Home Podcast Second Ave. Sagas Podcast, Ep. 3: Aaron Gordon of ‘Signal Problems’

Second Ave. Sagas Podcast, Ep. 3: Aaron Gordon of ‘Signal Problems’

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s time for another new episode of the Second Ave. Sagas podcast, and I’m very excited about my guest this week. Joining me during his farewell tour for his Signal Problems newsletter for a long discussion on all things covering transit is Aaron Gordon, a familiar name in these parts.

Gordon picked up the transit beat a few years ago with The Village Voice and launched “Signal Problems” as part of his ongoing coverage. He’s spent countless hours digging into faulty signal timers, the ongoing L train repair mess, and ferry ridership, among others. Now a writer with Jalopnik, Gordon is retiring his newsletter shortly, and the transit beat will be poorer for it.

Gordon and I sat down for a long discussion over the weekend, kicking things off with a conversation on Andy Byford’s future, and we covered the slow-motion improvements as Byford works to improve the system while navigating a thorny governor. We also talked about covering transit, frustrations with the FOIL process and the experiences a transit beat writer can enjoy riding along with the speed limit test train. You can listen to this week’s episode via the player below and the popular spots — iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts and your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear and have been enjoying the podcasts, leave a review on your favorite podcast site.

As always, thanks for listening and thanks as well to Joe Jakubowski for sound engineering. I can bring the podcasts to the public thanks to contributions from my readers so please consider joining the Second Ave. Sagas Patreon. As always, this site runs entirely on Patreon contributions, and I can keep it going with your help.

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Larry Penner April 25, 2019 - 7:49 am

There are issues NYC Comptroller and 2021 Mayoral wanna be Scott Stringer has overlooked concerning his proposal to transfer NYC Economic Development Corporation private ferry operator program to NYC Department of Transportation.

The Federal Transit Administration on February 11th announced the opportunity to apply for approximately $30 million in Fiscal Year 2019 competitive grant funding for passenger ferry projects nationwide. The Passenger Ferry Grant Program is authorized by Congress for projects that develop and support ferry service on many of the nation’s waterways, including the purchase, repair, and modernization of ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities that communities depend on.

FTA will award competitive grants to states and public entities to purchase, repair, or modernize ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities and equipment, supporting existing ferry service and the establishment of new passenger ferry service.

Will Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYC EDC now ask NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to submit grant applications to both the FTA Passenger Ferry Program and State Department of Transportation? Establishment of a new ferry service for Northeast Queens might make a great candidate. There are other annual FTA grant programs such as Urban Area Formula, Capital Annual Investment and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality that could also be used as funding sources.

The City of Glen Cove is attempting to jump start their own ferry service to midtown and downtown Manhattan. Why not share resources and join forces with them? Ask them to add intermediate stops in Queens including Bayside Fort Totten, College Point, Flushing Marina, LaGuardia Airport and Long Island City? This could generate significant additional riders resulting in a more financially viable operation. Thousands of residents from Northeast Queens two fare zones are willing to pay premium fares for express bus or Long Island Rail Road services. Many would do the same for a new ferry service versus driving or taking a local bus to subway for journeys to work.

The NYC DOT has a backlog of available FTA Passenger Ferry and Bus discretionary funding. They have been unsuccessful to date in accessing these. On March 15th, the FTA published Federal Notice of Available Funding for Federal Fiscal Year 2019. This included the availability of $16,276,971 from 2014, 2016 & 2018 to pay for three new NYC DOT projects. Details may be found under Table 14 – Prior Years Unobligated Section 5307 Passenger Ferry Grant Program & Table 15 – Prior Years Unobligated Section 5309 Bus.

These include (1) $5,700,000 from 2014 for Ferry landing modernization and conversion to CNG Compressed Natural Gas for fueling boats, (2) $4,237,771 from 2016 to construct a combination of bus lanes, high-quality stations, refurbished bus stops and transfer points, safety improvements, and transit signal priority and signal timing changes and (3) $6,303,200 from 2018 for facility/vessel gangways replacement/upgrade and ferry boat environmental compliance.

NYC DOT should have previously developed and submitted grant applications to apply for these funds. Why has NYC DOT been unsuccessful to date in having these funds obligated under approved grants? These funds will eventually lapse and be lost to NYC DOT. They end up returned to the federal treasury and may be reprogrammed for another purpose.

When will NYC DOT be successful in applying for and having these funds obligated under approved grants? What is the recovery schedule for completion of these long overdue projects? How many more years must taxpayers, ferry & bus riders and ferry maintenance employees have to wait before seeing the benefits from completion of these federally funded improvements to the Staten Island Ferry system?

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, LIRR & Metro North, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit and NYC Department of Transportation. This included over $1 billion in grants to NYCDOT for bus and ferry projects and programs).

Rex April 25, 2019 - 8:31 pm

Great podcast

Pedro Valdez-Rivera April 28, 2019 - 2:51 pm

The NYC Ferry System is a total boondoggle because of the higher taxpayer subsidized operation costs, with lower than expected ridership to boot.


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