• The paradox of public transit investment · A few months ago, with gas prices at all-time highs, commuters started flocking to public transit in record numbers. When the economy — and oil futures — tanked, a funny thing happened on the way to work: People continued to rely on public transit, and ridership has continued to increase. It is, then, alarming to read in The Times today about how mass transit systems around the nation are suffering from major budget crises. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating amendments to strip transit from the stimulus bill while propping up highways.

    It’s tough to understand the rationale behind that move. The nation needs public transit. It needs it environmentally; it needs it economically. Right now, the public have shown that they will use public transit, and to read that cities are cutting thousands of bus stops and service options in the face of record high ridership numbers is to fear for the future of the nation. While I try to stay focused on New York City issues here, nationwide transit impacts us all. The new Streetsblog Network covers this issue in depth, and now is the time for action on public transit in the New York area and around the U.S. · (9)

Over the last few days, we’ve talked a lot about the MTA’s stimulus plans. Backed by statements by MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, we explored the revival of the Fulton St. dome. Spurred on by idle speculation, on Monday, we contemplated the fate of the 7 line extension.

Now, according to one report, the agency may have something of an official wishlist. The MTA, however, maintains that this list is simply a recycled summary of projects and that the authority’s planners will not publish a planned list of stimulus projects until and unless the package is approved by Congress.

Matthew Sollars, a reporter with Crain’s New York, reported on the MTA’s alleged wishlist on Tuesday afternoon:

Sander said last week that the authority would spend $497 million from the federal stimulus package to complete the Fulton Street Transit Center in Manhattan. But the agency expected to receive more than $1.5 billion if the package is passed as it stands now, and while it says other mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway will get funds from the stimulus a large amount of money remains for upgrading dilapidated stations and other lower-profile projects.

Many of these projects were cut from the authority’s capital budget last summer when the Wall Street collapse first started. Some of the projects on the list include $34 million to replace the “gap fillers” on the 4, 5, and 6 lines at the Union Square station and roughly $120 million to rehabilitate 10 subway stations in Brooklyn…

The stimulus money would also be used to prevent the chaos caused by flooding during a massive rainstorm in 2007. The MTA plans to spend $47 million to install public announcement systems in 43 stations throughout the subway network that do not have them. During the 2007 floods, riders piled up on platforms and agents at the stations could not make announcements saying the trains weren’t coming.

According to a list of projects being passed around by transit advocates last week, the authority will also spend $200 million to install raised ventilation grates and bike racks in Queens and Manhattan, aimed at preventing future floods. An MTA spokesman says that figure is too high.

It’s easy to see why many think the MTA’s stimulus list stems from these pre-existing plans, but this is simply isn’t the case, according to Jeremy Soffin, the authority’s press secretary. In an e-mail to me on Tuesday in response to my post about the 10th Ave. station stop on the 7 line extension, Soffin said that “a final list will only be determined when there is a final bill.” Mostly, he noted, the MTA has a list of potential projects, and the breadth of the work will depend upon the amount the city receives in the final package. Soffin said:

We are grateful for the work of Senator Schumer and Congressman Nadler to increase funding for public transportation. We continue to maintain and update a list of projects that could be funded by the stimulus. We have proposed a long list of projects, which will be pared based on the final amount of the stimulus and the limitations set on the money by the legislation. Potential projects include some deferred from the current capital program, including some subway and commuter rail station work and maintenance of key infrastructure (shops, interlockings, substations, yards), purchase of subway cars and flood mitigation grates, and funding for mega-projects (Fulton Street, East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway).

It would of course be a boon for the MTA if they can receive funding to knock many of these projects off of the “to-do” list, but the overall impact of the Ravitch Report should not be forgotten. Stimulus spending is great for all, but the MTA needs a financial plan too. While transit watchers seem to be counting their stimulus chickens before the plans hatch, we can’t lose sight of the long-term problems facing the MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Checking out the new floor

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Yesterday, a few hours after writing about the experimental floors NYC Transit has installed an in effort to keep their stations cleaner, I found myself in the Chambers St. area with my camera in tow. I ventured to the mezzanine — missing my 2 train in the process — and snapped a few pictures. I couldn’t get a wider panoramic view of the platform, but I took some close ups of the new material and got a shot of a gummy old square of concrete. Click the images to enlarge.

