“How does this make sense?” That is the question Assembly Member Jim Brennan, the chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, asked when faced with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s smoke-and-mirrors approach to MTA funding during a recent hearing. His has hardly been the only incredulous voice throwing all levels of shade toward Cuomo’s proposal, and as we sit in Month 15 of a stand-off over funding for the MTA’s capital plans, planning for work to be performed under the current five-year program has slowed to a crawl.

The problem began back in October when Cuomo announced a funding agreement covering the MTA’s capital funding gap. Along with coercing the city to give $2.5 billion to the plan, Cuomo promised around $8 billion of additional state funding, but he was ambiguously vague about the source of the money. A noted motorist, Cuomo has never tried to use his political capital to push through any congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s tolling plan, and transit advocates and economists were concerned Cuomo would force the MTA to fund the capital plan through debt. The $8 billion, in other words, wasn’t really there at all, and the state would simply enable more MTA borrowing.

That is essentially what’s happened but worse. In his budget release [pdf], The state’s additional contributions beyond an initial grant of $1 billion would, as Cuomo noted, be available to the MTA only “after MTA capital resources planned for the capital program…have been exhausted,” and the state anticipated fulfilling its funding pledges for the 2015-2019 capital program by 2025-2026. For those keeping score at home, 2025 is supposed to be the launch year for the MTA’s second five-year program after the one currently under endless review.

With the measure also increasing the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion for capital expenditures from 1992-2019, it’s clear that the governor wasn’t too interested in ponying up the billions in a way that would prevent future pressure on the MTA’s operating costs in the form of ever-increasing debt service obligations. Thus, his October promise was anything but a promise and simply consisted of debt, debt, and more debt. The capital program, meanwhile, still hasn’t been approved, and the MTA can’t spend money on needed projects yet.

No one watching the watchers is too happy about Cuomo’s proposal. Brennan pushed MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast a few weeks ago on sources for the money, but Prendergast’s lack of concrete answers pushed the legislators toward pointed criticism. “At some point,” Brennan said, “it would be nice to see a proposal from this person who’s the elected leader of the state.”

Senator Marty Golden was similar skeptical. “I have no idea how we can actually do a capital program and actually approve a capital program with language that it’ll be there when you need it. Corporate America would laugh at this. Any country would be surprised with this type of approach in funding.”

Advocates have written pleading op-eds urging the Governor to right this wrong, and the New York City Independent Budget Office has thrown up some serious red flags as well [pdf]. In a report released late last week, the IBO warned that both the city and state are likely to delay their actual contributions until the MTA exhausts its borrowing capabilities and then delays repayment until 2025-2026. This, in turn, could affect access to federal funding, delay budgetary considerations until after the next rounds of state and city elections and jeopardize actual contributions to the 2020-2024 plan, if not that plan in its entirety (which, by the way, is when I would expect to see the bulk of Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway receiving funding).

The state and city have continued to push back on this narrative by claiming their budgetary contributions are “iron clad,” but it’s hard to take Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio as their words. They have hardly been transit boosters before, and the budgetary shenanigans are just another way to stick it to New York City’s transit riders without tackling the larger issues of mobility and capital funding. It’s the same old song and dance, and 15 months after the capital program was due to start, we are still no closer to a real solution.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (22)

The MTA is working to “fast-track” Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, the norther extension shown here in blue.

With Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway set to wrap later this year, in an ideal world, Phase 2 would be well under way now. The original proposal for the line contemplated a far more compressed construction schedule with work on multiple phases at the same time. There is no reason, for instance, other than money, why Phases 2 and 3 can’t begin concurrently. Yet, here we are, near the end of Phase 1, and the most exciting news is word that the MTA is going to follow through with its promises to “fast track” Phase 2.

