A new look for 96th St.

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Where: The 96th St. station on the West Side IRT.
What: Signs of progress during the ongoing renovation.

As part of a plan to substantially rehabilitate and renovate the IRT stop at 96th St. and Broadway, construction crews have unveiled a new look for the wall tiles. Gone are the ugly old black-box 96 numbers. Replacing them are red mosaic 96’s that are a part of the wall. I particularly like the mosaic trim as well.

I grew up near the 96th St. station, and I’m excited to see the new station house on Broadway between 95th and 96th Sts. While this picture provides a tantalizing glimpse of what the inside of the station will resemble when the project wraps up, it still has a long way to go.

Photo taken at my mom’s suggestion by my dad with his Blackberry last Saturday night.

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  • MTA set to award Culver Viaduct rehab contract · When the MTA first announced plans for the Culver Viaduct, work was supposed to begin in the fall of 2008. Shockingly then, this project is already delayed, but after months of silence, the MTA is set to award a contract to Judlau Contraction for the rehabilitation work. Gary Reilly to a story in The Daily News about the project: In its board meeting today, the MTAwill officially award a contract to Judlau Contracting for the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project.

    According to the Daily News (via Gary Reilly), the MTA delayed this project to give the potential contractors more time to submit their bids. On the plus side, though is word that because so many contracts are looking for work in a depressed economy, the winning proposal will be for $62.5 million less than the original MTA estimates. Meanwhile, those who rely on the F and G at Smith-9th Sts. will now face station closures in 2011 instead of 2010. At least now the viaduct won’t look like it’s about to collapse every time a train rolls past it, and maybe, just maybe, when it’s all over, we’ll have that F Express service too. · (2)

MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger talks about middle class drivers during his trip to Albany to fight for the MTA. (Via Elizabeth Benjamin on Vimeo.)

When New York State elected Eliot Spitzer as governor, transit advocates had high hopes for the future. Spitzer, a New York City native, seemed to understand just how important sensible transit policy and funding would be to the future of the city and state. Spitzer, however, met an inglorious end, and with him died the hopes of many.

Now, the state is stuck with an unpopular governor who is trying to stave off financial disaster. Yesterday, on a rather pessimistic day for the MTA, David Paterson threw what political weight he has behind the financially beleaguered transit authority. In a statement, Paterson urged immediate action from Albany for the MTA.

This week I asked Richard Ravitch, Chairman of the Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Financing, to come to Albany to advance my goal of enacting the recommendations outlined in the final Ravitch Commission report. This proposal is critically important to the people of New York. The fare increases and service cuts that will happen without this legislation will do further damage to our fragile economy and bring added financial strain to New Yorkers already suffering during this economic downturn. I have discussed this with the Legislative leaders, and they agree that this must be addressed before our final budget deliberations are underway. To this end, the Senate and Assembly have scheduled conferences for tomorrow to discuss this MTA issue.

The time to do this is now. These Ravitch Committee recommendations have the support of business and labor, civic groups and straphangers. I will speak with lawmakers who have any doubt about the critical nature of this issue, and have asked Mr. Ravitch to remain in Albany tomorrow to hold further discussions and bring this process to a close. We must get a final agreement in place within the next week.

And how did Albany respond? Well, no one can really tell. The Daily News’ New York political blogger Elizabeth Benjamin summed up Tuesday’s hearings:

MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger ended his day of lobbying state lawmakers on Richard Ravitch’s tax-and-toll bailout plan much the same way he started it: Completely unsure whether it will pass in time to stave off massive fare hikes and service cuts.

“We are selling as well as we can,” Hemmerdinger said. “The alternatives are not pleasant. We will have to cut service. We will have to raise fares by 30 percent if this doesn’t pass or something like it.”

Asked to respond to lawmakers’ concerns that taxing the East and Harlem river bridges is unfair to working-class people who need their cards to get to work, Hemmerdinger responded: “I suggest they don’t drive. Take a bus take a subway. We don’t want to be unfair. We want to be fair but there is a presumption that people who can afford a car and they want to drive to work, that’s their choice as long we provide them with a reliable, reasonably cost reasonably reliable alternative and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Hemmerdinger’s words ring true to this transit advocate, but the politicians — the ones holding the purse strings — are being noncommittal. “At this point, we’re weighing all the facts, but we are going to do something on the MTA – I would tell you that in no uncertain terms,” Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said. “Between now and next week, we are going to make a final decision on the MTA.”

