• Have you seen this man? · William Neuman, transit beat writer for The Times, profiled Mayor Bloomberg and his utter lack of visibility on the MTA budget issue. The reason of course is political. Bloomberg, an independent in 2005, is now running for re-election with the support of the Republicans, and as we all know far too well, Republicans do not support the Richard Ravitch tax-and-toll plan. Bloomberg, however, does, but to curry favor with his once and future G.O.P. supporters, Bloomberg can’t be a vocal proponent of the MTA funding plan. Straphangers lose a powerful ally, but Bloomberg gains some backroom political clout. It’s hardly worth the trade-off. · (6)

Vacation is over for the legislators in Albany, and as our not-so-esteemed Senators and Assembly representatives make their collective ways back from the break, one topic will dominate the conversation this week. That topic is of course near and dear to our hearts: It’s the return of the MTA Budget debate.

When last we checked in on the politicking four days ago, Richard Ravitch had just issued a modified proposal. The new plan — aimed at addressing Democrats’ concerns — provided for a business rebate for frequent drivers coupled with a 50-cent taxi surcharge and higher garage taxes in Manhattan. The Usual Gang of Idiots in the State Senate didn’t like it, and the city was left on edge, awaiting this week’s debates.

Over the weekend, state leaders engaged in a good amount of peremptory politicking. Carl Kruger, one of the bigger obstructionist Senators, is getting desperate in his anti-MTA attacks. “He wanted to make this the Ravitch Rescue Plan,” Kruger said about Richard Ravitch last week. “I think that in itself says something. I call it the MTA money grab. So consequentially, this is not a question of who’s going to be a hero. There are only victims.”

Why Kruger is attacking a public servant intent on providing some sensible funding solutions to the MTA’s woes is beyond. Kruger has yet to offer up a valid reason, and while he claims he doesn’t support higher fares, his actions speak louder than his misguided words. Crain’s, the New York-based business journal, has called upon its readers to contact Kruger’s office and express their displeasure with the Senator and his anti-MTA cronies.

“The blame,” Crain’s opined this weekend, “for this dismal state of affairs rests clearly with the New York Senate, which has been unable to come to grips with this crucial issue because narrow interests are trumping the needs of the region.”

While Kruger attempted an attack, David Paterson and Richard Ravitch fought back. Rumors have been swirling that Paterson would like to put a May 1 deadline on Senate action, but the governor has denied a firm deadline. He hasn’t, however, held his punches. Saying there will be “no excuses” if the talks go beyond this week, he took aim at Kruger and the Senate too. “[Ravitch] brought back a plan that won the approval of every reasonable point of view from different sides,” he said at a Regional Plan Association luncheon last week. “Except in Albany. It’s a different planet. As we like to point out, there is no gravity.”

Heading into the week, the Democrats are set to caucus for a plan, and Paterson will be wooing Republicans. It’s do-or-die time for the Senate, and pro-transit New Yorkers are awaiting the outcome with bated breath. If the Senate fails, transit advocates will have to reassess the way we approach the State Senate, and the city, while losers in the short-term, should gain some very active and angry voices.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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For the fourth time this year, New York City Transit has come out on the wrong end of a lawsuit. As The Times detailed today, a jury awarded a woman injured in a bus accident $27.5 million.

The woman, Gloria Aguilar, lost her left leg when a bus ran her down while she was crossing a street in 2005. While the jury found her partially negligent for not looking before stepping out into the street, the bus driver was deemed to be the total cause of her accident. Transit is appealing what, on its face, appears to be a rather large sum.

This is not the first time this year Transit has faced multi-million-dollar judgments, and the agency is appealing all of them. Liz Robbins summarized the rest. The details are rather gruesome.

In February, Dustin Dibble was awarded $2.3 million after a subway train ran over him in Manhattan in 2006 and he had to have his right leg amputated. He was intoxicated, but a jury found that he was only 35 percent culpable because the subway operator did not stop, court records show.

In March, a jury awarded James Sanders $7 million after a subway train struck him when he stumbled onto the tracks in 2002. The jury found him to be 30 percent culpable. His right leg had to be amputated, and he also lost an eye, said his lawyer, Gary Pillersdorf.

And last month, Claude Williams was awarded $1.8 million, according to court records, because he was hit by a New York City Transit bus in 2003.

While sizable, these sums are not unexpected, and the agency has a fund dedicated to its legal costs. However, Transit is going to attempt to get this $27.5 million figure lowered. “This is just a jury verdict,” Wallace Gossett, an NYC Transit lawyer, said to The Times. “The appellate courts won’t sustain a verdict of this magnitude.”