The latest development came on Friday, but first let’s recap. When the MTA unveiled the 2015-2019 capital plan, the proposal included $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway with the promise that actual construction would begin toward the end of the five years. Then, late last year, thanks to delays in approval, the MTA chopped $1 billion from the SAS proposal, and New Yorkers were upset. The MTA later promised to accelerate Phase 2 if possible.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s five-year capital plan still remains unfunded thanks in large part to smoke-and-mirrors accounting on the part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (more on that issue later this week), but the MTA is forging ahead with Phase 2 acceleration efforts. On Friday, the agency released two procurement documents that will usher in design and engineering work for Phase 2 [pdf] as well as operations for a community center for Harlem segment of this new subway line [pdf]. Much of the work will involve refreshing the environmental impact statement and planning and finalizing design options for subsequent bids. It’s all fairly modest as work goes but a very necessary first step in moving forward.

In announcing this new work, the MTA reiterated its commitment to Phase 2 and projected awarding these contracts over the summer. “Our goal is to fast-track Phase 2 to every extent possible, and if these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, echoing comments he made earlier in the week in Albany. “With the opening of first phase of the Second Avenue Subway planned for the end of this year, we are taking steps to ensure a seamless transition to the next phase of work ahead.”

I’m glad to see the MTA’s commitment to this important section of the plan survive. The plan calls for new stations at East 106th and 116th Sts. and 2nd Ave. along with a curve west to a connection with the Lexington Ave. IRT at 125th St. and tail tracks to 129th St. that could one day serve the Bronx. It’s perhaps the most vital part of the Second Ave. Subway, but it’s still a long way off.

The MTA doesn’t, as I mentioned, have an approved capital plan yet, and the agency doesn’t have the money to spend on these awards yet. They’re also still the same agency that has trouble meeting deadlines and builds projects that are exponentially more expensive than similar work the world over. If this phase is going to cost $5.5-$6 billion, as MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu predicted in November, we have bigger problems to worry about than whether construction will begin in early 2019 or early 2020.

But either way, this project will lumber forward, and perhaps, we’ll have half of the Second Ave. Subway before the 100th anniversary of the original proposal to build a subway underneath that part of the East Side.

Comments (151)

As an administrative note, the system I’ve used for years to send out emails of new Second Ave. Sagas posts at around 7 a.m. Eastern time every morning stopped working about a week ago, and I can’t figure out why. It’s an old Google product that isn’t supported these days, and the time has come from me to migrate to something more reliable. I’ll tackle that project over the weekend, and everyone wondering where my emails have gone should see a familiar sight in their inbox on Monday morning. For those who don’t get the emails, I’ll provide a link when the new system is ready to go.

Meanwhile, the weekend service advisories…


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. 23 trains run local between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St.


From 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6, the last stop for some 1 trains headed towards Van Cortlandt Park-242 St is 137 St. To continue you trip, transfer at 137 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Downtown 1 trains run express from Van Cortlandt Park-242 St to 215 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 6, 2 service operates in two sections:

  • Between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and E 180 St, and via the 5 to/from Eastchester-Dyre Av
  • Between E 180 St and Wakefield-241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 6, E 180 St-bound 2 trains run express from Wakefield-241 St to E 180 St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, March 5 and Sunday March 6, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, March 5, and from 9:45 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to 9:30 a.m. Sunday, March 6, 5 Shuttle service is replaced by 2 trains between Eastchester-Dyre Ave and E 180 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.


From 5:45 a.m. to 12 Noon Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Mets-Willets Point.


From 12:01 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6, Flushing-Main St-bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to Mets-Willets Point.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 6, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Manhattan-bound A trains skip 104 St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to Sunday March 6, Brooklyn-bound C trains Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to Sunday March 6, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Norwood-205 St bound D trains skip 14 St and 23 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.

Categories : Service Advisories
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An American flag hangs over the half of the PATH Hub still closed to people. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An American flag hangs over the half of the PATH Hub still closed to people. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

I have a series of posts on a few topics that I have in the works, including an important one on the smoke and mirrors behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s phony pledge to support the MTA’s capital budget, another on the potential for a looming New Jersey Transit strike, a third on the faulty logic behind the latest effort to revive the F express in Brooklyn, and a fourth on the MTA’s victory in a First Amendment case over transit advertising. But — and you knew there was a “but” coming — I’ve been busy with work and fighting a cold all week. Instead, I’ll leave this list up as a reminder to myself to tackle them soon and a tease for you to come back next week.

