Every few years, politicians from Rockland County drum up some outrage over their inclusion in the MTA, and every few years, they demand something — usually more — while bemoaning having to pay more. It’s an odd little dance that isn’t entirely without a sound basis in fact, but it also underscores the inherent contradictions in New York State politics and how no one is ever held responsible for them.

The latest come to us from Rockland County Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe and Legislator Harriet Cornell who is the Chair of the Special Committee on Transit. As part of the MTA Every One Has a Pet Project Commission Reinvention Commission, the two sent comments with their views on reinvention. Wolfe’s words were fairly neutral. “Rockland has documented for years the disparity in the tax revenues generated from Rockland,” he said, “which far exceed annual expenditures made by the MTA to serve the County: it’s a $40 million value gap.”

I delved into that study back in 2012 when Rockland started making noises about leaving the MTA. It was not without merit, and SAS commenters found it to be at least discussion-worthy. I thought it didn’t quite account for the positive benefits of regular, if sporadic, train service.

Cornell used her statement as a soapbox. “Institutional, intergovernmental and jurisdictional barriers are at the heart of MTA’s insufficient attention to Rockland’s transit needs,” she said. “Rockland on the west side of the Hudson is a transportation orphan, long overdue for substantial new investment in our transportation infrastructure. The MTA has not met customer needs!”

Most New Yorkers west of the Hudson would love to be as “orphaned” as Rockland which, as I noted, has regular, if sporadic, service. But maybe Rockland deserves an improvement. Let’s see what happened when the state last tried to raise revenue for transit service. If you guessed “complain about the payroll tax,” well, you’re the next contestant on “The Gripe Is Right.”

In 2009, when the state approved the MTA Payroll Tax as a funding measure for the cash-starved MTA, the same two Rockland County legislators complaining this week led the charge to oppose the payroll tax and agitate for withdrawal from the MTA, a threat that seems to disproportionately impact only themselves. Perhaps Rockland needs to learn a lesson in politics: Sometimes you have to give first if you want to receive later.

Ultimately, Rockland does seem to draw a shorter end of the straw than the rest of the MTA counties, but moaning about improvements on the one hand while objecting to funding schemes five years earlier isn’t productive policymaking. It is though business as usual when it comes to transit politics in New York. How frustrating.

Categories : MTA Politics
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In 2014, this brightly lit G train covered in fake graffiti is what passes for a view of 1980s New York. (Photo via Shavon Meyers/Facebook)

For those New Yorkers of a certain age and certain background, the concept of an “authentic” city experience always seems just out of reach. We live in the era of super-tall buildings with $50 million apartments, brownstones in Bed Stuy that trade for $2 million, and a designer clothing store inhabiting the former home of the Ramones, Talking Heads and Misfits. Immigrants dressed as superheroes and cartoon characters are a far cry from Times Square’s halcyon days of strippers and drug addicts, and the East Village embodied by Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a distant memory. The Bronx is booming, not burning.

For long-time New Yorkers, the city has lost some of the je ne sais quoi that made it special. Sure, it’s safe, and anyone who bought an apartment 30 or 40 years ago is sitting on a valuable investment indeed, but the grittiness of Old New York is no longer with us. It’s too safe; it’s too sterile; it’s too much of a playground for the rich. The cleanup efforts that started under Rudy Giuliani culminated in a 12-year Bloomberg mayoralty, and today, New York is a big booming city that’s pushing gentrification into areas that, 10 of 15 years ago, seemed impregnable and immune to the coffee shop-and-kale expansion.

Nothing quite encapsulates New York’s rebound from the depths of Drop Dead 1970s quite like the subway. Today, nearly 6 million people per day ride the subways, but in the nadir of the 1980s, Crime — not of the “Showtime!” variety — breakdowns, track fires and derailments were the norm. The Bernhard Goetz shooting came to symbolize an era of unrest when subway ridership was sparse, and on one would ride late night through certain neighborhoods. Ridership in 1982 was 938 million; ridership in 2013 was 1.708 billion. We ride at 2 a.m. without thinking; thirty years ago, this was unimaginable.

