• More on the South Ferry art · In my illustrated tour of the new South Ferry terminal, I talked extensively about MTA’s $1 million Arts for Transit investment in the new station. Today, The Times talked with Mike and Doug Starns, the 47-year-old, Brooklyn-based identical twins responsible for the decorations, about their vision for new stop. They talk about the trees, the map and the difficulties of working with fused glass on a subway station-sized scale. Check it out. · (1)

A funny thing happened on the way to the fare hike. A new study notes that, as the city experienced massive growth, transit ridership — and not car use — spiked. At a time when the MTA is facing an uncertain financial future, this report should bolster proponents of the Richard Ravitch-inspired bailout.

The report, set to be released later this morning by New York transportation guru Bruce Schaller, earned some good ink in The Times this weekend. William Neuman reports:

[A]ccording to a new city study, the volume of traffic on the streets and highways remained largely unchanged, in fact declining slightly. Instead, virtually the entire increase in New Yorkers’ means of transportation during those robust years occurred in mass transit, with a surge in subway, bus and commuter rail riders…

Mr. Schaller said that vehicle trips citywide peaked in 1999 and then leveled off, with a dip in 2001 as a result of the terror attack on the World Trade Center. The overall trend has been largely stable traffic volumes across the city from 1999 through 2007. In contrast, during the years when the economy was most buoyant, from 2003 to 2007, transit ridership soared, increasing about 9 percent during those years, according to the city study.

The difference is even greater when the focus is on the core commercial district of Manhattan, south of 60th Street. From 2003 to 2007, the study found, traffic entering that area fell by 3 percent. During the same period, transit ridership into the same zone rose 12 percent.

However, the most marked change occurred in the level of travel in Manhattan that crossed 60th Street heading south. Traffic from this direction was down 8 percent, even as vehicle traffic from Brooklyn and New Jersey was largely unchanged. At the same time, transit and commuter rail ridership going south and crossing 60th Street increased.

Basically, what the city is seeing is a form of congestion policing. As travel into and out of Manhattan became increasingly frustrating and time-consuming, commuters embraced transit as a viable alternate. Not content to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic up and down Sixth Ave., New Yorkers are now more likely to take the subway. It is, in other words, the perfect argument for congestion pricing proponents who want to show how a fee would decrease traffic by a greater degree.

But beyond the obvious, this report also shows why the MTA needs its bailout plan, Ravitch-approved or otherwise. As the city grew economically, transit ridership surged. If the MTA cannot keep the system running even as it is now, the city’s economy will slowly grind to a halt. We’ve seen it happen in the 1970s, and we’re dangerously close to that precipice again. The economy will lead transit numbers up, but declining transit reliability will lead the economy down.

The MTA, for its part, gets it. Neuman quotes William M. Wheeler, the MTA’s director of planning. “The increase in transit has paced the economy. They’re going hand in hand. I think it’s pretty compelling,” he said. “I guess now the question is what’s in the future. The challenge is going to be, can you have an adequately funded transit system to be there for that economic growth.”

That is a very good question indeed.

Categories : MTA Economics
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So the big news this week comes to us in the form of a reminder from GerritsenBeach.net. Almost one year to the day since I first reported on these renovations, the MTA has started the overhaul at Ave. U and Neck Road.

The stations will be closed for a year, and GerritsenBeach.net outlines the other subway and bus options for Southern Brooklyn residents. For now, only the Coney Island-bound platforms are closed. In 2010, the Manhattan-bound platforms will be shuttered. Alternate routes are as follows:

  • Use the Kings Highway or Sheepshead Bay (B) (Q) stations.
  • Use the Av U (F) station.
  • To travel from Av U and Neck Rd take a 57 St/7 Av bound (Q) train to Kings Highway and transfer to a Coney Island bound (Q) .
  • To travel to Av U and Neck Rd continue to Sheepshead Bay and transfer to a 57 St/7 Av bound (Q) train.
    On weekday afternoons, please transfer to the B3K at the Kings Highway (B) (Q) station. The B3K will operate on weekdays only, from 2:50 PM to 7:45 PM, on Av U between Ocean Av and Gerritsen Av to/from the Kings Highway/East 16 St (B) (Q) station. The B3K will run every 10 minutes. Travel time is approximately 15 minutes in each direction. The regular fare is charged for the B3K bus.

Meanwhile, on with the rest of the service advisories:


From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, December 13 and Sunday, December 14, 2 trains skip Bronx Park East, Pelham Parkway, Allerton, and Burke Avenues due to track work.


