Mar
22

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.

Comments (2)
Mar
21

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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Mar
21

‘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.

Comments (6)
Mar
20

Second Ave. real estate costs on the rise

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·

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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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Mar
20

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.

Comments (4)
Mar
19

$50 million on one entrace is never a good idea

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (0) ·

Stylized color pencil New Yorkers taking advantage of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park include…kayakers in the East River? Yummy. (Image courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy)

Every now and then, the MTA avoids spending insane amounts of money on ridiculously small projects. The once-planned subway entrance to the currently-planned Brooklyn Bridge Park falls into just that category.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park – a beautification and redevelopment plan for 76 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront – is set for completion sometime in the 2012 area. As part of the plan, a four-block underground tunnel connecting the park to the 2/3 stop at Clark St. was in the works. But, as The Daily News reports, the $50-million price tag is just a tad bit too much.

A new traffic study for the planned waterfront park has all but ruled out creating a new entrance to the Brooklyn Heights Clark St. station via an underground tunnel. “It’s going to be very expensive and will have engineering challenges,” said Jee Mee Kim, the project director with the traffic consulting firm Sam Schwartz PLLC…

The Clark St. subway station on the 2 and 3 lines has an entrance on the corner of Henry St. The proposal found that opening an entrance nearer the waterfront – at least four blocks away – would cost $30 million to $50 million.

Well, phew. I can think of much better uses for $50 million than one subway entrance for a pre-existing stop. How about a totally brand new subway line? Some cleaner cars? A better public address system? $50 million buys a lot of neat stuff.

And for those of you eagerly awaiting the park, new bus routes, water taxis and increased pedestrian and bike access points will make this green oasis with great views of Manhattan easily accessible when it finally opens in five or six years.

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Mar
19

If you see something, blog about it

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (3) ·

ifyouseesomethingbark.jpg

Don’t worry about terrorists; K9 Emily is on the prowl.

As I rode the uptown local from 66th St. to 96th St. this afternoon after catching a movie at the Lincoln Square Cinemas, my eye alit upon the ad above. Except it was in Spanish. So for four stops, I got a huge kick out of the ad that read, “Usted usa sus ojos. Ella usará su hocico.”

I’ll use my eyes; she can use her snout. I felt safer already.

Unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t the only one noticing the MTA’s ubiquitous yellow anti-terrorism ads urging individual attention to suspicious things in the subway. (And, no, we’re not talking about the guy selling pirated DVDs as suspicious as that may be.) Since I didn’t get a chance to read the Friday business section in The Times, I missed this brilliant article on the successes of the “If you see something, say something” advertising campaign.

The short version: In the post-9/11 climate, the MTA hired Korey Kay and Partners to come up with a catchy slogan. They’ve certainly succeed as more than 30 organizations worldwide now use some variation on the theme.

They include the Alexandria Transit Company in Virginia; the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia; Bay Area Rapid Transit; the Chicago Transit Authority; the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; and TriMet in Portland, Ore.

“We wanted something that was punchy and catchy enough to not fade in the background,” said Christopher P. Boylan, a deputy executive director at the M.T.A., “and makes a connection with every one of our passengers.”

At the same time, said Allen Kay, chairman and chief executive at Korey Kay, “there was concern there could be backlash, concern we were using fear tactics,” so consumer research was used to determine perceptions of the theme.

While Kay may have been concerned about the negative backlash, I’m a bigger fan of all of the parodies that seem to find there ways around the Internet and the city. My all-time favorite I spotted a few months ago on a downtown E train. It said, “Bush is still President, say something.” Sadly, I couldn’t capture it for posterity, but others have. Let’s take a look. (All links pop to show the pictures.)

Some folks have taken to using pink pig stickers to lively up the posters. That’s just as good as drawing mustaches on news anchor’s faces. It never fails to amuse.

Then, there are those who edit the slogan a la the President Bush one. I’ve seen many. One of my favorites is “If you see something, run like hell.” That one is poignantly sad in its veracity.

But beyond humor, people have taken to using this slogan as a political statement. Here and here are political diatribes against the current administration.

And even the Spanish signs have provoked the ire of vandals and xenophobes everywhere. When The Post ran an op-ed piece against the Spanish signs during the height of the anti-immigration debate last year, some straphangers decided to cut out the column and stick them behind the plastic ad coverings in the subway. If you see something, say something indeed.

