Signs Transit used in 2012 explain the reasoning behind the receptacle-free pilot program.

The long-running joke about the MTA’s pilot programs is that they never end; they just fade away. Over the years, the MTA has announced a few high-profile pilot programs — a contact-less fare payment system, strip maps in certain stations to aid in navigation — that seem to simply die from lack of attention. Just take a look through these Google searches for some indication of the reasonably good ideas the agency has pushed through the pilot phase only to see fall be the wayside when agency leadership changes.

One of the few pilot programs with legs — and one that survived the end of the Jay Walder Era — concerns trash cans. This program — which is still in the pilot phase after nearly four years — involves reducing trash the MTA has to collect by simply removing trash cans. If there’s nowhere to deposit trash, the theory goes, the vast majority of people will simply take the trash with them until they pass a trash can. Now, some people are bound to litter whether there’s a trash can nearby or not, but the MTA and other international transit agencies have determined that the vast majority of people won’t discard garbage without a can around. It’s an idea that many struggle with but one that’s proven successful.

The MTA first announced this program back in October of 2011, and I was a bit skeptical as I believed the key to eliminating trash was to ban food. But as time passed, the program seemed to work. Coverage in February of 2012 indicated that the agency had less trash to collect and clean from stations without trash cans, and in May of that year, they announced a program expansion. In August 2012, they added eight more stations, and 29 addition stops saw their garbage cans disappear in early 2014.

Now, touting the program’s success, the MTA is going to not expand it but simply continue it for another 6-12 months to study its effect. It’s not clear why so many years of data isn’t enough to merit expansion, but the MTA wants to continue to analyze the program. “This pilot appears counterintuitive but when we placed notices at the pilot stations indicating that the cans had been removed and asked the customers for their cooperation, it looks like they listened,” New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco said. “Given these results, we’ll continue the pilot and monitor and collect additional data at stations.”

In announcing the continuation of what has become the MTA’s most active pilot program, the agency noted that garbage collection is down significantly at the 39 stations under review. The early stations have seen bag collection drop by two-thirds while the stations that saw cans removed just last year have undergone a 36% reduction in trash. Meanwhile, overall trash volumes and, more importantly, rat population at stations without trash cans have declined.

“The reduction in trash in these stations reduced the number of bags to be stored and, consequently, improved the customer experience by reducing the potential bags visible to customers as well as the potential food available to rodents,” Senior Vice President of Subways Joseph Leader said. “Additionally, the significant reduction in trash reduced the need for trash pickups in the pilot stations, which freed up personnel for deployment to other stations.”

It’s not entirely clear where Transit goes from here. They still have another 429 stations with trash cans that could be added to this pilot, and they seem hesitant to include any of the popular stations. Flushing-Main St. on the 7 and 8th St.-NYU on the R remain the two most crowded stations without trash cans, and anecdotally, I’ve certainly not noticed a decrease in cleanliness at either stop.

Ultimately, the MTA can’t eliminate all litter without overly aggressive enforcement, but it seems that removing trash cans can cut down on the garbage the agency has to remove to street level from an above- or underground subway system. So why not keep expanding? After a while, pilot programs have to move into the realm of permanence, and this one seems a good candidate for rapid expansion. After all, it’s been nearly four years.

Comments (36)
Gov. Cuomo announced a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point and the Grand Central Parkway.

Placating NIMBYs no longer in power is the only reason to send a LaGuardia AirTrain to Willets Point.

Amongst certain corners of the Internet, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s LaGuardia Airport replacement plan is generating some mix of trepidation and excitement. Writing in New York Magazine, Justin Davidson called the plan flawed and vital, though he highlighted more of the former and not enough of the latter to make a convincing case, and other New York voices have generally praised the Governor’s plan for addressing the perceived problems with the airport. Still, one part of the plan — the Willets Point AirTrain — shouldn’t get a pass.

When word of Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain first came out earlier this year, I was very skeptical of the plan. As Yonah Freemark wrote at the time, sending an AirTrain from LaGuardia away from Manhattan to the 7 train and LIRR at Willets Point is likely worse than the no-build option, and transit bloggers aren’t the only ones concerned with a plan that adds travel time to likely destinations from the airport.

Late last week, Jimmy Van Bramer, a City Council representative from Queens, expressed his own concerns with the plan. “Any proposal that adds passengers to the 7 line should take into consideration the maximum capacity at which ridership is currently at,” he said to the Daily News. Van Bramer is thinking about transit issues while Cuomo’s people, as one spokesperson said, is singular focused on how it “makes absolutely no sense” that LaGuardia isn’t rail-accessible. That said, bad rail connections are worse than no rail connections.