From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 13 and Sunday, December 14, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run express from Bedford Park Blvd. to 125th Street due to track cable work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, uptown A trains skip 135th, 155th, and 163rd Streets due to installation of new tunnel lighting conduits and fixtures from 155th Street to just north of 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, downtown A trains run local between 168th Street to 145th Street due to installation of new tunnel lighting conduits and fixtures from 155th Street to just north of 168th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, free shuttle buses and shuttle train service replace the A train between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and the Rockaways due to installation of bridge track panels and the replacement of lift rails on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Sunday, December 14, Queens-bound A trains run express from Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. to Utica Avenue due to track cleaning.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Sunday, December 14, Queens-bound A trains skip Ralph and Rockaway Avenues due to track cleaning.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, there are no C trains operating between 168th Street and 145th Street due to installation of new tunnel lighting conduits and fixtures from 155th Street to just north of 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to track and cable conduit work north of 167th Street.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, December 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 15, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N from Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 15, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th St-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to construction work on an employee facility at Church Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. to noon Saturday, December 13, Jamaica-bound F trains skip Van Wyck and Sutphin Blvds. due to installation of track drains.


From 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., Friday, Saturday, Sunday (through 5 a.m. Monday), there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue. Customers should use the M14 instead.


From 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., Friday, Saturday, Sunday (through 5 a.m. Monday), L trains run every 24 minutes in two sections due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue:

  • Between Rockaway Parkway and Bedford Avenue and
  • Between Bedford Avenue and Union Square


From 4 a.m. Saturday, December 13 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 14, the last stop on some Coney Island-bound trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation.


At all times, until winter 2009, the Coney Island-bound side of the Avenue U and Neck Road stations are closed for rehabilitation. Customers should use Kings Highway BQ, Sheepshead Bay BQ, or Avenue U F stations as alternatives.


The Cortlandt Street Station is closed until further notice while the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey continues to build on the WTC site. – Usually I take this one out, but as I rode past the stop after my South Ferry tour yesterday, I overheard two of the big transit beat writer talking about this station. Most of the blue walls were gone, and we could see the state it’s in. There are new staircases leading into what will be the Fulton St. complex, but it’s a mess down there. The two writers wonder for how many more years this one will be closed. Good question.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Shiny Station

Sometime next month, the MTA will, for the first time in twenty years, open a new subway station in New York City. The new terminal at South Ferry — the first post-9/11 redevelopment project to open in Lower Manhattan — features a fully ADA-compliant two-track station with wide platforms and state-of-the-art engineering. It will offer up a connection to the R and W trains at Whitehall St. and will serve as the station of the future, a prototype of sorts for the three stations planned along Second Ave., and it looks great.

Yesterday, Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, led a group of reporters and photographers on a tour of the not-yet-completed facility, and I was lucky enough to get an invite. Let’s take a tour of the new station. (All links go to my flickr photo set of the tour. The slideshow is embedded below.)

South Ferry First, let’s set the scene. The current station at South Ferry is more than a bit decrepit. It’s a tiny station with room for five cars, and since it’s on a steep curve, it employs movable platforms. Somehow, it also serves six million passengers a year bound for Staten Island, Lady Liberty and all points in between. When the federal government offered up a large grant to redevelopment Lower Manhattan, the South Ferry stop along with the tortured Fulton St. hub were chosen for funding.

The new station, when it opens next month, will carry with it a $527 million price tag, including $420 million from the feds, approximately $107 from the MTA’s coffers and the remainder from the city for the plaza that will one day surround the entrance.

So what can you get for $527 million these days? Well, for starters, we get 1800 feet of total construction. Of that, 1200 of those feet are a part of a brand new tunnel with the remainder serving as the station.

Instead of just one track, we now have two ten-car tracks. The station will serve as a bona fide terminal. As such, according to the MTA, the potential capacity along the 1 line will increase from around 17 trains an hour to up to 24, and the easing of the Lower Manhattan bottleneck could shave six minutes off of a trip from 242nd St. to South Ferry. The station is also equipped with signals ready for computer-based train control, if and when the MTA gets that program off the drawing board and into the tunnels.

But beyond the technicalities of the track, the station itself is chock full of modern amenities. It features various escalators including some of those new smart escalators that slow down and speed up as passenger demand increases. The platform itself is very wide. While my pictures don’t quite capture how wide they are, this double-sided staircase leads down to the tracks with room on both sides.

More impressive is the cooling technology in place. The new South Ferry terminal features tempered air. As best as I can tell, the system is an underground air conditioned that kept the station positively balmy on a cold December day and will, according to Horodniceanu, ensure that the station “won’t be as hot in the summer” as some of the others. Air conditioned subways! Who knew?

