Get ready to smile for your MTA overlords. Over a year after the MTA first started grumbling about putting security cameras in subway cars, the security plan may get off the ground sometime this year. Or maybe next year. No one really knows yet.

What we do know is that the MTA will begin one of their pilot programs that will see suveillance cameras in subway cars. This program isn’t about terrorism; it’s about subway security and vandalism, plain and simple. New York 1 has more:

An initiative to put surveillance cameras onboard subway cars took another small step forward Monday as the MTA announced a pilot program to install cameras on two subway cars.

The prototype cars will be the new R160 model, now in service on the L, N, J, M and Z lines.

Transit officials say there is no timetable in place yet, but that the pilot could be underway late this year or early next.

A similar pilot is already underway on buses. About half the Manhattan bus fleet has been outfitted with cameras as part of a $5 million pilot program, which officials say has been successful in combating vandalism.

Now, that’s quite the pilot program. Installing cameras in two subway cars should have the same deterrent effect as asking shouting an empty car while its alarm is going off for 50 minutes in a row. But joking aside, it’s about time.

At first, when the MTA announced their desires for security cameras in the subway, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea on privacy grounds. Did we really want someone spying on us at all hours of the day as we ride the subways?

But as more and more officials spoke about the need for cameras, I warmed up to the idea. As it is, the city is awash in surveillance cameras, and placing cameras on the subways should make potential perps think twice about the crimes they may commit. Hopefully, cameras would cut back on subway vandalism and incidents of harassment on trains simply by their virtue of existence.

Civil libertarians concerned with privacy have reason to object, but I feel the good of the cameras far outweighs the bad. And besides, no one is going to track down hours of worthless tape for the sake of spying. The videos instead should be used as a review mechanism for crimes committed.

It is of course a bit dismaying that this pilot program won’t get off the ground for months and that it will encompass few cars. In Washington, D.C, and London, the Metro and the Underground have long been outfitted with cameras. While we could argue long and hard about the successes and failures of the cameras in those two cities, the fact that the surveillance programs even exist should be enough for the MTA to roll out more than a two-car test run. As is it, this is an idea long past due.

Categories : Subway Security
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COMMUTE’s BRT system would unite boroughs in ways the subway system cannot. (Source: COMMUTE’s proposed BRT route map PDF)

One of the great casualties of the congestion pricing failure was the $112 million earmarked for bus rapid transit implementation. While the city missed out on this significant federal contribution, NYC’s Department of Transportation has not allowed that to deter their BRT plans, and they’ve already made significant strides this year with more planned for the next few months.

While the city’s BRT goals are admirable, many transit advocates feel they do not go far enough in supplementing subway service and providing smoother interborough travel. Last week, Joan Byron , director of the Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center for Community Development, discussed the Pratt Center’s COMMUTE and their bus rapid transit proposal. It is a far-reaching one that would revolutionize travel through and among the five boroughs:.

Byron writes:

A small but growing number of transit advocates and riders who know what BRT is are clamoring for more routes. COMMUTE!…wants the BRT routes to cross bridges and connect the boroughs, making buses a more serious complement to the subway system.

The pilot program confined each route to its respective borough, so that the Rogers Avenue/Nostrand Avenue route in Brooklyn would serve a dense and underserved slice of East Flatbush, Crown Heights and Bushwick – but then dump passengers at Williamsburg Bridge plaza, presumably to elbow their way onto already full J, M and Z trains to get into Manhattan. Since the transportation department is already planning to put a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, it would be logical to connect the Brooklyn BRT route to the also-planned First/Second Avenue BRT.

With both the one-time shot of federal funding and the projected $500 million per year in net revenues from congestion pricing off the table for the moment, BRT may be more important than ever … As the rail and subway projects envisioned in [the MTA Capital Plan] recede into the future, BRT makes more sense than ever. It will not prevent us from building light rail or subways in the future, but for now it makes intelligent use of the infrastructure we already have – our streets.

Byron’s plan is shown in the map above this post, and you can see a side-by-side comparison of COMMUTE’s plan and DOT’s proposals in this map.