For younger New Yorkers, for transplants, for children of the late 1980s who came to New York for that authentic experience, it’s gone. The L train has new rolling stock and is packed to the gills 24/7. The J and Z trains ride through some gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods, and a trip through East New York is simply a means to get to JFK or the beaches in the Rockaways. This is the New York of the 2010s; this is not New York of the movies. Kurt Russell escaped, and the city hasn’t been the same.

Still, that desire for authenticity persists which leads me to Shaina Stigler, a 25-year-old performer who, according to reports, moved to New York in 2007 and this past weekend tried to recreate an era for which she wasn’t alive. When the Daily News first reported on the 1980s recreation set for a G train on Friday, I was inherently skeptical. While I’m no fan of the bank-ification of Manhattan real estate, development and growth should be encouraged, and for many reasons, I find fetishizing nostalgia highly problematic. It focuses on the image of grittiness without exploring what were deep-rooted crises and social ills plaguing the city.

Stigler’s piece though was ostensibly art and a means for self-expression. In one sense, that drive to create and perform has been a part of New York through good times and bad and will always be an undercurrent in the life of the city. And yet, in reading, Sarah Goodyear’s wrap up of the subway takeover, I had the distinct sense that this was the 1980s through the lens of the privileged class of 2014 New Yorkers. Stigler claimed she wanted to recreat what Goodyear termed the “grimy, traumatic, and glorious ’80s,” but from the photos, this was heavy on the glorious, low on the grimy and traumatic.

To recreate the scene, Stigler decked out a car in plastic wrap and had a graffiti artist create the illusion of a tagged car. They even enjoyed the company of old Guardian Angels, though none of them faked any crimes on Friday. It seems and sounds surreal. “My generation romanticizes that time,” Stigler said to Goodyear. “I think as artists in particular, we are definitely feeling a lack of authenticity in the city. As it gets cleaned up and made more beautiful, it’s lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Back then it was more of a life or death thing. It was, How much are you willing to risk to be an artist or whatever you want to be? Through that adversity and through that struggle, amazing, beautiful things can happen.”

The 1980s in New York were not a rough time for everyone, but the adversity that Stigler mentions today involves waiting a few extra minutes for a G train that, thirty years ago, the crowd celebrating on Friday would never have ridden. The adversity of the 1980s included a crack epidemic and the AIDS crisis. It featured parents so overly concerned for their kids’ safety that some of my friends — native New Yorkers at that — took their first ever subway rides when we went to Yankee Stadium to celebrate my 10th birthday. This ain’t no party, David Byrne once sung, and it wasn’t.

But we can remember through nostalgia too and hold onto parts of forgotten New York that made people want to come to the city in the first place. If we forget, do we lose that part as well? Dwelling on the negative without celebrating the positive will make us forget why we’re here and why so many people wanted to be here. Authenticity is ultimately what each person makes of it, and it’s a balancing act. Maybe there is no authentic New York and maybe there never was. Maybe authentic New York is what each person makes of it every day.

Categories : Subway History
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At some point, I halfheartedly expect Staten Island voters to wise up to the ways of their politicians and stop reelecting them. But then I always remember that I value transit support more than most city voters. There is no hope, and Staten Island representatives are free to, say, take away Select Bus Service indicators on the one hand while whining about lack of transit improvements on the other. It’s a time-honored tradition like no other.

The details behind Senator Andrew Lanza’s recent comments almost don’t even matter. He’s complaining that the MTA eliminated a bus a few years ago that had around 700 riders per Saturday and 400 riders per Sunday — lowest among all SI buses. A bunch of Staten Island representatives gathered to protest the MTA’s decision not to restore the bus, and with the recorders on, Lanza went to town:

Senator Andrew Lanza and Assemblyman Michael Cusick joined Matteo, alongside the Amalgamated Transit Union at Saturday’s press conference, held at the corner of Manor Road and Croak Street. In the only borough without a subway system, Cusick (D-Mid Island) stressed the importance of bus availability, saying, “We need safe, reliable bus service here on Staten Island.”

