With apologies to Michael Grynbaum…
A few months after moving into Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio approached his transportation commissioner with a question: How do we fix the Lexington Ave. I.R.T.?
An undulating, unloved subway route underneath the East Side, the Lexington Ave. I.R.T. has long been known for overcrowded subway cars, slowdowns and delays. “I certainly experienced it constantly,” Mr. de Blasio, who commutes to City Hall from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said on Monday. “It just wasn’t in an acceptable state of repair for the greatest city in the world.”
Now the mayor, along with 1.3 million other travelers who take the subway line each day, is set to enjoy a smoother ride. An $8.5 million [Ed. note: Ha!] revamp of the subway line from 125th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge will be completed this week, with city officials billing the achievement as the subway line’s first end-to-end overhaul since its completion in 1918.
Mr. de Blasio, at a ceremony on Monday, stood on the platform at Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall as 4, 5 and 6 trains zipped along the tracks, rustling his orange windbreaker. “This was always a bad route in terms of crowds, delays, etc.,” the mayor said, although he noted that his personal “subway from hell” remained the R train, “which is still burned into my memory.”
A onetime railfan, now accompanied on the subway by a police detail, the mayor said he recalled his days looking out the front window fondly. He was also asked if his own travels had helped make the Lexington Ave. I.R.T. a priority in a new citywide transit improvement effort. “I’ve certainly experienced it,” the mayor said. “But, again, we’ve heard complaints about this one for a long, long time.”
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Meanwhile, back in de Blasio’s New York, here’s what this article about the mayor’s press conference earlier on Monday actually says, under the headline “Mayor de Blasio Promotes Smoother Ride on F.D.R. Drive”:
A few months after moving into Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio approached his transportation commissioner with a question: How do we fix the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive?
An undulating, unloved route along the East River, the F.D.R. Drive has long been known for potholes, slowdowns and backups. “I certainly experienced it constantly,” Mr. de Blasio, who commutes to City Hall from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said on Monday. “It just wasn’t in an acceptable state of repair for the greatest city in the world.”
Now the mayor, along with 150,000 other travelers who take the road each day, is set to enjoy a smoother ride. An $8.5 million revamp of the drive from 125th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge will be completed this week, with city officials billing the achievement as the road’s first end-to-end resurfacing since its completion in 1966.
Mr. de Blasio, at a ceremony on Monday, stood on the safe side of a guardrail as traffic zipped along the drive, rustling his orange windbreaker. “This was always a bad road in terms of potholes, bumps, etc.,” the mayor said, although he noted that his personal “road from hell” remained the Cross Bronx Expressway, “which is still burned into my memory.”
A onetime Ford Escape enthusiast, now driven around by a police detail, the mayor said he recalled his motoring days fondly. He was also asked if his own travels had helped make the F.D.R. Drive a priority in a new citywide repaving effort. “I’ve certainly experienced it,” the mayor said. “But, again, we’ve heard complaints about this one for a long, long time.”
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This is not to say that de Blasio shouldn’t focus on the management side of his job, and after I took a few recent trips down the F.D.R. Drive in recent months, it was clear the road needed some work. But imagine — just imagine — if the mayor had the same pride in fixing subway issues and restoring the grandeur of the subway system to its proper place in the New York City transportation hierarchy.
About the F.D.R. on Monday, de Blasio said, “I certainly experienced it constantly. It just wasn’t in an acceptable state of repair for the greatest city in the world.” There’s no small amount of irony in that statement.
Lately, I’ve grown very frustrated with the 6 train. It’s slow; it’s crowded; it suffers from uneven headways and bunching. I’ve certainly experienced these problems constantly, and the 6 — local service along our city’s most crowded trunk line — just isn’t in an acceptable state of repair for the greatest city in the world. Imagine if the Mayor cared that much but about the subways — and everyone else’s ride to work — instead of just his own.
I read the italicized part at the top, and then remembered this is the guy who seven months ago was shocked to discover subways are sometimes frustratingly late. I should have known his priorities were elsewhere (the linked Times article from May noted “Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, is not a regular subway rider: Like mayors before him, he is driven most places in a police-issued sport utility vehicle. ” Which is true for a mayor — they are going to travel more by car than by the east side IRT. But for someone who is a long-time resident of Park Slope and didn’t come into office a gazillionaire like Michael Bloomberg, you’d think before he became mayor, he’d have known about the subways’ troubles, given the problems with some of the lines serving the neighborhood).