Since New York City and New York State have one chance to get this project right, it’s important to hash out these issues, and it seems as though Cuomo is taking the path of least political resistance. He seems to think that the idea of rail is better than no rail even if the routing is terrible, and he isn’t willing to wage a political fight. He’s also wrong.

The best routing for direct rail access to LaGuardia Airport likely involves the N train, and the plan isn’t a novel one. Over the nine years I’ve run this site, I’ve frequently returned to the idea of an N train to LaGuardia. As I detailed in 2010, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani had hoped to build a subway to LaGuardia in the late 1990s, but he gave up that dream once Queens NIMBYs reared their hands. I recently revisited that story in 2014, and today, it seems like ancient history. Old-school political forces in Queens battled perceptions of a disruptive subway construction project, and yet again, the rest of New York lost at the hands of a bunch of people protecting their own self-interests.

It’s been nearly 15 years since that N train plan died, and it’s time to try again. In a post written shortly after mine last year, Cap’n Transit explained why the time is ripe to revisit an Astoria extension, and his reasoning applies today as we discuss LaGuardia’s future.

The train was indeed shelved due to community opposition, as everyone reminds us, but what they fail to note is that the “community leaders” are all gone. Read through the list of politicians who came out against the plan. Denis Butler and Walter McCaffrey are dead. Peter Vallone, Senior is retired, and so is George Onorato, and Vallone Junior has been term-limited out. John Sabini was hustled off to the Racing Authority after a DUI conviction in 2007.

Not only are these windshield-perspective politicians gone, but their replacements are much less wedded to the idea that cars are the future. Senator Michael Gianaris and his protégée Assemblymember Aravella Simotas are disappointing in some ways, but they’ve kept their car activism pretty low-key, as has Senator José Peralta. City Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Costa Constantinides are both progressive on transit issues… More importantly, the voters and donors in that area care more about trains than parking today.

Another baffling element of the 1990s opposition to the extension was that it seemed like the objections could all have been overcome with some thought, but the “community leaders” weren’t interested. The line could have been run entirely over the Grand Central “Parkway,” or put underground as far south as Astoria Boulevard. A solid proposal that addresses those objections, especially if it has the backing of business leaders like the Global Gateway Alliance, should be able to win over Gianaris, Simotas and Constantinides, and eventually the rest of Astoria. It’s not 1999, people, and we shouldn’t be acting like it is.

Cap’n Transit penned those words 15 months ago, and they are equally applicable today. It’s time to revive the idea of an N train extension to LaGuardia. If we’re going to spend $400-$800 million on an AirTrain that will lead to more problems than it solves, our leaders owe it to us and future generations of New Yorkers to fight for the right solution. The NIMBYs aren’t in power; let’s not pretend they are. The N train should go to LaGuardia, not an AirTrain to the 7 train and Willets Point.

Categories : Queens
Comments (176)

Step Aside Speed Your Ride. The latest in Transit's crowd-control efforts on display along the 6 line.

A photo posted by Second Ave. Sagas (@secondavesagas) on

Thanks to a move north for my lawyerly career, my daily commute now takes me through the 51st St. station along the 6, and on the way home on Monday, I caught my first glimpse of the MTA’s latest pilot program. In a public awareness campaign that echoes back to the mid-1990s, Transit is testing two platform designs reminding passengers to get out of the way of those exiting trains. It’s a common courtesy that shouldn’t need to be repeated, but it’s also one that often escapes subway riders who rush to board crowded trains as soon as the doors open.

The two designs employ the familiar green characters from the MTA’s ongoing “Courtesy Counts” campaign and remind riders to “Step Aside” to “Speed Your Ride.” The idea behind the message rests in the MTA’s capacity constraints. The agency has recently reported that a recent jump in delays is due nearly entirely to crowds. As more people try to cram into subway cars, trains aren’t able to speedily move through stations. Thus, the MTA wants to streamline the border process, and in addition to this decal, the agency is trying to use customer service agents to herd passengers.

The design I saw is unique to 51st St. for now, and the pilot in place at one stop north at 59th St. looks slightly different. Consider it A/B testing for Transit:

As my Instagram photo atop this post shows, the installation also comes with signs hanging at around eye level on the platform support beams. I’ve had a chance to see it in action for only one train, and while one passenger was, at first, standing in the middle of the “Keep Clear” area, he moved over once the downtown 6 train arrived.