My initial reaction to the Pratt plan was one of skepticism. Why would the city need BRT lines running on streets above — or, in some cases, below — preexisting subway lines? Couldn’t these BRT routes simply dump their passengers at subway terminals?

As Byron notes, however, BRT could accomplish the noble goal of reducing or, at least, avoiding further overcrowding on the subway. If BRT lines originating in areas of the city that are not subway-accessible were to transport riders to subway hubs, the trains would just be that much more crowded. But if the BRT lines provided one-seat rides from, say, Starrett City to the West Side, the subways wouldn’t see a marked increase in ridership. Meanwhile, the BRT routes would keep cars off the road and would hopefully alleviate congestion. Prioritizing signals would hopefully discourage drivers as well.

The city is, as we well know, at a crossroads in terms of its transportation policy. The MTA is trying to find billions of billions of dollars to get a capital plan off the ground, and the city is trying to figure out how to solve a congestion problem. COMMUTE’s ambitious plan would go alone way toward providing public transit to those under-served areas while relieving the city streets of traffic. Considering the low costs of implementation, it certainly deserves a good, hard look.

Categories : Buses
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Current MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander was one of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s more prominent appointees. Sander, a celebrated transit expert, replaced a real estate maven and has brought more accountability and responsibility to the MTA.

When Spitzer stepped down, speculation ran rampant through Albany that Gov. David Patterson would replace some of Spitzer’s top appointees with his own men. When Anthony Shorris was ousted as head of the Port Authority, Sander’s job looked like it could have been on the line too. But Patterson wouldn’t replace a highly-qualified Sander at the head of the MTA.

As the Times Herald-Record — a three-named newspaper — reported this week, Sander will be sticking around as head of the MTA. “Lee is committed to remaining at the MTA and he has the full confidence of the governor,” MTA Spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

Sounds good to me. I’ve longed believed that Sander is the right man for the job, and despite the public beating it takes, the MTA has shown signs of improvement under his reign.

And now on with the weekend service changes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 66th, 59th and 50th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 59th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, uptown 15 trains skip 79th and 86th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, uptown 2 trains replace the 5 from Nevins to 149th Street and uptown 5 trains replace the 2 from Chambers Street to 149th Street. These changes are due to several projects, including station rehab work at Chambers Street and Wall Street and tunnel lighting work in the Clark Street tunnel. – You gotta do that whole “switch at Bowling Green” thing here. More details available here.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, there are no 3 trains running between New Lots Avenue and 14th Street due to tunnel lighting work in the Clark Street tunnel. Customers should take the 4 train instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 27, Bronx-bound 4 trains skip 170th Street, Mt. Eden Avenue, and 176th Street due to track panel installation between 167th Street and Burnside Avenue stations.

From 11 p.m. Friday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, downtown 4, 5 and 6 trains run express from 125th to Grand Central due to a concrete pour on tracks between 86th and 96th Street stations.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to switch replacement south of Pelham Bay Park station.

From 11 p.m. Friday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, free shuttle buses replace trains between Far Rockaway and Beach 90th Street due to track panel installation between Beach 67th Street and Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, there is no C train service between 145th Street and 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead. Free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street. Transfer is available between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and A trains at 168th Street. These service changes are necessary due to tunnel lighting between 168th and 207th Street and roadbed replacement at 175th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, uptown AC trains skip Spring, 23rd and 50th Streets due to Chambers Street signal modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, Bronx-bound D trains run local from West 4th Street to 34th Street due to track conduit and cable work between 47th-50th Streets and 57th Street stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, there are no E trains between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to Chambers Street signal modernization. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, Queens-bound ER trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to conduit work between Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, Queens-bound F trains run on the E line from West 4th Street to Roosevelt Avenue due to track conduit and cable work between 47th-50th Streets and 57th Street stations.