The mezzanine level is by far the nicest in the station. While it does feature the ubiquitious security cameras, it is an expansive and gleaming entry way to the station. Most noticeable is the artwork. The MTA Arts for Transit program spent $1 million on station decorations, and according to Sandra Bloodworth, the director of Arts for Transit, did so to tie the station into its surroundings. “The idea,” she said, “was to bring the park into the station.”

Past the turnstiles, the station features glass panels depicting trees, and outside, the security gates are beautifully designed to evoke the park instead of the MTA’s usually jail-like appearance.

Lower Manhattan The jewel of the station is a mosaic map of Manhattan. Designed by the Starn Twins, the map is a 20-foot wide view of Manhattan from the Battery north. The first layer is a topographic map from 1640 and overlaid on that is a modern view of the city complete with the subway system. I snapped a detail of the map’s depiction of Lower Mahattan, and you can read more about the Starn brothers’ vision for the station at their website.

Beyond that, the station also features the 350-year-old Battery wall that held up construction when workers came across it a few years ago. When completed, it will connect to the BMT at Whitehall St. and feature a canopy entrance evocative of the DC Metro. Sadly, I doubt that the turnstiles will remain without arms for much longer.

The station looks great, and while it looked very much like a work in progress, Horodniceanu says it will open in January. Considering the engineering work that went into it — the station is built underneath the current South Ferry loop and the East Side IRT’s Joralemon St. Tunnel — it will stand as an impressive accomplishment in the painfully slow redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.

Categories : MTA Construction
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This afternoon, I went on the media tour of the new South Ferry 1 train terminal. The station looks great, and later tonight, I’ll post the pictures and my recap. As I look to the future of the system in that post, let’s step back in time to 1905 for a ride up some very familiar terrain.

The video above comes to us via Metafilter. It is, according to that site, a video from G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, D.W. Griffth’s famed cinematographer. He mounted a camera on front of one train and shot six minutes of footage from 14th St./Union Square to the Grand Central station.

The subways were just seven months old at the time, and it’s amazing to see how everything looks the same. It’s easy to recognize the familiar curve on the local tracks as what is now the 6 departs 14th St. heading north. At around the 0:48 mark, note the now-closed 18th St. stop. The only difference is train car and the appearance of Grand Central. All in all, it’s a remarkable piece of subway history.

Categories : Subway History
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Dec
11

What’s the better idea?

By · Comments (7) ·

While I study for my 1L law school exams, I’ve recruited a guest post or two for the next few weeks. Today, Chris Carrera, better know as the East Village Idiot, offers up his take on the response to the Ravitch Plan. As a general note, if anyone reading wants to contribute to SAS, feel free to contact me.

Now that the Ravich Report is out, New York’s politicians are lashing out in defense of “the little guy.” Unfortunately, it seems that those speaking out against the recommendations aren’t clear on who “the little guy” is. Here’s a glimpse of their perception of this mysterious citizen:

“Raising annual fees for driver licenses to $50 would yield nearly $300 million.” – Micah Kellner, Assemblyman (D-Manhattan)

Kellner’s perception of the little guy: a Manhattanite in his district who never, ever drives, and sees absolutely no need for a drivers’ license. He never drives for work, he never drives when he travels, and he never drives to relocate. Everyone else, however, should be forced to pay outrageous annual fees – nearly five times what any other state’s resident pays – isn’t the little guy, and should be screwed, even though they too rely daily on the transit system that this fee would fund.

“Placing tolls along these bridges penalizes people for living in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn boroughs, especially those who don’t have the best access to subway and bus transportation.” – Bill DeBlasio, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

DeBlasio’s perception of the little guy: someone lives and works in the outer boroughs. If you live and work in the same outer borough, East River tolls are of no consequence to you. If you live in, say, Queens and work in the Bronx, you have to pay $10 in tolls every day during your commute (unless you severely inconvenience yourself via the Queensboro Bridge, FDR, and Harlem River bridges). If you live in, say, Brooklyn and work on Staten Island, you have to pay a $10 toll every day during your commute. Forget about those people, because the real “little guy” is the one who lives in Brooklyn or Queens and works in Manhattan, an island with quite possibly the best mass transit in the world… who doesn’t take the Queens Midtown or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (also $10 in tolls every day).

