Say cheese!

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (6) ·

metro_camera.jpg Apparently, all those people seeing something and saying something just isn’t paying off for the MTA in their never-ending fight against the terrorists, and that non-stop barking dog at Penn Station isn’t too discerning. So now the MTA is going to watch you as you commute, read the paper and pick your nose to and from work each day on the subway.

The MTA, you see, has plans to install digital security cameras in subways in an effort to watch your every move protect our city’s transit infrastructure from the Bad Guys. Already in use on the WMATA’s Metro cars in Washington, D.C., these cameras, according to Michael Lombardi, senior vice president for New York City Transit, can aid in criminal investigations and the aftermath of terrorist attacks. The Times has more:

Lombardi…said the authority had asked Kawasaki and Alstom, the two companies that are producing the latest model of subway car, known as the R160, to propose ways to add security cameras to the cars. The request was made within the last two months.

He said the authority would review the designs and ultimately seek to test them in a small number of cars, to see if the cameras would withstand the bumps, jolts, dust and stop-and-go conditions of the subway system. Mr. Lombardi said there was no timeline for the program, adding that any decision on the cameras would hinge in part on the cost.

I would hope a digital camera attached to the ceiling of a subway and experiencing the same bumps and jolts as everyone else would be effective, but leave it up to the MTA to mess up security cameras. If Washington, D.C., hardly the model of expertise when it comes to rapid transit, can install and monitor security cameras, I have a sneaking suspicion that New York with its extensive network of closed-circuit cameras can find a way to make something work in the subway.

“The goal is to examine where the technology is and whether it’s feasible to do it,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit. “We’ve done that for buses, we’ve done that for stations. Now we have to do that for subway cars.” Hint: It’s feasible, Paul. It’s feasible.

With 660 new cars for various subway lines on order and another 1040 on tap, NYCT would like to see the camera prototypes sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, NYCT plans to add cameras to 450 city buses, and they’ve already nixed the idea — because of the expenses and technology involved — of sending live images to a central rely station for 24-hour surveillance.

I’m not too thrilled with the idea of someone spying on our every move on the subway, and I bet SUBWAYblogger won’t be too enamored of the idea either. You certainly won’t be able to nab that nifty ad after hours anymore without feeling a set of eyes on you. But, whether you know it or not, the city is constantly watching you. There are, in fact, 13 security cameras between the front of my office building and the middle elevator bank plus at least another eight on West 16th St. between 8th and 9th Avenues. So what’s another set of eyes catching us at our most vulnerable as we ride the subways each day?

Image of WMATA security cameras in the D.C. subway from Outtacontext.

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Chicago facing one ‘L’ of a problem

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·

A glimpse down the ‘L’ tracks in Chicago. (Courtesy of flickr user sftrajan)

Once upon a time, the New York City subways were a mess. Decades of Robert Moses’ iron-fisted rule of the NYC metropolitan area’s transportation policies had left the subways near bankrupt and in a state of disrepair. Old train cars derailed frequently and otherwise crawled around the city. Service problems numbered in the thousands per year, and no one wanted to ride what was once the bets subway system in the world.

In those days, grime and dirt marred the subways. The cars were covered from floor to ceiling, inside and out, with graffiti, and crime underground transcended a problem. It was an epidemic. Looking at popular NYC culture from the time, movies such as The Taking of Pelham One Two Three show New Yorkers resigned to their fates. Submachine guns on the subway? It’s just another day’s commute.

These were dark days for New York City. Emerging from bankruptcy itself largely brought about by Robert Moses’ reckless spending and the need to maintain his automobile-centric infrastructure, the city was known as a seedy den of sin and social disorder. Times Square meant peep shows and prostitutes, not Disney and The Lion King. in 1984, at arguably the low point in the City’s recent history, one man – Bernard Goetz – took personal vigilantism to a whole new level when he shot four young men he believed to be threatening him.

Whether or not Goetz’s incident was the clear turning point or Rudy Giuliani’s crime prevention measures were the real cause of the New York City turnaround doesn’t matter. Twenty-five years ago, the subways had no money, few riders and a grim future. No politician wanted to invest in them; no one in his or her right mind would want to ride on them. How times have changed for a subway system that will soon see its first new line in decades and may witness record ridership numbers by the end of the decade.

But while we enjoy a subway renaissance, our neighbors 800 miles to the west aren’t so lucky. While social conditions in urban cities in the U.S. has improved since the 1980s and riding the subway isn’t nearly as dangerous as it once was, not all subway systems are maintained with the same devotion and dollars that our expansive highway system enjoys, and now, Chicagoans are starting to pay the price. The ‘L,’ Chicago’s 100-year-old rapid transit system, is breaking down. The money isn’t there to modernize the trains, and a boom times in Chicago are stressing the system to what some are calling its breaking point. The Times has more.

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Categories : CTA, MTA Economics
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Time has passed for subway cars waiting a line never build

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·

The original interior of the Subway of Tomorrow. Bugs Bunny however is nowhere in sight. (Courtesy of the Transit Museum Archives/New York Times)

The New York Times is reading my e-mail. That’s the only way I can explain the appearance of this article on the original prototype cars for the 1940s iteration of the Second Ave. subway line.