* * *

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, uptown 1, 2 and 3 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 18 and Sunday April 19, 3 trains run in two sections due to track repairs at Sutter and Rockaway Avenues:

  • Between 148th Street and Utica Avenue and
  • Between Utica and New Lots Avenue

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 18 and Sunday April 19, 4 trains will terminate at Atlantic Avenue.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Beach 90 Street and Far Rockaway due to track panel installation at Far Rockaway. Note: Trains to Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue run to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to 59th Street, then express to Canal Street, trains resume local service to Jay Street due to the station rehabilitation at Jay Street, the Chamber Street Signal Modernization project and station rehabilitation at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.
Note: C trains are not running at this time.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, uptown A trains run local from Jay Street to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street due to station rehab work at Jay Street and tunnel lighting work at 168th Street. Note: C trains are not running during this time.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, there are no C trains running due to station rehab work at Jay Street. A trains replace the C between 168th and Jay Street and F trains replace the C between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, free shuttle buses replace D trains between 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track chip-out of Bedford Park Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, April 18, Bronx-bound D trains skip 155th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, April 19, Bronx-bound D trains skip 174th-175th and 170th Streets due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 p.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, there are no E trains between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers may take the A train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, F trains run between 179th Street and the Euclid Avenue C station due to station rehabilitation at Jay Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Stillwell Avenue due to station rehabilitation at Jay Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, Brooklyn-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to structural work between Whitehall and Canal Streets and for station rehab work at Lawrence Street. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.

Categories : Service Advisories
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I’m a devotee of the 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard. I take so many trips around the city that the $81 card basically costs me just over $1.00 a ride. But the 30-day card also leads to some of the more annoying subway moments around.

Picture this: It’s early in the morning, and your subway stop is really crowded. You hear — and see — the train you want pulling in, and you rush to swipe your 30-day card. You step forward…and slam into the turnstile bar. “Insufficient Fare” flashes the LCD display. Your time has expired, and while you try to keep track of when the 30 days are up, no one really marks it on your calendar.

Dejected, you head to the MetroCard Vending Machine and fill up your card. As you trudge down to the platform, it’s too late. That train you wanted was long gone, and you’ll just have to wait for the next one.

But no longer! This subway frustration has been eliminated. The MTA’s EasyPayXPress program — and auto-bill for your MetroCard — now features an unlimited card program. So far, more than 16,000 pay-per-ride users take advantage of the program, and with the debut of unlimited card service, more should do so.

“The addition of an Unlimited card option is the natural next step for the EasyPayXpress Program,” NYC Transit’s VP of Corporate Communications Paul Fleuranges said. “We expect that Unlimited MetroCard users will, as we’ve seen with our Pay-Per-Ride population, appreciate the fact that they never have to worry about their card running out of rides or standing on an MVM line with their credit card or cash to buy a new one.”

Here’s how it works: Straphangers can sign up here for an account. Submit your credit card info, and in a few days, you’ll receive a MetroCard — good for two years — in the mail. The program automatically bills the credit card every 30 days, and the MetroCard will not expire until the 24-month term is up. In effect, it’s a two-year unlimited ride card.

The renewal options are designed for the user as well. It’s easy to switch from an unlimited ride account to a pay-per-ride card. So if you’re going away for a long vacation, you won’t burn the money on an unused unlimited-ride card.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this program. What’s not to like? It eliminates a key source of underground frustration, and it’s been a long time coming. So check it out.

Categories : MetroCard
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A Cemusa bus shelter on Manhattan’s East Side. Similar bus shelters have recently gone up along soon-to-be-axed routes in Brooklyn. (Photo by flickr user animalvegetable)

The bureaucracy in New York City is famed for its lack of interagency coordination. The MTA and Department of Transportation may cover similar ground, but prior to the last few years, the two agencies were rarely in tune with each other. Since Mayor Bloomberg has put forward his desire to make the city more pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly, NYCDOT and the MTA have been more cooperative. The recent Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit plans are indicative of this effort, but now and then, the old bureaucratic mess reasserts itself.

Such was the case recently when Cemusa, the company that has contracted with the city to install bus shelters and newstands across the five boroughs, replaced some old bus stops along the B23 route on Courtelyou Road in Brooklyn. While the neighborhood appreciated the new shelters, there was one not-so-minor problem: In less than six months, the B23 will cease to exist as a bus. It is one of the lines slated for the impending service cuts. Oops.