For the MTA, this slogan is not a new one. They employed it in 1996 to decidedly mixed results. A New York Times column expressed skepticism while a short AP story from early 1997 illustrated how nearly all riders simply ignored it. But times have changed, and the MTA is hoping this pilot will yield some improvements. Whether it survives the pilot stage — unlike those handy strip maps — remains to be seen. For now, though, it is apparently the best the MTA can do to help improve crush-load subway operations without an infusion of dollars in the billions. What that says about our hopes for an easy commute is something we best not dwell upon.

Comments (33)

Is this waterfront street car a ‘cool idea’ or the G train but worse? (Via Next New York)

For years, a certain faction of New York City transit advocates and aficionados have agitated for a Brooklyn and/or Queens waterfront streetcar. For a long time, the Brooklyn Historical Railway Association agitated, and nearly secured a city commitment, for a Red Hook-based revival of a Brooklyn streetcar line, and lately, a waterfront streetcar/light rail line has been fetishized by urban design experts and newspaper columnists alike. I have never much warmed up to the idea.

And yet, it won’t die. As we learned on Friday, a new conglomerate of — transit advocates? people who want newspaper headlines? — has proposed studying a Brooklyn waterfront streetcar. Sally Goldenberg and Dana Rubinstein broke the story, and it’s a gem. As you will not surprised to hear in New York City 2015, it’s an idea spurred on by developers rather than people with actual transit knowledge, and the basis for the support is because it sounds cool.

If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. Here’s what David Lombino, the Director of Special Projects at Two Trees had to say: “It’s a cool idea. We’re a supporter. Could be transformative for Brooklyn and Queens someday. We’ll see.”

It’s a cool idea. Now that’s a great basis for transit development, especially for a project that would require the upfront investment that a new-to-New York transit mode such as a streetcar would present. The Capital New York reporters had more:

While the waterfront has decent subway connections to Manhattan, the paucity of north-west transportation connecting Astoria to, say, Red Hook, has long been a source of frustration. The G train alone just doesn’t cut it. And so an advisory committee of some of the city’s more prominent developers, transportation experts and community organizers has taken shape in an effort to find a remedy. Together, they’ve commissioned HR&A Advisors (planning commissioner Carl Weisbrod’s former employer) to study the economic impact of a streetcar or lightrail connecting Brooklyn’s Sunset Park to Astoria, Queens. The route could include hot housing markets like Red Hook, Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn, as well as areas where commercial outfits and offices are setting up shop, such as Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

…The committee includes Regional Plan Association president Tom Wright, traffic engineer [Gridlock] Sam Schwartz, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Tucker Reed, Industry City executive Andrew Kimball, urban planner Alex Garvin, Fifth Avenue Committee executive director and City Planning Commission member Michelle de la Uz and Red Hook Initiative founder Jill Eisenhard. Schwartz will conduct the feasibility study.

“I’m interested in seeing how the research comes out,” Wright said. “There’s the possibility of both connecting to other existing transit services—bus, rail and ferry—and complementing other proposals.”

The project’s advocates have no idea what the final recommendations will reveal, but already their claims are a mass of contradictions. They seem to feel that Industry City, with nearby subway service from the N, R and D trains, is isolated while they don’t know who would run — or more importantly fund — light rail. “One of the attractive alternatives is this wouldn’t necessarily be run and operated by the MTA, but that it’s open for a concession operation, which would probably be a good thing,” RPA President Tom Wright said.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this. Besides my belief that “it’s a cool idea” is never the basis for transit investment, I’m highly skeptical of modes of transit that aren’t operated by — or at least integrated into — the MTA network. Setting aside the fact that we don’t know who feels that subways that are 7 stops from Times Square aren’t sufficient for service to Industry City or how many people would actually need to go from Astoria to Red Hook or Long Island City to Industry City on a daily basis, it raises a red flag any time we introduce a second fare into the travel equation from areas that aren’t really that transit-starved in the first place.

Based upon current transit operations, our goals should be to improve current options. The B61, for instance, is painfully slow through Red Hook to its subway connections on either side, and it serves low-income workers who have few other options. Without figuring out a way to upgrade these transit services while introducing a “cool” waterfront streetcar because it fits with developers’ real estate ambitions would raise serious concerns about transit access and investment. If this sounds like a class issue, well, that’s because it is.

This isn’t to say that inter-borough connections aren’t sufficient. They suffer from the same historical problems that plague the subway and bus systems. But if advocates are lining up behind a waterfront study because everyone is only know just realizing that it might be an 8-10 minute walk from Two Trees’ Domino Sugar Factory development to the J/M train or an overcrowded L, well, I worry about what that means for better transit access for the rest of New York City. Let’s get it right because access matters for everyone and not because the company sinking money into areas with good views but long walks to the subway thinks it’s a “cool idea.”