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  • Related, MTA agree to Hudson Yards delay · The MTA and real estate developer Related Companies were supposed to close their $1 billion deal for the Hudson Yards land this weekend, but with the economy in the tank, the two sides agreed to delay the closing by a year. While the MTA really needs the money, the authority, according to Charles V. Bagli of The Times, understands that in today’s economy, replacing Related would be nigh impossible. According to Bagli’s sources, Related will pay $10 million for the delay, and the closing is now expected by Jan. 31, 2010. · (10)

During my Criminal Law class on Monday afternoon, my professor talked about the concept of criminal liability when a person fails to act. If I view a crime or have knowledge of one occurring, am I under a legal obligation to do anything about it? While the law generally says no, our societal concepts of morality say to act.

That is, unless you are Mireya Navarro or one of the many passengers riding the 2 train with her on Sunday night. In a City Room post published yesterday as I was sitting in that very same criminal law class, Navarro told her sordid subway tale of a group of passengers who witnessed something so gross and banded together not to tell anyone. Call it Real World: IRT.

On the way to Brooklyn from Manhattan around 7:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, a disheveled man walked into a No. 2 subway train making a stop at Canal Street. No one paid much attention as the man lay down on a row of seats to take a nap. The complete strangers around him did not realize he would soon force them to come together to make a practical decision.

The man, his eyes still closed, sat up a couple of stops later, opened his fly and urinated. From a seated position, he thoroughly soaked his vicinity, and the half-full car emptied out in the middle as his fellow passengers — including this reporter — fled in both directions.

In a next-door car where some of the escaping riders had reassembled, some shook their heads, visibly jarred, and one commented that this was a first. Then a debate ensued about the right course of action to take. I said I would be getting off the train soon and would report the man’s actions to the proper authorities. They should remove him, I argued, before other unsuspecting riders walked into the car and had to deal with him and the mess.

The consensus seemed to be that this was a bad idea. “All they’ll do is take the train out of service, and we’ll all be stuck,” a woman said.

In the end, Navarro opted against telling anyone. The urine-infected 2 train continued south through Brooklyn until it reached its Flatbush Ave./Brooklyn College terminus. What happened at that point is anyone’s guess.

At first blush, Navarro’s actions seem pretty inexcusable. Egged on by a crowd too self-centered to be inconvenienced for a few minutes while the police attended to an unsanitary and illegal situation, Navarro opted not to report the conditions in this subway car. Instead, she let the man and wrote about it for The Times the next day under the guise of a “Only in New York” story.

On the other hand, though, the cost/benefit analysis of telling someone may prove Navarro correct. At least, that’s what City Room commenter J said in his response to this sordid affair. By telling someone, the train would be delayed; the line would get backed up; and everyone would have to wait a few more minutes before they get home.

So what is it then? Do you tell or not? I’ve been in a similar situation but not to this extreme. I’ve witnessed cars empty out when people realize the stench, but I’ve never seen someone urinate in a train car in the middle of the evening. I have never said anything though because by the time I leave the subway, it’s not my problem anymore. I’m where I need to be, and the incident remains a stinky memory.

To this, I do not know the answer. Navarro and the herd in her 2 train opted not to tell for mostly selfish reasons, and that’s the New York subway attitude.

Photo Credit: An ever-present MTA sign urges riders to say something if they see — or smell — something. (By flickr user ZeroOne.)

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The floors of the subway system are known for their grimy, gumminess. (Photo by flickr user Susan NYC)

About once a year, it seems, the disgusting floors of the New York City subways take center stage. Last year, the problem focused around rising concrete and porcelain costs. This year, it’s all about cleanliness.

