residential parking permit program. This one help fund the MTA while also ensuring drivers a spot close to home. Veronika Belenkaya has more:

If the bill passes, the city and individual neighborhoods would decide whether they want the residential permits, which wouldn’t be allowed on commercial strips and would cover 80% of residential neighborhood streets…

“It’s a real hardship. Anyone who lives here and has a car can’t find parking,” said Brooklyn Heights Association President Judy Stanton.

The current plan, in which the permits would have to be purchased and the revenue would go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund city buses and subways, got a more positive review from the partnership. “If the idea here is to connect drivers and supporting mass transit, that is an interesting approach . . . but the devil is in the details,” said the [Downtown Brooklyn] Partnership’s director, Michael Burke.

While the politicians seem to like this plan for the money it brings in and for the congestion-curing possibilities, the policy wonks don’t agree. Department of Transportation officials feel that an RPP plan can cure congestion only with the help of a congestion fee as well. Without such a plan, we don’t believe this bill will actually solve neighborhood parking problem,” Seth Solomonow, a department spokesman, said.

My only issue with the plan is the projected price point. According to NY1 News, the permits would cost around $50. Considering the true market value of a parking space, the city could charge far more for it. If this plan though can generate more money for the MTA and more money for the city’s transportation coffers, only fear of challenging the free driving mindset will prevent it from becoming a reality.

Update 9:45 a.m.: For a more robust look at Squandron, Millman and Yassky’s efforts than the one presented by the Daily News, browse on over to this Brooklyn Paper article. Mike McLaughlin crunched some numbers from prior reports and notes how, currently, some Brooklyn areas have nearly 700 more cars than spaces.

Any RPP plan also has an added benefit I originally neglected to mention: By requiring permits, the city can make sure that its residents have registered their vehicles in New York City. Right now, due to price discrepancies many short-term New Yorkers keep their registrations active in their native states. It is, as always, all about paying for the resources one uses.

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