Boston has it’s T. Philadelphia’s two-line subway system looks like a T. And now, after nearly eight decades in the making New York will be getting its own T line.

That’s right; the MTA is set to sign a contract on my birthday – March 29 – for construction of the oft-delayed Second Avenue subway line, amNew York reported this morning.

Elliot “Lee” Sander, the MTA’s new executive director, and Chairman Peter Kalikow will approve the $333 million contract for the first phase of the project that critics thought would never happen…

Almost immediately after the contract is signed, construction trailers will start to line parts of Second Avenue in the East 90s, MTA officials said.

The groundbreaking ceremony, along with actual digging, is scheduled for late April or early May. The exact location has not been determined.

This announcement comes a week after Kalikow noted the inevitability of the new subway line. Construction will begin nearly immediately after the contract is signed in a few weeks, and the so-called T train will be the first new subway line built in over 60 years. But hold on to your hats, folks.

This part of the Second Ave. subway line, schedule for completion in 2013, will contain a whopping three new stations. The new stops will be at 96th St., 86th St. and 72nd St. with a connection to the current stop at 63rd St. before the T joins the Q for a trip down to Lower Manhattan. As the diagram above notes, the tunnel north of 96th St. still exists from other failed attempts to build the Second Avenue line and will figure into phase 2 of this project.

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Riders of the Manhattan-bound B and Q trains know there’s something out there. Shortly before the trains go above ground on the Manhattan Bridge, alert riders can spot a glimpse of…something. It’s not a solid tunnel wall; daylight streams through a series of slits in a temporary wall blocking whatever it is that’s there.

Well, that something is actually a very old and long-abandoned subway station. It is an old elevated subway stop at Myrtle Ave. that hasn’t seen passengers since July of 1956, over 50 years ago. While abandoned stations dot the subway system — and alert passengers on the East and West Side IRT trains know where to stop them — the Myrtle Ave. station is unique because it once served as the staging grounds for a work of art:

Two hundred twenty-five hand-painted panels sit behind those mysterious slits. When viewed properly and at the right speed, those panels form a picture. It’s a life-sized subway zoetrope.

But the Masstransiscope has fallen on hard times. Installed in the 1980s by filmmaker Bill Brand, the piece, as any astute rider may notice, is completely obscured by graffiti. Now, Brand wants to restore his zoetrope. Originally installed at a price tag of $60,000 and through the aid of the NEA and the New York state Council on the Arts, Brand estimates it could cost up to $40,000 to restore it, and the MTA’s Arts for Transit program can’t cover the restoration costs.

“Around 1990, we fixed it up,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. At that time only the light bulbs needed to be replaced, and the MTA received a donation of bulbs. Now, however, the electrical work needs to be entirely redone. Arts for Transit isn’t willing to shell out the estimated $35,000-$40,000 for restoration.

“I need to produce works that will be here 30 or 40 years with that kind of money,” Bloodworth said. Masstransiscope, she added, “gets damaged so quickly. It gets painted over with break-ins.”

While twenty years ago, Brand convinced graffiti artists to tag elsewhere simply by asking nicely, times have changed. Graffiti in the subways is no longer about the art of graffiti; instead, it’s about tagging a name on as much MTA property as possible. And Brand knows he would face an uphill battle to keep the Masstransiscope viewable.

The MTA will coordinate the restoration. Now, Brand just has to raise some money to restore an interesting work of art that would lend some color to an otherwise sluggish ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Hat tip to Brooklyn Record.

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Live from the Apple Store in a very crowded SoHo, it’s your (late) weekend service advisory link. With St. Pat’s still one week away, the 7 train is still screwed up. Don’t worry; with weekend home games for the Mets rapidly approaching, everything will be back to normal soon. The Brooklyn-bound F is running on the A tracks to Jay St; there’s no C service, and the A is running local all the way to Far Rockaway. And forget about going from Brooklyn to the West Side. That’s still a disaster in progress.

You can find detailed alternate routes to your weekend service woes by clicking here.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Two weeks ago, the F train came under attack from riders in Brooklyn who noticed fewer, more crowded trains. These riders, rightly so, were upset with the MTA for cutting back service in an area of the city suffering from gentrification and a population boom.

This week, the F train riders responded to the original article in The Brooklyn Paper with a reply that, at the risk pissing off my fellow denizens of Brooklyn, is nearly as short-sighted as the MTA’s attempts to cut F train service without really acknowledging this service cut.

Jasmine Melzer of Park Slope wrote to Gersh Kuntzman’s paper. (Scroll down for her letter.)

I date the beginning of these problems to the introduction of the V train. Ever since the V came into existence, I have wondered whether Brooklyn was ever represented at the table that gave this service to Queens.

