The escalators at 86th St. are just one of the many elements of the Second Ave. Subway project that remain outstanding. (Photo via MTA)

The escalators at 86th St. are just one of the many elements of the Second Ave. Subway project that remain outstanding. (Photo via MTA)

There is nothing quite like the fear of missing a looming deadline to inspire anyone to work a bit harder and a bit faster, as the MTA and its contractors are currently learning. Faced with the (for-some-reason) daunting task of delivering a major capital project somewhat on time (but only after years of shifting expectations), with ten months to go before 2016 runs out, the agency is entering acceleration mode and plans to spend $66 million worth of expenditures to speed up to work to ensure the Second Ave. Subway is ready for revenue service by year’s end.

The plan is set to come before the MTA Board during this week’s meetings, and if you read between the lines — or even if you read the lines themselves — it seems as though the agency is worried about that promise made all those years ago by MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu to deliver Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway by the end of 2016. As the agency board materials note on page 131 of this pdf, “Failure to enter into the proposed Acceleration Agreements and implement the proposed acceleration plans will increase the risk that Revenue Service will not commence until sometime in 2017 which will also have a financial impact on construction management support costs as well as the operating budget and prolong crowded conditions on the Lexington Avenue line.”

That the project could face challenges meeting the December deadline is hardly breaking news by now. While the federal government has long doubted the 2016 date and believes a 2017 opening is more likely, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant first warned of delays in December and reiterated this stance in January. In this month’s update, the IEC again raises concerns. It notes that certain major test dates have been postponed and design and scope change orders continue to be issued this late in the game. With the acceleration work set to reduce the project contingency, the MTA is fast running out of wiggle room.

That brings us to this request for accelerated work. As the MTA notes, perhaps discouragingly and perhaps alarming, in its request to enter into these agreements, opening up four new stations “presents logistical challenges unprecedented in modern New York City Transit operation.” With three different contractors working on three different stations at the same time, the MTA sees “enormous” and “complicated” challenges. That the language is so dire consider the relatively modest scope of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway should give us agita regarding the future of any massive subway expansions in line with those underway by New York City’s international peer cities.

The acceleration work involves some relatively basic elements of the construction. Crews will begin to work extended shifts and some weekends to complete the stations, and the outstanding elements all involve what you would expect this close to completion. Behind-the-scenes power and mechanical rooms need more work; fan rooms, elevators and escalators must be ready; and finishes, testing and commissioning need to be complete before the Second Ave. Subway is certified for revenue service.

Meanwhile, as part of another modification (page 128 of this pdf), the MTA also just realized it is required to install 36 fire dampers at the 63rd St. station and somehow just discovered that the tunnel from 57th St./7th Ave. to 63rd St./Lexington is in bad shape. Here is how the Board materials describe the situation:

The tracks in the tunnel south of the 63rd St./Lexington Avenue Station to north of 57th Street and 7th Avenue Station were built in the late 1970s as part of the “New Routes” 63rd St. Line. These tracks never had regular train service, and have been rarely used, except for occasional re-routes. Currently there is no scheduled revenue service over them however, this will change once SAS service begins with the ‘Q’ train scheduled to operate along these tracks and continuing to the new 2nd Avenue Subway. Given the significant water ingress that has been constantly present in this area since its construction, the northbound and southbound tracks in this section have experienced severe degradation.

NYC Transit has determined that this tunnel section must be addressed immediately including the replacement of track, tunnel lighting, antenna cable, emergency alarms, emergency telephones, etc. The above track replacement and associated signal equipment work will be addressed through a third-party contract and NYC Transit in-house forces will address the remaining work, all of which must be completed in time for SAS Revenue Service. However, in order to perform this work, the water condition must be addressed first. NYC Transit has directed that the specialized chemical grout (NOH2O) and methods that were successfully employed on other MTACC and NYC Transit projects, be utilized in this tunnel section.