Lanza (R-Staten Island) slammed the MTA for continuously “forgetting” about Staten Island and thanked Matteo for taking up the S54 issue.

“When it comes to transportation on the Island, we’ve been forgotten by the MTA,” Lanza said. “No where has the MTA failed more miserably to provide adequate public transportation than here on Staten Island. The message today is very simple: MTA, do your job.”

Even if you feel the S54 should be restored, these statements are rich comedy from Lanza. As you may recall (or can’t forget), Lanza used Tom Prendgerast’s confirmation hearing in 2013 to rail about transit improvements for six minutes without pause. He spoke for longer than the candidate, and he dismissed MTA promises to cut seven minutes off bus commutes. He has since vowed to attempt to roll back dedicated bus lanes on Staten Island.

Meanwhile, Lanza’s petulance has a city-wide impact too. Once upon a time, Select Bus Service vehicles had flashing blue lights that easily distinguished them from a distance from local buses running the same routes. But Lanza, who was somehow offended by these lights, discovered they violated a state law, and he essentially ordered the MTA to shut them off. He hasn’t permitted movement on a bill that would allow the MTA to use purple lights instead, and it’s been 20 months since the lights on the SBS buses last were on.

So it’s easy for a politician to believe past actions won’t come back to haunt him. More Staten Islanders feel the MTA “failed…Staten Island” because there’s no subway, but there’s no subway because politicians like Senator Lanza have never believed in funding the MTA or working to support incremental and important improvements. They want more now and they don’t want to pay for it. This is the behavior of a spoiled child, and Lanza continues to be the figurehead for Staten Island’s transit problems.

As an endnote, a few weeks ago, the New York State Assembly hosted a hearing on transit for Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. amNew York reporter Dan Rivoli was on the scene and offered up this take:

Need I say more?

Categories : Staten Island
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There’s a whole slate of weekend work ahead of us, but before we delve in, let’s take a second to discuss MetroCard Vending Machines. From 1 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. at the latest, MetroCard Vending Machines will not take credit or debit cards. The MTA is performing routine maintenance, and any fare transactions will be cash only. This should be great fun for those drunk riders trying to get home without a valid MetroCard. By Saturday morning, the system will be up and running, and Mayor de Blasio can continue to not pay his fares.

On to the next…

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, 1 trains are suspended between 96 St and Van Cortlandt Park-242 St due to CPM Brick Arch Repair at 168 St and 181 St, and repair work in the area of 125 St. AC trains, M3 and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 16 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, August 17, and from 11:00 p.m. Sunday, August 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, New Lots Av-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Cantral-42 St due to CPM cable work south of 125 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, 5 trains are suspended between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E180 St due to CPM Signal Modernization on the Dyre Ave Line. Free shuttle buses operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E180 St all weekend.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station rehabilitation work at Buhre Av and Zerega Av, and platform edge and canopy work at Pelham Bay Park.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Av to Parkchester due to MOW track tie block renewal south of Whitlock Av and track panel installation north of Elder Av.

From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 16 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, August 17, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between 3 Av-138 St and Pelham Bay Park due to MOW track tie block renewal south of Whitlock Av and track panel installation north of Elder Av. The last stop for some 6 trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is 3 Av-138 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, A trains are suspended between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd due to CPM 88 St station rehabilitation. Far Rockaway-Mott Av-bound A trains skip 88 St and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 88 St, Rockaway Blvd, 104 St, and 111 St.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Friday, August 15 to Sunday, August 17, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Inwood-207 St-bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle to due to CPM preparation for Hurricane Sandy Work.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 4, A trains are suspended in both directions between 168 St and Inwood-207 St due to MOW track tie renewal near 181 St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Queens-bound A trains run local from 168 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle due to MOW track maintenance and rail work north of 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, 168 St-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle to due to CPM preparation for Hurricane Sandy Work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Coney Island- Stillwell Av-bound D trains run local from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle due to MOW track maintenance and rail work north of 59 St-Columbus Circle.

