Any politician worth his or her weight in savviness knows that the best way to counter bad news is with great news. So taking a page from the “Oops, an attorney general scandal; let’s raise the terror alert level” playback, that’s just what the MTA did today.

The bad news was swirling on Tuesday. A few days after Dan Doctoroff expressed his concerns with the SAS funding and just a few hours after The Times reported on the rising real estate costs of buildings along the Second Ave. corridor, the MTA announced that, oh wait, we have some good news! Look at us!

You see, that contract that was set to be signed next week was signed today, the MTA announced in an effort to capture the headlines. The MTA has more:

The first contract will provide for construction of a launch box between 92nd and 95th streets from which a tunnel boring machine (TBM) will excavate the tunnels from 92nd to 63rd streets. Also included in the first contract is the construction of two shafts at 69th Street and 72nd Street for the construction of the 72nd Street Station. The contract was awarded to S3 Tunnel Constructors, a Joint Venture composed of Skanska USA Civil Northeast, Schiavone Construction and J.F. Shea, in the amount of $337,025,000. Funding for this project consists of a combination of Federal Transit Administration grants and local funds provided by the New York State Transportation Bond Act of 2004 and the MTA Capital Program.

Mysore Nagaraja (pictured above), the head of capital construction for the MTA, seems pretty excited about the deal. “This contract paves the way for the first expansion of the subway system in more than fifty years. While the Second Avenue Subway has been talked about for years, it is now a reality, and you will soon see our construction teams hard at work on and under Second Avenue.” I don’t know how we’ll actually see the folks working under Second Ave., but hey, at least they’ll be there.

According to the MTA, a groundbreaking ceremony — the third of its kind for the Second Ave. subway — will be held in April. We’ll know when next week.

Amusingly enough, this announcement was totally timed to push the real estate news off the pages of the newspaper. The MTA”s PR machine went into overdrive after two straight weekdays of bad news. So they rushed the contract announcement by nine days. Why not? All the pieces were in place anyway.

The MTA is making real physical progress now on a subway line that should have been built during the La Guardia administration. And even more so than in the past, as SUBWAYBlogger noted, once they start, they won’t stop this time, real estate troubles and cost overruns be damned. It’s about time.

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Quite possibly the most confusing graphic showing the buildings set to be demolished along 2nd Ave. (From The New York Times)

While rising real estate costs can come as no surprise to, well, anyone in New York City, opponents of the 2nd Ave. subway will have a field day with a report today that says costs on the planned subway line are already rising.

Take it away, The New York Times:

Rising real estate prices will force the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pay about $54 million more than it had anticipated to buy five Upper East Side buildings and portions of 24 others to make way for construction of the Second Avenue subway, according to a new estimate provided to the authority.

The increase represents a kind of turnabout for the authority, which has benefited from the booming real estate market of the past few years by taking in billions of dollars in taxes on real estate sales and mortgages. The same boom is now costing the authority money at a time when it is already struggling with hefty budget increases on some major projects.

William Neuman’s piece presents a whole bunch of economics behind the cost increases and notes that the cost increase represents the normal two-year rise in land value since the initial 2nd Ave. real estate assessment in 2005. But with a week and a half to go before the first major contract is set to be announced, this $54 million increase can only portend more cost increases. Mysore L. Nagaraja, the MTA’s head of capital construction, claims that contingency funds and budget restructuring will, for the most part, cover these costs.

Recently, the MTA faced a similar problem with their Fulton Street transit hub. A nearly $100 million increase in Lower Manhattan real estate values resulted in cost overruns that led to a less ostentatious design on Santiago Calatrava-designed transportation hub.

Despite these overruns, the truth is simple: Now is always going to be the best time to shell out this money because the project will simply get more expensive as time passes. The New York real estate market is insane right, and it shows no signs of slowing. More and more people want to live in the City, and more and more people are willing to pay for that privilege. Further delaying the 2nd Ave. Subway means the project will cost more when it is finally completed.

