While the good folks in Queens are still trying to figure out the whole 7 train mess, Theodore Kheel’s recent call for a higher road tax that would subsidize free subway rides has found an unlikely ally among the City’s religious community.

Writing in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum has expressed his support for the free subway rides on religious grounds:

With increasing permitted use of automation and technology on Shabbos, such as halachically acceptable elevators and escalators, the possibility of using fare-free subways on Shabbos and Yom Tov would be of great interest. The majority of poskim in the past have leaned towards disapproval. The ability to use the subway on Shabbos was inhibited due to such considerations astechum Shabbos (measured distances prohibited outside a city) and maaris ayin (appearance of transgressing Shabbos). Should the entire NYC subway system become fare-free fulltime, the question of subway usage on Shabbos could be more clearly defined.

Since many very observant Jews do not believe in spending money on the Sabbath, free subway rides would enable these religious men and women to utilize the City’s rapid transit system without breaking the Sabbath.

My only issue with Tannenbaum’s article is his reliance on the same misinformation being promulgated by the media as they attempt to describe Kheel’s plan. Tannenbaum wrote, “Questions whether the subway system would be able to carry the increased number of passengers can be answered by a review of the subway’s history. In 1943 the NYC subway system carried eight- million passengers daily. Today’s passenger load is less than four-and-a-half million daily.”

As I’ve pointed out in the past, that information is incorrect. The 8 million figure was a one-day high set in 1946 and not an average daily total. Here’s what I wrote two weeks ago in clearing up this misconceptions:

But the most accurate ridership information I could find (in [a] PDF presentation) showed an annual ridership of slightly more than 2 billion in 1946, largely considered the busiest year in subway history. That amounts to an average daily ridership of around 5.5 million people. Recently, in September of 2006, just over 5 million people a day rode the subways. We’re not that far off from those records.

Overall, it’s a small bone to pick. I wonder if Rabbi Tannenbaum’s thoughts will gain more traction as the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility continues its Kheel-funded study of a free subway system.

MetroCard photo from Triborough’s flickr stream.

Categories : MTA Economics
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I don’t know what any of that means either. Or as my roomate said, “What the f***?” (Image courtesy of flickr user Plaid Ninja. Click on it for a bigger view.)

So the 7 train. Apparently, it’s a mess, and Queens residents aren’t too happy. I don’t blame them; that service advisory note up there is utterly incomprehensible.

Currently, the 7 line is undergoing a massive reconstruction project. According to the WNBC report, the MTA is reconfiguring the tracks and upgrading switches from Times Square out to the heart of Queens. Because the 7 is the only line that runs from Manhattan to Flushing, it clearly inconveniences everyone who lives along this purple train.

Furthermore, I’m a firm believer in conspiracy theories. The MTA is doing the project now, in the cold of winter when no one wants to walk anywhere, because baseball season is around the corner. Imagine if tens of thousands of Mets fans could not get to Shea for opening weekend because of 7 line service shutdowns. Queens residents suffer now so baseball fans don’t have to suffer in April.

The litany of complains are quite familiar. Travel times are quadrupled; local businesses are feeling the pain; and everyone is pissed off. In fact, even City Council member Eric Giola participated in a rally protesting the service cuts. He called the shuttle bus service “insufficient and inconvenient.” You tell ’em, Eric.

Uncharacteristically, the MTA decided to listen to their riders’ complaints. How? By, um, telling people more frequently how to find some alternate route and, ah, making sure the employees are giving out the right information (which they were not last weekend). The Daily News reports on the new measures the MTA will take this weekend:

  • Boosting the number of service-disruption announcements at stations and on subway trains.
  • Putting more and better-informed Transit Authority personnel in stations to help lost and confused riders.
  • Alerting riders that they can board No. 7 trains, and get off Manhattan-bound trains at the 69th St. and 61st St. stations. The TA has been telling riders that trains weren’t running between Times Square and 74th St./Broadway.
  • Better publicize increased E and F train service on the affected weekends.
  • Increasing the number of supervisors to improve coordination of TA efforts.
  • Additional training and better info packets for bus drivers, station agents and other workers on the disruptions and travel options.

