These bridges won’t be free for much longer if DOT has its way. (Photo by flickr user SheepGuardingLama)

While those of us in the pro-congestion pricing camp were busy slamming Sheldon Silver and mourning the death of Mayor Bloomberg’s radical and potentially revolutionary congestion pricing plan, the New York City Department of Transportation had other plans.

Speaking on Friday at the Regional Plan Association’s annual conference, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan let slip that congestion pricing in name may be dead, but the ideas and certain proposals are far from dead. “I really don’t think that we should be in the business right now of eulogizing congestion pricing. The way I prefer to think about it,” she said, “is that perhaps we are in little more of a hibernation mode.”

DOT, you see, is trying to return to an idea dropped during the build-up to congestion pricing: tolls over the East River bridges. Furthermore, these tolls could potentially be used to fund the MTA’s capital campaign and its currently-projected multi-billion-dollar funding gap. Pete Donohue from the Daily News has more:

“At the end of the day, the failure on congestion pricing that occurred last month was just a setback,” said a fellow panelist, former Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw. “I think it will be reconsidered in the near future.”

He predicted congestion pricing would come back in a somewhat different and “purer” form: tolls at the East River bridges and across 60th St.

Shaw chaired a commission that recommended charging $8 to drive below 60th St. It largely would have affected drivers who do not currently pay to enter lower Manhattan because they use free East River bridges. The goals included reducing traffic and generating funds to improve the mass transit system.

Furthermore, Donohue notes, the new MTA commission on funding led by former MTA head Richard Ravitch will consider both the East River tolls and congestion pricing plans as sources of revenue for the beleaguered transportation authority.

I am all in favor of tolling the East River bridges. Right now, four bridges — Brooklyn, Manahttan, Williamsburg, Queensboro — feed into Manhattan south of 60th street for free. Users of these bridges have myriad public transportation options, and yet these drivers still get a free ride into and out of the city. If tolling these bridges would provide the MTA with funds while reducing congestion and automobile use, DOT should make it happen. The city and its public transit advocates could use a big win, and it’s comforting to see DOT keeping this hope alive.

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The old platform on the lower level at Times Square will soon be lost to the 7 Line Extension. (Photo by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

Astute subway buffs know where to look for the tell-tale signs of the mysterious lower level underneath the 8th Ave. IND platform at 42nd St. Stand on the northern edge of the uptown platform and look all the way across the tracks. If you look closely, you can see another level of subway tracks beginning a mysterious descent seemingly to nowhere.

Well, it’s not quite nowhere. Those tracks lead to the long-abandoned lower level platform that, for a few decades from 1959-1981, was home to the Aqueduct Express. The tunnel feeds into the lower level E platform at 50th St. and terminates with a merge, now out of service, in between 42nd St. and 34th St. on that IND line.

In Sunday’s Times City Section, Alex Mindlin writes about the waning days of that lower level platform. It is currently in the way of the 7 line extension and will soon to lost to the ages:

But the platform endures, gathering dust and grime. And it has seen more activity this year than in the previous few decades. Workers are preparing to demolish part of the platform so that the extended No. 7 line can cut across the space on its way westward. Other sections of the platform will be turned into electrical and hydraulic rooms; the rest will be walled off. The work should be complete in about four years…

Several films have been shot here; the track walls bear some “47-50” signs that, at this 42nd Street station, must have been intended for a movie. In the best-known scene shot at the location, from the 1990 film “Ghost,” Patrick Swayze stands on the empty platform and learns from another ghost how to move objects with his mind.

This great photo at shows how the station signage was cannibalized by Hollywood for those movies.

What Mindlin’s article misses is the amusing story behind the origins of the platform and its original purpose. After it was built during the construction of the IND lines in 1932, this lower level platform sat idle and unused until those Aqueduct trains started running 27 years later. Joseph Brennan’s abandoned station page for the platform speculates that the platform could have been used to hold Queens-bound trains at 42nd St. without impeding other trains along the 8th Ave. line.