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
Comments (67)

Start your weekend off right with more me. I’m going to be NY1’s “On Transit” tonight at 8:45. Transit reporter Jose Martinez chatted for five minutes about all sorts of topics, including MTA financing. Since we filmed last week, we couldn’t touch on this week’s developments. 

So before I jump into the service changes, allow me to round up some worthy follow ups to my coverage this week. It’s been a busy week for big stories, and various other transit sites and news outlets have pieces that are well worth your read.

LaGuardia Airport Overhaul

In my take on the LaGuardia Airport story, I was skeptical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s transit intentions, wary of the overall plan and disappointed in the AirTrain routing via Willets Point. Cuomo seemed to peg the overhaul at around $4 billion and expected most of it to be completed by 2019 or 2020. Since then, it’s gotten worse as Crain’s reported that the price tag is likely to be $8 billion with a timeline of 10 years. Even by New York standards, doubling a project’s cost and completion date in one day is impressive. Meanwhile, Cap’n Transit, in a piece well worth your time, explains why LaGuardia isn’t a third world airport.

Requiem for the MTA

With MTA Chair Tom Prendergast shooting down congestion pricing, Cuomo claiming the MTA isn’t a state agency and Mayor Bill de Blasio making all sorts of noises he may not want to see through, I eulogized the MTA yesterday. I have a whole bunch of follow ups:

As I mentioned on Twitter recently, every day brings with it another dismaying development for those fighting for sane transit funding schemes and better quality of life on New York’s streets.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the weekend diversions. The full list after the jump. Read More→

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (6)

It’s a bit of a simplification and injustice to a complicated time in New York history to say that the MTA’s founding in 1968 was driven by politics. It was, as students of the Empire State’s past know, part of a ploy to dump Robert Moses from his position of power atop the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The real decision to remove the subways, its funding and fares from the purview of electoral politics really came in the mid-1950s with the founding of the New York City Transit Authority. But that’s neither here nor there as we come today not to praise the MTA but to bury it.

The New York City Transit Authority began in 1953 as a public benefit corporation of the State of New York, and the MTA died in late July of 2015. It’s exact time of death is hard to pinpoint, but it came at around noon on Wednesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo determined that the MTA wasn’t a state agency and noted, as a symptom or a cause or even just a non-sequitur, that the apparently now former-agency headquarters aren’t in Albany.

I may or may not be employing a fair bit of hyperbole to make a point, but either way, it’s worth delving into how exactly we got here. The latest round of capital funding politicking came this week. After Cuomo vowed state funding to cover the MTA’s $9 billion capital gap so long as the city ponies up more money too, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast penned a letter to the mayor’s office asking for money. He defended what he feels is a modest request:

As to the assertion that the State runs the MTA and the City’s representation is not adequate, I should note that of the 17 voting members of the MTA Board, four are designated by the Mayor and six by the Governor. When the City faced its financial crisis and lacked the resources to restore a crumbling system, the MTA brought it back from the brink of collapse, restoring ridership and rebuilding it into one of the best and most extensive public transit systems in the world. And while the City fiscal crisis that necessitated the State provide the majority of the MTA’s public funding has long passed, we have never recalculated the responsibility for financing an authority that principally serves the city. Today, the City has greater surplus funds than the State.

We are also concerned that the public might be misled by the suggestion that New York City government is already paying more significantly toward MTA operating costs or that the need for recurring capital investment on a large scale is, as First Deputy Mayor Shorris suggested, “a reflection of the failure of the MTA governance model.” MTA revenues from New York City residents who use the system are substantial for the obvious reason that use of MTA services is profoundly greater in NYC than in other parts of the MTA service area. To illustrate, trips on NYC Transit, Staten Island Railway and MTA Bus services average 300 trips per resident per year. For the commuter railroads, the intensity of use is less than one-tenth that…just 29 trips per resident on average…

The direct City aid to the MTA’s operating costs in 2015 is $1.88 billion, or 27%. State subsidies will total $4.73 billion or 69%. It is my view that the MTA, an independent authority created by the State and operating with a governance structure that has seen minimal change since its origins in the late 1960s, has well served both the City of New York and the MTA region. In other words, we believe that the MTA governance model and New York City’s representation in MTA decisions have over the decades worked very much to the City’s benefit.

Unfortunately, Prendergast’s letter [pdf] ended on a down note concerning potential revenue sources. “Finally,” he said, “I have read that the City may pursue funding strategies that were not politically feasible in the past and are not likely politically feasible now. Pursuing these strategies would likely cause further delay and leave the MTA exactly where we are today one year from now.” So basically Prendergast wants more money from the city but doesn’t want that money to come out of sustainable transportation policies involving a traffic pricing plan. Alas.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has responded with something of a shrug, noting that the city has already commited more money this year and that he wants to know where the state money will come from before committing city resources. He has also hinted, through spokespeople and subordinates, that he feels the MTA is a state agency and that the city doesn’t have the responsibility without control. If that’s not a direct challenge to the 60-year political and economic structure of the New York City Transit Authority, I don’t know what is.