Pardon me if I’m a little skeptical, but doesn’t this seem like basic levels of customer service? Shouldn’t the MTA have made sure that its employees knew what was going on before the service cuts instead of after a debacle of a weekend? While Giola expressed his pleasure with the new customer service measures, I expect this weekend to be more of the same for those residents in Queens unlucky enough to live on the 7 line.

But don’t worry; baseball season is right around the corner.

Bag inspectors working to guard the City’s subways. (Courtesy of flickr user Runs With Scissors.)

I’m not exactly going out a limb if I were to state: “New York City and, in particular, the subways should be considered high priority homeland security targets.” No, around these parts, that’s fairly common knowledge.

But 230 miles to the south, those in charge of the federal purse strings have been loathe to see things our way. The Department of Homeland Security, led and created by those Republicans who aren’t beholden to a New York voter base, has hardly been forthcoming in giving New York the money it needs to adequately protect itself from another possible terrorist attack. As the media has documented, low-population states such as Wyoming have long received more money per person than the coastal states. Wyoming is no terrorist target when compared to New York, Boston, Los Angeles or other coastal cities.

In fact, DHS did such a good job allocating money that last year, grants to Washington, D.C. and New York City were slashed. That means less money for the subway, less money for the ports, less money for the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and even the Washington Monument and Capitol building. That’s smart government.

So then, it comes as no surprise that U.S.A. Today recently noted that it is nearly impossible to protect the city’s subway system. Mimi Hall reported:

It has been a difficult, time-consuming effort just to get the work going, says William Morange, the transit authority’s security director. There are no 100-year-old records left behind to guide workers. No detailed descriptions of which parts of which tunnels were built in bedrock and which were dug out of silt.

Schiliro calls the MTA’s construction and other security upgrades “incremental risk reduction.” He says none of the nation’s subway systems will be as safe as they could be and should be without more help and money from the federal government.

This story is your typical “how to protect the subways” story, but it never hurts to see these reports in print. The litany of complaints is the same: There isn’t enough money; no government agency has ever completed an accurate risk assessment focusing on the subways in the urban (and largely liberal) areas of the country.

As U.S.A. Today noted the problem with protecting the subways, they also noted that the Democrats now in power in the halls of Congress are trying to secure more funding for subway security.

This is all well and good, but actual subway security only goes so far. There are too many access points, open areas and miles and miles of tracks to patrol. There are too many forgotten and neglected entrances and exits into the subway system, and too many nooks and crannies for everyone to inspect. I will always advocate more federal funds from DHS for security in New York City, but at the same time, I hope the Department is doing enough to protect the country from those who would perpetrate a terrorist attack in the subways. If we can prevent the terrorists — whoever they may be — from reaching the subways in the first place, we’ll have less to worry about underground as the subways continue to roll on.

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Riders of the 6 train can now view the City Hall stop from the comforts of a train. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For official purposes, the last stop on the downtown 6 train is the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop. It’s a four-track station and the last chance to switch to the downtown IRT trains into Brooklyn.

But at this stop, the 6 doesn’t just start back uptown. Instead, it turns around in a loop station that has lain dormant for over 60 years. This station, considered the most beautiful in the New York City subway, is the City Hall station. With its Gustavino arches and intricate chandeliers, it was the original starting point for the first line of the IRT in 1904.

The station went out of service because the gap between the train and platform grew too wide and because it is a mere 300 feet from the Brooklyn Bridge stop. While plans to reopen it as part of the Transit Museum were halted due to security concerns following the Sept. 11 attacks, for years, those in the know knew that a savvy rider could spy this station if they stayed on the 6 train as it made its curve along that tight loop.

While the automated announcements have long said that the Brooklyn Bridge is the last stop, riders could generally stay on the train provided they ask the transit workers or simply avoided them. It’s thrilling to see the dimly lit station come into view as the 6 crawls around the sharp curve.