“How can you tax people to enter Manhattan when you don’t provide them reasonable alternatives?” – Simcha Felder, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

Felder’s perception of the little guy: someone who lives in an outer borough and wants to get to Manhattan who lacks “reasonable alternatives.” This “little guy” does not find 23 subway lines, 38 express and local bus routes, or 5 commuter rail lines to be “reasonable alternatives.” These are all infinitely less expensive alternatives than driving to Manhattan under any circumstances now, before any tolls are instituted on East River crossings. But they’re unreasonable to this “little guy,” and are therefore not the best choice for solving the MTA’s fiscal crisis.

It’s time for opponents to the Ravich plan to fess up: They don’t have a good explanation as to why they’re against tolling the East River crossings, they don’t have a reasonable suggestion to raise the revenue needed otherwise, and they don’t really know or care that a small group of people, if any at all, will be inconvenienced by the Ravich plan, which literally millions of New Yorkers will stand to benefit from. “Just because” is not a reason to block a plan that will keep our city’s lifeline from falling into an irreparable fiscal crisis.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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Remember the Kheel plan, a Ted Kheel-funded study by Charles Komanoff and other transit experts? In it, the study’s creators proposed a way to fund the MTA via a steep congestion fee while keeping transit free. While it’s a very revolutionary plan, it hasn’t been embraced politically.

Well, as Ben Fried at Streetsblog reported this morning, Kheel is unveiling a new version of the plan. Kheel apparently doesn’t like the Ravitch plan. He calls it an immobility tax and doesn’t think it addresses the problems of congestion and car overuse that plague New York.

“The Ravitch Immobility Tax is a 1970’s-era plan that disconnects transit and traffic, making no real impact on the congestion problem that chokes our regional economy,” Kheel said in a press release. “The Ravitch Plan ignores the staggering social cost to the city of automobile traffic, leaving drivers to pay little for mass transit, and imposing the burden instead on vulnerable segments of our society that can ill afford it in these times. Instead of taxing jobs during the largest period of unemployment in recent history, we need an innovative plan that fuels economic growth, fixes traffic, and provides long-term benefit for working New Yorkers.”

Rather, Kheel proposes free subways except at rush hour and higher tolls for all. Kheel’s new plan, according to Fried, includes the following:

  • A dramatic cut in subway fares (75 percent on average), including a complete fare elimination on weekends and holidays, overnight and mid-day,
  • A variable fare during the weekday peak periods that’s lower than the current fare;
  • Complete fare elimination on all NYC Transit buses at all times;
  • Congestion pricing on car and truck traffic into the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD), with tolls varying sharply by time of day and averaging $16 per trip;
  • A 46% surcharge on medallion taxi fares (note that medallion taxis, and no other vehicles, would be exempt from the congestion pricing charge);
  • 25% higher tolls on MTA bridges that don’t directly access the Manhattan CBD.

Using their comprehensive proprietary model of the city’s transit system and road network, Kheel’s team concluded that the plan would:

  • Yield over $1 billion in net revenue — sufficient to wipe out more than three-fourths of the MTA’s projected FY-2009 deficit;
  • Increase overall subway ridership by 12% even as use of the system shrinks by 6% in the morning peak hour (8-9 a.m.) and 10% in the evening peak hour (5-6 p.m.);
  • Raise traffic speeds in the chronically gridlocked CBD by one-third during the day and one-quarter overall, while also boosting travel speeds throughout the City.

I want to like this plan, and I want to support. But something gnaws at me. Maybe it’s the fact that Ravitch’s plan generates more than the MTA needs so they can help fund the capital campaign. Maybe it’s the fact that Kheel’s plan is just too far out there for most New Yorkers to appreciate. Sadly, I think Kheel’s plan will forever remain a good idea in principle but will never be a New York reality.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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New York is still coming to grips with the legacy of Robert Moses.

Oh, what a tortured web transit policy weaves, and this web will just get more expensive if New York doesn’t find a way to better bail out the MTA.

According to a report released on Tuesday by the Independent Budget Office, subway fares could reach $2.50 per ride with Unlimited Ride cards at $104 if the MTA doesn’t see some alternate revenue streams. The report is available as a PDF, and William Neuman summarized the news:

Because ridership often tends to drop after a fare increase, the study predicted that the authority would have to increase fares by 28 percent to achieve the desired 23 percent rise in the total revenue that fares produce. Under that formula, the 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard would rise to $104, from $81. A weekly MetroCard would rise to $32, from $25.

The study predicted that the base subway and bus fare would increase to $2.50, from $2. That is an increase of 25 percent, but the authority has said that it prefers to increase the base fare by multiples of 25 cents because its vending machines are set up mainly to handle quarters.

In contrast, the rescue plan proposed by the state commission, which is headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, calls for an 8 percent increase in total fare revenue.

