Last year, I was curious to see what Improv Everywhere’s no-pants day was all about it. In a nutshell, the public pranksters wreck havoc on the subways by organizing a massive no-pants ride during which a bunch of 20-somethings ride around on our subways in their skivvies.

The 2008 version of this annual day of derrieres in the subways was fun. I rode around in my underwear with 899 of my closet friends, and if you look closely on flickr, you might even find a glimpse of me sans pants.

This year’s event is set for Saturday. The organizers are urging everyone to meet at 3 p.m. in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. It’s going to be in the low 30s or upper 20s and might snow, but everyone’s pants stay on until you’re safely underground.

Beware the No-Pants Day 2K9 crowd though. It’s becoming quite the destination, and the joke seems to take on a different meaning. The No-Pants Ride was wild in 2002 because six people did it, and it was just so weird. It gained national attention in 2006 when Improv Everywhere opened it up to the public and the police arrested a few pants-less straphangers. Last year, 900 people showed up, and while some “victims” just minding their own business were surprised, most guessed that subway cars half-full of people missing their pants was perhaps a coordinated effort.

This year, the numbers are off the charts. There’s a full-page feature on it in this week’s TimeOut New York. Charlie Todd, the event’s founder, is predicted over 1000 participants. The Facebook invite has 1500 confirmed guests and another 1600 maybes. While clearly not everyone who RSVP’d is going to show up, this has the potential to go from an amusing stunt to an overwhelming takeover of the subways.

Of course, that might just be the point. It challenges the paradigm of wearing pants on the subway, and I guarantee that unsuspecting riders on the chosen train lines won’t really know what to think. Some will be grossed out or offended. Others may join in the joke. Popularity aside, that’s the real fun of it. Meanwhile, why not try subway-map boxers? At least, you’d be winking at the joke.

After the main event, there’s a pants-less party near Union Square, and it sure is something seeing so many bare…legs…on the subway.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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greenmta Back in Sept. 2007, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander unveiled plans for a Blue Ribbon commission on the MTA’s sustainability. Yesterday, the panel unveiled its first set of recommendations and a 148-page draft of its final report due in February. Combining national recommendations with state-based efforts and internal improvements the MTA could make in its green efforts, the document is a powerful, ambitious and, at times, over-reaching proposal for one potential future of the area’s transit network.

The report is, frankly, too large and too all-encompassing to digest in one sitting, and like Ben Fried at Streetsblog, I’m still attempting to sift my way through it. In terms of first impressions, however, it’s mostly what you would expect. On a local level, it urges the state to approve the Ravitch Commission recommendations and calls for adequate enforcement of bus-only and BRT lanes. It urges better transit-oriented development and higher on-street parking rates. On a national level, it urges the government to pass a $1 trillion green stimulus bill devoted to “21st century transit and renewable energy.” Nothing is too big or too small for this commission, and in a perfect world, nearly all of its recommendations would be followed.

As I make my way through the report, I can offer you the MTA’s organizational take on it via the agency’s press release. The report was unveiled in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday by Sander and Jonathan F.P. Rose, chairman of the Sustainability Commission. A whole slew of leading transit advocates and experts as well as New York politicos were on hand. Here’s the press release’s summary of the report:

Among its many transformational recommendations, the report calls for the MTA to draw 80 percent of its operating energy from clean, renewable energy sources by 2050, and suggests ways this should be done. At the same time, it urges a significant expansion of transit access in order for the MTA transit system to reach and absorb two thirds of the New York metropolitan area’s projected growth of 4 million people between now and 2030. By ensuring that an increased share of this growth develops as transit-oriented clusters rather than sprawl, the MTA’s expansion will have a significant impact not only on regional productivity, but on our national energy and climate-stabilization goals. The report points to strategies that will reduce regional CO2emissions while expanding the mobility needed to remain competitive in a global financial, educational, and cultural marketplace.

Initial assessment of the report’s recommendations indicates a possible yield of 105,500 net new jobs per year, employment income of $5.1 billion a year, and regional economic output of fully $17 billion per year for the period from 2010 to 2019. This urgent stimulus priority at the federal level intersects with the equally urgent international commitment to contain global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote renewable energy.