So tonight, let me offer a few thoughts on the new World Trade Center PATH Transportation Hub/Oculus/Calatravesty/whatever you want to call it. After the part of the building opened on Thursday at 3 p.m., I swung by on the way home from work today. As it stands now, it’s quite a structure. It’s blindingly white, even at night, with long hallways, high ceilings, and a profound sense of emptiness. The columnless structure of the Oculus with its ribs reaching for the stars feels endlessly vast and cathedral-like. All of the people were who were milling about, either to take photos or get to their PATH train, were doing so in a hushed tone usually reserved for religious buildings.

The inside of the Oculus is an overpowering empty space. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

The inside of the Oculus is an overpowering empty space. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

As it stands now, half-finished and half-opened, it’s also noticeably vacant. The main hall, which isn’t so much a waiting room as it is a vast and expensive passageway, is ringed with what will eventually be storefronts, but the commercial space isn’t ready. It is nearly impossible to judge the building and its form and function until the mall opens because it is a mall first and a transit center second. Since the Downtown Hudson tubes, well over 100 years old, weren’t shifted eastward, the Oculus isn’t above the platforms but rather serves as the main attraction on an underground walk that will eventually span from Brookfield Plaza to the Fulton St. Transit Center. It’s not quite a train station; it’s not quite a subway stop; and it’s not quite a mall. But it’s more the third than the first two.

One element of the building stuck out at me, and it’s something I’m sure Santiago Calatrava must hate as well. As the silence fills the Oculus, the only sounds are the constantly repeating and far-too-loud instructions emanating from speakers in the numerous escalators that ring the structure. Stand forward; walk lively; don’t run; hold the handrail; keep children in your sight: don’t use the escalators for oversized luggage; and on and on and on and on through the night. I don’t know if these stem from fear of a negligence lawsuit or ADA requirements, but they could not be more disruptive or annoying to ethos of the building. If they’re not mandated message, turn them off. We all managed to use escalators just fine yesterday; we’ll do great without hand-holding announcements tomorrow.

At mezzanine level, the vacant commercial space looms above the Oculus' main floor. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

At mezzanine level, the vacant commercial space looms above the Oculus’ main floor. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Finally, there is still the matter of this structure as a train station, and so far, the early concerns about narrow staircases leading to platforms that cannot handle peak-hour crowds remain a glaringly obvious problem with something that was supposed to be a selling point. How did the Port Authority fail to construct enough staircases that also wide enough to handle people flow? Why did the train station elements of the building come last?

Needless to say, my thoughts don’t touch upon the leaks that have plagued parts of the building still not open to the public, the constant need to clean and buff the slippery floors, or the cost. That’s the $4 billion white marble and steel elephant in the room. But even though the building hasn’t yet fully grown into itself, I’d urge you to check it out. It is certainly a sight to see. Plus, you can take some fun selfies.

No trip to the PATH Hub is complete without an obligatory selfie.

No trip to the PATH Hub is complete without an obligatory selfie.

Categories : PANYNJ
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The public will get its first view of the Calatrava train station when the Port Authority opens its Oculus at 3 p.m. today. (Photo via @WTCProgress)

Later today, at around 3 p.m., some of the World Trade Center PATH Hub’s Oculus building will open to the public. It’s a $4 billion project that has been delayed for years, and its opening is almost a sigh of relief rather than a celebratory moment. What’s clear is that the Port Authority is overstating the building’s importance and using ridership figures from the soon-to-be connecting Fulton St. subway station to bolster the projections of the number of people who may pass through the Hub’s free passageways. What’s also clear is that I’ve used the Hub as a whipping boy, fairly or not, for the region’s inability to prioritize and spend properly.

Over the past few years, I’ve been accused of being unable to see the forest for the trees. As some commenters have stated, they feel I wouldn’t be happy unless we build utilitarian boxes a la grungy Penn Station and spend the billions on capacity and capacity alone. To defend myself, I don’t believe that’s true. We should be able to build great public spaces while also expanding transit capacity at the same time, but I don’t have a magic formula in mind. Can we spend $1 billion — an absurd amount by itself — on architecture to every $3 billion we spend on expansion? That seems reasonable, but for $4 billion, we’re getting great architecture with no expansion. That’s where I draw the line.