12:30 a.m. Saturday, August 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, E trains run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, and MOW track tie renewal at 65 St.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, August 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Coney Island-bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts Rock Ctr due to Second Avenue Subway construction work.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, Jamaica 179 St-bound F trains are rerouted via the A line from Jay St-MetroTech to W 4 St-Wash Sq due to CPM preparation for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, August 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 18, F trains run local in Queens due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke and MOW track tie renewal at 65 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, R service is extended to Jamaica-179 St due to MOW Jamaica Yard lead switch reconstruction.

Categories : Service Advisories
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As a general disclaimer, I’m on the board of the Riders Alliance. I don’t allow that position to cloud my views and judgment. Make of it what you will.

Over the past few years, since John Raskin’s Riders Alliance entered the scene, the grassroots organizing advocacy group has gotten the attention of the MTA in some unique ways. Along with strong support from Daniel Squadron, the Alliance has convinced the MTA to conduct targeted line reviews for individual subway routes, and so far, the F, G and L have all seen concrete analyses and improvements as a direct result.

A few months back, during his MTA confirmation hearing, Tom Prendergast let slip that he would consider full line reviews for the entire system. In a sense, this was a surprising thing to say off the cuff because Prendergast was essentially committing significant MTA resources to around 20 individual line reviews. In another sense, it seemed shocking that regular internal studies of subway lines wasn’t already a part of the MTA’s operational handbook. Nothing really came of it, and a few months ago, Squadron sent a letter asking for an update.

Quietly, the MTA has tried to distance itself from the full line review, and in a larger Gotham Gazette piece about the Riders Alliance, the MTA went on the record in downplaying Prendergast’s comments. Read the entire piece for a deep dive into current advocacy efforts, and I’ll excerpt the key parts on the line reviews.

Chairman of the MTA Thomas Prendergast has said in the past that he supports an eventual full-line review of every line in the system and many activists have encouraged the chairman to make that happen. However, MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz told Gotham Gazette that each full-line review is a massive long-term undertaking. Ortiz said the reviews require a significant number of staff and good deal of money. Those staff come from both the MTA’s planning and operating units, financing is always a major challenge, and the reviews can not be performed quickly. “The A and C line review is something that will take some time. We can’t start that right away, so it will probably get completed at some point in 2015,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz added that the cost alone would prevent any comprehensive review of all subway lines in the immediate future. “That’s just not going to happen,” he said. Explaining that a full-line review requires the MTA to examine every aspect related to a line’s operation, Ortiz detailed that this includes ridership, infrastructure, scheduling, and service design down to the efficiency of shared trackage with another line…

MTA’s Ortiz notes, too, that despite the exhilaration activists and politicians may feel over improvements brought by full-line reviews, some of the more lasting improvements, such as the dramatic uptick in train frequency along full-line review veteran, the L line, were in fact due to multi-million-dollar investments in new infrastructure.

As Cody Lyon details, that multi-million-dollar investment concerns communications-based train control which allows the MTA to significantly ramp up capacity along individual subway lines. It is, in fact, the key driver behind capacity increases along the L line, but it’s a significantly large investment with no clear future throughout the city or funding sources.

To me, though, this shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. Out of the line reviews came common sense upgrades that improved train service and customer-facing relations. The MTA should figure out a way to assess its system every few years without the urgings from politicians. If that’s no way to make that a part of a $13 billion operating budget, I worry for the future of rationalized and convenient transit designed to meet demand.

Furthermore, the big-ticket items need funding and support as well. The line review can only go so far before the need to spend millions or billions on signal and communications upgrades kick in. As stewards of the subway, though, it’s up to the MTA to do both, and right now, they seem to be struggling with this mandate.