On the Assembly side, Sheldon Silver, seemingly suffering from multiple-personality disorder when it comes to transit, couldn’t even commit to a timetable as Smith did. He again called the cuts “unacceptable” but wouldn’t reveal alternative plans or a timetable for a bailout. With exactly one month to go before the MTA Board must vote on the Doomsday budget, the clock’s a-tickin’ ever closer to midnight.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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With just over a month remaining until the MTA Board gathers to vote on the Doomsday budget proposal, the Empire State Transportation Alliance has unveiled a new ad campaign calling for transit funding from Albany. The ad, above (click to enlarge), urges riders to visit Keep New York Moving in order to contact their elected representatives and Gov. David Paterson with a pro transit message.

“Our ad urges transit riders to speak up,” Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, a civic group and co-chair of the ESTA coalition. “Lawmakers need to act now or else draconian cuts will go into effect. At a time when the American economy has hit a weak point, it would be a big mistake to let public transit falter. Doing so will hurt our struggling businesses and discourage new enterprises from starting. Transit cuts also place an undue burden on the City’s poorest workers who are already suffering tremendously. We hope this campaign will challenge riders to stand up and take action.”

ESTA unveiled this PSA yesterday, and it will soon be seen in 3000 subway cars — or nearly half of NYC Transit’s rolling stock — throughout the city.

“The ad is effective because we don’t have a luxury system and there are no frills to cut. Our transit system is a necessity, and riders must send that message loud and clear to their State elected representatives and demand that they take action now,” William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said.

The ads cost $120,000 to make, according to ESTA, and hopefully will serve to spur on Albany. “These 3,000 ads are a call to action,” says Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “New York’s 7.5 million daily straphangers can’t sit (or stand) idly while their commuting costs soar and service erodes.”

Categories : Service Cuts
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  • CBTC finally makes its L line debut · After years of delays, millions of dollars in cost overuns and countless weekend service changes, communications-based train control made its L line debut this morning at 12:22 a.m. The system will allow NYC Transit to decrease headways on the BMT Canarsie line and add trains to a line badly overcrowded. For now, the computer-controlled trains will run only during overnight and off-peak hours before the MTA expands their use into the rush hour time frames. Additionally, both the conductors and motormen will remain on board — the motorman in case something goes wrong and the conductor because the Transit Workers Union objected to the removal. It’s forward progress in technology resisted by the union, and it’s a long, long time coming. · (1)

Oh, how I long for the days of yesterday when the news was simply about near-record ridership figures. Today’s news is bad, very bad.

With the economy slumping and ridership in 2009 on the decline, the MTA is now projecting a deficit for 2009 as high as $2 billion. Even with action out of Albany, the MTA is now planning on cutting weekend subway service no matter what. This, folks, is dire.

The bad news began on Monday with word that 2009 ridership totals were two percent lower than 2008 figures through this point last year. This marks the first time since 2003 that subway ridership has decreased.

Additionally, real estate tax revenues are already $75 million lower than expected. With the Dow closing at its lowest point since my sister celebrated her tenth birthday, the market isn’t going to help the MTA escape this financial crisis any time soon.

On the money front, William Neuman summarized the bad news: The MTA deficit could expand by $650 million this year. This increase would push the MTA’s deficit to nearly $2 billion. Relying on an informal budge assessment from MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson, Neuman writes:

Mr. Dellaverson said that revenue from taxes on mortgages and real estate transactions was $71.5 million in the first two months of the year, slightly less than half of what the authority had predicted it would receive when it made what it thought was a conservative forecast late last year.

That forecast called for the authority to receive $880 million in real estate tax revenue in 2009. But Mr. Dellaverson said that if the trend continued, the authority could receive $446 million less than predicted.

Mr. Dellaverson cautioned that the figures he was presenting did not rise to the level of a formal budget forecast. But the possibilities he sketched were grim enough. They included a $123 million decline in fare and toll revenue, below what was budgeted. And he said that state taxes receipts that go to the authority, including a sales tax and a corporate income tax, could be $82 million less than forecast.

Basically, Dellaverson’s informal calculations have the MTA owing well beyond half a billion dollars more than they were projected to owe when the Doomsday budget gained board approval last year. Even if the state legislature can somehow cover the original $1.2 billion gap, the transit agency would still be faced with a new and growing deficit that would need closing.

Enter weekend service cuts no matter what. According to Daily News beat writer Pete Donohue, New York City Transit will increase weekend headway on ten lines — the A, D, E, F, G, J, M, N, Q, and R — from eight minutes to ten. While NYC Transit President Howard Roberts defended this as an inevitable move spurred on by construction, MTA Board member Andrew Albert decried these cuts. “This is a major service cut for folks,” Albert said. “I think this is a terrible, terrible move.”

No matter how the officials slice or dice it, there is no way to spin this news. The MTA is facing a financial crisis of epic proportions. It’s one that could, if the worst comes to pass, trigger a monumental collapse of our city’s transit network — and thus its economic infrastructure. Right now, the MTA would need a full-scale bailout package and Mayor Bloomberg’s original congestion pricing plan to stay afloat, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think this crisis has reached its nadir yet.