According to Pete Donohue of The Daily News, the MTA is looking for ways to better demarcate emergency exists while improving the sanitary conditions of the system’s floors. He reports:

NYC Transit is testing a new type of flooring with iridescent flakes that can illustrate routes to exits if the lights go out in an emergency…The resin-based material is poured like concrete, allowing flakes to be set in a pattern.

Safety aside, the resinous flooring might conquer an unsightly foe that’s defeated many a subway cleaner: gum. Many subway stations have porous concrete surfaces that are difficult to maintain and deteriorate into gum-spattered eyesores. Some stations have granite floors, which are easier to scour but expensive to install: $1.7 million for an average-sized station.

Resinous flake flooring is easier to maintain and less expensive, about one-third the cost of granite, officials said. “If this really works [it] gives the ability to essentially do away with the gum problem,” Roberts said. “It could make an order of magnitude difference in the appearance of stations.”

Currently, the Chambers St. stop on the IRT is serving as the guinea pig. As the station is rehabilitated, New York City Transit has poured the new materials on the mezzanine. I’ll try to swing by and snap a picture soon.

It’s hard to argue with this approach if it does indeed make it easier to clean the station platforms. Right now, those floors are among the least appealing aspects of waiting for a train. With food stains, gum splotches and various other unidentified liquids pooling up, the floors are ugly at best and unwalkable at worst.

This move reflects well on NYC Transit and the rider report card projbect. They’re actively looking to address a problem — cleanliness — identified by many as one of the drawbacks of the system, and the riders should benefit for it.

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The 7 line stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave. may be saved by the stimulus.

Before the weekend, we learned that the national stimulus plan would finally deliver a transit hub for Fulton Street. In fact, the stimulus may save another faulty MTA Capital Construction program from a giant budgetary mistake.

In the comments to that Fulton-inspired post, SAS reader Kris Datta dropped in a note about the 7 line extension. “I understand some of this stimulus money is also being used to fund the 10th Ave. station on the 7 line extension,” he writes.

To recap, the 7 line extension is a city-funded project that extends the 7 line from Times Square west along 41st St. and then south along 11th Ave. to 34th St. The planned development at Hudson Yards spurred on the city investment in this project, and while talks for the Yards are scheduled for Monday, it is resting on unstable ground.

When the city and the MTA agreed on the extension deal, the city promised to pay for the project up to a certain point and not more. The MTA wouldn’t take on cost overruns for a project that doesn’t benefit too many people and serves simply to fatten the wallet of whatever real estate companies winds up with the Hudson Yards lands. With costs on the rise, the MTA couldn’t promise to build the station stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave., and it seemed that the city would be investing a few billion dollars in a subway extension to nowhere when other, more necessary projects — such as the LIRR East Side Access and Second Ave. Subway — tottered along.

But now it sounds like the government’s infusion of cash will save another station. I’ll try to nail down a list of the MTA’s planned stimulus projects this year, but restoring this station seems to make a lot of sense. The MTA can start spending this cash on a construction project nearly immediately, and it will have long- and short-term benefits for the economy.

As much as this 7 line extension isn’t a necessary plan in ways other extension proposals are, omitting a stop at 41st and 10th would have been an insult to the neighborhood. The Hell’s Kitchen area needs more transit options, and while it’s true that the area is already developed, that shouldn’t preclude subway access.

In the end, though, the MTA can’t always rely on stimulus money for proper project funding. The authority has a whole bunch of plans in the works to expand and enhance subway service throughout the city, but these plans are plagued with high price tags. It’s great that the government’s efforts to kick start the economy will benefit the city, but one day soon, the state, the city and the MTA will have to find a more permanent solution to this capital funding problem.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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On Thursday afternoon, I published a bit about rising costs at the Yankee Stadium Metro-North stop. As reported by Metro’s Patrick Arden, the new stop was supposedly suffering from cost overruns. My reading of Arden’s article was incorrect, and I’d like to offer up a correction.