If you live somewhere other than Manhattan but don’t have a regular job commute there, and can afford to keep a car, it’s quite easy to entirely forget the subway. In my 40 years living in Park Slope/Prospect Heights there’ve been times I’ve owned a car and, during those years, except for those two rides a day to/from the job, What subway?
Yeah, why? To start, things were a lot cheaper when Bill de Blasio started his career, so he probably got into both urban car and home ownership at a time when the hurdles to getting in were not so high. AIUI he is a lifelong bureaucrat* who could probably always own a car. Besides that, generally Americans much older than around 35 today probably still have a negative view of transit and a positive view of driving.
I’m not defending his attitude. It’s actually very narrow and shallow, but it’s not that surprising.
* Not trying to denigrate bureaucrats, but they were always more able to afford to drive than the rest of us for various reasons ranging from job stability to, sometimes, getting placards.
If you were living in a city that had grown post-World War II on the patterns of where the new Interstate Highway system had laid out it’s loops and inner-city feeder roads, that kind of attitude in a career politician/bureaucrat would be more understandable, because your city’s growth came from where the highways went, not where the subways and els were extended. But if you’re Mayor of New York and you have a “God Bless Robert Moses” attitude towards mass transit, and think anything subways is Albany’s problem you’re probably a tad more elitist than you think you are (especially if you’re doing it because you have access to that placard).
Not disagreeing with you, but for whatever reason it seems to me a lot of the Gen X generation is much more car-coddling than, say, millennials. Plus that generation is more reactionary in general; a lot of the tea party movement seems over 35 and under 50. The car-coddling NYC city council is probably largely in that age range now.
Some it’s some lingering generational aspiration for post-boomers, pre-millennials? Beats me.
Given as of the end of next year the youngest Gen Xers will be 40, that’s not that surprising (the oldest Gen Xers hit 50 last year). Most of us that age grew up when the subways were in nearly the worst conditions they ever have been in (when I was riding the system in the early-to-mid 1980s, track fires were not that uncommon and many cars were operating even with lights that were completely out or on many of the later R-32s quite dim) and crime was rampant in some cases (though I somehow got through that having never been robbed). While the condition of the system improved sharply just a few years later, many still think of the system as what it was in the late 1970’s and early ’80s and that is the problem.
Gen X is a meaningless classification politically. The political switchover point is at roughly my age (born 1976) plus or minus a few years — those older than that have a tendency to be more right-wing (statistically speaking), those younger than that have a tendency to be more left-wing. It’s actually a continuous change but that’s the inflection point.
Really. And this is true with respect to cars vs. trains, too; you’ll get more train ridership among those born post-1976 than those born pre-1976.
It’s probably due to conditions when we were growing up. The subways started improving by the early 1980s (after Ford decided not to let the city drop dead in 1975). The earliest year that those born in 1976 remember would be 1980. The subways have been getting better since then. Those who are older would remember the period when things were getting *worse*.
Street crime hits a peak around 1990 and starts declining after that (probably due to the removal of lead from gasoline roughly 20 years earlier). Anyone my age or younger wasn’t in high school yet by the time crime started dropping, so the lower-crime experience would be part of our background, more so for those born later. Older people would have been well out of their formative years by the time street crime started to drop.
Trust me, millennials are waaaaaay more “car-coddled” than any prior generation. Driven to school, soccer practice, band practice, dance class, etc.
How did car-coddling turn into car-coddled?
Those people I know that were born in the 70s and early 80s and raised in the city moved once they got to middle school. No way their parents wanted their kids to ride the subway to school. I’m talking people whose parents were invested in the city too: second, third generation NYers, politicians, community organizers: off they moved to VT or CT or western Mass as soon as they turned 11.
Those of us that did grew up in the suburbs that were born in that same era. Often did walk to school or take the bus. Or bike:. People didn’t drive their kids to school that often. So oddly the stereotype is often reversed for that era.
I think there’s something of a divergence. The growth of subway riders, post-Metrocard and with the repairs done over the past 30 years to the system, have boosted the number of Gen X-millennial riders. Williamsburgh wouldn’t be Williamsburgh if the under 45 crowd hadn’t been willing to put up with the L train when (back in the bad old days), nobody else would.
