Reconstructing the Columbus Circle station

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (8) ·


Eventually, the Columbus Circle station will feature an entry rotunda and business women on their cell phones. (Courtesy of Dattner Architects.)

A trip though the 59th Street-Columbus Circle these days can be something of an adventure. Blue construction walls dot the upstairs IRT platforms, and construction crews and the tell-tale signs of renovations mark the IND platforms downstairs. With big, temporary support columns in place and an aura of construction chaos permeating the station, I’ve long wondered what the plans are for this popular station.

For hints about this mysterious work, the MTA’s construction Website is no help. Since this isn’t a capital construction project, there is no information about these renovations. But a few Google searches revealed that Dattner Architects, the firm behind a number of subway plans including the new entrance at 72nd St. on the IRT, and Parson Brinckerhoff, the architectural firm descended from the original designers of the subway, are spearheading this project.

And lucky for us, the Dattner Website is chock full ‘o information. Let’s head to the project page on the rehabilitation of the Columbus Circle stop. According to Dattner, here’s what’s happening at 59th Street behind those blue walls.

The Columbus Circle Station project organizes, rehabilitates and restores the sprawling station complex at Columbus Circle. A new entrance at West 60th Street makes entry to the complex more convenient and eases passenger flow. New elevators provide handicapped accessibility. Circular and oval elements at key entrances mark important parts of the station, provide a sense of place, and facilitate wayfinding for passengers. A retail galleria is proposed for the passage between West 57th and West 58th Streets. Landmark elements of the IRT Station are preserved and restored. Joint Venture with Parsons Brinckerhoff.

So I think that’s architectural speak for making the station an ADA-compliant commercial hub that is easier to navigate and looks pretty. We won’t get to enjoy the completed station until 2009 at the earliest, but let’s look at some more pretty pictures after the jump. All of these pictures are from Dattner’s renderings.

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Categories : MTA Construction
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7 riders singing Hallelujah on Easter weekend

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·

Second Ave. Sagas suffered from a lack of content this week. I apologize. Passover, Yankee games in the cold and a busier-than-usual week at work kept me away from the subway. Next week, I’ll be back up to speed.

Congratulations, Queens residents, you’ve made it. The Mets return home next weekend, and your weekend service advisory has the glorious phrase “No diversions scheduled.” Read it and sing the praises of the Subway Gods.

Now, from Queens, you can get into Manhattan without walking backwards on your head while taking a shuttle bus from one end of the city to another, transferring to one train, taking a short helicopter ride and then taking another train. I bet you thought this day would never come.

Meanwhile, those folks on the A are still screwed. No baseball team’s homecoming can save you from shuttle buses and service delays.

The rest of the weekend service advisories for New York City Transit are here.

And enjoy the Sesame Street video. It’s not nearly as classic as last week’s appearance by Morgan Freeman, but it’s aggressive pole holding at its finest. We’ve all been in the position of both the blue and purple blogs. And notably, those two straphangers get to ride the A train this weekend.

Categories : Service Advisories
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You can’t really make the train come faster by peering down the tracks if there’s a glass wall in the way, now, can you? (Courtesy of flickr user j&c)

The Peer is a time-honored New York City subway tradition. As the train never shows up, frustrated would-be straphangers peer into the darkness of the tunnel for a glimpse – any glimpse – of the tell-tale signs of headlights from an approaching train. According to legend, peering into the tunnel actually makes the trains come faster as well.

But the MTA wants to do away with the open tracks of the current subway system. Instead, they want the city subway’s to become AirTrain-like platforms encased in glass with sliding doors that will open when the trains arrive. William Neuman, The Times’ MTA reporter, has more:

The doors, set into a wall of glass or metal, would create a floor-to-ceiling barrier, sealing off the track and tunnel area from the platforms and altering forever the daily experience of waiting passengers. Gone would be the rush of air and thunder, gone the visceral thrill as many tons of steel hurtle by at high speed, just inches away, all replaced by the hygienic interface of technology…

The doors, he said, could allow substantial energy savings in the station cooling systems, which would use cold water to chill air blown into the stations and reduce temperatures by about 10 degrees. With open platforms, the hot air from the tunnels would mix with the cooled air in the stations. With doors on the platform edge, the heat from the tunnels would be at least partly blocked and the cooling system could operate more efficiently.