From 8:30 a.m. Friday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to conduit work between Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue stations. Customers should take the E or R trains instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to concrete chip-out between 3rd Avenue and Bedford Avenue stations. Customers should take the M14 bus instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, L trains run in two sections due to concrete chip-out between 3rd Avenue and Bedford Avenue stations:

  • Between Union Square and Bedford Avenue every 16 minutes, skipping 3rd Avenue in both directions and
  • Between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway every 8 minutes

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 28, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to subway tunnel rehabilitation between Prince and Whitehall Streets.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27, Q trains run in two sections due to rail renewal between Ocean Parkway and Stillwell Avenue stations:

  • Between 57th Street and Brighton Beach and
  • Between Brighton Beach and Stillwell Avenue.

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Thousands of people walk past this subway entrance at 52nd and 8th, unaware of its history. (Photo by RJ Mickelson for amNew York)

We started the week with a tale about a doomed abandoned platform at 42nd and 8th Ave. Let’s end the week ten blocks north standing outside a gated subway entrance at 52nd St. and 8th Ave.

In what very well might be the best story to appear in the pages of amNew York — sorry, Chris — Matthew Sweeney explores the history of a subway entrance that has sat closed since 1991, and no one really knows what it was doing there in the first place. The article is part of a two-parter in Friday’s amNew York about some of the partnerships the MTA has formed with the buildings that climb high above their stations. The other piece focuses on the MTA’s tortured relationships with its escalators.

Sweeney gives us the history:

Paid for with private funds in 1986 — when the misbegotten K train still ran — the subway entrance at Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street has been gated and locked for nearly two decades.

It’s been shut for so long New York City Transit on Thursday could not remember when or why it ordered the gates locked. Transit officials also couldn’t say whether it will ever be open again. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” said real estate developer Adam Rose, who built the stairwell entrance to what is now the uptown C and E train platform. “The day after it opened, they closed it.”

Rose’s memory is not entirely accurate. For a brief period the entrance was open at off hours. But even then, it was not always open when it was supposed to be, said Andrew Albert, chairman of the NYC Transit Riders Council. According to Albert, the entrance was permanently closed after a woman was stabbed in the stairway in 1991.

The article doesn’t explain why the MTA has decided to close the entrance and why it was never fully staffed in the first place leading up to the Linda Belle stabbing. The building, according to Rose, was forced to construct the entrance by the MTA. Now, it sits empty, a late-1980s subway map hanging on the wall and trash collecting at the bottom of the stairwell.

Say what you will about MTA management in this instance, but stories like these are why I love the subways. While we see a lot of the system on the surface just by passing through, so many of the quirky stories behind its nooks and crannies are lost to time. You’ve got art in abandoned stations and artistic stations long since abandoned. We think of the subway map as static, but train lines head up different avenues and switch stops seemingly on a whim over the years.

The next time I walk past 52nd St. and 8th Ave., I’ll stop for a minute or two to take in an entrance I’ve seen and ignored countless times over the course of my life. One day, it may have a purpose; today, it’s just another one of New York’s great subway what if’s.

Categories : Abandoned Stations
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  • A few site upgrades · As some of you may have noticed, the look and functionality of the comments here on Second Ave. Sagas changed early this week, and I wanted to take a second to formally introduce those changes. SAS now features threaded comments with live comment preview. The preview function means that, as you type your comment, you’ll see how it displays in a box underneath the comment box.

    The threads, as you may have seen, allows readers and commenters to respond to each other. If you wish to respond to someone else’s comment, simply hit the “Reply to this comment” link underneath that comment, and, voilà, your comment will appear right below the one prior. Take a look here for an example. You all should also become fans of Second Ave. Sagas on Facebook. · (1)

Personal space is tough to find in the Shanghai Metro during rush hour. (Photo by flickr user Marc van der Chijs)

I am perennially about a week behind when it comes to reading the New Yorker. They arrive in my mailbox too frequently, and there’s always too much to read. So this afternoon on the way home from work, I wrapped up Nick Paumgarten’s technically adept look at elevators.