Elementary math tells you that two won’t go into one. For Brooklynites standing on Manhattan subway platforms, watching useless, empty V trains heading for Second Avenue is a constant source of frustration…

For the MTA spokeswoman to simply negate the possibility of either extending V service or utilizing the existing express tracks is to ignore the urgent need of a Brooklyn population that is nearing its historical peak.

Melzer, citing the popularity of the MetroCard as the reason for the subway’s new-found popularity (uh, what?), also calls for express service on the F out to Coney Island. Now, on the surface, Melzer’s ideas seem fairly straightforward. They may even make sense in the grand scheme of the MTA. But it doesn’t hold up.

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A Circle Line train leaving Edgware Road on July 7, 2005, was one of three attacked in London. (Courtesty of flickr user otama)

Maybe in New York we overlook what happened in London in July of 2005. Maybe we chalk it up to the Olympics announcement and the Muslim-European tensions that have long been simmering in cities across the Atlantic from us. Or maybe we don’t focus on it because we’re afraid that it could happen here, and we don’t know how to protect ourselves from such an attack.

In fact, that’s exactly how New York’s anti-terrorism chief feels, and he let his feelings be known in Washington this week. Speaking in front of the House Homeland Security Committee this week, Deputy New York Police Department Commissioner Richard Falkenrath stressed the vulnerability of the New York City transportation system and the vulnerabilities in similar systems across the country. In his testimony, Falkenrath really laid into the politics and policies that plague the Department of Homeland Security, a government agency that has succumbed to politics in doling out its money. amNY reported:

Despite [22 bomb threats and 31 intelligence threats related to subway attack threats this year] and a spate of deadly train bombings in London, Madrid and Mumbai, India, Falkenrath, a former White House homeland security official, said the federal government has done little to protect the nation’s subway and rail systems.

“Given the severity of the terrorist threat to the U.S. mass transit system … the disparity between the federal investment in aviation security and … mass transit security is a national embarrassment,” he said…”Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the field of homeland security has been gripped by a mania for plans, strategies and other mandatory reports … They are of almost no value to operating agencies in the field; and they seem to be ignored by virtually everyone except the government contractors paid to verify that the reporting requirements have been met.”

As Falkenrath noted, even those plans approved by DHS don’t target the country’s vulnerable areas in a way acceptable to the people on the ground. For example, a proposed bill that would earmark $4 billion for rail and tunnel security in the U.S. allows for spending only on equipment and not the people needed to defend the subways.

“This bias pervades virtually all homeland security grant programs,” he said. “It is a reflection of the interests of government vendors, who sell more products, and federal auditors, whose jobs are simplified when grants can be connected to invoices.” You tell ’em, Richard.

Falkenrath, meanwhile, estimated that the city needs 2700 cops a day to guard the hundreds of exits and entrances into the subway system. Simply put, we need the money to pay people to defend the subways, fancy equipment or not.

Outrageously, though, as CBS reported tonight, the federal government is pandering to the people in spending. The government spends nearly $7.50 per passenger on airport security and just 1.5¢. This besides that fact that simply locking and reinforcing cockpit doors could stave off nearly every airplane hijacking attempt. But hey, we didn’t vote for Bush in 2000 or 2004; why should we get the money or sensible policies?

While federal agents in New York and Washington are attempting to teach old dogs new bombing sniffing tricks, something tells me that just won’t be enough. If someone’s about to blow themselves up in the subway, having a dog point out that fact will simply lead to one more dead dog.

While the editorial pages of the Daily News were the only ones to take a stand on this issue, calling, as I am, for the government to listen to the New York officials outlining what they need to protect the city’s subways.

In his testimony, Falkenrath painted a dire picture of an attack on New York’s subways. “I go to work every morning … with the mindset that today will be the day that terrorists strike New York City again. The most likely scenario, I believe, is an attack in the subway system with multiple, near-simultaneous satchel bombs,” he said.

To me, this doesn’t seem far-fetched. I was in Europe on July 7, 2005. I saw the reaction of the citizens of the EU as bombs exploded in London’s subways. Just days before, I was on the Metro in Madrid and Barcelona, blissfully unaware that anyone on the train could have been carrying a bomb.

In the States, we think of terrorism as grand acts. We think of airplanes striking buildings and men driving trucks filled with explosives into big stationery targets. But ask people in London, Dubai, Madrid and Tel Aviv. Ask them about suicide bombs on buses and near-simultaneous explosions on subways.

Do we in New York have to wait to become victims before the federal government will act appropriately? I sure hope not.

Categories : Subway Security
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Gov. Spitzer doesn’t want more money dropped into the MTA’s turnstiles. (Courtesy of flickr user jlin45d)

The political grandstanding on the possibility of an MTA fare hike has begun. Look out.