Ernest Tollerson, the MTA’s policy director, talks a lot about the environmental benefits of these doors. Additionally, as The Times’ Empire Blog notes, the doors would prevent riders from rat-observing, trash-tossing and wallet-retrieving as well. (Of course, you wouldn’t be able to drop your wallet with the doors closed, but that’s besides the point.)

On the surface, it seems like a good idea. Saving energy is a desirable goal and keeping the tracks clean is a benefit too. But all is not well.

First, how long would it take for scratchiti to overtake these doors? Second, from what I’ve read so far in the Second Ave. Subway environmental impact statement, the trains may not all be the same length. Will they have doors spaced appropriately to accommodate both the 60-foot- and 75-foot-long cars? That sounds like an engineering nightmare to me.

And how about that bugaboo of any MTA project, the cost? Mysore Nagaraja, the head of capital construction for the MTA, is tight-lipped about the dollars, saying the doors would just be added to the project’s total budget.

But former MTA head Lawrence Reuter shared his views on the doors, and it’s not a favorable one. “I definitely discouraged it because it’s a cost item and it’s a maintenance item,” Reuter said. “It’s only going to apply in a few stations. What good is it going to do if you can’t adapt it to the rest of the system? I didn’t see any benefit, plus it’s going to cost extra money to maintain them.”

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So just who is Howard Roberts?

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·

Since I couldn’t find a picture of Howard Roberts, enjoy this neat photo of an old Redbird up on blocks. (Courtesy of Michael Pompili at NYCSubway.org)

At the end of last week, I slipped in the item that MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander” will nominate former MTA exec Howard Roberts as the next president of New York City Transit. At the time, I knew little about Roberts. Now I know some more.

According to two stories in the New York Daily News, I know a bit about Roberts’ background and the controversy surrounding his initial departure from the MTA over twenty years ago. Let’s start with the controversy.

In 1986, Roberts was in charge of the buses as an VP of NYCT when he was booted by then-MTA head David Gunn. According to the News, Roberts was dismissed because — get this — he actually got along with the transit workers. Pete Donohue has more:

Carolyn Konheim, former head of the NYC Transit’s advisory committee wrote in a letter that she was “shattered” when Roberts was shown the door. She described him as the “the first person I knew at the Transit Authority to treat passengers like customers and to give us, their representatives, an enormous amount of respect and attention.”

The president of Transport Workers Union Local 100 at the time, Sonny Hall, wrote to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board to express his shock and disgust. He suggested Roberts was forced out because his management style included cooperation and consultation with workers as opposed to a more authoritarian approach.

So lesson: If you work at the MTA, don’t try to cooperate and consult with the workers in an effort to make everyone’s lives easier. That only means that your performance is subpar, as reports have Roberts being told in 1986.

Meanwhile, this departure didn’t stop Roberts from going on to a successful career elsewhere. As Pete Dononhue reports in this other article, Roberts was second in command of SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, for nearly 10 years where he also developed the reputation for getting along with the SEPTA employees.

Some in Pennsylvania, however, felt that Roberts may have been too deferential to the labor unions. We’ll see how that plays out in New York where the transit workers are a strong force in city transportation politics.

Additionally, Donohue reports, Roberts was a 20-year military vet; he retired as a colonel. He served as a VP of Citibank and holds a masters in Civil Engineering and Public Affairs from Princeton.

So we have a highly qualified official who may get along too well with the unions. We certainly could do worse. Now if only someone could turn up with a picture of this guy…

Categories : MTA Politics
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Once again, JFK raillink falls to the wayside

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (5) ·


The Plane to the Train arrives at JFK Airport during a run in late 1978. (Photo by Doug Grotjahn. Courtesy of NYCSubway.org)

Lost to the years of history is the story of the Train to the Plane, the ill-fated JFK-Manhattan raillink. Lost even deeper in the annals of New York City transportation history is the tale of the Van Wyck Expressway and the potential to build a high-speed train connection from Manhattan to JFK Airport along the Van Wyck right-of-way at a minimal cost to the city.

Let’s go back in time to the 1950s. As Robert Caro noted in The Power Broker, an excellent book I just finished, and as NYCRoads.com recaps here, for just $9 million in the early 1950s, the City could have purchased an addition 50 feet of right-of-way rights along what would become the Van Wyck Expressway. While the city at the time had no money to construct what would have been a direct raillink to the airport — and not just the station near the airport as Howard Beach is now — the land would have been a valuable investment.