But I prefer the theory set forth on the station’s page:

An oft-repeated story offers this as a reason the lower level was built: The Independent subway was being built by the city to compete directly with routes owned by the IRT and BMT companies. The #7 crosstown IRT line terminates at Times Square; it is said that the bumper blocks of the #7 are directly against or very close to the eastern wall of the lower level of the 42nd St. IND station. The construction of the lower level therefore blocked any potential extension of the #7 line to the west side of Manhattan. If this is true, it would have been done only in the spirit of crushing the competition, for the IND had no plans to construct a competing crosstown line.

This now-decaying station won’t impede westward progress any longer, and as the 7 line inches its way west, this platform will be lost to the annals of New York subway history. While the West Side 91st St. station and the famous City Hall stop exist through subway windows, this lower level platform will end up a legend of the subway, perhaps built to stop progress and now destroyed in the name of progress.

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So apparently the Pope is snarling traffic everywhere, and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better this weekend. Stay away from the Upper East Side; stay away from the Yankee Stadium area. And if you’re heading to a Seder tomorrow or Sunday night, leave plenty of time for travel.

You all know the drill. Service alerts are here and below.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, Manhattan-bound 24 trains run express from Franklin Avenue to Atlantic Avenue due to hydraulics work at Atlantic Avenue. – This is bad news for people like me going from Grand Army Plaza to the Upper West Side for a Seder.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, 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.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, 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. to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 19, 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 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point to Parkchester due to track panel installation.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Sts. due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, 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 8:30 a.m. Friday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R trains instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 10 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Queens-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Avenue to Broadway Junction due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 21, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to structural work between Whitehall Street and Canal Street and station rehab work at Lawrence Street.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Midtown is rather devoid of subway stops for handicapped riders. (Source: Smorgr)

A few months ago, the urban life Website Smogr posted a heavily-edited subway map showing the limited options available to riders of the subway who are faced with limited staircase mobility. Disabled riders have long tried to get their voices heard, and it is only as old stations undergo renovations that they must be made ADA-compliant.

At the beginning of last week, the MTA announced a long-term elevator outage at the World Trade Center-Chambers Street E station due to Port Authority construction. For the vast majority of us, this news goes in one ear and out the other; what does an out-of-service Port Authority elevator that provides access to the subway platforms have to do with us? But for a significant minority who can’t depend on stairs to get underground, this is big news. Here’s how the MTA presents it, in part:

Beginning Friday, April 11, 2008, customers who rely on elevator service at the WTC-Chambers Street E Station will no longer have access to elevators at this location due to ongoing construction at the World Trade Center site…

The West 4th Street and the 14th Street-8th Avenue stations are the closest ADA accessible stations along the E line to the World Trade Center-Chambers Street E station. Customers traveling uptown from the WTC site to West 4th Street ABCDEFV lines should board the uptown M6 bus on Church Street at Vesey Street and get off on 6th Avenue at West 3rd Street. Customers traveling downtown from 14th Street-8th Avenue to the WTC area should board the downtown M20 bus on 7th Avenue at 14th Street and get off on Chambers Street at Hudson Street.

For customers traveling between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., please note that the M6 and M20 bus routes do not operate during these hours.

So basically, the MTA has said that the nearest ADA-accessible stop to anyone trying to reach Lower Manhattan on the E is nearly a mile and a half away. Put yourself in the shoes, then, of the disabled. I know I wouldn’t be too happy finding out that my regular station is closed, and the nearest one is a mile and a half away. And, hey, the closest buses don’t operate for five hours each day.

As the MTA confronts a budget crunch, disabled rider complaints will have to compete with a plethora of other subway issues. While you and I may not think of them too often, these are real concerns for a lot of subway-riding New Yorkers.

After the jump, a broad — and small — overview of the subway map with only the handicap stations listed. Sadly, there is no larger version of this map, but as you’ll see, ADA-compliant stations are few and far between in the Outer Boroughs. In fact, after the Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. stop on the D and N, the next accessible station is Coney Island.

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Categories : MTA Politics
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Manhattan’s 34th St. could be a harbinger of transit-related things to come.

In a few short weeks, New York City will mark a milestone. June 29th will witness the debut of the city’s first true foray into Bus Rapid Transit. This first experiment into a program that could revolution New York’s bus system is called Select Bus Service and will run along the Bx12 corridor from 207th Street in Manhattan down Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx.

While this Bronx-based project is a start, New York’s BRT efforts seemingly took a huge hit last week when congestion pricing failed. Over $112 million of the $354-million federal grant heading New York’s way had congestion pricing passed was earmarked for BRT implementation along various corridors in all five boroughs.

