• Paterson pushes Ravitch recommendations · Fresh off of his Carolin Kennedy Senate debacle, Gov. David Paterson is shifting his attention to another no-win situation. As The Times reported yesterday, New York’s chief executive will begin pushing for the Ravtich recommendations when the legislature gathers this month. The State Senate has scheduled two-day hearings on the plan for Feb. 18 and 19, but with the MTA’s March 25 drop-dead date fast approaching, time is of the essence.

    As is New York State politics’ wont, the Senate leaders may need some prodding on this issue. “We obviously want to get clarification of what the project is about, how it works, how the resources are going to be used, how services are going to be impacted one way or the other,” State Senator Bill Perkins said to The Times. “This is a big, big idea, a big, big project that is going to be sort of a signature decision for us in the Senate and the Legislature.” · (0)

sasmap Businesses along Second Ave. may be suffering through the pains of construction, but according to one politician, the city is enjoying some substantial benefits from the ongoing effort to build the Second Ave. subway.

Caroline Maloney, House representative from New York’s 14th District, issued a report this week touting the job-creation benefits of the MTA’s capital project. At a time when New York is hemorrhaging jobs, Maloney has certainly found a silver lining.

“The Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access are moving forward and creating thousands of jobs literally beneath our feet,” Maloney said at a news conference this week. “The stock market may be slumping, but these two transit megaprojects are delivering a very healthy return on the federal and state investments in them. The Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access have already created tens of thousands of jobs and generated billions in revenue. While these projects won’t cure everything that ails our economy, they are a huge help in getting us back on track.”

Per her report, supposedly available here but inaccessible last night, the Second Ave. subway has created 16,000 jobs, generated $842 million in wages and produced $2.87 billion in economic activity for the city. She estimates that the final total economic activity generated of what I have to believe is Phase I of construction will be around $4.347 billion.

Despite these lofty numbers, it is hard to ignore the downturn in business along the construction site. Maloney’s report, however, reinforces something I have been saying for a while: People may suffer in the short term, but the long-term gains from having any part of the Second Ave. subway up and running far outweigh the present losses. That doesn’t — and shouldn’t — make Second Ave. business owners feel good about the downturn in business, but the rest of us should know better.

Meanwhile, as Maloney touted this new subway line and the East Side Access project as New York’s local version of a stimulus, her fellow pols reiterated their support for the oft-delayed project. “This is the ultimate stimulus package,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. “We don’t want to be talking about a third groundbreaking 20 years from now.”

Now if only the MTA could secure enough in funding to build a line the length of Manhattan, everything would be all set for the seemingly cursed subway line. But right now, I’m not betting past Phase I.

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Improvising a garbage can

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Where: The south end of the Manhattan-bound platform at the Q/B stop at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn.
When: Now and then, but specifically, January 30 at around 12:30 p.m.

The garbage cans at the 7th Ave. station are near the staircases at the extreme other end of the platform. Yet, people congregate near the back of the train in droves during the morning. With the nearest garbage cans the equivalent of a city block and a half away, straphangers improvise. Here, the garbage can is a nook created by a pipe connecting the newer part of the station with the original area. Perhaps a real garbage can or two at other ends of the city’s subway stations would make for a cleaner system overall.

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Brooklyn Fare Hike Hearing

Brooklynites protest the MTA’s planned fare hikes and service cuts. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Now that the MTA’s public comment period for its planned service hikes and fare cuts has wrapped up, we can conduct something of a post mortem on the hearings. I sat through parts of two of them, and based on what I saw and based on what I’ve heard about the other hearings, a trend emerged: Riders and politicians were very unhappy with the MTA, but few were willing to embrace the sacrifices saving the MTA will entail.

In wrapping up the details about the hearings, the stories are old. Hundreds more people than usual showed up to voice their complaints, but attendance by many MTA Board members was less than impressive. Those two Pete Donohue stories border on the “dog bites man” level of news. Obviously, people are upset, and obviously, those MTA Board members who don’t care won’t show up.