Right now, the East Side needs a new subway line, and I expect we’ll hear more about the economics of this multi-billion-dollar project as time goes by. This real estate hiccup will be the first of many cost increases.

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Kill or be killed as you wait endlessly for the Q at Canal Street. (Photo courtesy of 31 Down Radio Theater)

Well, that caught your attention, eh? Someone’s been killed at the crowded Canal Street stop? Well, not quite. I’m sad — or happy — to report that no one was murdered at the underground entrance to Chinatown.

The murder is part of an interactive performance by the public artwork troupe 31 Down Radio Theater called Canal Street. The action takes place in labyrinthian tunnels of the Canal Street Station, and you, the detective-cum-straphanger, are supposed to solve the mystery. For $2 — or less — you too can be a New York detective. Time Out New York wrote about this intriguing work last week:

For all the improvements over the past decade or so, the transit system is still kind of creepy, which makes a new interactive public artwork by the group 31 Down Radio Theater all the more diabolical. With just a swipe of your MetroCard, it puts you in the middle of a murder mystery unfolding in the Canal Street subway.

According to creator Ryan Holsopple, the piece, titled Canal Street Station, consists of a toll-free number you can dial from any of the pay phones there. The voice of one Niki, an archetypally breathy French girl, comes on to say that she’s just committed a murder, and that you need to find her somewhere in the labyrinth of platforms and tunnels connecting the J, M, Z, N, Q, R, W and 6 trains. “Basically, it’s a big game,” says Holsopple, who adds that depending on where you are, you’ll be asked a specific question about that location—maybe for a detail from a nearby mosaic or which train goes to Fresh Pond Road in Queens. You hang up, snoop, then call back with your answer. If correct, you’ll be told where to go for your next call.

I love this idea; I can’t wait to do it, and a few things leap out at me. First, this game relies on the payphones in the New York City subways. Wait a minute, you might be thinking, do those payphones actually work? Well, about a quarter of them don’t work. So part of the game is finding a working payphone at Canal Street. (The other part involves finding one you want to touch. Good luck with that.)

Next, I think this game is best played at rush hour. That Canal Street station is a zoo during the day; why not really go for the “confusing masses of harried commuters” theme that would so enliven the game? You can push against the tide of humanity as you dash from the Brooklyn-bound N/Q platform to the uptown J/M/Z tracks.

So there you have it. You can spend an hour, as the theater troupe suggests, running around Canal Street trying to find out minutiae about the subways in an effort to solve a murder. Test the payphones; test your patience. And have fun. It’s the best $2 or Unlimted Ride swipe you’ll spend this month.

And who knows: Maybe she would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids and your dog too.

To get started, head to the Canal Street station; pay the fare; find a payphone and dial 1-877-OR-WHAT-31 (1-877-679-4283). Canal Street will be in the Canal Street station until October.

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Stylized color pencil New Yorkers taking advantage of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park include…kayakers in the East River? Yummy. (Image courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy)

Every now and then, the MTA avoids spending insane amounts of money on ridiculously small projects. The once-planned subway entrance to the currently-planned Brooklyn Bridge Park falls into just that category.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park – a beautification and redevelopment plan for 76 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront – is set for completion sometime in the 2012 area. As part of the plan, a four-block underground tunnel connecting the park to the 2/3 stop at Clark St. was in the works. But, as The Daily News reports, the $50-million price tag is just a tad bit too much.

A new traffic study for the planned waterfront park has all but ruled out creating a new entrance to the Brooklyn Heights Clark St. station via an underground tunnel. “It’s going to be very expensive and will have engineering challenges,” said Jee Mee Kim, the project director with the traffic consulting firm Sam Schwartz PLLC…

The Clark St. subway station on the 2 and 3 lines has an entrance on the corner of Henry St. The proposal found that opening an entrance nearer the waterfront – at least four blocks away – would cost $30 million to $50 million.

Well, phew. I can think of much better uses for $50 million than one subway entrance for a pre-existing stop. How about a totally brand new subway line? Some cleaner cars? A better public address system? $50 million buys a lot of neat stuff.