By removing some 3 million drivers from the roads each day, the MTA already avoids more carbon emissions than 648,000 acres of forest absorb. This “carbon avoidance” benefit is increasingly viewed as a measurable commodity with societal benefits and a market value. In effect, the MTA provides unreimbursed carbon reduction services for which many industries now claim financial and funding credits.

The draft of the report and an executive summary of sorts are available here on the MTA’s website.

I think the MTA deserves to be commended for this document. At the same time, we should also recognize that the MTA, by virtue of its mission, is already a green organization. For every bus, subway and commuter train packed at rush hour, thousands of cars are off the roads. As the state legislature nears that March 25 deadline for action on the Ravitch recommendations, that august body should keep in mind the environmental impact of inaction as well as the economic effect a weaker MTA would have on the New York City Metropolitan Area.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep pouring over the environmental report. Already, I can see a flaw: While the commission encourages better MetroCard recycling efforts, the first draft contains nary a mention of the more environmentally friendly SmartCard options that are alive and well in various other cities. That’s small beans compared to the commission’s overall message. We can act. We can save the MTA and our region’s and country’s environment. All we need is a strong leader and the political will to do so.

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  • Internet Explorer problem resolved · Just a quick administrative note about site access: Due to a problem I installed late Tuesday night, Second Ave. Sagas was inaccessible to visitors using Internet Explorer to access the site. The problem has since been resolved. My apologies for the inconvenience. · (0)
  • Sander declines a raise this time · With the MTA facing a $1.2-billion deficit, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander has declined a raise this year. His salary will remain at $275,000 with benefits that push his compensation package to around $350,000. While this is a hefty amount, Sander is probably underpaid considering the scope of his job and the MTA. However, he took a big PR hit when he accepted a $10,000 raise recently and couldn’t in good faith accept another raise right now.

    Meanwhile, Sander made sure to drive home the symbolism of declining a raise. I think it’s a symbolic move but an appropriate move given where the MTA is,” Sander said to the Daily News. “We need to make the point to the Legislature that we’re prepared to sacrifice, and that’s what we’re doing here.” · (2)


In what is being called a rather somber speech, Gov. David Paterson laid out the economic outlook for New York in his first State of the State address. While the state is tight on money and new projects are being pushed aside, Paterson stressed his commitment to a sound transit policy, pleasing MTA officials and firmly tossing the ball into the state legislature’s court.

While New York, like much of the U.S., is facing a budget, Paterson recognized yesterday that focusing on infrastructure investment and development is a sound way to build an economy stimulus plan. In his vision, the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations will become a reality, and the Second Ave. Subway will continue its journey down Manhattan.

“To build a brighter future, we need a smarter, better infrastructure,” he said. “We should complete signature projects all across our State including the Peace Bridge, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Second Avenue Subway, and the East Side Access. And we should implement the Ravitch Commission recommendations to improve an essential piece of our infrastructure, the MTA.”

MTA officials, facing a March 25 drop-dead date for their Doomsday budget, expressed relief that the city’s top statesman is on their side. “I was delighted. The governor’s been great, in terms of supporting the MTA and called for the Ravitch Commission, MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander said to NY’s Bobby Cuza: [I] just was thrilled that he mentioned it in the State of the State.”

More optimistic though is the growing support the plan seems to have from a few key Assembly members. Cuza reports:

The challenge now is winning the support of the legislature. The Ravitch recommendations include both new tolls on the East River bridges, and a new payroll tax. Assembly leaders said improvements to the plan can be made.

“There are controversial elements of it, but in the end, I think you’re going to see this legislature and this governor work to provide more money to save the fares on the trains, subways and buses, to make sure we build out the capital program of the MTA, so we have a good system 10 years from now,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester).

Clearly, there are controversial elements to it. Any plan designed to ensure the long-term health of a transit system through a dedicated and non-variable source is bound to have costs and controversies. At some point, some elected official besides Paterson will have to recognize that far more people are impacted by a bad MTA than East River Bridge tools and that the region depends on the MTA far more than it depends on free access to Manhattan via the East River crossings.