Now, you might be wondering how the MTA is only now just discovering this problem in a rather vital stretch of track key to launching the Second Ave. Subway, and for that, I have no answer yet. I will inquire this week as to how this just came to light. Contractors began this mitigation work in early January and should be able to finish in advance to ensure revenue service by the end of the year. The Board materials, however, note ominously that “the schedule impact of these modifications is still under review and any schedule adjustments will be addressed in a subsequent modification.”

This is a sprint now and the hurdles just keep on coming. Anyone out there expect to ride this new subway before we flip the calendar to 2017? With the obstacles, self-imposed or otherwise, in the MTA’s path, that is looking like one tough deadline to meet.

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Friday was indeed a good day for Bert and the National Associate of W Lovers as we learned that the MTA will be restoring W train service to Astoria later this year in order to prepare for the debut of the Second Ave. Subway. The Q will run to 57th St./7th Ave. until the Second Ave. Subway “later this year,” per the MTA. That may be an optimistic timeline for Upper East Side service, but one way or another, this subway line will open soon. The W lives to tell that tale.

For a visual representation of what this service change means, check out this unofficial mock-up of future service a Redditor published a few weeks ago. The MTA has yet to release their own map showing the change or addition of the Second Ave. Subway, and I wonder why. They could opt to follow the WMATA’s strategy of showing lines in progress to build public knowledge and excitement, but it seems that we won’t see an updated map arrive until the subway is just about to open, as we did with the 7 line.

Although the W train grabbed headlines earlier, the MTA announced a few other Second Ave. Subway-related milestones. The 96th St. station is now running on its permanent power supply though power lines have become a controversial part of the eventual Phase 2 work. More on that next week. Additionally, the final track crossover north of 72nd St. was completed. The MTA will award final contract modifications next week. As hard as it is to believe, a part of the Second Ave. Subway will soon become a reality.

Meanwhile, as we look forward to new subway service, we have to contest with weekend changes. After the jump, this weekend’s slate of service advisories, as sent to me from the MTA. Read More→

Don’t call it a comeback, but six years after getting unceremoniously dumped by a cash-starved MTA, the W train will make its triumphant return this fall, the MTA announced today. As part of the plan to maintain current subway service levels for Astoria once the Second Ave. Subway opens and the Q is diverted to the Upper East Side, the agency will restore the W train in a few months, before the Second Ave. Subway opens, effectively replacing the Q in Astoria. It’s a clear sign the opening of the Second Ave. Subway is drawing nearer and a welcome development for Astoria residents and businesses who were worried about the fate of their neighborhood’s subway service.

As of now, the MTA plans to restore this service ahead of the opening of the Second Ave. Subway so that the diversion of the Q to the Upper East Side is a seamless one, and while rumors of delays have swirled for months, the MTA still plans to open the Second Ave. Subway by year’s end. Along with the re-introduction of the W train, the BMT service patterns will revert back to their old configuration as follows:

  • W trains will make all local stops between Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard and Whitehall St. during weekdays. There will be no W service on weekends or late nights (which is in line with current Q service to Astoria).
  • N trains will run express in Manhattan between 34th St. – Herald Square and Canal St. on weekdays. N trains will run local on weekends and late nights.
  • Q trains will continue to run local in Brooklyn and express in Manhattan to 57th St./7th Ave. until the Second Ave. Subway opens, and then, Q trains will run to 96th St./2nd Ave. with additional stops at Lexington Ave./63rd St., 72nd St./2nd Ave. and 86th St./2nd Ave. The Q will not stop at 49th St.
  • R train service will be unchanged.

As the MTA notes in a release touting the news, “The changes, including the restoration of the W, maintain service frequency and loading guidelines for customers in Astoria and avoid significant deviations from current service that might confuse customers on those affected lines. Customers on the Broadway Line will also benefit from an increase in choices for express and local service in Manhattan.” The agency plans to hold a hearing on the new service patterns this spring, and the service additions, including operating the Q to Second Ave. and restoring the W, will cost around $13.7 million annually.