Today is essentially the last day for us to really take stock of the PATH Hub. Once it opens and becomes a part of the fabric of New York City rather than a construction site, we forget about the problems, the delays, the costs. Still, as future generations of New Yorkers look to expand our transportation footprint and even as a few miles up north, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares for a $3 billion overhaul of Penn Station that may or may not accompany an increase in capacity, we can draw lessons from the Calatrava Hub. As soon-to-depart PA head Patrick Foye has noted, with transit dollars so scarce, it’s important not to waste them.

I’m not going to link to every review, good or bad, that comes out about the PATH Hub over the next few days, and eventually, I’ll make my way over there to be dazzled by the blinding brightness of a $4 billion building made out of steel fabricated in Italy. I do think that Paul Goldberger’s review in Vanity Fair is worth the read, but a few paragraphs in particular stood out to me. Architecturally, Goldberger compares its impact to the Saarinen TWA terminal and writes of the space:

The Oculus…is the exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral. It is a room that soars; under a great arc of glass, Calatrava has put together curving ribs of steel to make a space that is uplifting, full of light and movement, and capable of inspiring something that has been in particularly short supply at Ground Zero, which is hope.

I’m not saying that to suggest that the Hub is a monument to the noblest ambitions of humankind. It is, after all, a train station bred to a shopping mall, and unlike Grand Central Terminal, where most of the shopping and restaurants are tucked into secondary spaces, at the World Trade Center the stores ring the monumental space. This place cost billions of dollars of public money, and it’s still a shrine to the commercial marketplace. I wish it were otherwise. But that doesn’t destroy the impact of the architecture, or negate the fact that this is the first time in a half a century that New York City has built a truly sumptuous interior space for the benefit of the public…

Back when the 9/11 memorial opened a few years ago, I recall Michael Bloomberg saying something to the effect that people only complain about cost and delays when a project is underway; that once it is done, if it is any good, they forget all of that and pay attention to the thing itself. The Transportation Hub and its Oculus will put the Bloomberg Doctrine to a test, but I suspect it will pass, and that a couple of years from now, we will be hearing not about what this thing cost or about how long it took to build, but about how much people like walking through it. I certainly hope so, since nothing would be worse than to have it provoke a backlash against spending money on infrastructure. At a time when this country spends far less on public works than it should, the Hub is a rare exception to the trend. Its best legacy would be to encourage us to take more chances, and to recognize that investing in the public realm isn’t throwing away money. It is investing in the future, a gift from our generation to the ones that follow.

I appreciate Goldberger’s words, and as I chewed them over throughout the day on Wednesday, I worried that we might forget the transportation element of this project. We certainly do need to spend on public works and integrate them into our transportation infrastructure. After all, a nicer train station is one that draws people to the services it offers, but at the same time, we cannot invest all of the public money in form over function. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that’s what happened at the World Trade Center site. Let’s build great public spaces without sacrificing all of the dollars to the need for beauty as without expansion we will go and grow nowhere.

Categories : PANYNJ
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Ads in a closed entrance along the G train illuminate just when the entrances closed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

For the past few years, as subway ridership has exploded, entrances that were closed during the bad old days have come under scrutiny. Neighborhood groups have called upon the MTA to reopen these entrances — many of which are along the suddenly popular G, J/M/Z and L lines — and I’ve looked at these entrances numerous times over the past few years (take a look at my posts from November and January of 2015 for recent coverage). Now, one tireless advocate wants to use the L train shutdown as the impetus to open these new entrances, and his is a plan the L Train Coalition and MTA should adopt.

Alan Minor, a board member with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a community group focusing on Williamsburg and Greenpoint, has long pushed the MTA reopen entrances. The closed access points, often long blocks away from main entrances, would shorten commutes and better distribute riders along crowded platforms. But for various reasons, the MTA has resisted these calls. Now Minor feels the looming L train shutdown would give the agency the perfect excuse to reopen these entrances.

