So apparently, the New York Police Department is bored. Cops assigned to the transit beat, you see, have been planting bags in the subway and then, uh, leaving them there until some unsuspecting subway rider takes them. At that point, the cops swoop in.

Nope, no entrapment there. Just walk away.

As you could imagine, the editorial pages of The Times were none too thrilled about this practice. While a Brooklyn judge, the Grey Lady notes, ruled that the police “do not need to manipulate a situation where temptation may overcome even people who would normally never think of committing a crime,” The Times’ complaint went beyond entrapment.

There is also the question of whether the sting does actual harm. In an era of terrorism, where the police have to rely on the help of average people to notice anything suspicious — including apparently abandoned bags — the last thing New York needs are cynical operations that encourage mistrust between the police and subway riders.

And of course, there is the effect on neighborliness. It is remarkable how many people in this city are willing to track down the owners of lost cellphones, wallets or bags. Arresting good Samaritans is bad enough, but encouraging them not to help in the future through this kind of overly aggressive policing is a downright shame. The best thing to do with this misbegotten program would be to end it.

Well, that’s the understatement of the year. The Times was just saving the snark for me.

By using these questionable methods, the police are clearly putting their “See something, say something” program at risk. If seeing something, saying something and doing something result in a ticket because you took an unattended bag, most straphangers will just become typical New Yorkers. “It’s not my problem” will become the familiar refrain. Gone will be the days of phoning in suspicious packages. And we’ll all just go back to our self-centered ways.

You can blame the NYPD and their Operation Lucky Bag. That is one bad idea gone horribly wrong.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Continuing our look at the Mayor’s PLAN2030 for a sustainable New York City, we arrive at Bruce Schaller, noted transportation consultant. While Schaller did not have the same official platform as Gene Russianoff did, he long has enjoyed a position of prominence in New York City’s transportation field.

Last month, Schaller penned a long piece in the Gotham Gazette on sustainable transportation measures that should be implemented between now and 2030. While containing a few little ideas that would make the city much more pedestrian-friendly, Schaller focused around big ideas that would ideally provide for better public transportation and greater disincentives to drive in the City.

On a macro level, Schaller recommends against the “chaotic” status quo, urges quick action on big capital plans (such as the 2nd Ave. subway) so that they won’t be derailed and calls for cooperation among government bodies and agencies. All of these suggestions are pretty standard stuff for the good government groups and consultants that serve as watch dog organizations in New York City.

Specifically, Schaller pushes for three ideas. The first encompasses the congestion tax that every public transportation and livable streets advocate has called for recently.

The economic signals need to fixed. That means congestion pricing for the Manhattan business district. Pricing should be applied as narrowly as possible, affecting only those motorists who by driving at the busiest times and places most contribute to slowing down everyone else. I’ve outlined a plan for peak period charges inbound to Manhattan in the morning peak period, outbound in the evening peak period, and for driving anywhere in the business district midday.

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Around the halls of City Hall, the phrase “Sustainable City” has been making the rounds. The Mayor kicked off this focus on the future when he unveiled his PLANYC2030 initiative a few months ago.

Bloomberg, looking at how far the city had come since 1981, wants the next 25 years to be as prosperous for this rapidly growing Metropolis. Chief among New Yorkers’ concerns are issues surrounding transportation. From a congestion tax to new subway lines, to folks advocating for pedestrian-friendly traffic plans to groups calling for increased public transportation, how we will get around this fair city is on everyone’s minds.

As the mayor and his people are working to formulate concrete plans for the next two and a half decades, transportation advocates are having their voices heard. Last week, Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, testified in front of the Transportation Committee. He spoke at length about adding capacity to the city’s crowded transportation system. Noting that average daily ridership during the week is at 7.2 million, Russianoff urged curbing traffic and adding funding to mass transit. Allow me to quote at length.

Achieving the goal of traffic reduction is only possible if the transit system can handle the increase in ridership from individuals shifting from driving to the subways and the buses…The City can help add transit capacity by providing added funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s core rebuilding program.

That program — at a price tag of $11 billion between 2005 and 2009 and with four more five-year multi-billion dollar increments through 2030 — now includes some funding for projects that would expand transit capacity. These include buying more subway cars and buses to modestly increase the size of the transit fleet and modernizing signal systems to allow for computer-driven subway cars that run faster and safer at more frequent service levels…All these projects could be more quickly advanced and have more ambitious goals with additional funding.

Right now, the City’s funding of the MTA’s core capital plan is the lowest it’s been in twenty years. The city now gives $70 million a year in general transit capital funds, a total of $350 million over the life of the 2005 to 2009 MTA capital plan. That’s about 3% of the funding for the plan…Tying specific goals to the 2030 timetable would help achieve the goal of added transit capacity set by Mayor Bloomberg. For example, the MTA and the City should move to computerized signals and a large transit fleet well before 2030 if they hope to move a City with a million more people.

It’s hard to argue with Russianoff. The City, no doubt, should be spending more on mass transit and other alternatives to automobile traffic. Even with the promise from President Bush, Governor Spitzer and Senator Schumer of money for capital projects (such as the 2nd Ave. Subway and the East Side LIRR link), the city should kick in more money.