The problem, though, extends well beyond apathetic board members. Speaker after speaker at the hearings I attended lambasted the MTA for its poor planning. They remain skeptical of the authority’s book-keeping after 2005’s dual books debacle that revealed a surplus when the MTA was crying deficit. They slammed the agency for looking to double paratransit fares and bemoaned bus line elimination and the closing of stations that, frankly, could be shuttered overnight.

What no one really supported were tolls on the East River bridges that would impact far fewer people than a poorly funded subway system. What no one supported was a payroll tax. What no one supported were the alternate plans to jack of car registration fees, on-street parking rates, a congestion fee or mandatory residential parking permits. Money for the MTA, it seems, should just rain down from the sky without anyone’s having to give up anything in return.

Life doesn’t work like that, and at least the one man in charge of the MTA knows it. In a column in The Queens Courier yesterday, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander called upon the hundreds who protested to take real action. He writes:

At public hearings held across the city this month, I have heard strong objections from hundreds of MTA customers about the fare and toll increase and service cuts the MTA has been forced to propose. You may be surprised by my reaction: I agree with you. A 25 percent fare increase is too much, especially in this economic environment. Moreover, with transit ridership growing, I agree that now is the time to be adding service, not cutting it. These painful measures can be avoided, but only with your help…

After 25 years of dramatic improvement, New York’s transit network is clearly at a crossroads. A lack of funding threatens to derail unprecedented progress and send us in the wrong direction. If Albany does not act soon, our customers will be faced with drastic fare and toll increases and service cuts, and the system will risk falling into disrepair.

Please call or write your local state senator and assembly member and urge them to support the Ravitch recommendations to provide a steady, long-term funding stream for the MTA. Make sure our legislators understand the importance of the MTA’s transit network to all New Yorkers. Providing the region with efficient and reliable transportation options will keep our hardworking men and women and our economy moving forward.

The MTA has to balance its operations books. It’s a legal requirement. They don’t want to cut service. They don’t want to raise fares. But they will, and now it’s up to the rest of us to act. Heed Sander’s words and call your representatives. Otherwise, we’re in for a long decline as New York City, with its fate tethered to the subways, stares into the abyss of bad and inadequate public transit service.

Categories : Fare Hikes, Service Cuts
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  • The paradox of public transit investment · A few months ago, with gas prices at all-time highs, commuters started flocking to public transit in record numbers. When the economy — and oil futures — tanked, a funny thing happened on the way to work: People continued to rely on public transit, and ridership has continued to increase. It is, then, alarming to read in The Times today about how mass transit systems around the nation are suffering from major budget crises. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating amendments to strip transit from the stimulus bill while propping up highways.

    It’s tough to understand the rationale behind that move. The nation needs public transit. It needs it environmentally; it needs it economically. Right now, the public have shown that they will use public transit, and to read that cities are cutting thousands of bus stops and service options in the face of record high ridership numbers is to fear for the future of the nation. While I try to stay focused on New York City issues here, nationwide transit impacts us all. The new Streetsblog Network covers this issue in depth, and now is the time for action on public transit in the New York area and around the U.S. · (9)

Over the last few days, we’ve talked a lot about the MTA’s stimulus plans. Backed by statements by MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, we explored the revival of the Fulton St. dome. Spurred on by idle speculation, on Monday, we contemplated the fate of the 7 line extension.

Now, according to one report, the agency may have something of an official wishlist. The MTA, however, maintains that this list is simply a recycled summary of projects and that the authority’s planners will not publish a planned list of stimulus projects until and unless the package is approved by Congress.

Matthew Sollars, a reporter with Crain’s New York, reported on the MTA’s alleged wishlist on Tuesday afternoon:

Sander said last week that the authority would spend $497 million from the federal stimulus package to complete the Fulton Street Transit Center in Manhattan. But the agency expected to receive more than $1.5 billion if the package is passed as it stands now, and while it says other mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway will get funds from the stimulus a large amount of money remains for upgrading dilapidated stations and other lower-profile projects.