Categories : MTA Economics
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While Albany politicians are slowly getting around to debating a bailout package for the MTA, New Yorkers are making their voices heard indirectly by riding the rails in record numbers. According to New York City Transit, subway ridership figures for 2008 hit 1.62 billion trips, the highest total since 1950 and an increase of 61.1 million trips — or 3.9 percent — over 2007.

Overall, New York City Transit reported an overall total ridership figure of 2.37 billion last year. That figure includes all agency-operated bus trips as well as the subway total. Most of that growth came in the early months of 2008 when city job numbers were on the rise and tourism remained strong. Whether those trends continue into 2009 remains to be seen, but the job loss in the financial sector will stunt transit numbers this year.

Meanwhile, the trains during the week remain packed to the gills. Average weekday ridership for the subway system sat at 5.2 million passengers in 2008, the highest total since 1951.

Transit officials were quick to praise the role the MTA plays in moving New York City while pushing the need to fund the MTA. “The sustained ridership growth in our subway and bus network is proof of the vital role NYC Transit has in moving the region forward in an environmentally sustainable manner,” Elliot G. Sander, MTA executive director and CEO, said. “The improvements we have made to the infrastructure, including the purchase of new buses and subway cars, are paying dividends, and the ridership growth we’ve seen is proof positive how important a fully funded capital plan is to the continued reliability and viability of the system and to the region as a whole.”

On a closer level, ridership growth patterns followed population increases. Parts of the L line saw growth at rates of around 10 percent, and the line as a whole saw ridership increase by 8.5 percent. Stations in Long Island City, the Rockaways, the Lower East Side and Dumbo all saw growth between 15 and 19 percent as well, and the Select Bus Service in the Bronx witnessed an increase of nearly 10 percent.

“The success of Select Bus Service demonstrates how the use of innovative technology combined with the cooperation of our city and state partners can yield enormous benefits for our customers and for service,” VP of Buses Joseph J. Smith, Sr. said. “SBS is the blue print for how we’d like to improve bus service city wide.”

These numbers — and grand expansion plans — are all well and good, but there’s an alarming undercurrent to this latest news. Right as MTA ridership is exploding, the agency is going to have to cut service and raise fares because they are out of money. Now, sure, the agency hasn’t, in the past, been forthcoming with their finances. They’ve squandered good will and public trust, but the public-benefit corporation also can’t run a system at a break-even point with fares held artificially low.

We the New York public want transit fares to be low. We want the $2 ride because it maximizes the system’s accessibility. But for the MTA, relying on the vagaries of property taxes and a disproportionately high percentage of the fare box revenue for operating expenses, to be profitable, they would have to raise the fares substantially without government support.

These numbers show just how important transit is to New York City. Albany cannot let the system fail. New York — the state and the city — won’t be able to weather the storm of bad transit service.

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The service diversions for the weekend are at the bottom of this post. Click here to skip to them. I wanted to make sure this bit of news made its way to the site before the weekend.

While I covered the 7 line groundbreaking this morning, one aspect of this story escaped me. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose city is footing the bill for a $2.1-billion, one-stop extension in order to placate potential real estate developers, had the audacity to slam the Second Ave. subway construction.

Here’s what the mayor had to say, per David Seifman and Tom Namako of The Post:

Construction of the Second Avenue Subway is “destroying every business” in its wake, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday in an unprovoked dig at the MTA’s handling of the project.

Business owners have complained for years that the project is cutting into their profit margins by restricting foot traffic and parking spaces, and Bloomberg said a number of shops have been forced to close.

“It is literally destroying every business on Second Avenue,” the mayor said at a press conference intended to show off a 100-ton cutting head that was to begin churning out the West Side extension for the 7 train. “It is an economic disaster for the people who have stores and restaurants on Second Avenue and we have to find something to do for them.”

With the mayor’s speaking at an MTA, he is giving the direct impression that he wants the financially-starved transit authority to do something about this problem. The reality is that they can’t. They’ve worked with community leaders to minimize the impact of construction, and once they’re through with the launch box and drop the SAS tunnel boring machine, these businesses won’t be facing the same disruptions.

Meanwhile, the Second Ave. Subway will be a huge benefit to the city. If some businesses suffer today because of it, that’s just the way it is. As harsh as that sounds, progress for millions can’t be impeded because a few businesses today may not like it. Once this project is complete, those businesses will find even more value along Second Ave. as well.

The mayor, of course, refused to acknowledge the fact that he is forgoing an opportunity to build a station at 10th Ave. and 41st St. because the MTA won’t cover cost overruns on his own pet project. It’s tough to justify the costs of the 7 line extension considering its benefits; the mayor should be wary of injecting himself into other debates over projects that have actual beneficial end goals.