So then, is the MTA dead? Andrew Cuomo has essentially disavowed it as a state agency at the same time Bill de Blasio notes that the New York City subways aren’t New York City’s responsibility while the MTA’s head has to go begging to politicians via publicly released letters to fund the whole damn thing. It would seem then that the MTA is an orphan with no adults taking responsibility. It’s dead.

Or is it? The MTA was created to insulate subway fare policies from the electorate. The Board of Estimates would never win reelection if it kept approving subway fare hikes, but the subways were collapsing due to a lack of revenue from decades of fares that weren’t targeted to inflation. By creating a public benefit corporation, the state ensured that elected politicians never had to approve a fare hike and that the public could direct its ire on rising prices and declining service at appointees and bureaucrats rather than elected representatives.

So maybe I’m wrong. The MTA hasn’t died. Rather in 2015, the MTA has become the perfect embodiment of its founders’ dreams. No one has to take any responsibility for transit funding schemes and the trains will, more or less, still run somewhat on time. Cuomo and de Blasio may both win while the millions of New Yorkers who rely on the MTA’s various railroads for their daily commutes will all collectively lose.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (84)

Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, has urged New York and New Jersey officials to take action on the need for a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.

It has been particularly difficult of late to ignore the mounting problems with the Northeast’s vital rail system. After a week of extensive delays plaguing trains attempting to cross the Hudson River and a weekend of political grandstanding from Gov. Chris Christie, The Times ran a big front-page article on the aging rail infrastructure. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, to prove the point, a brief power outage in Amtrak’s Manhattan-bound tube led to delays as trains had to be single-tracked into and out of Penn Station for a brief period of time. In other words, the need for some sort of action on a trans-Hudson tunnel has never been more obvious.

Enter Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In the long wake of Christie’s decision to cancel ARC and as New York and New Jersey have played a game of political chicken over formulating and funding plans for a new trans-Hudson Tunnel, Foxx has emerged as more critical voice on the process. At a conference last week, he called a new tunnel “the most important project in the country right now that’s not happening” and called further inaction “almost criminal.” Now he wants the region’s leaders to find a way forward, but it will all boil down to one key concern: money.

Earlier this week, Foxx formally requested a meeting amongst the feds, Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to plan a new tunnel. The Times has a copy of the letter request, and in it, Foxx noted that the current administration “remain[s] committed to advancing needed repairs and replacements” for a new rail tunnel. Discussing the fed’s support for Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel and calling “the condition of the trans-Hudson tunnels…a major threat to the region,” Foxx wrote:

We are willing once again to explore Federal financial assistance. The Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak have been in discussions about possible federal financing tools that could get the project started, but the project will not become a reality without your active participation and willingness to prioritize it. Neither Amtrak nor your individual States, acting alone, can replace these tunnels. It will take all of us working together.

Foxx’s letter comes on the heels of a similar missive directed toward the Secretary’s office concerning state inaction from New York and New Jersey, and the request from the feds has so far received a response from the region that straddles the border between a lukewarm embrace and outright hostility. Christie stated that he and Cuomo would discuss with Foxx “if we can have a real conversation about how this is going to be funded and the equity for both states and the people of the region.” But separately, the Port Authority, which wasn’t an addressee of Foxx’s letter, responded harshly to the overtures: WNYC reported:

On Tuesday it was the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which the governors control in a shaky power-sharing arrangement, wrote back, even though he was not addressed in the original letter…The letter by Port Authority Chairman John Degnan letter was testy, at one point noting that the U.S. transportation secretary had failed to accept the Port Authority’s invitation to speak at a special transportation summit in May that it co-hosted. (Foxx sent his undersecretary, Peter Rogoff, instead.)

At another point, Degnan wrote, “If discussions aimed at furthering this project are to be fruitful, we need to better understand whether adequate funding can now be made available to move this project forward.” Degnan also said the Port Authority “would obviously” need the federal government to expedite the environmental review process to get the project done quickly.

The PA, an important stakeholder in this process, seems to want a guarantee from the feds that they’ll chip in more than $3 billion — the supposed cap on their ARC Tunnel contributions — for Gateway or any replacement trans-Hudson Tunnels. It seems evident then that while Christie himself accepted Foxx’s overtures, the Port Authority letter at the least carries with it his imprimatur and Christie’s constant complains, accurate or not, that grew out of his decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel. The politics of the Port Authority certainly allow a governor to send one message while his underlings send another, and that’s what’s happening here.