Many of these projects were cut from the authority’s capital budget last summer when the Wall Street collapse first started. Some of the projects on the list include $34 million to replace the “gap fillers” on the 4, 5, and 6 lines at the Union Square station and roughly $120 million to rehabilitate 10 subway stations in Brooklyn…

The stimulus money would also be used to prevent the chaos caused by flooding during a massive rainstorm in 2007. The MTA plans to spend $47 million to install public announcement systems in 43 stations throughout the subway network that do not have them. During the 2007 floods, riders piled up on platforms and agents at the stations could not make announcements saying the trains weren’t coming.

According to a list of projects being passed around by transit advocates last week, the authority will also spend $200 million to install raised ventilation grates and bike racks in Queens and Manhattan, aimed at preventing future floods. An MTA spokesman says that figure is too high.

It’s easy to see why many think the MTA’s stimulus list stems from these pre-existing plans, but this is simply isn’t the case, according to Jeremy Soffin, the authority’s press secretary. In an e-mail to me on Tuesday in response to my post about the 10th Ave. station stop on the 7 line extension, Soffin said that “a final list will only be determined when there is a final bill.” Mostly, he noted, the MTA has a list of potential projects, and the breadth of the work will depend upon the amount the city receives in the final package. Soffin said:

We are grateful for the work of Senator Schumer and Congressman Nadler to increase funding for public transportation. We continue to maintain and update a list of projects that could be funded by the stimulus. We have proposed a long list of projects, which will be pared based on the final amount of the stimulus and the limitations set on the money by the legislation. Potential projects include some deferred from the current capital program, including some subway and commuter rail station work and maintenance of key infrastructure (shops, interlockings, substations, yards), purchase of subway cars and flood mitigation grates, and funding for mega-projects (Fulton Street, East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway).

It would of course be a boon for the MTA if they can receive funding to knock many of these projects off of the “to-do” list, but the overall impact of the Ravitch Report should not be forgotten. Stimulus spending is great for all, but the MTA needs a financial plan too. While transit watchers seem to be counting their stimulus chickens before the plans hatch, we can’t lose sight of the long-term problems facing the MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Checking out the new floor

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Yesterday, a few hours after writing about the experimental floors NYC Transit has installed an in effort to keep their stations cleaner, I found myself in the Chambers St. area with my camera in tow. I ventured to the mezzanine — missing my 2 train in the process — and snapped a few pictures. I couldn’t get a wider panoramic view of the platform, but I took some close ups of the new material and got a shot of a gummy old square of concrete. Click the images to enlarge.

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  • Related, MTA agree to Hudson Yards delay · The MTA and real estate developer Related Companies were supposed to close their $1 billion deal for the Hudson Yards land this weekend, but with the economy in the tank, the two sides agreed to delay the closing by a year. While the MTA really needs the money, the authority, according to Charles V. Bagli of The Times, understands that in today’s economy, replacing Related would be nigh impossible. According to Bagli’s sources, Related will pay $10 million for the delay, and the closing is now expected by Jan. 31, 2010. · (10)

During my Criminal Law class on Monday afternoon, my professor talked about the concept of criminal liability when a person fails to act. If I view a crime or have knowledge of one occurring, am I under a legal obligation to do anything about it? While the law generally says no, our societal concepts of morality say to act.

That is, unless you are Mireya Navarro or one of the many passengers riding the 2 train with her on Sunday night. In a City Room post published yesterday as I was sitting in that very same criminal law class, Navarro told her sordid subway tale of a group of passengers who witnessed something so gross and banded together not to tell anyone. Call it Real World: IRT.

On the way to Brooklyn from Manhattan around 7:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, a disheveled man walked into a No. 2 subway train making a stop at Canal Street. No one paid much attention as the man lay down on a row of seats to take a nap. The complete strangers around him did not realize he would soon force them to come together to make a practical decision.