DNA Info reported on Minor’s work earlier this week. Gwynne Hogan had more on the ten closed entrances and 27 shuttered staircases throughout the small pocket of Northern Brooklyn:

While advocates have been working with local politicians to push the MTA to reopen the defunct staircases and entrances for years citing surging ridership, news that L train service will be disrupted between Manhattan and Brooklyn for between 18 months and three years has given them a renewed sense of urgency, they said.

“This is an opportunity for MTA to do something now that will help out when the L train shut down happens,” said Alan Minor… “More people will be taking the J, M, Z. More people will be taking the G. These lines have just a shockingly high number of closed entrances and staircases.”

…Take the Metropolitan and Lorimer G and L stop, a transfer station that could see a huge bump in riders switching to the G train if the L doesn’t run into Manhattan. That Williamsburg station has six closed staircases and one closed entrance, according to the MTA. On either side of Union Avenue where Hope and Powers streets intersect it, there are two yellow grates emblazoned with the words “Subway Keep Clear.” On the corner of Grand Street and Union Avenue, there’s another metallic grate with the same words, and across Union from that, Minor suspects, is one staircase that’s been sealed with concrete.

In response to the article, the MTA reiterated its noncommittal position on closed entrances. “As part of our efforts to accommodate growing ridership, we are studying and evaluating closed access points throughout the subway system and we’re looking at every idea for how to provide alternate service to L customers during any potential shutdown,” the agency said in a statement to DNA Info.

As I understand there are two major barriers to reopening these entrances. First, as I’ve explored in the past, the MTA is worried that ADA requirements trigger full accessibility if these entrances are opened, and the agency cannot afford full accessibility build-outs for these stations. Whether any group with standing is capitalized enough right now to take the MTA to court over ADA violations remains an open question, but with the government breathing down the MTA’s neck, the agency may be hesitant to so blatantly flaunt ADA requirements.

Second, from what I’ve been told, the MTA may not have enough equipment on hand to reopen entrances that have been closed for a long time. Due to the opening of the 7 line extension and the impending-ish debut of the Second Ave. Subway, all MetroCard turnstiles are spoken for, and the agency doesn’t have a bunch of HEETs in a closet somewhere. Consider the institutional desire to move beyond the MetroCard and not spend much money on an obsolete technology, the MTA doesn’t want to open entrances closed before the advent of the MetroCard without fare payment equipment on hand, and they don’t want to pony up big bucks for turnstile technology with a five-year expected life span. So these entrances remain in limbo.

While the L train coalition has busied itself with pie-in-the-sky proposals for a new East River subway tunnel, this is the kind of improvement the group should be focusing on. If the MTA can help disperse some customers, making up for the lost capacity of the L train tunnel gets incrementally easier. It’s a baby step but a step nonetheless, and it will take many steps to overcome the dreaded L train shutdown.

Categories : Brooklyn
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Some Staten Islanders hope to bring light rail to the borough via the West Shore ROW. (Source: SIEDC)

When Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Brooklyn-Queens light rail proposal earlier this month, various commentators latched onto the selection of the route. It may not necessarily be a bad routing for a light rail line, but as the city’s first and as the city’s transit deserts go, the waterfront from Sunset Park to Astoria is hardly the most wanting corridor. The proposal came about more because it had deep-pocketed champions willing to fight for it. Whether that’s reason enough to build a new transit route with a new-to-New York transit mode has been a topic of constant debate over the past few weeks, but one thing is for sure: Other transit-starved areas aren’t too happy with this approach.

Enter the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation. For years, the SIEDC has been shouting into the void of New York politics. For years, the group has been urging someone in power to take up their calls for a West Shore light rail line. The group has asked for $5 million to perform the alternatives analysis for a proposed 13.1-mile route that could connect to North Shore transit corridor and over the Bayonne Bridge to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line. As now, it’s nothing more than a line on paper, and the group is growing frustrated.