Here’s my backstory: Every day, the MTA, on its Website, features a classic photo on their “MTA in Pictures” feature. Last Sunday, the picture was a glimpse of the R11 car parked at the Transit Museum. I e-mailed myself that photo and a link to page on the R11 for a future post. So much to my dismay, I opened my Saturday Times to find that William Neuman beat me to the punch.

Well, I’m on to you, William Neuman. Stop reading my e-mails! Personal grudges aside, the story in The Times is pretty interesting. The story tells the tale of 10 cars designated R11 that were commissioned as prototypes in 1949 when the New York Board of Transportation believed the Second Ave. subway would soon be a reality.

Robert Moses would have none of that whole mass transit planning, and the money disappeared before the line could be built. The city meanwhile had to deal with 10 subway cars not designed with flexibility in mind. Neuman notes:

The cars cost about $100,000 each, and together the 10 prototypes became known as the “million dollar train.” They were not built to be compatible with other cars, though, so they could not be added to most other trains. Without a line to belong to, they remained an oddity. Orphans, they kicked around the subway system, running on a few scattered lines (the Canarsie line, the Franklin Avenue shuttle) until they were retired in 1976.

Interestingly, the R11 cars were built and marketed as the Subway of Tomorrow. They featured new innovations such as flourescent lighting and a stainless steel exterior. The plaque at the Transit Museum also tells us about some of the time-sensitive aspects of the R11 cars.

A description posted at the museum says that because polio was a concern in the 1940s, officials were looking for a way to curb the spread of germs in the subway. Earlier subway cars had conventional fans mounted on the ceiling. The designers of the R11 developed a forced air system that brought in air from the outside, ran it through “electrostatic dust filters” and under ultraviolet lamps intended to kill germs, before blowing it through ceiling vents into the cars.

As with all of the other old train cars parked at the Court St. subway station — once itself a possible destination for the Second Ave. subway — the R11 car passing the time there is a fascinating glimpse into an era that doesn’t exist and never existed. Had the Second Ave. subway found life in the 1950s as was once planned, the R11s would still be out of service by now. Yet, today in 2007, we can still look forward to train cars from the future to arrive on Second Ave. when the line is complete.

Of course, now we know what those trains look like. They’re bright with stainless steel exteriors. They feature mechanized voices yelling at you to “Stand clear of the closing doors please.” And they’re air conditioned. It’s more fun though to imagine the future that never was on the Second Ave. subway line that wasn’t.

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Can you tell me how to get, how to get anywhere?

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·

I don’t know what inspired me to search YouTube for Sesame Street videos on the subway, but I did. You get to experience the results. This is a purely classic moment of Sesame Street from the 1970s. I think this is witty song writing at its best. Did kids really get it though?

But anyway, as Friday night approacheth, the end of normal subway service arrives. So without further Sesame Street nostalgia, I bring you the MTA’s weekend subway service advisories. The highlights are as they generally are these days. No 1 service between 14th St. and South Ferry; 2 and 3 trains are supposedly running local (but this wasn’t the case last weekend). There is still no 7 service from Manhattan to Queens, but worry not; Opening Day – and weekend 7 service – is just around the corner. The A is still weird; the L and G are running slower than usual which is hard to believe; and the C is running at all.

Good luck. See you on Monday.

Categories : Service Advisories
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New Yankee Stadium Metro-North hub well over budget

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·


The former site of Macombs Dam Park. (Courtesy of Ariel Goldman/

For me, Yankee Stadium is a hallowed spot in this city. It’s a baseball temple, a mecca to the game and to the team, and soon it will be gone. With little opposition from Yankee fans, the Boss is going to tear it down so he can have his luxury boxes. Four million fans can’t be wrong, but someone in the Bronx thinks they are.

Now, I won’t wax philosophical on Yankee Stadium here. If you want my baseball writings, you can find them at River Ave. Blues. But if Yankee Stadium — or at the least the new Yankee Stadium — makes its appearances on these pages, you can bet the Metropolitan Transit Authority is in on the act somehow, some way. And if you guessed “real estate cost increases,” well, step right up because it’s your turn to play The Price is Wrong.

As part of the new Yankee Stadium and all of the trappings that a fancy new stadium brings to an old neighborhood, the MTA had planned to build a Metro-North Transportation Center. Suburban fans — or should I say, “fans” — would be able to ride in style to the House that George’s Money Built.

But like everything the MTA touches these days, the real estate values of the land needed for this Yankee Stadium hub have turned to gold. Matthew Schuerman at the The New York Observer Real Estate blog notes that the MTA doesn’t have enough money to construct this Metro-North hub.

It always seemed like a funny trick to get support for the new Yankee Stadium: build a new Metro North station nearby, not with the Yankees’ money, mind you, but with the public’s. Unfortunately, the $45 million that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had set aside for the project, which was supposed to start this spring, is not nearly enough.

Try $80 million instead.