And for those of you eagerly awaiting the park, new bus routes, water taxis and increased pedestrian and bike access points will make this green oasis with great views of Manhattan easily accessible when it finally opens in five or six years.

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Don’t worry about terrorists; K9 Emily is on the prowl.

As I rode the uptown local from 66th St. to 96th St. this afternoon after catching a movie at the Lincoln Square Cinemas, my eye alit upon the ad above. Except it was in Spanish. So for four stops, I got a huge kick out of the ad that read, “Usted usa sus ojos. Ella usará su hocico.”

I’ll use my eyes; she can use her snout. I felt safer already.

Unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t the only one noticing the MTA’s ubiquitous yellow anti-terrorism ads urging individual attention to suspicious things in the subway. (And, no, we’re not talking about the guy selling pirated DVDs as suspicious as that may be.) Since I didn’t get a chance to read the Friday business section in The Times, I missed this brilliant article on the successes of the “If you see something, say something” advertising campaign.

The short version: In the post-9/11 climate, the MTA hired Korey Kay and Partners to come up with a catchy slogan. They’ve certainly succeed as more than 30 organizations worldwide now use some variation on the theme.

They include the Alexandria Transit Company in Virginia; the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia; Bay Area Rapid Transit; the Chicago Transit Authority; the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; and TriMet in Portland, Ore.

“We wanted something that was punchy and catchy enough to not fade in the background,” said Christopher P. Boylan, a deputy executive director at the M.T.A., “and makes a connection with every one of our passengers.”

At the same time, said Allen Kay, chairman and chief executive at Korey Kay, “there was concern there could be backlash, concern we were using fear tactics,” so consumer research was used to determine perceptions of the theme.

While Kay may have been concerned about the negative backlash, I’m a bigger fan of all of the parodies that seem to find there ways around the Internet and the city. My all-time favorite I spotted a few months ago on a downtown E train. It said, “Bush is still President, say something.” Sadly, I couldn’t capture it for posterity, but others have. Let’s take a look. (All links pop to show the pictures.)

Some folks have taken to using pink pig stickers to lively up the posters. That’s just as good as drawing mustaches on news anchor’s faces. It never fails to amuse.

Then, there are those who edit the slogan a la the President Bush one. I’ve seen many. One of my favorites is “If you see something, run like hell.” That one is poignantly sad in its veracity.

But beyond humor, people have taken to using this slogan as a political statement. Here and here are political diatribes against the current administration.

And even the Spanish signs have provoked the ire of vandals and xenophobes everywhere. When The Post ran an op-ed piece against the Spanish signs during the height of the anti-immigration debate last year, some straphangers decided to cut out the column and stick them behind the plastic ad coverings in the subway. If you see something, say something indeed.

So then is this ad campaign a success? Well, it’s used the world over, and everyone in the city immediately knows what you’re talking about when you mention it. But it seems more humorous than anything else. Everyday, I see weird sh*t in the subway. If I said anything all the time, well, then I would just have to start a blog about it.

Hey, wait a second….

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So today’s St. Patrick’s day, and everyone wants to get around town. The 7 is running; the 2 and 3 are running down the West Side and into Brooklyn but not on the express tracks in Manhattan. The C is still taking weekends off. And the L is more than a little funky this weekend. So without further ado, click here for all of your weekend service advisories.

Categories : Service Advisories
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After a week of good news for the 2nd Ave. subway, leave it to Dan Doctoroff to come and sleet, snow and freezing rain on everyone’s parade.

The Deputy Mayor and former head of the NYC2012 Olympics group threw some not-so-veiled threats in the direction of the MTA yesterday. Doctoroff is concerned about the finances behind the project. It’s so nice of him to worry about money after he was leading the fight to sink $1 billion into an ugly behemoth on the far West Side. The Sun had more:

“It will be the third groundbreaking for the same project. It sounds like the Freedom Tower,” Mr. Doctoroff told a gathering of about 400 transportation professionals at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s annual meeting yesterday, referring to the ground zero memorial that has celebrated multiple groundbreakings but has seen little work thereafter. “We’ve seen how these things play out before.”