So then is this ad campaign a success? Well, it’s used the world over, and everyone in the city immediately knows what you’re talking about when you mention it. But it seems more humorous than anything else. Everyday, I see weird sh*t in the subway. If I said anything all the time, well, then I would just have to start a blog about it.

Hey, wait a second….

Comments (3)
Mar
17

An almost, somewhat-not-too-bad weekend of subway service

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (2) ·

So today’s St. Patrick’s day, and everyone wants to get around town. The 7 is running; the 2 and 3 are running down the West Side and into Brooklyn but not on the express tracks in Manhattan. The C is still taking weekends off. And the L is more than a little funky this weekend. So without further ado, click here for all of your weekend service advisories.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)
Mar
16

Dan Doctoroff hates the 2nd Ave. Subway

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (4) ·

After a week of good news for the 2nd Ave. subway, leave it to Dan Doctoroff to come and sleet, snow and freezing rain on everyone’s parade.

The Deputy Mayor and former head of the NYC2012 Olympics group threw some not-so-veiled threats in the direction of the MTA yesterday. Doctoroff is concerned about the finances behind the project. It’s so nice of him to worry about money after he was leading the fight to sink $1 billion into an ugly behemoth on the far West Side. The Sun had more:

“It will be the third groundbreaking for the same project. It sounds like the Freedom Tower,” Mr. Doctoroff told a gathering of about 400 transportation professionals at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s annual meeting yesterday, referring to the ground zero memorial that has celebrated multiple groundbreakings but has seen little work thereafter. “We’ve seen how these things play out before.”

The Second Avenue line, known as the city’s greatest transportation project never built, is a planned two-track subway line that will run along Manhattan’s East Side to the financial district from 125th street. Construction on such a line stopped in 1975, when funds for the project ran dry. “We can’t afford that mistake again,” Mr. Doctoroff said. He stressed that even the expected federal funding for the project “does not mean a commitment to completing the job.”

But some involved think that Doctoroff is politicking around. The city – after signing up forthe project originally – has reneged on their promise to construct the 7 line extension; they won’t commit to cover the projected cost overruns.

The MTA has challenged all parties involved to come up with constructive funding proposals to avoid sending the MTA further into debt, and MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander noted that the agency may split construction into small pieces to allow more contractors to bid.

So take that, Dan Doctoroff. This subway will be built with or without your negativity.

That sexy shot of Dan Doctoroff courtesy of Building Congress.

Mar
15

SAS to Brooklyn Record: We’re in a fight

By · Published in 2007 · Comments (0) ·

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Pardon me while I use my blog to air my petty grievances. I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled subway posting later today.

Dear Brooklyn Record:

Let’s start out on a good note: I like you! After living in Manhattan for much of my childhood, I’m now living in Brooklyn, and you have given me a good insight into this vibrant borough. You provide me with news about borough politics, tidbits about life in Brooklyn and info about restaurants that I as a foodie really appreciate.

At the end of each day, you post a so-called “Blog Wrap.” And this why we’re in a fight: Despite my best efforts at self-promotion — a must for any new blog still trying to find an audience on the Internets — you refuse to link to Second Ave. Sagas.

Now, I’m no newbie when it comes to blogging. I’ve been blogging on baseball for three years. I know the courtesies of the Internet, and I’ve helped new blogs get traffic. Now, it’s your turn, Brooklyn Record. Three times, I have sent you Brooklyn-related posts including one this week about the Myrtle Ave. station that was a follow-up to one of your posts. (Yeah, right. Like I’m going to link to it today.)

Instead, you continually post Blog Wrap links to Gothamist posts which often don’t relate to Brooklyn; you love Curbed; and you’re not afraid to give your sister site Brownstoner the occasional shout out. But today you crossed the line.

Oh, today, dear Brooklyn Record, as part of your so-called Blog Wrap, you linked to a post in your own forum that contained a one-line sentence about this upcoming weekend’s L train service and a link to last weekend’s MTA weekend service advisory. Not only is it a blog, but you didn’t even supply the person asking the question with the proper information. (Note: By Friday, the information in the link in question will be correct, but only by dint of the day of the week.)

So we’re in a fight, Brooklyn Record. We’re in a fight until I get my link. I will continue to write about Brooklyn subways and continue to send you my links. But share! Share your links. Be good to a fellow New York blogger. What did I ever do to you?

Love,

Second Ave. Sagas

Categories : Self Promotion
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