So where does this go from here? As always, it’s about the money. In an extensive piece of news analysis, Herb Jackson of The Record delves into the key financial questions involving the two northeast states and the federal government. New Jersey’s move to shift ARC dollar and nearly empty its state transportation fund following the tunnel is under investigation by both the SEC and Manhattan DA, and it’s not clear, short of raising the gas tax, where Garden State money would come from. Amtrak is hoping Congress will reform its economics to allow it to invest Northeast Corridor profits in its own capital plan, and New York State is coming to grips with the MTA’s own spending request at the same time the tunnel plan is percolating.

It’s a game of political intrigue and one without an obvious end. Yet, as Foxx has said, the region can’t wait much longer. It’s going to take true leadership and some economic sacrifices to see this project through. Can Cuomo and Christie meet the feds on this one? The region’s future and their legacies may depend on it.

Categories : Gateway Tunnel
Comments (94)

The $4 billion LaGuardia, seen here with an inexplicable Willets Point AirTrain, raises more questions than it answers. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

Ask any New Yorker about LaGuardia Airport, and you’ll likely get a sigh in reply. LaGuardia is Just One Of Those Things New Yorkers seem to tolerate about the city. It’s old and charmless, with certain terminals meeting standards of acceptability and others held together, often literally, with duct tape. It is constantly ranked as the worst airport in America for traveler amenities and suffers from chronic delays due to a distinct lack of runway space. It’s not a particularly welcoming gateway to the city for New Yorkers arriving home and travelers stopping by for a visit.

A few months after the Vice President called LaGuardia a “third-world airport,” Joe Biden joined with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday to unveil a $4-billion plan to replace LaGuardia with a modern terminal with the bells and whistles travelers have come to expect while expanding runway space to increase flight capacity. The first part of the project should wrap by the early 2020s with the fate of the rest of it in Delta’s hands. The plan in a vacuum is laudable, but there’s something about Cuomo’s approach to LaGuardia along with his words and actions on transit that has me and many other transit advocates casting rightly wary eyes toward this project.

Let’s start with the details. What do we get for our $4 billion? Based on the Governor’s Airport Master Plan Advisory Panel report [PDF], LaGuardia will morph from an airport with multiple disparate terminals to one with a signal unified building. The new structure on the western half of the LaGuardia site will include terminal space, a centralized arrivals and departures area and a link to Delta’s terminals. Delta will be in charge of redesigning its terminals and is amenable to seeing out the panel’s suggestions.

The new terminal will be a significant upgrade over the old. It will be physically closer to the Grand Central Parkway and will feature an island gate system with raised pedestrian bridges. As Cuomo’s office said in a subsequent release, “Together, the relocated terminals and island-gate system will create nearly two miles of new taxiway space. This allows for a more efficient circulation of aircraft and reduced taxi-in and taxi-out times, which will yield shorter and fewer gate delays.”

Because every 21st Century airport needs a heavily subsidized and underutilized ferry terminal a mile away from the departures area. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

In addition to these physical improvements, the panel put forward a number of recommendations that weren’t included in Monday’s $4 billion reveal. Chief among those were the transportation access suggestions. The panel, for some reason, endorsed the Willets Point airlink and urged New York to include ferry access to LaGuardia. It also called for increased parking at LaGuardia as something that would, inconceivably, benefit surrounding communities. Finally, the panel urged the Port Authority to develop a unified security area and, building on the lesson of Sandy, storm resiliency. It’s not yet clear how these elements of the plan would be funded.

“New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past – and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” the Governor said during his press conference. “We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York. It’s the perfect metaphor for what we can achieve with the ambition and optimism and energy that made this the Empire State in the first place.”

While speaking off the cuff, though, Gov. Cuomo led slip that he felt LaGuardia had become “un-New York,” because, he said, the airport is considered “slow, dated, [and] almost universally derided.” And herein lies the rub. If an airport that’s slow and dated and universally derided is considered un-New York, what exactly does that make the subway system and remainder of the transit network that millions use on a daily basis to navigate around the city? I’m not the only one asking this question; Streetsblog’s Ben Fried posed a similar one late on Monday afternoon. From there, we see the blowback against the plan.

That Cuomo is thinking big about something transit-related isn’t a new development. After all, his administration is building the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, for now awkwardly called the New New York Bridge. But what do his projects do? Who benefits? By and large, airport projects are aimed at improving the lives of those traveling to and from a city, not those traveling within a city. These are transient travelers who do indeed add to the economy of the city but aren’t living in it and of it.