James Barron of The Times covered this amusing story of bureaucratic snafus and transit woes recently. He writes:

Two bus shelters on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn — one at Ocean Parkway, the other at East Fifth Street — were replaced this week with shiny new steel-and-glass structures that can keep passengers on the B23 bus line dry on rainy days and unmussed on windy ones.

But the B23 is one of six bus lines in Brooklyn that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will eliminate unless it gets a financial lifeline from the State Legislature.

Asked why new shelters were being installed along a line that could soon disappear, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, noted that the proposed service changes were not definite. “But we will postpone any further installations on affected routes until the situation is clarified,” he said.

Amusingly enough, the area’s residents had a better idea of what was going on than the Cemusa workers did — that is, until the new shelters popped up. “I figured they were just beginning to prepare for the service shutdown,” Antonio Rosario said to The Times. “This makes no sense.”

Of course, Cemusa has since halted shelter replacement along the doomed line, but I wonder what will become of the new shiny stops. They’ll sit there, bright and unused, until the MTA has the money and political capital to restore the cut services. They’ll sit there as a monument to services we have lost and a reminder of our State Senate’s unwillingness to support transit. How fitting.

Categories : Brooklyn, Buses
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  • Official: Hudson Yards to take ‘decades’ to complete · The Hudson Yards project is quickly turning into a giant bust. While city officials are still optimistic that something will happen there, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber said earlier this week that it will take decades to complete it. Meanwhile, Lieber also stressed the importance of the city-funded 7 line extension to the success of the project.

    “We knew, and part of the plan all along was that you weren’t going to have companies relocating their headquarters, offices, or their employees to a place that people couldn’t get to,” Lieber said at an economic development forum on Tuesday. “So key to that is being able to deliver the mass transit to be able to accommodate the commuters.”

    With this admission of an ambiguous start or end date for the project, I still this is as nothing more than a subway to nowhere. The MTA claims the project will be completed by 2013, and there’s a good chance nothing will be at the Hudson Yards site by then. Meanwhile, the state and transit agency are still embroiled in a dispute over the cost overruns that have, for now, shelved the proposed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Right now, the city then is paying over $2 billion for a train that doesn’t go anywhere and may not even serve a real development for decades. That’s just a terrible allocation of money and resources. · (10)

At this point, only a willfully ignorant person would claim that the MTA should not be rescued. Just a few weeks before the MTA is set to jack up fares and start cutting services, the MTA announced a higher-than-expected deficit for 2009. The future is not rosy.

Meanwhile, Albany remains deadlocked and on vacation. Some Senators won’t support tolls; others won’t support taxes; and as a NY Magazine graphic showed, nothing is going anywhere in the Senate.

This stalemate, though, isn’t for a lack of trying on behalf of the transit supporters. In an effort to bridge some of the gaps in the Senate, Richard Ravitch, the architect of the tax-and-toll plan aimed as spreading the pain around, unveiled an amended plan that reduces some toll burdens in exchange for a few other fees. Still, the same old reactionary state Senators refuse to support a plan. Still, they pretend as though driving and tolls — and not a fully funded transit system — is some populist cause. It’s frankly getting embarrassing and angering at the same time.

William Neuman of The Times outlined the new fees and a plan to refund tolls for businesses reliant on automobile traffic across the East River bridge spans. He writes:

Seeking to win over State Senate opponents of a plan to create new bridge tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers, supporters of a financial rescue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered a compromise on Wednesday that would give toll rebates to drivers traveling to medical appointments and to businesses that frequently use the river crossings…

To pay for the rebates, the state commission proposed two additional charges: a 50-cent surcharge on yellow-cab rides and an increase in the Manhattan parking garage tax. Those additional charges would raise an estimated $150 million a year.

The compromise was intended to overcome the objections of half a dozen Democratic opponents of the toll measure who have blocked the rescue plan in the State Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-to-30 margin. Senate Republicans have so far refused to support the plan and have said they have been left out of discussions.

What Neuman doesn’t say is that this compromise, crafted to address a lot of the pro-business concerns, is also aimed at attracting Republican support for the MTA. It should work; it needs to work. But the same old politicians are at it again.

We already know what the reactionary Taxi Workers Alliance thinks about this proposed plan. They won’t like it, but the real problem are the State Senators. Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue tracked down some of the more colorful and off-putting quotes from the Gang of Senate Idiots who won’t support an MTA funding plan.

Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), called the proposed amendment “ridiculous” and “not even worthy of comment.”

Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) said exemptions would likely be lifted at a later date, presumably by the state Legislature, and everyone would get tolled. “It just fundamentally wrong,” he said. “It is anti business. It is anti small business.”