The piece spends a lot of time looking at the science and technology behind elevators while focusing on Nicholas White’s harrowing tale. White was, in 1999, stuck for 41 hours in an elevator in the McGraw-Hill building, and he’s never been the same. (On YouTube, you can find the rather harrowing security camera footage from White’s ordeal.) During the course of the technical details about the elevators, Paumgarten dropped in an interesting passage about how the folks behind our urban conveniences figure out how much space is enough space. It, of course, relates to the subway:

If you draw a tight oval around this figure, with a little bit of slack to account for body sway, clothing, and squeamishness, you get an area of 2.3 square feet, the body space that was used to determine the capacity of New York City subway cars and U.S. Army vehicles. Fruin defines an area of three square feet or less as the “touch zone”; seven square feet as the “no-touch zone”; and ten square feet as the “personal-comfort zone.” Edward Hall, who pioneered the study of proxemics, called the smallest range—less than eighteen inches between people—“intimate distance,” the point at which you can sense another person’s odor and temperature. As Fruin wrote, “Involuntary confrontation and contact at this distance is psychologically disturbing for many persons.”

Moving beyond the technical — I would love to meet a proxemics expert — this brief passages lets us in to a dreadfully obvious secret about the subway: Packed train cars are psychologically taxing on the vast majority of people because there just isn’t enough space. Worse still is the fact that schizophrenic people prefer fifteen times more space that non-schizophrenics. No wonder the subways seem packed with crazy people sometimes; we’re in their space.

Day in and day out, New Yorkers choose to subject themselves to the psychologically taxing demands of a subway ride. We cram ourselves into cars that are too hot or too cold, cars that have annoyingly whiny PA systems (the old R40 Slants on the B line come to mind), cars without enough space to move without jostling or, worse yet, smelling the person who’s just too close to us.

Even in subway cars with space, we still feel the encroaching others in our personal space. Everyone knows that familiar feeling of resentment when a passenger stands just a step or two too close to you in a half-empty car. That’s your touch zone coming under attack. Tell them to back it up to the persona-comfort zone.

This psychological disturbances are why people in the New York City subway systems seem generally unfriendly. It’s why people won’t make eye contact with each other and why two people attracted to each other won’t attempt to strike up a conversation. It’s also why subway riders get a rush of calmness and serenity upon leaving a crowded train and finding their ways aboveground at rush hour. There’s just not enough space.

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At Yankee Stadium, 24 ounces of Heineken will run you about $12.50. At the corner bodega, a six-pack of Heineken can be yours for around $8-$10. And on the Long Island Rail Road, that same beer will cost a measly $2.50. For now.

But bad news awaits those commuters who enjoy a relaxing beverage on their train rides home. For the first time in over ten years, the MTA is considering raising concession prices on board their trains. It was bad enough they raised the fares, but the beer prices also? Where will the madness end?

Steve Ritea of Newsday has more:

“We haven’t raised beer prices in four years and there has been no across the board price increases since 1996,” said LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone. “This price increase will help us offset higher labor and product costs for beer, wine, liquor and snacks. The increase also is in line with prices charged by other vendors at Penn Station.”

On the LIRR, domestic beers would increase by a quarter, to $2.25 and imported beer from $2.50 to $3. Top shelf liquor would go from $4.25 to $5.50 while house spirits jump from $4 to $5.25. A glass of wine goes from $3 to $3.50. Soda and water would increase from $1.25 to $1.50 and peanuts from 75 cents to $1.

Prices on Metro-North also will be higher, with top shelf liquor increasing from $5.50 to $6.50 and wine from $4.50 to $5.50.

In 2007, the MTA’s various subdivisions didn’t profit as much as one would expect from the sale of booze on board the trains. Despite grossing $2.5 million in concession sales, for example, LIRR took home a net profit of just $500,00. In this day and age of grossly overpriced beers at bars and ballgames around the city, the MTA is showing curious restraint in keeping their prices low.

I’m sure the commuter-rail passengers will grouse about this move. Those bar cars I know are popular around 6 p.m. But $3 for an import is a better deal than most happy hours, and the MTA is in revenue-capture mode these days. Personally, the next time I want a good deal on a drink, I’m hoping on the train. White Plains, anyone?

Categories : LIRR, Metro-North
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