As with many Cuomo projects, it’s hard not to feel that this one came from his personal experiences flying between the city and Albany. In terms of bang for your buck, an overhaul of the Port Authority Bus Terminal or a real plan to rebuild Penn Station and start moving on trans-Hudson tunnels would affect far more daily travelers than a rebuild of LaGuardia airport, and the dollars would be comparable. But Cuomo doesn’t talk about these proposals because he doesn’t take buses or trains; he flies and he drives, and as the lack of public process shows, he doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks. He wants it; it becomes reality.

Meanwhile, the access components to the LaGuardia overhaul as bad as they were in January. The Willets Point AirTrain routing remains worse than a no-build option; as I explored then with help from Yonah Freemark, sending airport travelers to the 7 saves no time and will cause massive headaches for 7 train operations. The Queens ferry terminal — a bus ride away from the new LaGuardia terminals — is a laughably ridiculous idea that doesn’t even need to be logically debunked to seem silly.

Finally, as LaGuardia soars, the subways sink. Cuomo won’t commit to a progressive traffic pricing plan to fund New York City transit, and the Governor now has to console, for example, C train riders who don’t care much one way or another for a LaGuardia overhaul over the fact that 50-year-old subway cars are considered acceptable. If it’s “un-New York” for something to be slow, dated and derided — if we need a 21st Century city — why do the subways, without a contactless fare payment system, city-wide countdown clocks, or an expansion plan to meet demand, get short shrift while the airport is lavished with dollars? That’s Gov. Cuomo and his transit priorities for you.

Categories : PANYNJ
Comments (172)

The ARC Tunnel as she could have been.

It’s been a rough few weeks for New Jersey Transit and Garden State rail riders. Shortly after announcing yet another massive fare hike, the agency suffered through a week that saw rush hour delays pile up due to problems with Amtrak’s North Hudson tubes. After commuters suffered through problems on four of five days last week, the agency has already announced that it does not anticipate a problem-free Monday. Riders are being asked to find alternate ways into the city, and PATH, ferries and buses will cross-honor tickets.

It’s also been a rough few weeks for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. With national polls placing him toward the bottom of the crowded field of GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls, Christie has engaged in something of a Hail Mary campaign to drum up any kind of enthusiasm for his run for the White House. At one point, he seemed like a clear front-runner before the Fort Lee traffic scandal and general voter anger toward his policy decisions grew louder and louder.

Faced with mounting frustration directed at him from his constituents over last week’s New Jersey Transit delays, Christie at first ducked the question before his aides helped him correctly level the blame at Amtrak. He then let loose a stunning display of political arrogance. He would, he claimed, build the ARC Tunnel if elected president. The Times’ Rick Rojas reported:

“If I am president of the United States, I call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey and say, ‘Listen, if we are all in this even Steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River,’ ” Mr. Christie said in an interview with the radio talk show host Larry Kudlow, which will be broadcast on Saturday on WABC-AM. “Then, everyone has an incentive to have the project run right, to run efficiently because everybody is on the hook.”

The governor’s comments — and his hypothetical phrasing — has attracted the attention of his critics, who say his statements emphasize how little he has done to help improve transportation. “This is not a hypothetical issue, this is a real issue, and he could be doing something about it,” said Martin Robins, the founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, who was the director of the tunnel project during the mid-1990s. “The question is, what has he done, what will he do in the next 18 months as the governor of New Jersey?”

In his interview comments, Christie reiterated his own long-held belief that, as he said, “New Jersey was going to be responsible for every nickel of cost overruns, which at the time was estimated to be three to five billion dollars.” He claims that he asked New York’s leaders for fiscal assistance and that they turned him down. He did not mention that the Feds had pegged the cost overruns at $1 billion; that both the feds and New York were willing to work out a deal; and that instead of reserving the money for a better-designed and fairly-funded rail tunnel, he instead sunk into a series of road projects throughout the state, leaving rail riders with nothing.

Time and again, Christie has tried to paint his ARC decision as something it wasn’t, and he even has supporters from the rail community who point to the design flaws in ARC as it was planned. The decision to send the tunnel to a dead end underneath Macy’s was the wrong one, but it wasn’t worth canceling the project and removing New Jersey’s money from a rail expansion project. Christie may have backed into a decision that was, in part, defensible, but he did it for none of the right reasons.

The Times’ editorial team wasn’t buying what Christie was selling. In a piece that unfortunately ran on Saturday and not during a more well-read day of the week, they laid the blame for trans-Hudson woes squarely on Christie’s shoulders. Their argument echoes mine:

Governor Christie originally said he stopped work on the new tunnel because it would cost his state too much money. Then, he got the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reroute $3 billion that had been allocated for the project. Instead of a tunnel to benefit the whole region, the money went to patch Mr. Christie’s roads and bridges.