The good news here is for Astoria riders who were quite concerned with the planned diversion of the Q train. The MTA had stated its commitment to maintain service levels, and today’s news fulfills that promise. By restarting the W a few months before the Second Ave. Subway opens, operations will be seamless, and new signage will be in place throughout the system. (Never mind the reality that, just a few months ago, the MTA removed the last vestiges of the W train from strip maps on the 1.)

The bad news, if you want to call it that, concerns the W’s southern terminus. By ending the train at Whitehall St., the W does little for Brooklyn R train riders who have complained about unreliable service, long headways and crowded trains. Even some rush hour W service into Brooklyn would have been welcome, but that’s a battle riders can keep fighting. With W trains restored, the opportunity for those riders to make their case is stronger. Overall, though, this news is an expected and welcome development as the city inches closer to opening the Second Ave. Subway, 90 years in the making.

For those curious, the MTA’s press release on the W train and the latest on progress on the Second Ave. Subway is available here on the agency’s website.

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The Mayor unveiled additional details on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector earlier this week in Red Hook (Photo via Mayor's Office)

The Mayor unveiled additional details on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector earlier this week in Red Hook (Photo via Mayor’s Office)

After days of discussion amongst the transit literati and a short delay due to the TriBeCa crane collapse, Mayor Bill de Blasio held his long-awaited press conference to release more details on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector earlier this week. Despite the pomp and circumstance and despite additional glimpses into the plan, de Blasio’s presser led to more concerns and more questions than the initial proposal had, and the consensus regarding this project and its $2.5 billion price tag focuses around the idea that the mayor has not rigorously defended the real estate-backed streetcar.

The general details we know: The $2.5 billion investment will, according to de Blasio, create $25 billion in economic activity and 28,000 temporary jobs over the next 30 years. It will, he claims, draw 50,000 riders per day (somehow from an area that generally borders water on one side), and while fares will be pegged to the cost of a Metrocard, revenue from ridership is supposed to cover 66 percent of the streetcar’s operating costs. (For what it’s worth, New York City Transit’s farebox operating ratio of around 53 percent is highest in the nation.) As Yonah Freemark noted, it will not connect to L, J/M/Z, N/Q or F trains in Brooklyn or Queens, and it is not yet guaranteed to be integrated into the MTA’s fare system. (That’s a major point, and I’ll return to it shortly.)

Based on the chart below, it also seems as though the Mayor is exaggerating the differences in travel time. Many of these current travel times are worst-case scenarios based on maximum waiting and missed transfers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.06.07 AM

The city hasn’t released detailed models concerning ridership. It’s not clear, for instance, as Katie Honan asked, how many Queensbridge residents work in the Navy Yard or how many Red Hook residents need direct access to Industry City. In other words, the 50,000 daily ridership figure still seems to resemble wishful thinking. Meanwhile, de Blasio is already kowtowing to motorists on the issue of parking, and he claims the streetcar will be so successful that the MTA could reduce B61 service. That’s quite a claim considering a key driver of the streetcar is the way it doesn’t involve the state-controlled MTA (and in fact, Gov. Cuomo is content to keep his hands — and state money — off the streetcar plan). It’s the perfect storm of a mess of an idea that should raise serious concerns as to how the proposal was developed and why.

Meanwhile, across the board, reaction has tended toward the skeptical. The Awl hates it; Gizmodo hates it; and Ben Fried at Streetsblog further elucidated his skepticism of the plan. While I still want to like this plan and support it especially in light of the fact that we need to find lower cost ways to expand the reach of transit in NYC, the questions surrounding the special interests backing it and the fact that this isn’t a particularly transit-starved corridor in a city filled with actual transit-starved corridors are concerning.