In a nutshell, there are no cost overruns. Aaron Donovan, deputy press secretary at the MTA, writes to clarify:

The costs ($52 million from the MTA and $39 million from the City) have not changed since the project was approved by the MTA board in May 2007. There have been no cost escalations or overruns in the construction of the station, which is proceeding on time and on budget.

The $800,000 approved for station cleaning A) was anticipated at the outset and so does not represent an “overrun,” and B) is a cost to operate the station that appears in the Metro-North’s operating budget. It is not a capital expenditure associated with the construction of the station. Further, this amount represents a substantial savings over what Metro-North would pay if it were to hire additional Metro-North staff station cleaners to handle the facility. While every Metro-North station is cleaned every day, this station will need attention that is greater than, and different in character from, other Metro-North stations. This is because of the large number of customers using the station and the odd schedule (many nights and weekends) in which they will use it.

So there you have it. The project is on time and on budget. The key aspect here is that Metro-North is hiring an outside agency to clean the station for the first time. This expenditure was originally a part of the plan for the Yankee Stadium stop, and due to its anticipated high volume, the MTA will save under this plan.

I got the information wrong, and when I do that, I like to get the right information out there as soon as possible.

* * *

On another note, here are the weekend service advisories. That whole A/C/F/G thing is still going on.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th Street and Chambers Street. However, uptown 1, 2 and 3 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, February 1, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip 176th Street, Mt. Eden Avenue, 170th, 167th and 161st Streets due to cutting of trees and branches hanging over track areas.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, uptown 4 and 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall to Grand Central-42nd Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, there are no 4 trains available at Nostrand and Kingston Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza, and Eastern Parkway due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. Customers may take the 2 instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 10 p.m. Sunday, February 1, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to track panel installation from Castle Hill Avenue to Parkchester. The last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue-138th Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, (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 NQ and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, 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 10:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Beach 90th Street and Far Rockaway due to track panel work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, Queens-bound A trains run local between 168th Street and 125th Street, then express to Canal Street, then trains resume local service to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. to 168th Street. These changes are due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Jay Street, a track chip-out north of 116th Street and the Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, there are no C trains running due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Jay Street.
1. A trains replace the C between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and 168th Street.
2. F trains replace the C between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Euclid Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, there is no E train service between West 4th Street and World Trade Center; trains run to the 2nd Avenue F station during this time due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization. Customers may take the A to reach lower Manhattan.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to Monday, February 2, F trains replace the C between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Euclid Avenue. G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue. These changes are due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Jay Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers take the E or R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue. Customers may use the M14 or shuttle bus instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, L trains run in two sections (due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue):
• Between Union Square and Bedford Avenue every 16 minutes*, skipping 3rd Avenue and
• Between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway every 8 minutes*
Customers must transfer at Bedford Avenue to continue their trip.
*10 p.m. Sunday, February 1 to 5 a.m. Monday, trains run every 20 minutes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, N and Q trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street 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, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street in both directions due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, Q trains are extended to Ditmars Boulevard due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, February 2, 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.

Categories : Service Advisories
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If London can do it, why can’t New York?

A top this post sits a picture from London, England. Our brethren in the United Kingdom have long managed to figure out this whole bus tracking thing. They use a few technologies above ground to display arrival times for buses at street level (and below ground for the Tubes). When last I was in London, I found those boards to be notably accurate.

Alas, in New York, it is not meant to be for the MTA is yet again killing the bus tracking project. Somehow, someway, the MTA just can’t get it to work, and the cost of this failed project could be as high as $14 million. NY1’s Bobby Cuza has more:

It’s a project that was supposed to revolutionize bus travel, telling riders exactly how long until the next bus, and allowing them to see the exact location of buses in real time, whether on the Internet or on a handheld device.