But at the same time there will always be a contingent of people who are not just near the subway, but live in areas with better service on their lines, yet still think their time is far too important to have to deal with the hassles of the IRT, BMT and IND. If you’re a private citizen with a mindset like that, it’s still your choice, but if your an elected official, you’re the one who’s supposed to be doing something about it (and the fact de Blasio was shocked that the 2/3 train was late arriving at Park Place this past May indicates someone for whom the 2/3 train, or the B/D/F/G/N/Q/R trains that passed through his Park Slope neighborhood was something for somebody else to take — Michael Bloomberg as mayor may have ridden the subway more times in the past decade than Bill de Blasio, and that’s pretty sad).
DeBlasio = clueless + worthless
42 and 34th street were repaved this year. Firing MTA engineers for installing 20 mph grade timers is the biggest improvement that can be made for the subway system.
MTA want to offset the cost of heavier NTT and M7/M8 cars, and kick the rail and track bed replacement down the road.
Heavier? Subway trains are getting (even) heavier? (To me, NYC’s subway cars already seem like an Abrams tank compared to subway cars elsewhere.) What’s with that? Cutting weight is priority one in other vehicles.
34 and 42nd street were repaved in the last 2 months. Good to see Bloomberg’s repaving rate wasn’t ramped down after BDB tookover. The biggest improvement that can be made to the subways is firing the MTA engineers who installed 20 mph grade timers everywhere over the last 20 years.
Bloomberg admin reduced asphalt binder in pavement, and thus reduced asphalt pavement longevity. They failed to take advantage of polymer asphalt research (using PETE, PP, and PE plastic, from waste streams) that makes for a stronger, longer lasting, better gripping, quieter and cheaper asphalt pavement.
While I am happy paving happens at all (the alternative is 100 pothole patches that make the road look like someone vomited asphalt onto the road). NYC DOT’s repaving or as they call it “milling” doesn’t last very long. I’ve seen them pave over leafs in the fall, and they NEVER EVER fix the subbase or base. In 10 years the road is alligatored, rutted, and sinking all over again. Ive seen road repavement in Texas, they strip the road with an excavator down to dirt or gravel, retamp and add new gravel, then do 2 layers of asphalt, curb to curb, and intersection to intersection. The street is closed except for local traffic, or no traffic at all for 1 month. This road will last decades before needing service again and will be super smooth. With NYC DOT’s repaving, they can’t really fix any profile problems, the sharp angle into the gutter, or 20 foot dips in the road they can’t fix. The NYCDOT milling machines can’t chew away concrete to flatten the road.
No sooner does DOT finish a street rebuild than the surface is being cut open again for utility repairs, or something.
DOT has “embargo” policies aand notifies all utility companies before repaving a street. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/ht.....goes.shtml http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/ht.....edst.shtml
The biggest problem I’ve heard is utility companies refuse to release the block for repaving for months or years since they dont want to spend the $ to replace their infrastructure in the street, but dont want to be hit with the embargo once it is repaved.
And why do the utility companies have any power at all? This could be fixed by state legislation forcibly amending their easements so that they fix the utilties when the city tells them to, or face fines.
There must be some way to get the carriage horses into this discussion.
The NYC subway, and cars above, are all restricted in 2015 from going no faster than a horse in mph.
I am reminded of a story my engineering professor told our class way back when. Basically, he was able to convince the DOT that despite a chunk of concrete falling off an upper deck, and the bottom rebar completely exposed, yes, the FDR Drive could be safely reopened for rush hour the next day.
WTF is supposed to be “progressive” about Bill de Blasio again? Just setting aside that I get that he, on paper anyway, supports a bunch of things that he has absolutely no control over, what is it about him that is supposed to be better for the vast majority of us who were screwed or simply ignored by Bloomberg and Giuliani? Bill is also for for broken windows, car culture, and basically leaving housing policy to NIMBYs and developers. He might actually be more doctrinaire about the second two than Bloomberg and Giuliani.
The FDR should probably be torn down. It’s loud, ugly, ruins the waterfront, and turns what should be a prime part of Manhattan into a doormat for suburban motorists.
Love or hate the FDR Drive, it’s a vital roadway in Manhattan. What do you think traffic in Manhattan would be without it.
As much as we would love to have a much more expansive subway system and everyone riding it, that is not practical. Some people have to drive (and in some cases for a living) and the FDR is an important part of it.