Just yesterday, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander announced that the MTA may have to look at the possibility of a fare hike in 2008. Sander, vague on the possibility of a fare hike, knows the vultures will descend if he starts talking in definites. Chuck Bennett on amNY’s Tracker Blog said as much yesterday.

Other politicos in New York started taking positions on the fare hike pretty quickly. Our new governor Eliot Spitzer jumped into the fray as he announced his stringent opposition to a fare hike. In fact, Spitzer has promised to do “everything possible” to avoid a fare hike. Strong words from the man in charge. Metro New York reported:

Yesterday Spitzer said higher fares might be avoided by the state contributing more to the MTA. “We will increase state investment in transportation — both capital and operating sides of the budget — because that is the only way to maintain our transportation,” Spitzer said.

With this promise, the ball is squarely in Spitzer’s court. He’s right to note that the state can stave off a fare hike. If Spitzer can get the legislature to guarantee the City-based subway enough money and then some to cover the necessary costs, we won’t face a fare hike. But upstate representatives are always loathe to fund New York City-centric projects.

This will be one political dance worth watching as the City’s own Spitzer may have to battle a powerful upstate coalition of representatives opposed to giving more money to the MTA.

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The Fire Department doesn’t like that radio system either. (Image from The Times)

First, the Police didn’t find the MTA’s $140 million investment supposed ground-penetrating system workable. And now, unsurprisingly, the Fire Department has realized that, hey, radio waves don’t really penetrate the ground either.

Citing “dead spots” where the radio signal cannot penetrate, the Fire Department said yesterday that the system is a failure. The MTA is now looking at a mighty expensive failure at a time when money is tight. “It’s only been through the sort of exhaustive testing that’s gone on that we’ve found these areas that are of concern to us, and we don’t want to rely on the system until it’s as close to 100 percent as we can make it,” said Francis X. Gribbon, a Fire Department spokesman, to The Times.

New York’s paper of record had more:

The Fire Department has also given the system a failing grade, saying it is permeated with “dead spots” where radio signals do not reach. It is a setback for the authority, which built the system and had defended its work by saying that despite the rejection of police officials, the Fire Department was using the system and was pleased with its performance.

That is no longer the case. The Fire Department is preparing to circulate a memo to fire units this week which, in a draft provided by the department, says that “after many months of testing” it has concluded that the subway radio system does not “uphold the communications and safety standards of the F.D.N.Y.”

There’s a lot of techno mumbo-jumbo in the article about radio frequencies and transmission signals. It delves into the differences between the police signals, which didn’t work too well off the bat, and the fire department’s signals which at least made it through some tests.

But the bottom line is stark and straightforward. The MTA will have to spend an additional $20 million to fix these transmission problems which one New York City Transit official called “not an unanticipated result.” The total cost of the project is now set at $210 million, and this radio wave problem is just another example of unforeseen costs plaguing the MTA. It’s nothing new for the MTA which has faced these cost overruns for, oh, the last 103 years. What’s another $70 million anyway?

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That sound you hear, it’s not a dance troupe practicing its tap routine. No, instead, it’s MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander tangoing around the thorny issue of a fare hike in 2008.

The dance sounds a little bit like this. “I think the whole conversation is a little premature for us to engage in, but at the same time I think it’s fair for me to say it’s a real possibility,” Sander said to the Daily News.

Why the fare hike? Well, the MTA, running up annual deficits of $1 billion, needs to cover its costs. It’s simple economics really.

An unprecedented borrowing binge by the MTA – to make up for greatly diminished state and city funding – is coming back to haunt the agency, Sander said, appearing before the Daily News Editorial Board. Debt payments are soaring. Annual deficits are heading north of $1 billion…

The MTA’s grim outlook stems from the state and city cutting its funding for the agency’s core capital plans, which involve nonexpansion projects like track and signal upgrades, Sander said. The 2000-2004 capital plan “was put on the credit card,” he said.

With a new governor more sympathetic to New York City’s transit needs and Senator Schumer and Congressman Rangel in prominent Congressional seats, the MTA should receive more state and federal funding. But it won’t be enough to meet operational costs and capital improvement plans.

Meanwhile, straphangers should be able to shoulder a fare increase. As Sander noted, with discounts on pay-per-ride MetroCards and unlimited MetroCard use, the average cost per ride comes to about $1.30, among the cheaper subway rates in the U.S.

I’m not opposed to a fare hike; I, like Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, would like to see more funding across the board, and I would like to see the money go toward improvements in the existing system. Those are sensible demands if the MTA is to raise the cost of commuting once again.

Image of the MetroCard Wheel by flickr user Dave Gorman, leading me to wonder Is he Dave Gorman?

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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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