Furthermore, with concrete goals, the city could earmark money for specific MTA projects as they have done with the 7 line extension. That way, money the mayor wants to go toward building a sustainable system wouldn’t be siphoned off by routine maintenance or increased salary demands. The MTA would still of course need to find those funds, but a plan that calls for improving transportation in a city of 9 million by 2030 should be able to earmark the funds for specific projects.

While Russianoff was speaking to the right crowd, he wasn’t the only one talking sustainable transportation issues. Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller discussed similar themes as it relates to PLANYC2030 in his most recent piece for the Gotham Gazette. Later today, I’ll take a look at what Schaller has to say about expanding and maintaining transportation capacity for the next 25 years.

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For years, the proposed 2nd Ave. subway has been the butt of New York City jokes. Frequently called “The Line that Almost Never Was,” this phantom subway line has become the poster child for New York City’s bureaucratic and fiscal difficulties for the last 80 decades.

Like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up hill, every time it seemed as though the 2nd Ave. subway was closer to reality, a financial crisis would come along and uproot everything. The boulder would roll back down hill, and New Yorkers would have to wait another few decades for some overly optimistic politicians to tackle the East Side subway line one more time.

But now we have a Mayor in place who wants to leave his mark on New York City in the 21st Century. Mike Bloomberg and his NYC2030 plan have everyone talking about building for a future. This future will, ideally, feature fewer cars but more people in a packed city. So the 2nd Ave. subway line is of vital importance for the success of his plan.

All of this is to say that we may have reached a tipping point for the 2nd Ave. subway line. As amNY’s Tracker blog noted last week, MTA officials now consider the 2nd Ave. subway as an inevitability. Gone is the doubt that has plagued this project since the days of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and the heyday of Robert Moses.

So why the optimism? Well, recently, the MTA purchased, for $15 million, a piece of real estate on 93rd St. that is a key piece of the subway puzzle. As Bennett noted in his blog, optimism is reigning supreme at MTA board meetings.

“All of the sudden it turned from doubtful to inevitable and nobody quite know when it happened,” Bennett quotes MTA chairman Peter Kalikow. And that is good news for straphangers indeed.

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Every day, thousands of straphangers are violating New York City Transit’s Rules of Conduct. I’ve done it; I’m sure you, dear reader, have done it too. Sometimes, you just have to get away from that un-air conditioned car with the stinky homeless guy in it. But by moving from one subway car to another, we are in clear violation of Rule 1050.9 (d).

Oops. That’s all I have to say.

For the most part, I believe riders don’t realize they’re breaking the law, and it’s an unlucky S.O.B. who gets tagged by a transit cop and handed a ticket. In 2006, according to The Daily News, transit cops handed out 3600 tickets or fewer than 10 a day. The cops must be catching, oh, 0.1 percent of all of New York City’s hardened criminals who move between subway cars.

Interestingly, though, as the The News reported, about 60 percent of those given tickets had outstanding warrants. What did the MTA have to say about this?

Of the 88 straphangers who got summonses in Brooklyn so far this year, 51 had outstanding warrants, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.

Two had loaded handguns, and two others were found to have knives. Ten had committed crimes or offenses in the subways before, and 26 refused to identify themselves, Browne said…

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for the MTA’s rail and bus division, said he wasn’t surprised that “among those who would move from car to car there are individuals who had more than an empty seat in mind.”

And that, folks, might just be the best quotation from an MTA official ever. Fleuranges seems to think that those shifty-eyed folks moving from car to car just might be trying to evade someone or something in their criminal past.

Of course, that just ignores the idea that maybe, just maybe, police will be a little discriminating in their enforcement of Rule 1050.9 (d). Maybe a transit cop won’t give out tickets to 15 people who are trying to hide from a bad odor. Maybe the transit cop will give out a summons to those folks who already look suspicious. And nevermind the racial aspects to these findings (and Fleuranges’ statement).

Just remember, every time you move between cars of the subway, you are breaking the law. Criminals, all of us. Guilty as charged.

Image of the oh-so-effective sign warning against moving in between cars comes courtesy of flickr user Paula Ramírez.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Well, that’s all she wrote for this week. But don’t worry; there’s another nutty weekend on tap with the Brooklyn-bound F running on the A tracks at some point. The 2, 4 and 5 doing that nutty switcheroo, and the 7 acting like the 7. Plus, last night’s torrential rains sort of messed up the West Side. Yikes.

Weekend service advisories are here. Allow extra travel time. Of course. Catch you on Monday.

Categories : Service Advisories
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While our e-mails crossed paths and I wasn’t able to be interviewed for this article, Second Ave. Sagas garnered a mention in Annie Karni’s excellent piece in today’s Sun about subway bloggers. Check it out:

Local blogs, such as secondavenuesagas.com, have launched in the past few months to track and comment on the progress of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s large-scale expansion plans, including the Second Avenue subway line and the extension of the no. 7 line.