All of that said, let’s talk about fare integration. I’ve buried the lede here, but over the past few days, we’ve learned that, as now, the streetcar will not be a part of the MTA’s fare system. Much like the new East River ferry routes that should arrive in 2017, de Blasio claims a streetcar ride will cost the same as a swipe, but he can’t yet guarantee the swipe will include a transfer to or from the subway. This is a fatal flaw in the plan and one that will doom the Brooklyn-Queens Connector to a second-rate transit gimmick that cannot fulfill its ridership potential.

First, the idea that integrated fares are key for network acceptance and use is well established. To a rule, fare integration increases ridership and transit miles traveled, and without fare integration, the mayor will be asking riders of a system built with the promise of serving 40,000 NYCHA residents to pay two fares if they use the streetcar as a feeder to the subway. And nearly all successful streetcar networks work because they are feeders to and from the subway; just take a look at the map of the Paris tram system.

Without fare integration, potential riders will eschew the Brooklyn-Queens Connector for the MTA’s integrated network. These potential riders will take the subway to a bus because that additional fare — today, $5.50 per round trip — simply isn’t part of the economic equation, and in fact, a non-integrated fare defeats the purpose of expanding transit access.

Overcoming this problem is a seemingly simple negotiation with the MTA, but the City Hall-Albany relationship is anything but simple today. Still, without that transfer, this is a streetcar doomed to fail from day one. New York City, much like everywhere else, needs an integrated transit network. We shouldn’t build without one.

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A bit of a late notice on this one, but it came together on the edge of last minute: Wednesday, February 17 — or tonight, if you’re reading this after midnight — I’ll be hosting a Q-and-A at the Transit Museum on the MTA’s fare collection efforts through the years. The talk is related to the museum’s current exhibit on 370 Jay St. and the secrets behind the building’s wall. I’ll be speaking with the MTA’s Chief Operating Office of Revenue Control Alan Putre, a 30-year veteran of the agency’s fare collection initiatives.

Putre has worked through a variety of tectonic shifts in the MTA’s approach to revenue. When he started, fares were a dollar, and riders paid with tokens. Today, a Metrocard swipe costs $2.75, and most purchases are processed electronically. The city’s obsession with the money train, fueled in part by a controversial dud of a Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson movie, came and went, and now, even the Metrocard may be on the way out. We’ll discuss processing and safeguarding billions of dollars in tokens and what lies in store for the MTA’s fare collection efforts.

The event kicks off at 6:30 p.m., and while I anticipate a talk of around an hour, the museum will be open until 8:30 so you can browse the exhibit (and the killer collection of vintage train cars). Tickets are $10 (unless you’re a museum member) and you can buy them right here. There’s no better way to spend a Wednesday evening in February.

Categories : Self Promotion
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What are the MTA’s current crew of station agents? Are they babysitters? Security theater? A poor attempt at public comfort? Cushy jobs? Some mix of the above? In the years since station agents stopped selling the bulk of fares, the positions have been whittled away to whatever they are now. Each station supposedly has one agent on duty at all times, but most station agents can’t see the platforms and provide psychological comfort more so than actual comfort.

Now, if the MTA and TWU can come to terms, the roll of the agents may expand. The Daily News has the story:

The station agent of the future could be dispensing subway directions from a tablet instead of MetroCards from a booth. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its workers union are planning a four-station pilot program where station agents will leave their cramped cubicles to get face time with passengers on the platform.

The workers could be equipped with tablets to help straphangers navigate service disruptions, retrieve cellphones and other items dropped on the tracks, and aid sick or injured passengers. The goal is to have “proactive customer service inside the stations, for all needs of the customers, whatever they need,” said an official familiar with the negotiations. “It’s based on the model of the London Underground, which has multiple customer service agents,” the official said…

No agreement about the scope of the pilot, which could launch as early as next year, has been reached, transit and union officials said. “It’s something we’re exploring in order to improve customer service by providing agents with the opportunity to interact and communicate with customers outside the confines of a booth,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

According to the News, the pilot could launch at one station per borough and would likely include high-traffic areas such as Columbus Circle or Jackson Heights where a mix of tourists would require the resources these station agents could offer. Interestingly, as well, the report indicates that the TWU is concerned its station agents will be eliminated following the eventual death of the MetroCard in a few years, and TWU officials believe staffing numbers for these new-look agents could top the number of agents currently employed by the MTA. How the agency will pay for this program is an open question.