What would it be? Better. Ironically, it would almost certainly be clearer with users diffusing across the street grid rather than competing for space to get on the FDR.
If you believe that, you can enjoy the empty street grid.
What they should really do is make one of the FDR lanes into a bus lane for express buses from the Bronx.
Aren’t express buses too high for the FDR?
It depends. There are stretches of the FDR and Harlem River Drive that can accommodate express and city buses.
Overpass clearance map
What does that mean? There is no way the street grid would ever be empty. The same bridges and tunnels would be available as today. The FDR and Harlem River Drive, if anything, inhibit drivers’ ability to get to or from them optimally.
It’d still be a blight, but the FDR as BRT might be interesting.
So what happens to all that traffic heading to the Brooklyn Bridge?
Regarding the FDR? Probably nothing, except it would be more diffused rather than competing for space on the FDR.
The absurdity of so many different crossings basically doing the same thing at different prices is another matter.
Commercial vehicles, ones people use to make a living, are banned on the FDR.
The FDR drive is essentially useless and could be removed with no visible effect on Manhattan traffic. The traffic would evaporate. I suppose there’s some use as a shortcut for traffic from the eastern part of the Bronx to Midtown, but its function south of there is nonexistent.
I could explain why. It relates to where the highway is. It doesn’t connect to any of the river bridges or tunnels between the Triboro Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, so it doesn’t relieve any of the east-west traffic flow. It’s on the wrong route for *all* Brooklyn-Manhattan and Brooklyn-Bronx traffic flow. It’s too far east for traffic flow within Manhattan proper.
The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway serves a function. The FDR Drive doesn’t — it was put there because land near the river was cheap, not because it was appropriate to have a road there. It should be demolished.
You’ve sure got that right. San Francisco tore down the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 earthquake, despite warnings that the result would be gridlock and more jammed downtown streets. So what happened? A beautiful boulevard was built with light rail running down it, the waterfront was reclaimed for people and quality of urban life improved. Strange that so many people posting on this board insist that the FDR Drive is absolutely essential.
What is the price of a bar of soap in SF vs Oakland? The yuppies in SF pay for their Manhattan retail prices. Unless you plan to subsistence farm on your condo’s patio, trucks are what bring the food you need to stay alive. Without out trucks, you would die of starvation (IE, all food came in messenger bags on bikes to restaurants, 5 lbs at a time).
How much exurban sprawl happened since the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down in the Bay area? How many suburbanites drive further into rural areas instead of the urban core, feeding even more sprawl, since cars was banned from urban areas?
Bullshit, and I’d like you to stop spreading it. The trucks don’t normally use the FDR Drive either. Please look up what the actual truck routes are.
The BQE is useful for trucks. The FDR Drive, with its failure to connect to any of the bridges or tunnels, its super-tight loop ramps on the few connections it has, and its bad location on the far east edge of Manhattan is not. The trucks tend to take the avenues.
Right, but as you imply in your “editor’s note”, there is a cost problem. What could the MTA have done with $8.5 million? That might cover the catering budget for the task force assigned to plan the work to upgrade the Lexington line.
Assuming it has the equipment and slots, I assume it could run a few more trains. Or, alternatively, run more buses.
There’s a much bigger problem with the Lexington Ave express lines than there is with the 6 Train. Oftentimes, it’s faster to take the local train downtown during the morning rush than it is to take a 4 or 5.
Welcome to the joy that is commuting on the 6 train, Ben. 6-7 minute waits during the height of morning rush hour for an uptown train. Trains that bypass the local stations to make up time, thus defeating the purpose of a local train, and making express stations dangerously overcrowded. Glad to hear that this City’s priority is on fixing the roads and not public transit.
This is a good NYC analog to the Tappan Zee being replaced because the world of New York politics is full of people who constantly drive between Albany and Downstate. It’s fixed because the politicos use it a lot, not because of an objective study of real need.
If you ever notice the memorial to William Gaynor, mayor 1910-1913, in Cadman Plaza, it’s there because he famously walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to and from work at City Hall every day from his house in Park Slope. This was despite being the only NYC mayor to be shot in an assassination attempt. Makes modern mayors look like jerks. http://www.sundaymagazine.org/.....19-1-a.pdf
It’s infuriating how few politicians ride the subway, especially the entrenched political class (of which BdB is a part whether he admits it or not). Maybe it’s because I work in media, but it’s completely normal for management and even some executive-level people to take the train to work. But our fearless leaders still seem to think that only poor people ride the train and that the middle class all drive.