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New neighborhood maps designed by Pentagram are centered around the station in which they hang. (Photo via New York City Transit)

New neighborhood maps designed by Pentagram are centered around the station in which they hang. (Photo via New York City Transit)

Massimo Vignelli’s original vision for subway wayfinding involved three pieces — a schematic map, a guide to subway service and a geographically accurate neighborhood map for immediate navigation aboveground. At various points in time, these elements all caught on but not at once when the late designer introduced the concept in the early 1970s. Today, in my opinion, the MTA’s neighborhood maps, complete with nearby landmarks and subway staircase location, are the most useful of the various guides and maps the agency offers, and this week, Transit formally announced a redesign in conjunction with NYC DOT’s WalkNYC wayfinding initiative.

“This partnership with the MTA allows for consistent maps above and below ground, making it easier for users to reach their destinations,” NYC DOT Commissioner and MTA Board Member Polly Trottenberg said. “We’re excited to provide this resource to New Yorkers and tourists to find their way in the city.”

For over two decades, the MTA has maintained neighborhood maps through shifting subway service patterns and changes above ground. Currently, the agency has 68 maps in all 468 subway stations, each with a radius of around 15-30 blocks. The current iteration is imprecise as the same map you’ll see in, say, Union St. is the same as the one hanging at Grand Army Plaza or 15th Street-Prospect Park stations. The new Pentagram-designed maps will instead be centered around the station in which they hang and incorporate the design of the WalkNYC wayfinding maps but with more information relating to other transit options included local, express and SBS lines. The new maps will focus on around only 12 blocks instead.

“Though we’ve kept the MTA’s neighborhood maps up-to-date, this is the first redesign since the original set created more than 20 years ago and will be extremely helpful to subway customers as they leave the system and look for neighborhood points of interest,” Paul Fleuranges, the MTA’s Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications, said. “With this new map, everyone will rely on one way-finding system, both above and below ground.”

The station schematics in the neighborhood maps will remain in the new versions.

The station schematics in the neighborhood maps will remain in the new versions.

To me, as I noted, the best part of the current maps are the station footprints. These maps are generally displayed in the fare control areas with diagrams showing exactly where, aboveground, staircases lead. It’s convenient for exiting and even more so for entering at unfamiliar stations. When I first saw the new maps, I thought this vital cog had been removed, but upon closer examination, and with a confirmation from the MTA, I learned this was not only not the case but a real reason why the maps will be slowly rolled out throughout the city. “Of course the new neighborhood maps contain subway stairway info,” an MTA spokesman said to me. “That was actually one of the time consuming things as station shapes and entrances are not in the DOT’s database of information.”

The new signs are currently in five stations that all intersect the SBS B44’s route. The list includes Bedford-Nostrand on the G, the Nostrand Ave. stations along the 3 and A/C, and the 2 and 5 trains’ President and Sterling St. stations. It’s a subtle, but positive, improvement for the benefit of customers.

Categories : Subway Maps
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Tomorrow I should have something more on the new neighborhood maps the MTA is slowly unveiling throughout the city as part of NYC DOT’s WalkNYC, but for now, you’ll have to wait. I have an inquiry in concerning a certain feature that likely is still in place in a diminished form, and I’d like to get out to Crown Heights to snap some photos. Sit tight. Tonight, instead, I have a news round-up.

Bed bugs found on — and now gone from — the N train

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good old fashioned bed bug scare in the subway. The last one, in fact, dates from the height of the bed bug infestation in 2008 when wooden subway benches seemed to provide a safe haven for the cimicid insects. The problem came roaring back into the headlines last week when a few N trains were taken out of service due to reports of insect sightings. The infested cars — and the rest of their trains — were fumigated, and the R160s were placed back in service. While the Daily News reported of a bed bug sighting on the 5 over the weekend, the MTA has said that its trains, as far as agency personnel know, are now free from these bugs. I wouldn’t have had much of an occasion to ride the N train since the infestation first hit the news. Have you?