The Second Avenue line, known as the city’s greatest transportation project never built, is a planned two-track subway line that will run along Manhattan’s East Side to the financial district from 125th street. Construction on such a line stopped in 1975, when funds for the project ran dry. “We can’t afford that mistake again,” Mr. Doctoroff said. He stressed that even the expected federal funding for the project “does not mean a commitment to completing the job.”

But some involved think that Doctoroff is politicking around. The city – after signing up forthe project originally – has reneged on their promise to construct the 7 line extension; they won’t commit to cover the projected cost overruns.

The MTA has challenged all parties involved to come up with constructive funding proposals to avoid sending the MTA further into debt, and MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander noted that the agency may split construction into small pieces to allow more contractors to bid.

So take that, Dan Doctoroff. This subway will be built with or without your negativity.

That sexy shot of Dan Doctoroff courtesy of Building Congress.

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Pardon me while I use my blog to air my petty grievances. I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled subway posting later today.

Dear Brooklyn Record:

Let’s start out on a good note: I like you! After living in Manhattan for much of my childhood, I’m now living in Brooklyn, and you have given me a good insight into this vibrant borough. You provide me with news about borough politics, tidbits about life in Brooklyn and info about restaurants that I as a foodie really appreciate.

At the end of each day, you post a so-called “Blog Wrap.” And this why we’re in a fight: Despite my best efforts at self-promotion — a must for any new blog still trying to find an audience on the Internets — you refuse to link to Second Ave. Sagas.

Now, I’m no newbie when it comes to blogging. I’ve been blogging on baseball for three years. I know the courtesies of the Internet, and I’ve helped new blogs get traffic. Now, it’s your turn, Brooklyn Record. Three times, I have sent you Brooklyn-related posts including one this week about the Myrtle Ave. station that was a follow-up to one of your posts. (Yeah, right. Like I’m going to link to it today.)

Instead, you continually post Blog Wrap links to Gothamist posts which often don’t relate to Brooklyn; you love Curbed; and you’re not afraid to give your sister site Brownstoner the occasional shout out. But today you crossed the line.

Oh, today, dear Brooklyn Record, as part of your so-called Blog Wrap, you linked to a post in your own forum that contained a one-line sentence about this upcoming weekend’s L train service and a link to last weekend’s MTA weekend service advisory. Not only is it a blog, but you didn’t even supply the person asking the question with the proper information. (Note: By Friday, the information in the link in question will be correct, but only by dint of the day of the week.)

So we’re in a fight, Brooklyn Record. We’re in a fight until I get my link. I will continue to write about Brooklyn subways and continue to send you my links. But share! Share your links. Be good to a fellow New York blogger. What did I ever do to you?

Love,

Second Ave. Sagas

Categories : Self Promotion
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The 42nd Street shuttle awaits passengers while sitting on the Track 3 curve at Times Square. (Courtesy of flickr user gsdali)

In certain stations in the London Underground, a soothing voice with a slight British accent repeats ad nausea to passengers, “Mind the gap.” These stations sit on steep curves in the tracks that lead to a separation of more than a few centimetres between the platform and car edge, and the phrase has taken on a cultural significance that sees it printed on t-shirts and mugs all over London.

In New York, the MTA ignores the gap problem and pushes off necessary repairs for years in order to prioritize other capital projects. As part of the never-ending Times Square rehabilitation project, the MTA planned to fix the gap problem that led to a whopping 12 personal injury claims over the course of five years ending in 2005. But now, the MTA, already searching for solutions to the LIRR gap problem, won’t mind this gap until at least 2010, amNew York reports.

while the MTA worked to renovate much of the Times Square station during the same [five-year] period it quietly decided last year to postpone work on the Shuttle platform until the 2010-14 capital plan is implemented.