Gosh, this all sounds quiet familiar. Maybe it’s because just three days ago, costs for the Second Ave. subway rose due to real estate values. Maybe it’s because Bronx borough president and Yankee buddy Adolfo Carrion woefully underestimated the construction costs for the new hub.

In the end, it doesn’t matter; the Metro-North stop at Yankee Stadium simply won’t be built if the funds aren’t there. Luckily for the rest of the city, the MTA will spend this money on infrastructure maintenance and other, more pressing capital construction projects. As for that new Yankee Stadium, it sure does look inevitable. It will be a sad day for the city when the House that Ruth Built goes the way of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds.

A good tip o’ the hat to Steve Lombardi for this story.

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Subways remain unsecured in commuter rail security beef-up

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·

MetroNorth trains will now feature Air Marshall since the trains fly. (Courtesy of flickr user PlasmoNYC)

First, I had to go Washington for some news about the subways, and now I’m venturing out to the ‘burbs. I’m not sure what’s worse. But either way, we’re talking about security today.

Metro New York reports that air marshals will soon be patrolling MetroNorth, LIRR and Staten Island Railway trains in an effort to protect these so-called soft terrorist targets. Suburban commuters, like those riding the subways, will also be subjected to random bag searches. Staten Islanders were celebrating this announcement as this is the first time their borough has been referred to something as complimentary as a soft target for terrorists.

The measures “will give our commuter railroads the kind of police presence our customers deserve and the post-9/11 environment requires,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director Lee Sander, who added the initiative began last week with step-on train inspections by MTA officers and the deployment of 50 dogs trained to locate explosives. “This partnership demonstrates our capacity to enhance safety and security by putting aside political and jurisdictional boundaries that often block collaboration, communication and the constant exchange of information.”

The plan is permanent and is expected to cost the MTA up to $5 million per year in overtime costs, Sander said.

Personally, I’m skeptical. The Feds are still spending $7 on air security to every 1.5 cents spent on rail security, and I just don’t see MetroNorth and the LIRR – let alone the Staten Island Railway – as viable or important targets.

Meanwhile, as SUBWAYblogger noted yesterday, police in the subways will continue “pretending to do random screenings of bags.” I feel safer already.

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DC Metro carpets may go the way of the dodo

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (5) ·

The DC Metro carpets: So gross even a caveman wouldn’t sleep there. (Courtesy of flickr user AlbinoFlea)

After I graduated from college, I spent 10 months living and working in our Nation’s Capital. To commute to work each day, I rode D.C.’s Metro. Run by the WMATA, the D.C. Metro is the second largest subway system in the nation.

While clearly designed for suburban commuters – wait times spike right after 8 p.m. each night and some D.C. residents have declared war on the Metro – the Metro does a serviceable job of shuttling people through Washington, D.C. The D.C. Metro also has one of the most disgusting features of any subway system I have ever ridden on: carpets.

That’s right. These subway cars, trampled on by nearly 600,000 people daily, are carpeted. These carpets are of the industrial style. These aren’t plush Persian rugs; they are the carpets of your college dorm room days designed to absorb everything a college student can throw (or is that hurl?) on them and then some. But the carpets in the Metro wilt under the pressure. Just think about winter.

During the winter in New York, subway cars turn disgusting. Since the start of February, subway cars have been grimy, wet and gross as commuters track dirty snow into the subway. Now, imagine if all of that wet dirt were to be absorbed by orange carpets from the early 1970s. That’s what you get in the Washington subways. Trust me; it’s just as gross as it sounds.

But good news for the aesthetes among us: The WMATA may ditch the carpets. The new head of the WMATA John B. Catoe wants to remove the carpet and reconfigure the trains so that they conform to our NYC standards. D.C.’s NBC4 has more:

Metro’s General Manager John Catoe said the carpet is too costly and isn’t practical. He said he wants to get rid of it. Two months into the job, John B. Catoe Jr. said his outsider status has helped him spot a lot of places where the system could be made more efficient, and the floor covering is just the beginning. If he has his way, riders could soon see rail cars that look more like those in the New York City subway, with plenty of room to stand but fewer places to sit.

Catoe said he was surprised nobody had thought to remove the carpet before. After all, it is difficult to clean and needs to be replaced often, he said. The carpet was meant to add a bit of luxury to the transit system in the nation’s capital.

Catoe put it best in the article. “I can understand the thought process in the beginning: ‘This is America’s subway system — we’re going to provide carpet on the floor of the subway,'” he said. “Well, that’s like having carpet on the Mall. I mean come on, let’s be real. Nice to do. Real world tells you it’s expensive, it doesn’t look good — particularly when it snows and you bring a lot of salt in there — and it doesn’t smell very good after it gets wet.”

I railed often against those carpets when I was living in D.C. They certainly were rank during bad weather; they were generally ugly all the time. For all the criticism we level at the MTA, imagine carpeted subways. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Categories : WMATA
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‘Pay no attention to the bad Second Ave. subway news’

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (6) ·

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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Second Ave. real estate costs on the rise

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·


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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Murder at the Canal Street station

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (4) ·

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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