But at a City Council oversight hearing Thursday, MTA officials said “forget about it” and have officially abandoned the project, to the disbelief of lawmakers. “It’s just incredible that in this day and age, we’re nowhere closer to being able to know where the buses are at any given point,” said Queens Councilman John Liu.

Under a contract awarded in 2005, tracking equipment was installed onboard 185 Manhattan buses. In August of 2007, screens began operating in test mode, but were turned off a few months later because the times were inaccurate. They’ve been dark ever since.

The MTA scrapped a similar project in 1996 because, Cuza reports, “satellite signals were lost in the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan — just one of many issues, the MTA says, that makes it difficult to predict arrival times.”

“It’s not just the urban canyons, but the schedules, the tight schedules, the headways, the traffic. The operating environment I think is the most challenging of any city’s,” said Sassan Davoodi, Co-Project Manager, NYC Transit.

Of course, it’s challenging. Of course, it may not be perfect. But as the MTA gears up to remove the trial boards from the already-outfitted stations, I have to wonder what went wrong. Why can’t Davoodi pick up the phone and call his counterpart at Transport for London? Why can’t the people in charge put two and two together to come up with a viable tracking plan for New York? GPS-based navigation works in the city; this should do.

John Liu, long a councilman I’ve regarded with a wary eye, summed it all up. “After nearly 20 years, there’s been zero progress,” he said. “And that’s pathetic.”

Categories : Buses, MTA Technology
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The dome has been saved! Long live the dome!

Rejoice, all ye Lower Manhattanites! The Dome of Fulton Street has been saved by stimulus cash heading the MTA’s way straight from Congress.

Finally, after an eternity of delays, hundreds of millions in cost overruns and 15 months of “we’ll decide next month,” the MTA can finally see a very faint glimmer of light at the end of the Fulton St. tunnel. To think, just three days ago, I was bemoaning the fact that this project will be well over half a decade late if it ever gets completed. It’s still going to wrap up late, but at least, there’s money for it again.

Anyway, joyous sarcasm aside, this is good news for the MTA. According to the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, New York’s transit authority stands to gain between $1.5-$2 billion from the stimulus, and $500 million of that will head to Fulton St. Nearly William Neuman has the story:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to spend $497 million in federal economic stimulus money to complete the stalled and over-budget Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan, the agency’s executive director said on Thursday. The money would bring the project’s cost to as much as $1.4 billion, nearly double what was estimated when it was conceived in the wake of the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

The additional financing would allow the authority to move ahead with plans to erect an architecturally dramatic glass building atop the transit hub, said Elliot G. Sander, the authority’s executive director. However, it was not clear if the final design would include the project’s signature feature, a conelike skylight, known as an oculus, that would channel daylight into the lower areas of the station. Mr. Sander said the oculus could add about $40 million to the cost.

“The pavilion has to be many things to many people,” Mr. Sander said, referring to the glass structure. “It has to be a building of vibrant design with as much new retail activity as possible.” He called it “a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.”

Originally, this project was slated for a completion date around now and a budget of $750 million. It will far exceed those expectations and not in a good way.

Meanwhile, we have to consider a few things — political and planning — to this announcement. First, Sander issued it while testifying before Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The Man who Killed Congestion Pricing again holds the keys to the MTA’s financial future. If he can shepherd a strong bailout plan through the Assembly, there’s hope yet. In return, Silver, long an ardent supporter of the Transit Hub at Fulton St., will finally get that hub. It’s a political tit for tat.

But on the other hand, I’m a little skeptical of this is a good use of stimulus money. While this money cannot go to operation budgets, couldn’t the MTA use $2 billion for the Second Ave. Subway? It is, after all, arguably a more important piece of the city’s future than a ritzy hub on Fulton St. Sure, they had to build something. Sure, they had to placate Silver. But that’s one expensive political bribe at the cost of better projects.

Either way, though, I can’t complain too much. This is an infusion of some much-needed cash to get a long-delayed project off the ground, and that’s good transit news.

Categories : Fulton Street
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