Normally, state gasoline taxes provide much of the revenue for local transportation needs. But Mr. Christie, a Republican aiming for the White House, has not wanted to raise any taxes. This refusal and his use of the tunnel funds for other purposes have kept the chokehold on transit in the Northeast. And without sufficient tax revenue, New Jersey Transit has added debt and been forced to squeeze more money from its customers. This month, it announced fares would go up an average of 9 percent on Oct. 1.

Even Mr. Christie’s commissioner of transportation, Jamie Fox, has begun working hard to get a dedicated tax to fix the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit. The governor, perhaps recognizing that he has a transportation crisis on his hands, has simply said that when it comes to revenue, “everything is on the table.” If everything really is on the table, Mr. Christie should help legislators come up with a gas tax that starts to dig the state out of its transportation mess. At the same time, he should support Amtrak and others as they start over with new plans for a tunnel under the Hudson.

When he canceled ARC, Christie did it with an eye on the national stage. Ending an expensive government project bound to benefit the more liberal northeast played well with the Tea Party at a time when they were ascendant. But now aging infrastructure is in the news, and New Jerseyans know where to point their fingers over the current failures and future problems that await on the horizon. Instead of a rail tunnel in progress with a design that could have been improved five years ago, the region has nothing but problems — which is identical to Christie’s presidential hopes. It’s no coincidence that these two issues are going hand in hand, and if Christie the governor is serious about helping solve the trans-Hudson problems, he’s not out of office yet.

Categories : ARC Tunnel
Comments (55)

Coming next week: I take a look at NJ Transit’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, and Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogantly political reaction to it. As you can imagine, I am far, far less than impressed with Christie’s comments.

Before I jump into the service advisories, allow me to revisit Wednesday’s post on deferred maintenance. I neglected to link to Neil deMause’s recent epic in the Village Voice regarding the MTA’s funding woes and its effect on deferred maintenance. It’s one of those so-called longreads, but it’s well worth the time, whether you’re idling away some hours in the weekend sun or sitting down for some quality reading time. Neil also wrote sidebars on the 7 line extension and the untimely death of the Second System in the 1920s.

As you ponder the system’s past, here’s your immediate future. It features lots of weekend service changes.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Take 23 trains and free shuttle buses instead.

  • Uptown trains skip 18 St, 23 St, and 28 St.
  • Downtown trains skip 28 St, 23 St, and 18 St, days and evenings.
  • Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. Transfer between 23 trains and shuttle buses at Chambers St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Van Cortlandt Park-242 St bound 1 trains run express from 96 St to 145 St.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:

  • Express shuttle buses run between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station.
  • Local shuttle buses make all stops between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St.
  • Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at E 180 St and/or 3 Av-149 St.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 2 trains run local between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av making all station stops.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 3 trains run local between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.

From 10:45 p.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run express from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 7:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av making all station stops.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 5 service is suspended. Take the 246 and free shuttle buses instead. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:

  • Limited shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, and run express to 3 Av-149 St, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station (from 3:30 AM Sat to 10 PM Sun).
  • Dyre Av Local shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St only.
  • For Lexington Av service, transfer between free shuttle buses and 6 trains at Hunts Point Av. Or, transfer between 2 and 4 trains at 149 St-Grand Concourse.

From 10:45 p.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Inwood-207 St-bound A trains are rerouted via the F line from Jay St-MetroTech to W 4 St-Wash Sq, and run local to 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, A trains are suspended between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Brooklyn-bound A trains skip 88 St. Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd. Transfer between shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 168 St-bound C trains are rerouted via the F line from Jay St-MetroTech to W 4 St-Wash Sq.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 168 St-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains run local from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, World Trade Center-bound E trains skip 75 Av and Briarwood.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood, and 75 Av.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and from 8:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, Broad St-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.

From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, L service operates in two sections.

  • Between 8 Av and Broadway Junction.
  • Between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Pkwy, every 24 minutes.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and from 8:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, Chambers St-bound M trains run express from Marcy Av to Myrtle Av.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, N trains are rerouted via the D line in both directions between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and 36 St. Free shuttle buses and R trains provide alternate service.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Queens-bound N trains skip 49 St.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Queens-bound Q trains skip 49 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, Bay Ridge-95 St bound R trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, Queens-bound R trains skip 49 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn-bound Q trains stop at 53 St and 45 St.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (5)
Page 5 of 512« First...34567...Last »