Now, via Chuck Bennett’s excellent Tracker Blog comes the news that the MTA will no longer be calling the Brooklyn Bridge stop the “last stop”. Bennett writes:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the next stop on this train will be the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall uptown platform. For your safety, please remain inside of the car until the train comes to a complete stop and the doors open.”

No more “last stop.”

So now, we’re not sneaking around the trains to spy the beautiful City Hall stop. Enjoy the view.

Categories : Abandoned Stations
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It’s Presidents’ Day, and I’m on the road this weekend. So posting is light. I’ll be back on Tuesday with a full day of subway news and notes. For now, just remember that today — Monday — is a special Monday. The trains are running on a Saturday schedule, and nothing is as it seems.

So after a weekend that saw Queens residents up in arms over 7 train problems, good luck getting around. The West Side IRT lines are very messed up right now, and they’re not the only ones. For more, check out the MTA’s weekend service advisories. Most of the service problems from the weekend carry through until 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

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Feb
16

Catholics call out condoms

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All New York City wanted to do was provide a service for people that promotes healthy lifestyles. In the face of countless studies that say abstinence-only policies simply serve to promote unsafe sex, the City decided to be proactive in the fight against STDs by distributing free NYC-branded condoms throughout the Big Apple.

Sadly, some folks don’t look too kindly on this immoral behavior. First, the MTA was upset because the City was using their subway bullets. The MTA didn’t want to be associated with a condom. (They prefer to go about their business without one.) So the City compromised, and that’s why the N is 8th Ave. IND blue and the C is Broadway BMT yellow. It’s almost-but-not-quite the same.

Then, along comes the actual hand-out, and one group was furious. They declared war on the condoms! If you guessed the Catholic Church, well, then step on down. You’re the next contestant on Ridiculous Outrage.

Edward Cardinal Egan, New York’s leading Catholic clergyman, and Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the condoms. The Post reports:

“The decision of the City of New York to distribute [26] million free condoms to the public – and minors as well, according to news reports – is tragic and misguided,” Egan and DiMarzio said.

“Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms,” the statement continued.

Egan and DiMarzio warned that the condom plan will “degrade societal standards.”

“The taxpayers’ money that is being spent to distribute condoms and promote the attitude that ‘anything goes’ would be far better spent in fostering what is true and what is decent,” they said.

I guess “what is true and what is decent” doesn’t covering “saving lives” and “protecting against disease.” Meanwhile, for the first time since Sex Ed classes in high school, people are actually talking about condoms on a near-daily basis, and that is a very good thing.

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Feb
15

The MTA hates pigeons too

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Neither pigeons nor this vintage train will be appearing at 103rd St. in Queens again. (Courtesy NYC Subway)

My mom and sister – two frequent visitors to this site – hate pigeons with a vengeance. These ugly, disgusting flying rats once prompted my mom to declare that she would shoot the pigeons if she could. And my mom is not a violent person.

Well, Mom and Victoria, the MTA is right there with you, but instead of shooting this bird, they’re going to shock them instead. Faced with a pigeon problem at some of their elevated stations in Queens, the MTA is going to shock these birds into submission. The New York Sun reports:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is implementing Operation Bird-B-Gone at three of the most avian-friendly stations on the no. 7 line. To prevent birds from reproducing underground and leaving behind unsanitary and unsightly droppings, the stations are being wired to zap birds when they goto roost on ledges in the stations.

Today, the MTA and state representatives will announce the completion of station refurbishments, including the electrical wiring, at the 103rd street station. The MTA will next tackle the pigeon woes at the 90th Street station.

The article goes on to note that pigeons are attracted to dirty stations where they can easily scavenge scraps of food. In typical MTA fashion, then, the obvious solution – cleaning up the stations – is the one not implemented. Assemblymen Jose Peralta and Jeffrion Aubry have tried for years to get the MTA to clean up the stations at 90th, 103rd and 111th Sts. in Queens, some of the dirtiest in the system according to the MTA.

But when these efforts proved futile, Peralta and Aubry instead secured the state funds to install the electric wiring. In the face of typical MTA bureaucracy, these two simply took matters into their own hands.