Over the years, the TWU has objected to removing station agents from the booths on the grounds of safety, but recently, as the subways have seen a marked decrease in crime and a marked increase in crowding, MTA workers have been stationed on platforms at popular stations to help ease crowding concerns. There have been no reported incidents involving these employees, and the TWU seems more willing to explore job flexibility now. Looking to London where stations are staffed by multiple workers (and, in fact, where station staffing levels have led to disputes over Night Tube service) may provide the union with a boost as well.

As the MTA has a rather tortured history with pilot programs, it’s hard to get too excited one way or another over yet another pilot, but this one may be worth watching as its structure develops over the next few years.

Categories : Transit Labor
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These new strip maps will soon be installed in all 2 and 5 trains. (Photo: New York City Transit)

These new strip maps will soon be installed in all 2 and 5 trains. (Photo: New York City Transit)

Since the R142s debuted on the 2 and 5 lines in 2000, one of the quirks of the strip map system has been its inflexibility. The maps in the cars were assigned a certain line, and if a set of cars with a 2 line map runs as a 5 train instead, the map simply says “not in service.” Unlike the FIND displays in the newer cars that can be changed based on train route, these maps were a relic of an inflexible system.

A few months ago, a new map showed up in one 10-car set which had both the 2 and 5 lines on the same map and could be personalized for whichever line the train is running on. In other words, if the train in question is running on the 2, the map will show the 2, and if the train is running on the 5, the map will show 5 line stops. No more “not in service” signs.

Now, as Transit announced on Friday, the agency will outfit all R142s that run on the 2 and 5 with these new maps. The agency says “the map redesign is consistent with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s initiative to improve the customer experience with modern amenities.” Transit President Ronnie Hakim explained further, ““We are taking this opportunity to replace strip maps that are more than a decade old and going a step further to improve customer communication by creating this new strip map that shows both the 2 and 5 routes from end to end. The combined strip map lets us reassign trains more fluidly and shows our customers where they’re going, regardless of the train they’ve boarded. The redesign will alleviate customer confusion when trains are reassigned or rerouted from one line to another.”

Unfortunately, this new map, while more useful, is a bit of a mess from an ease-of-use perspective and isn’t as flexible as the FIND system. But it’s a step up from the old system. I’m rather skeptical though that passengers are itching at the bit for a strip map slightly easier to use rather than more frequent service or an expanded system. Cuomo may be able to take credit for this upgrade, but it’s a hollow victory for him.

After the jump, this weekend’s service advisories. Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, some of these changes run into Tuesday morning. Enjoy the long weekend. I’ll be back on Monday night. Read More→

  • Links: Competing views on the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar · I’m heading out of town to take a few extra days off around the Presidents’ Day Weekend so content will be light over the next few days. I’ll post the service advisories on Friday night, but unless big news breaks, I don’t plan on publishing anything else. That doesn’t mean I’ll leave you with nothing though. We’ll always have streetcar takes.

    For your consideration, Yonah Freemark offers up a wary view of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector proposal while Sam Schwartz defends his work. Schwartz, who led the team studying the transit options, explains how his group determined a subway was too costly and bus too slow and insufficient for the area’s transit needs. Freemark, on the other hand, wants to see truly dedicated rights-of-way, free transfers and better connections between a streetcar and other transit modes, and, most importantly, zoning that eliminates parking requirements and allows for greater density along the streetcar route. The problem with hugging the waterfront is, of course, that we can’t build for height in the ocean.