As the Daily News had reported about a $3 base fare a few weeks under the MTA’s so-called Doomsday Scenario, this IBO analysis is hardly surprising. But it does drive home the point of the Ravitch Report. Unless New York officials get serious, the MTA’s $1.2 billion financial burden will fall squarely on the shoulders of the riders through fare hikes and service cuts. To avoid that, I would opt for those controversial East River bridge tolls.

The point, however, may be a moot one, as Sam Roberts appropriate wrote in The Times on Monday, power brokers are tough to find these days. Roberts, in a well-written piece, hits upon the Robert Moses problem. New York City — and in particular, its transit system — needs a Robert Moses. But after the experiences and horrors of later-years Moses, the city just doesn’t want one.

Roberts wonders if Ravitch can be that power broker. As an appointee of the governor, he is in a similar position as Moses was all those years ago. But unlike Moses, Ravitch has no real power. He has the authority to lead a commission but no authority to do anything with the recommendations. Power in New York is just too fractured to allow a consolidation we would need to see a revolutionary solution to the MTA’s financial woes.

Robert Caro, the author of The Power Broker, the excellent Moses biography, had the final word. “It’s not a lack of power,” he said to Roberts. “It’s a lack of vision — of a vast metropolitan area as a single whole and what is necessary to tie that area together in a way that makes every segment of the population one. There are public officials with plenty of power. That power is just never thrown behind mass transit in the way it should be.”

Sadly, that sounds true to me.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • Ahead of New York, Boston starts seatless car experiment · While the MTA announced plans for a seatless car experiment in August, Boston’s MBTA has beaten them to the punch. As the Daily News reports today, some Red Line cars in Boston will now be seatless an in effort to increase capacity. According to MBTA officials, this move should increase capacity by 10 percent. For local reaction, check out The Harvard Crimson. In New York, when four out of 10 cars feature the flip seats, the estimated increase is 18 percent. While some people will complain about missing out on the hypothetical seat, most rush hour riders don’t have the chance to rest anyway. · (3)

Let’s talk New York State drivers licenses for a bit. They have become quite the hot topic on the transit front lately.

Right now, it seem as though the most popular alternate to the Ravitch proposal concerns drivers licenses. As I discussed last week, a group led by Assembly rep Micah Kellner and New York City Comptroller William Thompson have proposed increased fees for car registrations and licensing fees in lieu of the controversial East River tolls.

A few readers e-mailed me skeptically about the registration fee plan, noting that the numbers did not quite seem to add up. So I ran the numbers. There are, according to the 2007 DMV records, 6.78 million licensed drivers in the 12 counties served by the MTA and 5.59 million licensed automobiles. It was then that I realized the catch.

Right now, those of us with New York State drivers licenses pay, more or less, around $50 once every eight years to renew our licenses. It was my understanding that this alternate plan would simply raise this rate to $100 every eight years. The way I figured it, this new fee would generate an additional $42 million a year and not the promise $300 million Kellner and Thompson had noted.

The catch, you see, is that Kellner and Thompson would charge New Yorkers that $50 fee every year. Instead of paying $50 for eight years, we would instead be paying $400 extra over that eight-year period to enjoy the privileges and benefits of having a drivers license no matter how little or how much we drive.

To me, this doesn’t quite get at the heart of the problem. It certainly provides an alternate source of revenue and wouldn’t require tolling the East River bridges, but it’s an unfair demand. In fact, while Thompson claims that the East River crossing tolls would hit those who cannot afford to pay them the hardest, I believe his alternate registration plan would.

Take me, for example. I have a New York State drivers license, and I always will. The last time I personally drove a vehicle across one of the East River bridges was in 2006 when I had to drive a van from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Under the Ravitch plan, I would pay $0 a year to cross the East River bridges because I take the subway to Manhattan every day. It’s significantly cheaper than owning a car; it’s convenient; it’s quick. But I’m not going to give up my drivers license.

Under the Kellner/Thompson plan, I would be paying an additional $50 a year to own a form of government identification. The people who can afford this plan will shrug it off and pass the costs on; the people who can’t will have to decide between relinquishing a drivers license of paying more. It’s not really equitable.

On the other hand, the Ravitch proposal would charge you for use. If you use the East River bridge tolls —  if you avail yourself of a service that isn’t free to New York City but that the city refuses to charge for right now — you should have to pay. My ownership of a drivers license shouldn’t fund mass transit, but your use of the roads at the economic, social and environmental expense to everyone else should. And that’s why this registration fee plan is bogus.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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