Instead, Robert Moses would have none of it. He did not want his projects altered one iota, especially for Mass Transit projects. As Caro notes, nine miles of preexisting IND subway track would have taken the trains to within three miles of what was then Idlewild airport. All the city’s transportation czar had to do was use a few million dollars that he had to bring the tracks up to the center of the expressway and straight to the airport. This train ride from Penn Station to JFK Airport would have taken all of 16 minutes. Tell that to someone sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Van Wyck as the minutes before an upcoming flight tick down.

As we know, Moses did no such thing, and New Yorkers traveling to the airport now are paying the price. While some costs — time lost to traffic or an endless A train ride to the new JFK AirTrain — are tangible to commuters, the monetary costs are astronomical. What would have cost a few tens of millions of dollars of a few decades ago now may cost $6 billion — if it’s ever built, that is.

Citylimits, a publication sponsored by the Center for an Urban Future, has more:

[In February], the project got a shot in the arm when U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced $2 billion in tax credits – originally promised after the attacks but still unused – toward the estimated $6 billion price tag. He called the link a “once in a generation chance” to create “a big win for all of New York.” …

But some transportation planners say the link being studied is neither the best solution for downtown nor the best use of taxpayer money. “If we already have such a good connection [to the airport] from Midtown, this doesn’t seem to be worth it,” said Kate Slevin, the associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, noting it currently takes 20 minutes to get from Penn Station to Jamaica – where passengers can take the AirTrain to JFK’s flight terminals – on the Long Island Railroad. “The problem is we have too many priorities in New York. We need to get out behind a couple of them and get them done.”

And those priorities lie elsewhere, agreed Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign of the New York Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy group for subway riders.

While Chuck Schumer says he has secured $2 billion of the estimated $6 billion, most transportation advocates don’t feel that the $6 billion is a real figure. Instead, it’s one that the powers-that-be have basically pulled out of the air.

Meanwhile, even the MTA authorities admit that the JFK Raillink is hardly a priority. The Second Ave. Subway, Tappan Zee Bridge reconstruction/replacement project, the East Side-LIRR raillink and the 7 line extension are all big ticket items in front of the JFK link on the never-ending line of New York transportation priorities.

Nowadays, we’re stuck with the replacement for the Train to the Plane, an IND express that got riders only as far as a Port Authority bus near JFK. We have instead the A train to the AirTrain. Or miles and miles of traffic jams. We are left with part of Robert Moses’ legacy of roads at all costs and no sight of compromise. It’s too bad; that raillink to JFK would be nice. Just don’t expect it soon. Or ever.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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SAS suffering from service delays

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (0) ·

Much like the MTA, I sometimes have my busier days. Sorry for the lack of updates this week. I’ll be back tomorrow with your regularly scheduled rantings and ravings about the MTA.

Categories : Service Advisories
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The Henry Hudson Bridge, a Robert Moses project, provides the northern-most escape off the island of Manhattan. (Courtesy of flickr user King Coyote)

Let me leave the subways behind for a minute and talk instead about a lesser-known branch of the MTA: MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Once the various authorities headed by Robert Moses, the MTABT came about under the consolidation of those authorities when the MTA came into existence in the 1960s. MTA Bridges and Tunnels is the largest such public authority in the nation.

While not nearly as interesting or as environmentally friendly as the subways, every now and then something Bridge and Tunnel-y comes along that strikes my fancy. The recent news about the road work on the Henry Hudson Bridge is such a story.

The bridge at the north end of Manhattan spanning the waters known as the Spuyten Duyvil Creek and I go way back. Heading to high school, I would cross that bridge every day. Leaving the city from my home on the Upper West Side, I would cross that bridge. And of course, heading back into Manhattan, I would cross the lower level of that bridge, and it would feel like riding over some rugged, back-country dirt road.

Well, no longer will that road test your car’s shocks because the MTA is going to start a three-year construction project on the original roadbed of the 70-year-old bridge. The Associated Press has more:

Crews have begun preliminary work to replace the original Depression-era lower-level deck of the Henry Hudson Bridge as part of an $84 million rehabilitation project, transit officials said Thursday.

The project will replace the four-lane lower deck of the bridge and rehabilitate the approach…The work is expected to be finished in the spring of 2010, said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Bridges and Tunnels division, which operates the city’s major bridges and tunnels. It will be done in four stages as each lane is replaced, the agency said.

