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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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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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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¿Necesitar un condón?

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

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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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A view of the old MetroCard prices. (Courtesy of and Photoshop)

“Free” is today’s subway word of the day.

The free frenzy started last week when Streetsblog reported on a talk by Theodore W. Kheel. Kheel, an environmentalist who just gave $100,000 to the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility to study his pet project, issued an interesting proclamation: The subways should be free, and drivers should foot the bill for the MTA’s upkeep.

Well, today, this news escaped from the world of Streetsblog as The Post and The Sun covered it this morning. The blogs chimed in during the day with SUBWAYblogger voicing support for the project and Brooklyn Record posing a few questions about Kheel’s ideas.

Let’s dig a little deeper here, and see what Kheel is proposing. For info, we go to The Sun:

If New Yorkers don’t pay a fee to use the police and fire departments, they should not have to pay to use the city’s mass transit system.

That’s part of the thinking of Theodore Kheel, who last Thursday donated $100,000 to the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility to study how a free mass transit system could save money for the city. Mr. Kheel, a 92-year-old philanthropist, environmentalist, and labor relations lawyer, says charging a fee to drive on the city’s most crowded streets would create an incentive for drivers to switch to mass transit. The revenue earned on the streets could be used to subsidize free subways and buses.

On the surface, it’s an interesting premise. The city over services — such as the police and the fire departments — that we as citizens use for free. Or for “free.” The police, the fire department and various other civil organizations are all funded through taxpayer money. Think we’re not paying for that? Think again.

The subways too are funded through some taxpayer money (local, state and federal) and some fare money (but, as SUBWAYBlogger pointed out, not all fare money goes back to the system). So Kheel wants to charge people more for driving on the crowded city streets, and this money would go toward the subway.

At the event last week, Kheel, as reported on Streetsblog, said that the free subway would save the city some money. The how here is up for debate. Aaron Donovan at Streetsblog speculated, “that savings would come in terms of reduced costs for road maintenance, fewer vehicle accidents and hence emergency services, reduced asthma cases, etc” would save money. I’ve also heard some people claim that fare collection is costly to the MTA, but I find it hard to believe that even an organization as inefficient as the MTA and New York City Transit would spend more money to collect fares than they would draw in through these fares.

As the cost of driving goes up, Kheel’s solution would bring more people into the subway. The subway would then become insanely overcrowded, in my opinion, as many who drive out of luxury would stop doing so and turn to the now-free mass transit options. And here is where I see Kheel’s solution breaking down. If fewer people were driving, the revenues drawn in from the increased tolls and new congestions fee would have to off-set a dramatic surge in ridership in the subway. The MTA would need more cars, more maintenance crews, more cleaners and more subway lines. I don’t see how a feasible congestion fee can achieve these monetary goals.

Meanwhile, the local media is already reporting this story incorrectly. At the event last week, Kheel noted that the one-day ridership record set in 1946 stood at 8.8 million. We’ve come close, but we’ve yet to eclipse this number. The Sun, reporting on the event, claimed, “In 1943, when the fare was five cents, average weekday ridership was more than 8 million, almost double what it is today.”

But the most accurate ridership information I could find (in this 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.

So for now, this is just a study, but it’s a complicated issue. I’ll pay attention to it, but I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical of the media coverage of this proposal, and I’m skeptical of its feasibility. I am all for a congestion fee; I’m all for free subways. But the numbers just don’t add up.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Long before he took office, New York’s new governor, Eliot Spitzer, had championed capital construction projects aimed toward improving the state’s transportation infrastructure. High on that list of priorities was the Second Ave. subway.

Even at such an early stage, the funding for Spitzer’s goals was far from assured. Upstate representatives to Albany were concerned about funneling so much into a city-centric agency such as the MTA, and the billions of dollars needed to complete the first stage of the Second Ave. subway and the Grand Central-LIRR link were never going to be easy to find.

Now, just a few weeks into Spitzer’s term as governor, the financial outlook for these projects does not look too rosy. In fact, to survive the cutting board, Spitzer may need to step in and deliver the big bucks for the MTA because the MTA’s debt problem may mean yet another postponement for these much-needed projects. The Times Ledger reports:

The problem is that the MTA’s capital program, which runs through 2009 is running over budget by at least $1.4 billion, according to a report first published by the New York Times. As result of heavy borrowing, the MTA faces years of enormous debt starting next year.

The $21 billion program is supposed to provide for not only what the MTA calls its mega projects Ð the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal but also the purchase of hundreds of new rail cars and the improvement of signal systems and other subway equipment.

Accordingly, Elliott Sander, the new executive director and CEO of the MTA, will do what heads of bureaucracies do best: appoint a committee. After last week’s The Times’ report, Sander decided to investigate the claims made concerning the MTA’s financials. While he and MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow are skeptical of the alleged $1.4 billion overrun, Sander did note that some of the bigger projects could be put on the back burner while routine maintenance demands are met.

For those in New York who have been waiting decades for the Second Ave. subway, it would come as no surprise if this project is delayed yet again. But with the federal government kicking in some money for the Second Ave. subway, I would be surprised to see this new subway delayed yet again. Optimism may reign supreme in hoping for the arrival of a subway line 70 years in the planning.

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