The man, his eyes still closed, sat up a couple of stops later, opened his fly and urinated. From a seated position, he thoroughly soaked his vicinity, and the half-full car emptied out in the middle as his fellow passengers — including this reporter — fled in both directions.

In a next-door car where some of the escaping riders had reassembled, some shook their heads, visibly jarred, and one commented that this was a first. Then a debate ensued about the right course of action to take. I said I would be getting off the train soon and would report the man’s actions to the proper authorities. They should remove him, I argued, before other unsuspecting riders walked into the car and had to deal with him and the mess.

The consensus seemed to be that this was a bad idea. “All they’ll do is take the train out of service, and we’ll all be stuck,” a woman said.

In the end, Navarro opted against telling anyone. The urine-infected 2 train continued south through Brooklyn until it reached its Flatbush Ave./Brooklyn College terminus. What happened at that point is anyone’s guess.

At first blush, Navarro’s actions seem pretty inexcusable. Egged on by a crowd too self-centered to be inconvenienced for a few minutes while the police attended to an unsanitary and illegal situation, Navarro opted not to report the conditions in this subway car. Instead, she let the man and wrote about it for The Times the next day under the guise of a “Only in New York” story.

On the other hand, though, the cost/benefit analysis of telling someone may prove Navarro correct. At least, that’s what City Room commenter J said in his response to this sordid affair. By telling someone, the train would be delayed; the line would get backed up; and everyone would have to wait a few more minutes before they get home.

So what is it then? Do you tell or not? I’ve been in a similar situation but not to this extreme. I’ve witnessed cars empty out when people realize the stench, but I’ve never seen someone urinate in a train car in the middle of the evening. I have never said anything though because by the time I leave the subway, it’s not my problem anymore. I’m where I need to be, and the incident remains a stinky memory.

To this, I do not know the answer. Navarro and the herd in her 2 train opted not to tell for mostly selfish reasons, and that’s the New York subway attitude.

Photo Credit: An ever-present MTA sign urges riders to say something if they see — or smell — something. (By flickr user ZeroOne.)

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The floors of the subway system are known for their grimy, gumminess. (Photo by flickr user Susan NYC)

About once a year, it seems, the disgusting floors of the New York City subways take center stage. Last year, the problem focused around rising concrete and porcelain costs. This year, it’s all about cleanliness.

According to Pete Donohue of The Daily News, the MTA is looking for ways to better demarcate emergency exists while improving the sanitary conditions of the system’s floors. He reports:

NYC Transit is testing a new type of flooring with iridescent flakes that can illustrate routes to exits if the lights go out in an emergency…The resin-based material is poured like concrete, allowing flakes to be set in a pattern.

Safety aside, the resinous flooring might conquer an unsightly foe that’s defeated many a subway cleaner: gum. Many subway stations have porous concrete surfaces that are difficult to maintain and deteriorate into gum-spattered eyesores. Some stations have granite floors, which are easier to scour but expensive to install: $1.7 million for an average-sized station.

Resinous flake flooring is easier to maintain and less expensive, about one-third the cost of granite, officials said. “If this really works [it] gives the ability to essentially do away with the gum problem,” Roberts said. “It could make an order of magnitude difference in the appearance of stations.”

Currently, the Chambers St. stop on the IRT is serving as the guinea pig. As the station is rehabilitated, New York City Transit has poured the new materials on the mezzanine. I’ll try to swing by and snap a picture soon.

It’s hard to argue with this approach if it does indeed make it easier to clean the station platforms. Right now, those floors are among the least appealing aspects of waiting for a train. With food stains, gum splotches and various other unidentified liquids pooling up, the floors are ugly at best and unwalkable at worst.

This move reflects well on NYC Transit and the rider report card projbect. They’re actively looking to address a problem — cleanliness — identified by many as one of the drawbacks of the system, and the riders should benefit for it.

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