“It’s a shame that they pushed it back. It’s like renovating your house and leaving the entrance the same,” said MTA board member Andrew Albert.

The gaps in question — those on Shuttle Track 3 measure up to 14 inches or eight inches more than the accepted six-inch MTA gap — came about because the 42nd Street Shuttle runs on the original IRT route. At 42nd St., the route curved from an east-west track along the Avenue I’m Taking You To to head up north on 7th Ave. The stop at what was never Longacre Square — that name went out of fashion in April of 1904, six months before the first IRT train pulled in to Times Squares — ended up on that curve that brought the train north. And thus there is a gap that must be minded.

While platform extenders make it somewhat less dangerous, the ones in Times Square are underneath the platform unlike the giant noisy sliding things at South Ferry and Union Square. So people still trip, fall and tumble out of wheelchairs. The MTA has taken steps to solve this problem.

Those steps? Said NYCT spokesman Paul Fleuranges to amNY: “We just ask our customers to use the gap fillers and where not possible, take their time and be mindful of the gap.” So, uh, pretty please, don’t trip.

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A 1939 map of the BMT shows the now-forgotten Myrtle Ave. stop on the edge of the Manhattan Bridge. (Courtesy of NYC Subway Historical Maps)

Before the spate of Second Ave. subway news hit, we were talking about the Masstransiscope in the remains of the old, abandoned Myrtle Ave. stop on the BMT line that runs over the Manhattan Bridge. Abandoned stations hide the mysteries and romance of a lost age in New York City history, and the Myrtle Ave. stop is no different.

For those living in Brooklyn, sick of seeing the N and D glide past the middle tracks at De Kalb Ave. when the R, Q or B just won’t show up, the Myrtle Ave. stop contains the promise, however slim, of an added stop in Brooklyn. For others, this abandoned stop is a playground within the subway. Can we go off on an expotition and romp around the empty platforms?

Nowadays, we can, as NY1 finally reported two weeks after I did, view the old City Hall stop from the 6 as it turns on that steep curve, but the Myrtle Ave. stop is one lost to time.

For starters, the southbound platform at Myrtle Ave. was completely demolished after the station went out of service in 1956. But why the changes? Joseph Brennan, an expert on abandoned stations, explains:

The De Kalb Ave section was the choke point for the entire BMT Broadway subway operation, with a lot of merges and some routings crossing others at grade in the swiches on both sides of the station. The maximum train capacity of the system was set here. After decades of problems, the Transit Authority began a rebuild of the area in 1956, adding some new trackage to eliminate all the grade crossings and provide places to hold trains approaching merge points.

Myrtle Ave station was a casualty of the rebuild. A new track had to be added on the west side to allow for a grade-separated crossing. The original southbound “local” track at the platform had to be depressed to a lower grade to cross under, and the new track wiped out the southbound platform. The northbound platform was left in place but no longer operated.

Still something of a choke point on the system — how many folks sit on a B train while a D crosses in front and how many wish the trains wouldn’t crawl coming down off the bridge — imagine how much worse it could be. To streamline the N and D trains as they bypass De Kalb on the express tracks and head either onto the Manhattan Bridge or into Pacific Street, the Myrtle Ave. southbound platform had to go.

Still, the northbound platform sits abandoned and covered in graffiti. It can no longer be used because the platform is shorter than the long BMT trains now in use. Furthermore, as frequent commenter Peter noted on Monday, the City is allowing a developer who recently purchased the block above the old Myrtle Ave. platform to demolish the access points to the old station. The only way to reach Myrtle Ave., a relic of the early 20th Century subway system, will be through the incredibly dangerous tunnels north of De Kalb Ave.

So the dreams of an abandoned station will go die. Like the ghost stop in front of my parents’ apartment building on West 91st St., the Myrtle Ave. station has lain dormant for 50 years. Soon, all we’ll see are glimpses of a platform through an abandoned zoetrope, and riders will forever wonder just what it was they fleetingly saw out the window.

Categories : Abandoned Stations
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