Transit testing track detection system at Rector St. unidentified station

As the MTA responds to last year’s brouhaha over subway/passenger collision deaths, the agency has moved forward with plans to test a track intrusion detection system. Pete Donohue had the opportunity to tour the setup at the unidentified station as part of a Daily News exclusive, but as the MTA allowed photos, it soon because obvious which station is hosting this pilot. As a few astute Subchatters posited, it appears as though Rector St. — which these days sees limited service due to the Sandy-related R train closure — is playing host to the system. Without 24/7 R service, the MTA can test the system without interrupting live train service. Donohue had more details:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been testing several “track intrusion” detection systems at a secret location — featuring thermal imaging cameras, laser-beam transmitters and other high-tech tools intended to alert the motorman if someone falls on the tracks. The tests have gone so well, transit executives now expect to begin installing one or more of the systems in subway stations during the 2015-2019 capital program, officials told the Daily News. “It’s not going to happen at 468 stations overnight, but once we determine the best technology, and identify funding sources, we can go out and start deployment,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said…

Konal Kumar, an associate project manager, lowered a large inflated rubber ball, wrapped with thin cable, from the platform. The breach was detected by laser beams scanning the platform edge. Automatically, diamond-shaped signals, which instruct motormen to slow down, began flashing along 300 feet of track that leads into the station. Closed-circuit television cameras, meanwhile, transmitted live video feeds to a monitor set up in the station for the demonstration. When fully implemented, video will be displayed on dispatchers’ screens in the Rail Control Center in Midtown, along with schematics showing exactly where along the platform the track intrusion occurred, a detail that will help first responders.

Train operators won’t immediately slam the brakes. They will slow down but only halt if they see someone on the tracks, or are directed to stop completely by a dispatcher, Bienstock said.

According to Donohue, the system could cost between $50,000 and $500,000 per station — a huge range that could lead to massive costs for the MTA. Would platform edge doors, similar to those found in Tokyo, be a more affordable solution? MTA estimates say no, but either way, a systemwide solution will be costly and ultimately imperfect. The lives saved over the course of the system’s useful life will though likely be worth it.

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In a report, the New York City Transit Riders Council has proposed an overhaul of MTA signs announcing service diversions.

In a report, the New York City Transit Riders Council has proposed an overhaul of MTA signs announcing service diversions.

It’s been nearly eight years since I started this site, and in that time, the MTA has repeatedly struggled with communicating its service diversions to the public in a way that’s clear, concise and easy to comprehend. In late 2006 when I launched Second Ave. Sagas, the signs looked like this; in 2007, the MTA rolled out redesigns; and inspired by London, in 2010, Jay Walder introduced our current set of signage. Despite these advances, a recent report levied a new round of criticism toward New York City Transit and the way the agency communicates an ever-increasingly complex set of service diversions to its growing off-peak and weekend ridership.

The latest report comes to us from the New York City Transit Riders Council and is available online as a PDF. In a series of surveys conducted over a span of three months in early 2014, NYCTRC surveyors canvassed the subway system for signage, explanations and generally adequate information for riders both in the system and out. As expected, certain findings were adequate and others less so. Ultimately, the MTA has to communicate information to millions of riders who often aren’t willing to digest it in an easy-to-understand why, and although the agency has taken steps to improve messaging, it still isn’t perfect.

The report itself is worth the read because the NYCTRC offers a summary of why the MTA needs to perform so much work. Essentially, after years of maintaining track mileage, upgrading rolling stock and keeping stations in some state of repair, the infrastructure demands became so overwhelming that the MTA is going to spend a significant portion of its next few capital plans on repairing and modernizing antiquated signal systems. These repairs necessarily demand inconvenient service changes. But there are of course mitigating factors, including winter storms, that lead Transit to cancel these General Orders, or GOs, before they begin but after they’re announced.