    I’m in the process of learning more about the nuts and bolts of Schwartz’s proposal, and while many think this plan is dead on arrival, from what I’ve heard, it seems to have a better chance than most at becoming a New York reality. (Unfortunately, the same may be said for the fatally flawed Laguardia AirTrain, but more on that next week.) For now, enjoy the weekend reading. If anything, the streetcar proposal has thrust the option of light rail in New York City back in the public mind, and hopefully, something good can come of it, whether it’s the Brooklyn-Queens Connector or a better route through a more transit-starved area. · (30)

Before Mayor de Blasio’s streetcar bombshell last week, the MTA’s L train problem had taken center stage. With word out that the agency will have to shut the Canarsie Tube for either 18 or 36 months to perform unavoidable Sandy-related repairs, the Williamsburg and Bushwick communities, to say nothing of those further east, were up in arms, and the group’s first meeting with the MTA ended badly. The MTA official sent to listen wasn’t prepared to talk, and the community organizers summarily kicked him out of the meeting. Things could only go from there, and so far, they have, bit by bit.

Following meetings at the end of last week with local politicians, the MTA sent out a Saturday press release promising to work collaboratively with the neighborhoods to minimize the affects of the shutdowns. As the bench walls that line the Canarsie Tubes, for starters, will have to be torn out and rebuilt, lengthy shutdowns are all but unavoidable. The agency, however, will listen to concerns and plot alternative options as best it can.

“The Canarsie Tubes were heavily damaged during Superstorm Sandy when they were flooded with 7 million gallons of saltwater, which has eaten away at the metal and concrete materials that make up the tubes’ infrastructure,” agency head Tom Prendergast said. “We need to bring the Canarsie Tubes to a state of good repair, and we need to work closely with the community and its elected officials to determine the best way to proceed with this work and provide travel alternatives while it occurs.”

On Friday, Prendergast and new NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim met with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney along with State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan, Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, City Council Member Stephen Levin and representatives from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ and Senator Daniel Squadron’s office. It was a veritable gathering of the minds, and these politicians convinced the MTA to consult with the communities affected by a shutdown while planning the work. Maloney, who was key in securing billions of federal dollars for the Fix & Fortify work, seemed happy. “Our meeting with Chairman Prendergast was productive,” she said, “and I am very pleased that the MTA has agreed to host community engagement meetings in the near future so that all my constituents who will be affected by the work can be sure that their concerns are heard.”

In announcing these meetings, the MTA stressed the benefits of the L line work. The agency plans to piggyback additional upgrades onto the Sandy repair work, which will include more entrances at the Bedford Ave. stop and staircases at Ave. A on the Manhattan side of the tunnel. The MTA will also install three new power substations which should allow for more frequent service. If only digging out tail tracks west of 8th Ave. were part of the plan as well.

But in announcing this community consultation process, the agency stressed that, while the tubes are reliable for now, 7100 feet of tunnel need to be repaired, and there’s no real good way around that. The community group is set to convene again on February 24, but the MTA hasn’t yet pledged to attend that meeting. Hopefully, the next few sessions are more cooperative and collaborative on both sides that the last. Otherwise, this already-painful process will just become worse.

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A streetcar cuts through the rain in Downtown Brooklyn. (Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector)

Once more unto the Brooklyn Queens Connector we go. (Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector)

In the likely scenario that the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, Bill de Blasio’s developer-backed waterfront streetcar, never sees the light of day, an inch of progress, a foot of rail, or revenue service, what happens to the $2.5 billion the mayor thinks he has lined up to boost this project? It won’t wind up going toward some other transit project. As hard as we wish it to, the Mayor won’t come to his senses and fund more of the Second Ave. Subway, the Triboro RX proposal, or reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch. It won’t even go to his long-forgotten nine-month old call for a Utica Ave. Subway extension.