But the city is plowing ahead anyway with their BRT plans. They think they can finagle some other funds from the funds, and this week, NYC Transit President Howard Roberts and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik Kahn announced the next round of BRT plans. These plans are centered around a complete repurposing of 34th Street from river to river. Brad Aaron at Streetsblog has more:

DOT will repave and restripe for five lanes between Third and Ninth Avenues by the end of this year, with painted bus lanes on the north and south sides and three auto lanes in the center. Service hours will also be extended. Phase 2 calls for a 34th Street Transitway, closing the street to cars between Fifth and Sixth and installing pedestrian plazas. On either side of that block, there would be two lanes for cars heading in one direction — toward the rivers — while on the other half of the street, buses would have two extra-wide lanes separated from traffic. In other words, buses would constitute the only through traffic on 34th Street. According to Sadik-Khan, 34th Street BRT will eventually tie in to new East River ferry service (details to be announced next week)…

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has pledged a unit dedicated to bus lane enforcement, Sadik-Khan said. But she added that the city needs Albany to approve bus-mounted cameras as well. Though the program lost $112 million in funding with the defeat of congestion pricing, Sadik-Khan said the city has applied for federal funds to expedite BRT build-out. While the timetable for some projects is still undetermined, Bx12 Select Bus Service will launch in June as planned, and Phase 1 of 34th Street will be completed this year.

To view Sadik-Khan’s 34th Street presentation, check out this PDF presentation.

I am a big proponent of this plan on numerous levels. First, the city is not giving in to the anti-congestion pricing advocates. We may not have won that battle, but we can still win the war against unnecessary car traffic and congestion by making it tougher for cars to get around the city. Thirty-fourth street, one of Manhattan’s busiest thoroughfares with the Javits Center and Hudson Yards on one side and Herald Square in the middle, will be a great testing ground.

From a transit perspective, any effort the city and NYCT can make to beef up bus service is a welcome addition to the transportation landscape in New York. Buses right now are insanely efficient; the Straphangers, after all, hand out awards for the slowest buses. Once the city can begin to implement a true Bus Rapid Transit system, bus service can emerge as a real, viable alternate to people looking to cover long distances via public transit.

While car advocates will not like these developments, BRT along 34th St. alone has the potential to impact commutes for tens of thousands of people. Imagine what this city could look like with viable BRT service all over.

Categories : Buses
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  • Technical difficulties · We had a little bit of downtime around here this morning, but things at Second Ave. Sagas are up and running again. Thanks for your patience. · Comments Off

Long gone are the days when the New York City subways were overrun with graffiti as they were in the 1980s.

I called my mom yesterday afternoon to quiz her on my childhood. “How old was I when you first let me ride the subways alone?” I asked.

She paused, unable to come up with the answer off the top of her head. “Um, 12, maybe?” she said. I thought back to a few nights during the winter of 1995 when I would traipse off to my friends’ B’Nai Mitzvot parties on the subways all by myself. While I have no recollection of the first time I rode the subway alone — it was that monumental a part of my growing up in New York City — I was at most 12 years old.

To me, riding the subways alone was a non-event. It was just another part of living in and growing up in New York City. We learn to cross the street alone; we learn to go to school alone; we learn to take the subways alone. We survive and thrive. A child of New York can tell you how to get from Bay Ridge to Bedford Ave., from TriBeCa to Tremont Ave. Sticking them in the woods with a map and a compass is another story altogether.

But something happened two weeks ago that has been an utter surprise to me. It started when New York Sun Lenore Skenazy left her nine-year-old son — at his request, mind you — in Bloomingdale’s with a MetroCard, a subway map, a $20 bill and no cell phone. She told him to find his own way home. Lo and behold, he did it. By using his city smarts and taking the subway and bus, he managed to make his way home in the middle of a Sunday among some of the city’s most crowded transit corridors.

Still, the backlash has been borderline ridiculous. Skenazy and her sonappeared on the Today Show (video in the link) seemingly to defend her actions when her New York City-based friends started calling her crazy and a bad mother. Their rationale? These parents were afraid that Izzy, now 10, would get abducted in the big, bad New York City subways.