They are so frustrated, in fact, that they are threatening to give up. I’m not sure who this threat is directed toward other than the few people at the SIEDC who keep fighting this good fight, but they’re going to give up if no one continues to listen to them. The group sent a letter to a bunch of city officials involved in the Brooklyn-Queens Connector initiative, and as you can see from the excerpts, they are not a happy group right now. Anna Sanders of the Staten Island Advance put together some of the letter:

“A decade of struggle in a world where state and city agencies and transportation groups don’t care about a population center of nearly half a million is just too much to bear,” board directors Ralph Branca, Stanley Friedman and Robert Moore recently wrote to a slew of transportation officials and regional planning organizations…

“Our disappointment is not in the fact that Brooklyn is getting a light rail and that Staten Island is not even getting study money. It’s that all of the excuses used by City, State and Federal agencies and authorities to shoot down the West Shore Light Rail were ignored when proposing the Brooklyn system…”

“We have heard for years that there was ‘No money to fund the West Shore Light Rail.’ Obviously, someone in City Hall found a creative way to make it happen. We have been told that ‘The route is too long, maybe you should phase it in.’ The Brooklyn proposal is the exact same distance as the West Shore Light Rail. We have been instructed time and time again that ‘No agency wants to sponsor, nor do they understand how to build light rail.’ Well, someone must be interested and have the knowledge … when Brooklyn and Queens ask for it.”

Oddly, the letter ends with a threat to abandoned the light rail efforts if no money materializes by the end of September, but that threat hurts only the people who are advocating for a West Shore light rail alternative in the first place. SI politicians who have expressed similar frustration haven’t thrown quite the same temper tantrum. Meanwhile, the Staten Island Advance, while also questioning the SIEDC’s threat, wrote a long editorial accusing the city of double standards and inequity. They’re not wrong, and the piece is well worth a read.

But ultimately, this issue is basic politics. First, Staten Island isn’t exactly a de Blasio stronghold, and certain borough politicians have spent as much time obstructing transit improvements (such as Select Bus Service) as others have spent fighting for more options. Additionally, a light rail line through Staten Island should spur a massive upzoning along its route, and that’s not really part of the conversation Staten Island has had yet. Finally, the reality is that there are no interests behind the a West Shore light rail line. Major players in New York’s development and transportation scene haven’t voiced support, and so it goes nowhere.

Rather than being discouraged by the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, the SIEDC should look to emulate that model and line up monied interests who would support a Staten Island light rail. That’s the political reality of New York’s transportation world where the MTA is controlled by Albany and the mayor isn’t an independently wealthy billionaire beholden only to the limit of his own bank accounts. Again, whether that’s a sound way to engage in transportation planning is a question open debate (and one where the answer is most likely a resounding no), but that’s where we are. Rather than threatening to give up, double down.

Categories : Staten Island
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A quiet Friday around here, and a sick day for me. Here are your weekend service changes.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, February 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 28, 2 service operates in two sections:

  • Between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and E 180 St, and via the 5 to/from Eastchester-Dyre Av
  • Between E 180 St and Wakefield-241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, February 27 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 28, E 180 St-bound 2 trains run express from Wakefield-241 St to E 180 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, February 27 and Sunday February 28, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 3:45 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday, February 27, and from 11:00 p.m. Saturday, February 27 to 8:00 a.m. Sunday, February 28, 5 Shuttle service is replaced by 2 trains between Eastchester-Dyre Ave and E 180 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.


From 5:45 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, February 27, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza.


From 3:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, February 28, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to 74 St-Broadway.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, February 28, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, February 28 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, Manhattan-bound A trains skip 104 St.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February, 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, Norwood-205 St bound D trains skip 14 St and 23 St.


From Saturday, February, 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February, 27 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 29, L trains are suspended in both directions between Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wycoff Avs. Take free express and local shuttle buses and AC or J trains.

  • Free local shuttle buses provide alternate service between Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, stopping at East 105 St, New Lots Av, Livonia Av, Sutter Av, Atlantic Av, Broadway Junction, Bushwick Av-Aberdeen St, Wilson Av, and Halsey St.
  • Free express shuttle buses serve Rockaway Pkwy, Broadway Junction, and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs only, days and evenings.
Categories : Service Advisories
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Had the IND Second System become a reality with a Houston St/South 4th St. tunnel, the L train shutdown would be far more palatable. Click here for a full view of the plans.