It’s here — providing information on the go and also on the fly — where the MTA ostensibly suffers. According to the survey, some stations didn’t have signs posted before fare control while none of the trains surveyed had signs posted about service diversions. Yet, when diversions had been canceled, automated announcements still contained information about service patterns during the diversion. In other words, a train saying it was running express as part of a (canceled GO) would actually run local, thus confusing passengers trying to get anywhere. Here’s the report’s summary:

When station signage was not posted at all key points with stations, finding service diversion information was a challenge. Key points within stations include station entranc- es, on walls and columns approaching turnstiles, near turnstiles, and on station platform walls and columns. If signage is not posted consistently at all key points, information can be missed by passengers, leading to confusion and preventing passengers from making informed decisions.

The continued placement of weekday and weekend directories before passengers swipe their MetroCards is vital. The directories, in addition to station-specific signage helps to in- form passengers of system-wide service diversions. Also, if service diversion signage is not posted adequately in train cars, a passenger’s ability to replan their route when they learn of a change is limited.

To improve communications, the Riders Council offered up nine suggestions. They ranged from the basic and common sense — a better training program concerning GOs for customer-facing employees and better internal communication alerting station agents of cancellations to diversions — to the obvious — better signage in along the path of entry and a timely removal of signs once GOs are over. Interestingly, the Riders Council also recommend a more visual approach to signs announcing diversions. They urged the MTA to include clear diagrams concerning alternate routing and add information on parallel subway and bus lines. Such an approach would include expanding the Weekender to weekdays — something the MTA has already done.

For many travel is inherently visual. We use maps rather than descriptions to get around, and that’s especially true of transit systems and their service diagrams. The MTA has used maps to positive results in displaying diversions related to FASTRACK and such an addition to the weekend guides and signs would assist people in interpreting wordy and confusing signs.

Ultimately, it’s a tough give-and-take between presenting information that people will read and presenting information that they’ll absorb. The MTA can’t force its customers to read signs they’ll inclined to ignore but a map at least makes it easier to see. As weekend and off-peak ridership continues to grow but the demands of a signal system overhaul remain, communicating alternate routes, GOs and other changes to service changes will become more important, and Transit would be wise to heed the advice of its Riders Council.

Categories : Service Advisories
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How’s this for an added twist on your typical “Showtime!” routine? A group of Broadway actors subtly boarded an A train recently and broke into song. It wasn’t just any song; it was “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, perhaps one of the most recognizable songs in the Disney oeuvre. At first, the A train riders are as nonplussed as any jaded New Yorker and some even seem — probably rightly so — annoyed by the interruption. But eventually, they give the cast of the show a rousing ovation. Now if only the cast of Cabaret would reenact “Willkommen” on a Q train.

Now on to the weekend changes.

From 3:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, August 9, due to track panel installation near Jackson Av and Prospect Av 2 trains will run in two sections:

  • Between 241 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, with southbound 2 trains running express from E180 St to 3 Av-149 St.
  • Between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Flatbush Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, August 9, and from 11:45 p.m. Saturday, August 9, to 5 a.m. Sunday, August 10, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St due to CPM cable work south of 125 St.

From 11 p.m. Saturday, August 9, to 6 a.m., Sunday, August 10, and from 11 p.m. Sunday, August 10, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 11, New Lots Av-bound trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.

From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, August 9, 5 trains are suspended between E180 St and Bowling Green due to track panel installation near Jackson Av and Prospect Av. 4 trains make all 5 station stops between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green. 5 shuttle service operates between Dyre Av and E180 St all weekend.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, August 10, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St due to station rehabilitation work at 23 St.