For now, the MTA has some big names lining up behind this recommendation, but time’s a-wastin’. We have 10 weeks until the MTA starts implementing service cuts and fare hikes. No one wants to see that happen, but will someone step up to lead the effort to save the beleaguered transit agency?

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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restoration1 coveredpanels brandrestoration

Top: Bill Brand in 1980 poses with his recently-installed Masstransiscope. (Courtesy of Bill Brand. Click the images to enlarge.)

When Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope, a zoetrope hidden behind a slitted wall at the long-abandoned Myrtle Ave. stop just north of DeKalb Ave., first debuted in 1980, straphangers could view it from the Manhattan-bound QB train. One of those things, it seems, is ready for a revival. After an extensive restoration that involved removed layers of graffiti, the Masstransiscope is back.

“When I made the piece,” Brand, a film and video artist, said to me this week, “I didn’t even have a VCR. I’m just really happy to have it back.”

The recent saga of the Masstransiscope goes back about five years, according to Brand. The piece, designed as a zoetropic image, had been lost to time. Many of the lights had burned out, and the hand-painted panels had long been vandalized. It had become a rather of New York subway lore, forgotten to time by all but a few.

Brand, giving a talk to a group of film archivists, threw in a mention of the Masstransiscope as what he called one “an unusual cinematic work.” The response from the audience was immediate, and these archivists urged Brand to restore it. “Do I spend the time restoring this or do I make the next piece?” Brand questioned.

In the end, Brand decided to contact the MTA about restoring the piece. While Arts for Transit was initially resistant mainly due to the price, Brand secured some funding through a grant from the Albers Foundation. When development above ground allowed for temporary access to the remnants of the Myrtle Ave. station, Brand headed underground to survey the damage.

What he found was not pretty, but with the grant in hand, volunteer labor from some of his NYU students and some good old trial-and-error, Brand eventually figured out the best approach to cleaning and repairing the unique work. “I was interested in restoring it,” he said, “but not sure how.”

At first, Brand consulted with Metroclean Express, the company tasked with power-washing the city’s bus shelters. While the original work contained an anti-graffiti film, Brand was unsure how kind the years had been to his now-28 -year-old piece. Four hours into the work on one of the Masstransiscope’s 57 segments, just half of the panel had been cleaned, and the cleaning was taking its toll on the panel. “I thought this isn’t going to work this way,” he said.

Back in his studio, Brand experimented with a variety of commercial paint cleaners and eventually discovered a combination that did the trick. In a few weeks, all 57 panels had been stripped clear of what Brand guessed were between 20 and 30 layers of graffiti. While the piece still has some minor damages, as Brand said, “that was dust and hair.” Riders espying it from the windows of a passing B or Q train won’t be able to notice the damage.

Newly restored, the Masstransiscope has enjoyed something of a soft launch. Randy Kennedy profiled the piece in a Times article on New Year’s Day, but the MTA has not held any sort of formal unveiling ceremony. It is now including on Arts for Transit’s permanent artwork website as well. “It’s really exciting to be able to present it again,” Amy Hausmann, assistant director at Arts for Transit, said.

Now relit with longer lasting lightbulbs, the Masstransiscope will be in the minds of MTA officials. Hausmann and Lester Burg, a curator at Arts for Transit, told me that they plan to keep on eye on it. Conservation is indeed an issue for the arts-minded side of the MTA.

Over the next few months, Brand is hoping to give a Transit Museum-sponsored lecture about the work, but in the meantime, he is quite content to let riders discovery it for themselves. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I overheard a couple wondering just how long that “flip-book type thing” had been on display. The two could not agree as they spent the ride across the Manhattan Bridge talking about it.

“I’ve been really tickled by how much self-generated interest it’s generating this time around,” Brand said of his piece that offers riders a 20-second glimpse at a zoetrope live in the subways.

Click for a video of the Masstransiscope and an old quote that still rings true.