As anyone who has recently driven across that lower level knows, this is a project years overdue. But interestingly enough, this is the first such deck replacement since the bridge opened on Dec. 12, 1936. The upper level, as I think back to the traffic jams, had its deck replaced in 1998.

Traffic will be bad crossing this span as they tackle a lane at a time, but in the end, it will be well worth it. After 70 years of service, this bridge needs a new lower level.

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New York pols worried about MTA debt levels

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·

Will City Hall be willing to cover some of the MTA’s debt? (Image courtesy of flickr user rezendi)

The MTA’s current debt problems are no secret. For starters, I’ve written about it here, here and here over the last few months. But now New York City and state politicians are beginning to voice their concerns, according to recent reports.

The MTA’s massive debt comes from a confluence of largely historical circumstances. Poor management decisions and the decision to maintain a five-cent fare against the rate of inflation for decades combined with Robert Moses’ anti-subway policies and the financial collapse of New York City in the 1970s left the MTA with no money. With a need to maintain and upgrade the system, the MTA has pushed ahead with renovations by borrowing the money. We don’t, after all, want to end up with the problems the L is suffering through in Chicago.

But now the big ticket items are coming home to roost. With the Second Ave. subway groundbreaking set for April 12, the West Side extension for the 7 line on tap and the East Side LIRR connection on the horizon, New York politicians are concerned that broken promises by the federal government could leave the MTA looking at a debt problem. The Queens Courier had more last week:

Projected deficits and sudden borrowing by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have elected officials worried, with City Councilmember John C. Liu and State Senator John D. Sabini taking action to improve security and service without fare increases…

“It is irresponsible for the federal government to renege on their commitment to protect Americans, including those of us in New York on the front lines in this war against terrorism. The MTA’s unexpected and substantial borrowing also calls into question the adequacy of the Authority’s budgetary planning and its accountability in borrowing such huge sums. Ultimately, the riders will be forced to pay for this through sooner-than-necessary fare increases and that’s wholly unacceptable,” [Liu, Transportation Committee chair, said.]

While some of the council’s words can be seen as political posturing, I’m fully on board with their efforts to secure more funds for security from the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t seem to understand the vulnerability of the New York City subways and regional rail system. With nearly 10 million riders a day on Metro-North, the LIRR and the city’s subway system, the MTA’s holdings are strategically vital aspects to the New York City — and thus, the entire US — economy.

In reality, the MTA should not be expected to saddle the burden of security when we have a government agency established for just that purpose. With necessary capital construction plans under way, the Feds need to step up their contributions to security. Hopefully, Liu and Sabini will continue their vocal cries for more resources devoted to rail security.

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You can’t take the A train if you want to leave Brooklyn

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (1) ·

If you’re on the A or C line in Brooklyn, everything is messed up this weekend. The MTA has to replace a 71-year-old piece of railbed, and that means major service disruptions.

First, there is no C service at all, and the A trains are running local. Except Jay St.-Borough Hall and Utica Ave where shuttle buses will operate. Take the L, says the MTA. For more on that, check out the MTA’s site.

Meanwhile, the rest of your subway service advisories are much the same as they have been. No 7 service; weird West and East Side service on the IRT; yadda, yadda, yadda.

But to get you through your weekend subway blues, Second Ave. Sagas presents yet another trip down memory lane. In this classic clip from 1970s TV staple The Electric Company, Morgan Freeman – yes, The Morgan Freeman – bemoans that “nobody loves the subway.” It’s brilliant.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Sander nominates Howard Roberts to head NYCT

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·

For the last 11 months, New York City Transit has been under the leadership of interim president Millard “Butch” Seay. Since Lawrence “I have no nickname” Reuter stepped down last April, no permanent replacement had been named. But now reports say that MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander is ready to name a new NYCT head.

This new president will be one-time NYCT VP and former Deputy GM of the SEPTA Howard H. Roberts. According to a report in the New York Post, Sander will soon make this an official appointment, and the MTA board will have to approve the selection.

Howard H. Roberts, 67, who was a vice president for New York City Transit buses in the 1980s when Sander worked in the division, is likely to become the next president of NYC Transit, sources said…

Roberts has since worked at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia, where he is credited with helping to improve safety and security of the system, and most recently as a transportation consultant. He also is a former Citibank vice president.

Transportation advocates contacted by the Post believe that Roberts will be a fine choice. I’ll have more on the once and future MTA employee as the appointment becomes official.

Categories : MTA Politics
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