From 12:45 a.m. Saturday, August 9, to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, August 10, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station rehabilitation work at Buhre Av and Zerega Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 11, Manhattan-bound 7 trains run express from Willets Point to 74 St-Broadway for signal tests and panel installation north of Willets Point.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 11, Queens-bound A trains run local between 168 St and W4 St, and are then rerouted via the F from W4 St to Jay St-MetroTech due to rail installation north of 59 St and electrical installation at Fulton St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday, August 9, and Sunday, August 10, Brooklyn-bound C trains are rerouted via the F from W4 St to Jay St-MetroTech due to electrical installation at Fulton St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 9, to 5 a.m. Sunday, August 11, Brooklyn-bound D trains run local from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle due to rail installation north of 59 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 11, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express from 34 St-Penn Station to Canal St due to electrical installation at Fulton St.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, August 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 11, Brooklyn-bound F trains are rerouted via the M from 47-50 Sts Rockefeller Ctr to Jackson Hts-Roosevelt Av due to Second Avenue Subway construction work.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, August 9, and Sunday, August 10, R service is extended to the Jamaica-179 St F station due to MOW Jamaica Yard lead switch reconstruction.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Progress at Second Avenue Subway’s 86th St.caverns as of July 17, 2014. Photo: MTA Capital Construction / Rehema Trimiew

As the MTA gears up to release its proposal for its next five-year capital plan within the next few weeks, agency CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast went to Albany to preview the package. We learned that funding for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway will be included in the request, and a variety of other plans that I’ve discussed over the eight years of this site’s life will slowly come to fruition. Still, funding questions remain, and Prendergast challenged Albany to do something about it.

Earlier on Thursday, I noted that Prendergast had requested $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway. Phase 2 includes stations at 106th and 116th and Second Ave. and one at 125th St. and Lexington. The subway will use a mix of preexisting and new-build tunnels. As far as the money goes, the MTA’s plan for the next few years involves wrapping up Phase 1, refreshing the environmental impact study and working out designs for Phase 2, and beginning construction toward the end of the five-year period. I assume then that additional funding will come from the feds and from the next five-year plan that covers the years 2020-2024.

Even with a slower timeline — the full four-phase SAS was originally to be finished by 2020 — Phase 2 is the key to this project’s future. It connects with the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North at 125th St. and provides the option for westward extensions to Manhattanville and northward to the Bronx. It provides the entire East Side will easier service to Times Square and Herald Square and will relieve crowding on the 4, 5 and 6. It can’t come soon enough.

But what else awaits? Pete Donohue provides the details. In addition to much-discussed safety enhancements for the MTA’s commuter rails, Donohue noted the following:

Prendergast said the plan, which isn’t finalized, would likely include approximately $20 billion for so-called “state of good repair” maintenance projects, like replacing tracks, signals and older subway trains. It is also projected to feature $5 billion for expansion projects, like the Second Ave. subway and the Long Island Rail Road link to Grand Central Terminal that is now being built. Further, Prendergast anticipated the plan would provide anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion for rider enhancements, including countdown clocks on lettered subway lines and a swipe-less replacement of the MetroCard fare-payment system.

But what of the money? Prendergast and other MTA officials discussed this funding gap as well. The agency wants at least $27 billion, and although Albany could permit the MTA to issue more debt, sending the agency further into the red won’t help improve operations or financial security. “We can’t keep adding to our debt load. [It is] a formula for failure,” Prendergast noted. “The bottom line is, the capital program needs an infusion of new, sustainable funding, and we need your support in that regard.”

How that support manifests itself is up for debate. I’ve been expecting a tolling/congestion pricing plan to make a comeback simply because the state has few other avenues for revenue that could be directly tied into transit improvements while improving traffic flow throughout heavily congested areas of the city. MTA officials have also discussed contributions from the real estate interests that have piled up dollars throughout the city, and the MTA Reinvention Commission is, hopefully, looking at the issue as well.

The funding will remain a concern throughout the next few months, but I’m relieved to see the MTA focusing on moving the ball forward. They have momentum as new projects come online over the next few months and years and should maintain and build on that expertise. SAS Phase 2 is a must-have, and the sooner it starts the better. How we opt to pay for it will be very telling indeed.

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