Sen. Ruben Diaz, also of the Bronx, echoed Espada’s comments. “I am opposed to any toll,” Diaz told The Times. “They’re going to do a rebate? After two years they’re going to say no rebate. It’s a gimmick.”

Again, we have Senators from districts that rely overwhelming on mass transit — about 70 percent of Diaz’s and Espada’s constituents commute via subway — who are resorting to faux-populist arguments. At least the TWA’s position is somewhat defensible. Espada, Diaz and Kruger are simply showing why they should never have been elected in the first place.

When transit fails in the city — and it will if no funding plan is implemented — those are the men to blame. Pro transit advocates have done everything they can, but if they can’t convince the blind gatekeepers, we’re all lost.

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For the last few months, I’ve fielded a lot of questions — mostly from the same person — about the trains along Queens Boulevard. The express trains, it seems, have been anything but that as they crawl out to Forest Hills.

Today, amNew York’s Urbanite blog revealed why. According to transit beat writer Heather Haddon, NYC Transit is replacing 800 feet of track in between Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue. While most of the actual track replacement work is being completed over the weekends, the tunnel is currently replete with temporary tracking so trains have to run at slower speeds.

According to NYC Transit spokesperson Deirdre Parker, the work is scheduled to last until the end of the year but it should wrap up by September. Meanwhile, to combat the expected five- to ten-minute slowdowns, Transit will be running two fewer rush hour trains down an already-overcrowded line. While Haddon found a commuter who decried maintenance and upkeep as “heartless,” it’s simply the cost of a well-kept system. Them’s the breaks.

Categories : MTA Construction
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Confused by the state of the MTA funding debate? Not sure who proposed what or which faction support what plan? You’re not alone, and New York Magazine wants to enlighten you.

Courtesy of Jacob Gershman and the weekly mag comes a guide in subway map form. While not quite as confusing as the old Vingelli subway map, this new chart attempts to replicate a map with which we are all familiar. Check it out:

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Is this art or vandalism? Twenty five years later, the debate still rages. (Photo by Martha Cooper)

It’s hard for New Yorkers in 2009 to conceptualize what the subways were like 25 years ago. I was reminded of this fact earlier this week when my Criminal Law case tackled the ever-popular decision in People v. Goetz. That seminal case, as students of New York history know, involved the vigilantism of Bernard Goetz on a subway car in 1984.

Without touching upon the moral issues raised by the case, the class discussion showed a clear divide between people who had grown up in New York and people who hadn’t. Those who hadn’t were having a tougher time understanding what the subways were like in the 1980s.

These days, we have no qualms about riding the trains at 2 a.m. heading home from a night out. Twenty five years ago, though, the graffiti-covered trains, prone to electrical problems, track fires and all sorts of breakdowns, were just not that safe. But back then, the system wasn’t that safe, and everyone knew it.

During the same year as the Goetz shooting, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant released a book called Subway Art. The tome — a picture book — was one of the first to focus on the graffiti-covered subways as an art form. Today, the duo is reissuing the book in 25th Anniversary form with a whole slew of new photos. (The old one is available online here in its entirety.)

Over the weekend, as part of the recognition of this book’s release, The City Section ran a profile of Cooper, and it elicited some interesting feedback from New Yorkers who lived through the downs and ups of the city’s subway system.

“Wish that non-native NYers would stop idealizing the graffiti-covered trains,” wrote one lifelong New Yorker on Twitter.

And that’s the real debate, isn’t it? Should we be glorifying graffiti or should graffiti serve as a reminder of lawless and decrepit days underground when the subways were safe and New Yorkers used them not because they wanted to but because they had to?

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explores all of these issues. The combination of the public outcry over the Goetz shootings and the NYPD’s push in the mid-1980s to rid the system of graffiti helped turn the subway systems around. No longer were the subways viewed as Anarchy Underground where anything went because no one was around to police it.

We sit here comfortably in 2009, and we’re able to look back on graffiti-covered trains as art if we so choose. I have to wonder though if we should so choose. This book and The Times’ coverage of it glorifies what in its simplest form was a destructive crime that contributed to the problems — both actual and perceived — that plagued the subways. Is it art for art’s sake or art done at the sake of other people’s safety?

Today, the parallels to the times of the graffiti-covered trains are not inapt. The MTA is facing funding shortfalls that could lead to massive fares and a partially shuttered system. Station agents will be let go, and that fear of safety could creep in around the edges. Perhaps the best way, then, to appreciate the impact street art had would be to talk about its problems as well as its artistic value. If we glorify this vandalism- and crime-filled past, don’t we risk repeating it?

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