The thing is, you could justify driving in New York City if you’re provided with free parking at both ends of your journey. I often drive from North Brooklyn to Tribeca for a particular appointment, for my own reasons, but the drive takes ~15-20 minutes at rush hour. The subway takes the same amount of time, assuming no delays. Similarly, if you’re in, say, Marine Park, it’ll take about 60-90 minutes to get to Chambers and Broadway, whether you drive or train.
So now imagine you are FDNY, NYPD, or are from some other agency where you can get free parking, legally, or illegally via parking placard. It’s pretty easy to rationalize driving.
There should be a law that requires a mayor to use the subway to commute to work. And while we are at it, sell the SUVs used to convey him from place to place and put his chauffeurs to work someplace else.
While it’s obviously important for politicians to take the train just like the rest of us, requiring them to do so all the time isn’t the best idea. What happens when De Blasio is late for his critical morning meeting because the train took a two-hour rest in the tunnel between stops?
Would that be any different than how on-time de Blasio ever is now?
Is the subway really less reliable than street traffic?
He will do the same thing any of the rest of us do…reschedule, apologize.. cancel, send a note.
anyway … he is the mayor… how many of us would get the same forbearance for a missed meeting as the mayor.
And if it did happen, he might do things to make that less likely or at least put some data services down there.
The subway is a substantial part of the product the government is supposed to provide. The producers should use their own product.
He should leave earlier, like the rest of us
Wow, you had me for a minute. I couldn’t believe there was some sort of overhaul that I had not heard about. Pathetic that the FDR takes priority over the Lex and its millions of riders.
Get rid of the FDR and turn it into an Embarcadero? It would be a boon to the local community, and it would counter-intuitively result in better traffic flows. The West Side still has traffic, but traffic moves more easily and the local community has a tremendous asset at its door that is far more accessible than it once was (without the blight of an elevated roadway).
The FDR as street-level road would eliminate some of the costly infrastructure like elevated structures/overpasses/flyovers, and it would also serve as opportunity to integrate flood control into the roadway as well as well as increasing the green space – you’d get new parkland as well. Add bike/running paths as we see elsewhere, and you’d have a hit.
Developers would also love this since it would increase the value of their adjacent properties.
Blight is subjective. I would argue the FDR is an intricate and amazing piece of infrastructure and downgrading it would be desecration of a priceless work of art. Much the same as tearing down all the old elevated lines in Manhattan was.
Alas, most people don’t see it that way.
The FDR, at least south of Midtown, has no traffic function. It seems like a very good idea *for traffic flow* to remove it, for the same reasons that it was a good idea to pedestrianize Broadway.
You like the physical structure? I offer you an elevated park better than the High Line. With river views. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Honestly, I would be totally okay with that. Hell, due to the existence of on and off ramps you could even run a bike path along it, creating a sort of freeeway for bicycles.
That would be awesome, and I bet it would be used really heavily as a bike expressway (since there aren’t any other bike expressways).
It’s sort of a pity the BRT and park people mostly just have en erection for stopping rail. Because if they’d go after things like the FDR, they’d be great.
But it won’t stay fixed for long. Blas, or his minions, specified the old style manhole covers which stay fixed to the underground utilities, instead of the current type that have a flex joint and can move with the road.* I’ll bet a nickel or three that it won’t use rubberized pavement, which last longer and dampens sound. It’s about what you’d expect from someone who admits or claims to be a Ford Escape enthusiast, a sentiment which is slightly more ridiculous than being a connoisseur of lite beer.
Fixing the Lex is more urgent than repaving FDR, but something about that project jumped out:
“An $8.5 million revamp”.
Eight million? MTA can’t spruce a up a lower-traffic subway station for that much. The station, not including the railroad parts pretty much some concrete and a few turnstiles (outside) or a hole in the ground, some concrete, lights and turnstiles (underground). The Lex, which as a free, off budget roof, will probably cost a hundred times that much to revamp.
Yeah we need to fix the Lex and it is a more urgent need than FDR. But the subway, despite the sickening experience of being jammed into it, does not offer the ridership much compared to the money absorbed. We need to address the dollar leakage in these projects before pouring more in.
*As best I can tell. I hope I’m wrong on this one, I expect not.