They told stories about Elizabeth Smart and some girl in Florida who took the back way home through vacant lots and found herself in some trouble. What if that happened to poor Izzy on a Sunday in New York City, one of the safest large cities in the world, and in the subways where crime is at a record low?

Meanwhile, other bloggers started to weigh in. Louise Crawford of SmartMom fame wrote that she supports Skenazy but wouldn’t allow her daughter to do the same thing. Crawford blames parents today, and so do I. Parents who coddle their kids because they’re afraid of something that in the vast majority of cases doesn’t happen are engaging in urban behavior that is counterproductive to the surrounding environment.

I grew up with my parents’ trust. They allowed me to ride the subways by myself, and I grew to love the subways because these underground trains shepherded me around the city. But at the same time, they also taught me how to ride the subway from an early age. They taught me how to read the subway map and where to wait for trains. They taught me to avoid empty cars and ride with the conductor. That’s still sound advice now that I’m far removed from my 12-year-old self. This type of urban education starts young, and it can’t happen until parents remember how they learned the city and remember that Bad Things do happen but now if you’re careful.

Skenazy has continued to rail against the way parents shelter their children because of the way the media overplays one-off incidents. And she’s right. Her son proved that children today can fend for themselves, and even if he did it on a crowded Sunday afternoon along well-traveled routes, it’s refreshing to see some urban independence these days.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Every now and then, I like to check in on how the MTA’s competitors in other cities are doing. Today, we journey down I-95 — or is that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor? — to our Nation’s Capital where the WMATA is facing its very own funding crisis.

For the last ten days, we’ve watched in New York as the state Assembly dealt a blow to the MTA’s financial situation, and we’ve seen the agency begun a fund-searching review in order to meet goals for its next five-year capital plan. Things could be worse.

In Washington, the WMATA is in the unenvious position of receving one-third of its funds from the Federal Government, and one of the Senators who holds the purse strings — Sen. Tom Coburn, a hard-line Republican from the car-happy state of Oklahoma — is threatening to block a $1.5 billion federal grant for Metro.

Now, this isn’t just chump change for the Metro. It’s money the WMATA needs to bring their old and decaying system up to a state of good repair. Considering that environmental movements are all the rage, the government — both in New York and in DC — is strangely hesitant to help out the greenest of green options: public transportation. WTOP Radio’s Adam Tuss has more from DC:

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has authored a bill which would provide $1.5 billion for Metro over the next 10 years. If the bill passes, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have agreed they will match the $1.5 billion. The funds would go a long way for Metro, which is the only major transportation system in the nation that lacks a dedicated source of funding.

But the Davis bill, as it is currently constructed, will likely never make its way past Coburn. “I’m happy to be a roadblock to that bill,” Coburn tells WTOP. “It’s $1.5 billion they want, we (the government) don’t have the money to pay for it, so where are we going to get the money?”

Coburn doesn’t think one penny of funding for Metro should come from American taxpayers. “How dare us say we are going to steal opportunity from our children so that we can have a ride on the Metro. I think the vast majority of Americans would disagree with that.”

Isn’t it cute that all of a sudden a Republican in the Senate is concerned about spending? And where, oh, where could the government find the meager sum of $1.5 billion for a transportation network that has a ridership of millions of federal workers and tourists? Considering that we’ve spent trillions of dollars on overseas wars — and, yes, Coburn supports those efforts without noting any effect whatsoever on our children — I’d think $1.5 billion wouldn’t be tough to find.

Coburn, ignoring that self-sustaining public transit would be too expensive to attract any ridership, wants the Metro riders to pay. “My position is, if you want to ride the Metro, pay what it costs to ride the Metro,” he said. “Riders will pay for the upkeep and the capital improvements that are needed.”

Coburn’s opponents on both sides of the aisle are ready to fight him for these funds, and I’d have to believe that Metro will get its money. But yet again, politicians are doing all they can to obstruct funding for mass transit. One day, maybe mass transit will get the respect it deserves as a major driver of urban economics. One day, politicians might be willing to go out on a limb to fund it.

But as we’ve learned in New York and as we see in DC right now, mass transit proponents are fighting and losing an uphill battle right now. We’ll just have to keep on trekking ahead as the cars continue to win.

Categories : WMATA
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