As various sides coalesce for or against the BQX, I believe it’s important to recognize this plan as an all-or-nothing affair. As I’ve mentioned before, de Blasio has latched onto it for two reasons. First, follow the money. The developers who stand to benefit — and who could help fund a reelection campaign — see this is a value-add for their waterfront buildings. It helps Two Trees, a company that will otherwise face a massive transit crunch as it builds out the Domino Sugar Factory site in Williamsburg, and it can be billed as an assist for transit-starved areas and neighborhoods lacking in interconnectivity. Second, it allows de Blasio to promote a transit project that his political nemesis Gov. Andrew Cuomo can’t touch or exploit. In essence, that’s the realpolitik of the QBX, and if it doesn’t happen, the money will simply go toward other city services and not some badly needed transit enhancements.

By itself, though, that the money and political will may be there isn’t enough to drive the project to completion. A previous feasibility study focusing on only the Red Hook-to-Dumbo section of the streetcar line [pdf] couldn’t justify the expense, and while this new routing is an improvement with connections north through Williamsburg and into Queens and south past Sunset Park and Industry City, it’s not a top-five corridor in need of better transit and may not even crack the top ten.

As reactions have rolled in, planning and politics have pushed the realpolitik of the money situation and Cuomo dynamic a bit out of the picture. Let’s look at Jon Orcutt’s take. The former DOT policy director and current advocacy and communications director of the TransitCenter offered up this view that a $2.5 billion project isn’t worth the cost:

From my experience, the biggest travel problem for most people is commuting to Manhattan, as straphangers battling their way onto rush-hour No. 4 or L trains will attest. The apparent lack of connections to subways in Williamsburg and an absence of free transfers to the subway and buses could further depress usage. Add it all up, and the market for travel along the waterfront seems far too small to warrant an investment of this size.

There’s a reason the streetcar proposal runs where it does: because it was hatched by developers putting in high-end condo buildings along the waterfront, now incongruously backed by the populist de Blasio. And although supporters are now putting forth arguments about transit access for low-income New Yorkers, most NYCHA sites along the streetcar route are already near subway stops. In fact, the streetcar route into Sunset Park directly parallels D, N and R subway service one block away. Red Hook certainly needs transportation improvement, but executing the city’s plan for a Select Bus route from Red Hook to Manhattan via the uncongested Battery Tunnel would meet the area’s travel needs in a much more direct way.

From what we know about the BQX to date, it is not part of any thought-out transportation strategy. Compare this to London, where light rail was introduced in the 1980s with deliberate planning for an area with no Underground service and for high-speed, completely dedicated rail rights of way. The service was always well integrated into Underground stations and fare systems.

I highlight that sentence regarding a transportation strategy because I said something similar to The Guardian last week. Is de Blasio planning to create a streetcar network or is this single line, with a massive up-front capital investment, all he has since that’s all his developer supporters have requested? It’s a question worth asking.

Meanwhile, as we stray further into politics, the realpolitik comes back into play. A bunch of Brooklyn politicians have more or less decried the streetcar plan because it’s not going into other projects. Mark Treyger, for reasons he probably cannot defend, wants the money to restart F express service; Chaim Deutsch wants to invest in subway accessibility; and Vincent Gentile wants better R train service and a streetcar into Bay Ridge. Conveniently, these three council members seem content to let Gov. Cuomo, the real man in charge of the MTA, off the hook. After all, why should de Blasio invest billions of dollars into something he can’t control that’s run by someone with whom he cannot cooperate?

I’ve said in the past I want to like this project, but it’s starting to rub me the wrong way. We haven’t seen the report defending the ridership figures or investment dollars. We have a map produced by Crain’s New York that’s laughable in its twists and turns, and we have a political fight between Albany and City Hall being waged by a mayor who comes across as the pawns of real estate interests. It’s ugly and not quite kosher. But when the dollars go back into something that isn’t a transit investment, will be worse off or not? That’s the $2.5 billion question.

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