Categories : Arts for Transit
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Late last week, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander predicted that the transit authority and the Transport Workers Union would be able to avoid another strike as the TWU contract is set to expire later this month. While the two sides have been negotiating for the last few weeks, they are not going to come to a negotiated resolution and will instead head to arbitration.

A few minutes ago, the MTA released the following statement:

Over the past several months, the MTA and TWU Local 100 have discussed a possible agreement on a contract effective January 16, 2009. However, due to complications associated with today’s current economic climate, we have reached an impasse and have jointly decided to arbitrate contract terms.

The Union, on the other hand, does not seem as optimistic:

After months of discussions with the M.T.A., a settlement could not be reached. As the contract moves to arbitration, we wait to see whether transit workers will be treated fairly or in a manner disparate to the other workers who serve this city.

While arbitration is not as ideal as a negotiated contract and can lead to animosity further down the road, both sides have so far seemed willing to do what it takes to avoid a strike. That is, of course, good news for straphangers, but today’s development throws a wrench into those plans. The TWU is obviously not too happy about the arbitration development, and another strike would probably throw MTA bailout efforts into turmoil.

I’ll have more on this development as the story develops.

Categories : TWU
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  • Transit we can believe in · As President-elect Barack Obama plans to take over the reins of a country in an economic recession, he has been putting forth some transportation stimulus package plans. Unfortunately, transit advocates are finding much to bemoan in Obama’s road-centric plans. Yesterday’s Times joined the fray with an editorial calling for transit investment. Hopefully, Obama will heed the call, and if he does, I have to believe that New York stands to benefit. · (0)

On March 25, this Doomsday budget-Richard Ravitch-MTA drama will come to a head for it is on that day that the MTA Board will have to decide whether or not to approve draconian service cuts and rampant fare hikes. Start your clocks, folks, because we’re in for a wild political ride.

“The drop-dead date is March 25, which is when the MTA board of directors meets and will vote whether to hit the riders with a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts or whether the state legislature and Governor Paterson will come to the rescue of the riding public,” Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, said to NY1’s Bobby Cuza.

Meanwhile, New York State leaders are already lining up behind the Ravitch proposals. Whether the state legislature will is another question entirely. Cuza has more on this story:

The Paterson administration said it’s already drafting legislation to implement the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission, including a new payroll tax and new tolls on the East River bridges, to allow for a much smaller fare hike. The MTA will be sending a delegation to Albany next week to lobby legislators who go back to work this Wednesday…

Last week, MTA Executive Director Lee Sander said the proposed hikes are not just a scare tactic. “If we don’t get the money from Albany, we would have to do this. Having said that, do I hope that this will have a stimulative effect on our legislators and further encourage them to pass the recommendations of the ravitch commission? Yes,” said Sander.

While the MTA may also get money from a federal stimulus bill, it’s likely those dollars will go toward construction projects and won’t prevent a fare hike. As for the mayor, he said he has faith in Albany. “I’m optimistic that they’ll do something. But right now, if they don’t do anything, we’re going to have Draconian increases in fares and some cuts in services,” said Bloomberg.

We’ll be hearing a lot of that over the next two and a half months as New York’s straphangers and rail commuters await for a final judgment.

As this drama unfolds, it will be interesting to see how newspaper support lines up behind Ravitch. While The New York Times recently endorsed the Ravtich recommendations, other city newspapers haven’t embraced the full slate of tolls and taxes. Last week, the Downtown Express, while voicing approval of the tax-and-toll plan, urged state officials to consider higher on-street parking rates and vehicle registration fees as an alternate possibility.

In the end, this will boil down to the political feasibility of the chosen plan. While only three percent of Brooklyn drivers would be hit by a toll while nearly 60 percent stand to lose out if service cuts and fare hikes come to pass, for some reason, tolls are a political no-no. They might best for the city, but politicians are loathe to wreck their re-election chances. Either way, the Doomsday clock is ticking, and in 78 days, we’ll know what the future holds for our subway system.

Categories : Fare Hikes, Service Cuts
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