It’s hard to escape the pull of the L train these days. Brooklyn residents from Williamsburg to Canarsie are very worried about the looming threat of a shutdown of the Canarsie Tubes due to Hurricane Sandy repair work. The L has become extremely crowded, and the route is one of the few in the city without much redundancy. The real estate market is sinking; business are worried; and a potential multi-year shutdown looms.

On Thursday, the MTA pushed off this work for a few years. While speaking to New York State Senate and Assembly representatives, agency CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said the L train repairs would be last, and work won’t start until 2018 at the earliest, nearly six years after the storm surge swept through the tunnel. For now, the temporary repairs will have to hold, and everyone will hold their collective breaths waiting for that next signal malfunction or broken rail.

Meanwhile, the L Train Coalition met this week, and they still seem to grasping at straws. As Gothamist’s Miranda Katz reported, in the follow-up to the meeting where they ejected the lone MTA representative, these activists are now demanding a third L train tunnel be built before repair work starts. Here’s how Katz reported it:

The biggest question posed by the dozens of anxious community members in attendance: why isn’t the MTA seriously considering the possibility of building a third tunnel running between Brooklyn and Manhattan before starting repairs to the damaged two?

According to Minna Elias, New York Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, this question did come up at the February 5th meeting between elected officials and the MTA, but was deemed unrealistic because it would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $4.5 billion and take longer than the projected timeline for repairs to the existing tubes, which could take between 18 months and 7 years, depending on how much the MTA limits service to get the job done.

“That obviously is the alternative that would cause the least disruption,” Elias said. “They tell us they are concerned that before they would complete such a project and get the money to complete such a project the problems would get worse—they’re concerned about safety is their answer to us. I can tell you that getting the funding to build a new tube would be an extremely heavy lift.”

It’s easy to dismiss this idea, as I did when I first heard about it, but the L Train Coalition, a group that isn’t nearly as plugged into transit as some advocates in the city, hit upon the problem from the get-go. “I don’t think we should just accept the idea that a third tunnel is not possible,” Del Teague, a community activist, said. “I’m concerned that they don’t want to deal with that because they’re afraid they’re going to lose this Hurricane Sandy money. So how come they can’t put pressure on the Feds to let them hold onto it, build a third tunnel, let the third tunnel get built, and then work on the other stuff without losing the Hurricane Sandy money? I know it’s all a big bureaucracy, but things can be done if the government feels that people are going to revolt strongly enough.”

Many at the meeting, according to Katz, asked why other cities around the globe could build a tunnel at a fraction of the cost cited by the MTA. Elias’ response: “New York is unique.” That’s right; we are a special corrupt butterfly where everything we build has to be the Most Expensive Thing ever.

If we take two steps back and set aside the immediate reaction to the idea of a third tunnel — that it would take years to conduct an environmental study, line up enough funding and complete construction and that it would take billions of dollars the MTA doesn’t have — it seems like a common-sense solution. If you have to take a road out of service, you put in a bypass. Thus, if you have to take a tunnel out of service, build a new one first.

In an ideal world, the MTA would be able to build efficiently and quickly such that a new tunnel isn’t a crazy idea, and in fact, in the annals of NYC transit history, another East River crossing near Williamsburg was one part of the grand Second System plan. I wrote extensively of this idea when the Underbelly Project revealed the South 4th St. station to the world. Essentially, the tunnel would be an eastward extension of the middle tracks at the F train’s 2nd Ave. stop to Williamsburg via that old South 4th St. shell, through Bushwick and Bed-Stuy and then down Utica Ave. to Marine Park. It’s a 15 kilometer tunnel that, even at current NYC rates would likely cost $15-$20 billion to construct, if not more. It would be a truly transformative project for a wide swath of Brooklyn and one that could help support an eventual L train closure.