* * *

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, February 21 and Sunday, February 22, Manhattan-bound 1 trains skip 238th, 231st, and 225th Streets due to replacement of defective rail plates.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, uptown 1 and 2 trains skip 79th and 86th Streets due to tunnel lighting.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, 2 trains run in two sections (due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue):

  • Between 241st Street and Franklin Avenue and
  • Between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, free shuttle buses replace 3 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, shuttle trains run between Utica and New Lots Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no 4 train service between Atlantic and Utica Avenues. Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues. These changes are due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. The 2, 3 and free shuttle buses provide alternative service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no 5 train service between Bowling Green and East 180th Street due to track panel installation north of Gun Hill Road and cable tray installation north of East 180th Street. Customers may take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 trains run every 30 minutes between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23 (and weekends through Feb 27-Mar 2), there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube. The N/Q and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. The 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street due to tunnel and lighting work. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Canal Street, then express to 59th Street, then local to 168th Street. Queens-bound A trains run local from 168th to 125th Streets, then express to 59th Street, then local to Euclid Avenue. These changes are due to signal work at Chambers Street and a track chip-out north of 116th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there are no C trains running due to roadbed replacement work at 116th Street. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there are no D trains between Pacific Street (Brooklyn) and 34th Street (Manhattan) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection. The N train and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, D trains run express between 36th Street (Brooklyn) and Pacific Street (Brooklyn) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection. Customers should take the N instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, there is no E train service between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to signal work at Chambers Street. Customers should take the A instead to reach lower Manhattan.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to third rail work. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 10 p.m. Sunday, February 22, there are no J trains between Broadway Junction and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer due to fiber optic cable installation. Free shuttle buses replace trains between Broadway Junction and the Jamaica Van Wyck E station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Manhattan-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, N trains run local between Pacific Street Brooklyn) and 59th Street-4th Avenue (Brooklyn) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Kings Highway and bypass Newkirk Avenue due to station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, Q trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street and are extended to the Ditmars Boulevard N station due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, midnight R shuttle trains terminate at 59th Street-4th Avenue due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 23, the 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

Hope for the Ravitch Commission recommendations looked dim last Friday as numerous politicians voiced their collective disapproval for the tax-and-toll plan to save the MTA. Today, after a week of hearings conducted by various governing bodies and featuring numerous transit and business officials, the future is looking decidedly worse for the MTA.

“Some of my colleagues said the Ravitch plan is dead on arrival,” State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (Dem., Brooklyn) said this week. “They said to me there’s no way they can vote for it. It’s the M.T.A.’s responsibility to convince my colleagues.”

That effort, according to Ken Belson of The New York Times, is not going so well. Belson sums up the grim news:

An array of city, state and federal elected officials sharply criticized the proposals to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a legislative hearing on Thursday, raising fresh concerns about whether the proposals can survive in Albany.

City Council members opposed a plan to introduce tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers. Representative Anthony D. Weiner and business groups said they were against introducing a new payroll tax. And state senators, as well as many advocacy groups, disagreed with the proposal for an 8 percent fare increase.

Mostly, according to Belson, New York politicians were hoping to find ways to save the system without raising fares, cutting service, implementing tolls or instituting new taxes. I guess praying might work one day.

State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, who led the hearing, at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, asked Mr. Ravitch several times if his commission had considered ways to avoid raising public transit fares.

Mr. Ravitch said that some fare increases were necessary. He said his plan was needed not just to help close the M.T.A.’s $1.2 billion budget gap, but to ensure that all constituents — including drivers and subway, railroad and bus riders — share the burden. “Nobody likes to pay anything,” Mr. Ravitch said in answer to questions by Senators Perkins and Dilan. “We concluded that the only ultimately feasible way to get the financing done is come up with recommendations that everyone contribute.”

Meanwhile, New York politicians are looking in all the wrong places. Anthony Weiner, a House representative from New York, criticized the tax-and-toll plan as consisting of “old ideas” and said that the feds would ride to the rescue of the MTA. “We should step back from the apocalypse. There’s going to be help coming from Washington,” he said.

But I have to ask Mr. Weiner when he expects this magic money from D.C. to arrive. The MTA can wait only another 36 days until they must pass a budget, and there is no way that Congress can find $1.2 billion for the transit agency in that time. Meanwhile, the city and state have to be looking at permanent, long-term fixes for the MTA. Unless the federal government is willing to guarantee operating revenues for the MTA in perpetuity, New York will have to confront this issue of taxes and tolls and fare hikes sooner rather than later.

Optimistically, Assembly representative Richard Brodsky thinks that a compromise is on the horizon. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but right now, I don’t share Brodsky’s sunny outlook.

Categories : MTA Economics
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