I would have loved to opine on my love of all things subway and my feelings that subway expansion plans are integral to New York City’s success in coping with population growth and the demands of the 21st Century. But you, my loyal readers, know that already.

Categories : Self Promotion
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A Manhattan-bound N train departs the 59th St. station in Brooklyn. (Courtes of flickr user TimSPC)

Rush Hour is never a good time to take a train out of service. The subways are at their peak ridership levels as tired commuters simply want to be home after a long day’s work. No one wants to deal with a train going out of service five stops before theirs, and the pleasures of taking a packed shuttle bus along surface streets for another 25 minutes.

Well, maybe someone should tell the MTA that because it seems that some Bay Ridge-bound R trains have been going out of service at rush hour leaving passengers at 59th Street to wait for the next train or take a shuttle bush to reach the last four stops. Councilman Vince Gentile has taken the task of informing the MTA of their absurdity on his shoulders. The Brooklyn Papers reports:

“The MTA has designated 59th Street as the final stop for a significant portion of Brooklyn-bound trains during peak hours,” Gentile said. “This is a major concern.

“The MTA is effectively telling riders that there is no rush hour in Bay Ridge,” added Gentile, who admitted that he did not know the exact percentage of trains that get taken out of service, but said he considered one to be one too many.

The councilman fired a letter to MTA President Lawrence Reuter on Feb. 7 demanding better service for Ridge residents, and has yet to receive a response.

For its part, the MTA is claiming that there’s always another train directly behind the ones that go out of service ready to take passengers beyond 59th Street. But we’ve all heard that announcement before, and it’s simply not reliable.

By now, the R train is used to this wonderful publicity. The Straphangers Campaign rated it 14th out of the city’s 22 subway lines in its annual subway report card. And I wouldn’t expect an angry from Councilman Gentile to change the situation. After all, the MTA must adhere to its schedule, and sending rush hour trains past 59th Street to where people live in Brooklyn just isn’t part of that time frame.

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If you understand that disaster, you must be some kind of supergenius.

For two weeks, residents of Queens have been up in arms over the construction on the 7 line. Who can blame them? The MTA workers barely know what the alternate routes are, and getting to Manhattan from parts of the 7 line now takes up to three or four times longer than usual.

When the Authority originally announced the construction plans, Irish travelers complained that they would be unable to join the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan. Now, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander has announced that 7 train may run in Queens on March 17. Or maybe not. amNY reports:

Elliot “Lee” Sander, the MTA executive director and chief executive, said Wednesday that weekend service on the No. 7 train could be restored for the March 17 holiday, which falls on a Saturday. “We are looking at that,” he said after the MTA’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, but made it clear no decision has been made.

He added that the MTA is examining how service on the E and R lines and the Long Island Rail Road could pick up the slack for the thousands of revelers traveling to the parade. One scenario will let subway riders use the LIRR stop at Woodside.

But there’s an interesting twist to this story: Irish drinking establishments that are due for a big St. Patrick’s Day boon are torn about the service cuts to the 7 train.

The Irish bars in the Woodside area would see an increase in visitors for a big day of drinking if revelers can’t make it into Manhattan. So for once, maybe some people in Queens actually want the service changes to go in effect. Oh, the irony.

Update: Chuck Bennett at the amNY Subway Tracker Blog confirms that 7 service will be restored for St. Patrick’s Day. As an added benefit fewer, drunken partiers will be driving as they can now ride the train home in peace.

Categories : MTA Construction
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Let the passengers out first, folks. (Courtesy of flickr user Infinite Jeff)

For the MTA, a “late” subway is all relative. When you have no set schedule, how can a train really be late?

But the trains are supposed to run on time. They’re supposed to enter the station and leave the station in a timely fashion, and when passengers hold up the train, bad things happen. Ever wonder why you have to sit on the Manhattan Bridge for what seems like hours at a time? Blame the train delays ahead of you. And now, you can blame unruly passengers too, the latest reports say.

According to The New York Sun, trains delayed by unruly passengers in December jumped to 313 from a 2006 monthly average of 195. That’s a whopping 45 percent. With ridership nearing record numbers due to an increase in tourist visits to New York, tensions ran high on the trains at the end of last year.

The Daily News had more on the causes behind those pesky delays:

More than 4,270 trains were thrown off their schedules last year because riders blocked subway car doors from closing in stations, according to Transit Authority statistics. It’s now the fifth-leading cause of delays, up from 20th place just five years earlier…

Ridership has continued to rise in the past several years, resulting in more crowded trains. But TA spokesman Charles Seaton said he couldn’t say whether there was a connection to the number of door blocks.

Classifying delays is not always an exact science. Transit officials say that the “holding doors” category includes instances where riders try to squeeze onto crowded trains as opposed to intentionally trying to prevent a train from departing.

Well, come on. More passengers and more crowded trains might probably maybe just possibly result in more delays. And just like SUBWAYblogger, the MTA is trying to blame Mr. Last Minute Arrival Guy.

The top ten leading causes of delays from December 2006 after the jump.

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Categories : MTA Absurdity
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