And so three stations in Queens will be safe for my family and pigeon-haters everywhere.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Feb
15

¿Necesitar un condón?

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nyccondomspanish.jpg

Ok. Ok. I’ll stop the condom obsession soon and give you some new material. In the meantime, check out NYCcondom.org for the all the info on these snazzy rubbers you could possibly want. And then some.

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Feb
14

Condoms arrive in style

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Via Gothamist comes the news I have been awaiting since January: The New York City subway condoms are here. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to snag one today because they’re being distributed now at the Kenneth Cole store at Rockefeller Center, not near where I work.

In January, I looked at how different subway lines could get their own condom, but today, we see that, alas, it’s just a generic condom for the entire subway system.

Meanwhile, as Jen at Gothamist noted, the City and Lifestyles didn’t do a fantastic job integrated the subway bullets into the packaging. Sure, the bullets are then and are reminiscent of the subway. But why the color mash-up? Except for the O and Y which aren’t subway lines, the rest of the lettering should fit its proper bullet.

But hey, at least it’s a collector’s item and it might come in handy later tonight on Valentine’s Day.

Photo from Gothamist.

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In a surprising blow to the City’s plans to develop the Far West Side, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander has put the plan to extend the 7 line on hold until cost overruns and other financial concerns can be addressed. Sander’s announcement has City Hall on the defensive as the Mayor’s Office won’t promise to fund cost overruns, and Sander won’t jeopardize other MTA construction projects.

The Times reports:

The new leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority signaled yesterday that it had deep concerns over a deal with the city to build a $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 subway line, saying the authority did not have the money to pay for possible cost overruns or other additional expenses.

“It is M.T.A.’s position that we are under no legal obligation to absorb any additional costs or overruns,” Elliot G. Sander, the new chief executive, wrote in a letter to Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat. He was responding to a letter from Mr. Brodsky expressing concerns that the project could exceed its budget. Mr. Brodsky made Mr. Sander’s letter public yesterday.

The conflict stems from the original agreement concerning the 7 line. Mayor Bloomberg, in an effort to promote his Hudson Yards project, hammered out a deal with the MTA where the city would pay for construction costs and the MTA would handle the project’s design and implementation. But this deal came with one caveat: The city’s contributions were to be set at $2.1 billion.

Well, as reported in November, the project’s budget was on the rise due in part to a weak dollar and the need to purchase new subway cars from Japan. Now, Sander says the MTA, focusing on the Grand Central Terminal-LIRR railink and the Second Ave. subway, can’t assume the cost overruns, and City Hall ain’t budging.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff had some firm words for The Times. “Our view is that we certainly had an understanding and that the city would be responsible for all costs up to $2.1 billion and that the M.T.A. would bear the responsibility for costs above that. We’re going to sit down and talk, but our view is, the deal is the deal,” he said.

Also involved in this brouhaha is Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky who oversees the Transit Authority. “If we keep to the basic principle, which is the city will pay and the M.T.A. will build, we’ll be O.K.,” Mr. Brodsky said to The Times. “But right now there are hundreds of millions to almost a billion dollars of costs that the M.T.A. would probably have to absorb that would endanger the Second Avenue line, the East Side link and other parts of the capital program, and that is simply unacceptable.”

So now what?

Well, someone has to blink in this game of New York politics, and hopefully, it will be the City. Right now, it’s clear that those on the MTA’s side are sticking up for this project. Sander has stressed the need for a Second Ave. subway and will not sacrifice these aims for the sake of the Hudson Yards development, a pet project seen as Bloomberg’s baby.

Meanwhile, the City should take responsibility for the funding promises it has made. Already, plans for the 7 line extension may be cut to build to build a station only at 34th and 10th Ave. and a shell at 41st and 11th Ave. that could be renovated into a full station in the future. For the sake of the subway, the City should be willing to kick in money for any projected cost overruns and both stations. A completed projected now will be much cheaper in the long run than the need to complete another station in the indeterminate future.

But for now, our Second Ave. subway is safe. It’s the silver lining in this dark and ugly cloud as two political powers face off over dollar signs.

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