Of course, that’s fantasyland, and here we are, back in reality. The MTA hasn’t put the wheels in motion to build a new tunnel in the 40 months since Sandy, and they’re not about to start. We don’t know why everything costs so much, but I’m comforted that more and more New Yorkers are starting to take notice. Another tunnel, as silly as it may sound, shouldn’t be impossible, but it’s a costly proposition that isn’t a priority. Thus, we’re left with an L train shutdown a few years away but inching closer. The MTA and Daniel Squadron committed to a public planning process to address the effects of a shutdown, but don’t hold your breath for that new East River tunnel. You can blame history for that one.

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Allow me to pose a question to you that is particularly fitting in light of yesterday’s post on the institutional challenges plaguing our subway system. What would you, dear reader, most like to see improved about the subways? In fact, for reasons that will soon become clear, let’s do it as a poll, and consider voting now rather than after reading this post.

What would you most like to see improved about the subways?
View Results

To me, where I sit in year 10 of maintaining this website, these choices are a haphazard collection of problems that do and do not plague the MTA. They come from the latest NY1/Baruch poll that was released earlier this week, and while I suspect my readers will come to a different conclusion, a plurality of New Yorkers, by more than a few percentage points, claimed that the number one thing they must want to see improved about the subway is more transit police. In a subsequent question, only 41 percent of New Yorkers say they feel somewhat or very safe riding the subway at night compared with 51 percent who claim they feel not so safe or not safe at all.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around these results all day. Although there has been a slight uptick in subway crime in early 2016 compared with the same period in 2015, the crime stats are well below levels set in 2010-2014, and as recently as twenty years ago, the crime rates were three or four times higher than they are today. Even as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton expresses surprise at subway crowds and fearmongers over crime, the perception remains — whether due to an increased presence of homeless denizens or lingering fears from people over 65 who remember the Bad Old Days and feel the least safe — that the subways are dangerous.

What needs to be improved about the subways. The results are surprising. (Click to enlarge)

I don’t view crime as the challenge the MTA faces in providing sufficient service for its 5.65 million riders per day, and yet, my top two choices — subways to more places and trains that are less crowded — both finished below something as superficial as cleaner stations. Every day New Yorkers — those who ride the subways because they have to rather than those of us who see it as the way to grow New York City — seem to want more of what they can see and have trouble conceptualizing a subway system the way it could be. (Perhaps that’s part of the psychology behind why Gothamist’s recent post on fantasy subway lines captivated its readers to such a high degree.)

For New York City to grow and remain competitive on the global market, for our streets to become less congested and for mobility to improve, the subway should go more places, and trains, due to increased service, should be less crowded. Of the choices from the NY1/Baruch poll, those are the two things I’d most like to see improved about the subways, and from them flow a host of different issues including the MTA’s inability to spend inefficiently and build quickly, its resistance to international rolling stock design standards, its slow pace of technological advancement, and the intractable labor issues that stand in the way of money-saving train operations improvements. These are the Inside Baseball problems that someone who hates the subways but rides them because they’re cheap, quick and better than driving through New York City congestion doesn’t care to understand.

How can we, as those who support robust investment in transit and desire an MTA that can build on par with London and Paris, let alone other cities spending more efficiently and building farther more quickly, bridge that gap? The NY1/Baruch poll features another dismaying result that shows just how far those fighting for transit have to go because it betrays that New Yorkers do not know who is actually in charge of the transit network. Take a peek at the results.

Who do New Yorkers think has power over the subways? Not the person who actually does. (Click to enlarge.)

You’ll see that 47% of New Yorkers think the mayor has more control over the subways while just 39% pinpoint the governor as the man in charge. Perhaps the results make intuitive sense, but the MTA has so isolated Albany from any responsibility that no one really knows who’s in charge. And if no one knows who is charge, as we saw from Governor Cuomo last year, no one has to act as though they’re in charge. Thus, we have New Yorkers who want more transit cops instead of better service, and a political body that doesn’t really have to do much of anything about any of it. And in related news, the MTA’s 2015-2019 five-year capital plan still hasn’t been approved by Albany, but is it really any wonder why not?

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