For New Yorkers, it’s no secret that the MTA is rapidly deteriorating. Practically defined by delays and diversions—and not to mention the impending L train shutdown—the financial and political behind-the-scenes of the subway system has come under increasing scrutiny. While numerous articles, commentaries, reports, and angry tweets have been published on the state of the MTA and its causes, Everyday Arcade has released what might be the first video game on the crumbling system, MTA Country. Styled after a classic Nintendo-style platformer (its name references the 1994 SNES game Donkey Kong Country), MTA Country is a ride through a roller coaster of subway tunnel. For players, the goal of MTA Country is to get its main character, Gregg T (Gregg Turkin, a lawyer, NYPD Legal Bureau member, and much meme-ified face of the NYPD’s “If You See Something, Say Something” subway campaign) to work. Luckily, he has help from his friends Bill (de Blasio) and Andrew (Cuomo). After watching the trio be launched from a trashcan, gamers can ride down tracks collecting coins as they leap over track fires, stopped trains, broken rails, the notorious Pizza Rat. Graffiti in the background reads “Giuliani was here,” among other commentary. Without giving away any spoilers, users skilled enough to collect all the letters that dot the tracks will be in for a special high-speed transformation à la Elon Musk and rocketed off to a new destination. Luckily for New Yorkers, MTA Country also works on your phone, making it an ideal way to pass time when your train inevitably gets stuck.
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MTA releases 10-year plan to improve subway and bus services
Within ten years, a modernized signal system on 6 subway lines and more than 180 new subway stations are among many new improvements to New York City’s public transportation promised by the MTA. In a package released by New York City Transit Chief Andy Byford and the MTA, called “Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit,” (PDF) the transit provider also guarantees repair work at more than 300 stations, new subway cars and CBTC-modified car, a redesign of bus routes and a new tap-and-go fair payment system to be in place in the next decade. The improvements come with a cost. According to The New York Times, the groundbreaking proposal will cost more than $19 billion for the first five years. The plan will also entail closures, including continuous night and weekend closures for up to 2.5 years per line. Byford’s plan is thought to be ambitious, as work previously estimated to take 40 years would be completed within the next ten years. The two-stage proposal will benefit a cumulative eight million daily riders. The outdated transportation infrastructure has caused delays and frustration. The “state-of-the-art” communications-based train control (CBTC) is believed to deliver greater reliability and better prospects for future capacity growth. In the first five years, lines 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, F, M, R, G will be upgraded with the advanced train control signal system; in the next five years, lines 1, 2, 3, B, D, S, N, Q, R, W too will be upgraded. The bus network will be reimagined across the five boroughs, promising customer focused routes, faster and more reliable travel times, and more comfortable and environmentally sustainable buses. However, the plan has an issue with funding. Amidst the quarrel between Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on who should pay to rehabilitate the subway, a spokesperson for de Blasio told The New York Times that the city is not willing to help pay for Byford's plan. He advised that the MTA should instead resort to existing resources and the state should endorse new revenue sources such as the millionaire's tax that de Blasio has proposed.
For the estimated 24,100 New Yorkers who cross between Manhattan and Brooklyn on the L train every hour, 2019 is not looking so good. After being pushed back year after year, the 15-month L train shutdown to allow for repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel for Hurricane Sandy-related damage is finally happening next April. The city is hoping that riders will use alternative subway connections, or even alternatives to the subway, and is implementing changes across the subway system as well as establishing new shuttle bus routes and usage restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge and 14th Street. At a May 16th town hall meeting in Williamsburg, according to The Village Voice, city and MTA officials were reluctant to reveal how many more trains can cross the Williamsburg Bridge on the J/M/Z lines, one of the proposed solutions for displaced L train commuters. But the answer eventually came: 24 trains an hour—in a best-case scenario. This number is just three trains over current capacity. A large part of the issue is due to the fact that the tracks feature S-curves on both sides of the bridge, which requires trains to slow down significantly to safely make the turns without derailing. The MTA is adding and reducing trains at other points in the system in an attempt to alleviate some of the problems for L-train commuters. Even still, this leads to a net reduction of capacity by 12.5 train cars, or 25,000 riders per hour, according to The Village Voice. This also means that beyond longer treks and numerous transfers, waits on platforms to get on packed trains may become even worse. There are currently plans to restrict travel on the Williamsburg Bridge to buses, trucks, and carpools and to restrict 14th Street to buses and local deliveries during peak hours, but borough politicians say this isn’t enough, and that restrictions to bus service and high occupancy vehicles needs to go beyond peak hours during the L train shutdown and call on the city to develop a 24-hour plan. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter on Monday to Mayor Bill de Blasio calling on the city to provide 24-hour busway alternatives. As Adams and Brewer point out, they represent 24/7 communities and stated, “If we hope to persuade New Yorkers to continue to rely on public transit while the L train tunnel is closed, we must provide shuttle bus service that is seamless, efficient and reliable whenever our constituents need to ride.” The mayor has thus far opposed a 24-hour busway in favor of restrictions and shuttles for yet-to-be-defined peak hours. Many residents are divided on the issue. Regardless, as the shutdown rapidly approaches, the city must finalize a 24-hour plan to deal with the significant blow the loss of the L train will deal to commuters.
Winners of MTA’s first genius award announced
The winners of the MTA’s Transit Genius Challenge, which was first announced last spring, have been selected. The award, which set aside $3 million to be split among winners in three categories, is part of the city’s plan to modernize the aging subway system, which has been experiencing ever increasing delays and other issues affecting its nearly 6 million daily users. The MTA has been in an official state of emergency since the summer of 2017. Of the 19 finalists, of which 17 are major corporations and current MTA contractors, eight have been selected as winners to split the three $1 million prizes. In the category of signalling, Robert James and Metrom Rail have both won for a proposal to use ultra-wideband technology, a wireless technology that eliminates the need for more costly, cumbersome equipment and that the MTA has the ability to implement immediately. Using ultra-wide band technology would cut decades off the 40-year plan to overhaul the subway’s signaling system. Also in signalling, Ansaldo STS and the Thales Group have won the contest with plans for using sensors and cameras to track train positions and allow them to travel closer together more effectively. In the second challenge category, subway cars, three winners have been chosen for three different approaches to the problem. Lawyer and transit aficionado Craig Avedisian took home $330,000 for a plan that combines longer, higher capacity trains with new loading procedures to significantly increase train capacity with only minor changes to underlying technical infrastructure. CRRC has proposed a $50 million initial investment to develop an entirely new train car with materials such as carbon fiber, and proposes shorter lifecycles on subway cars to be able to continually phase in the newest technologies. Finally, CSiT wants to harness the power of big data to quickly identify maintenance issues and create a more reliable rider experience. In the final category, communications, Bechtel Innovation has won for a plan to implement a semi-automatic robotic system to install communications and control systems. The Big B, as the robotic solution is called, could even nimbly climb off railways, into stations, onto platforms, and into service bays. Transit Wireless and Alcatel-Lucent (Nokia) received honorable mentions in the category. Although it is not immediately clear how and if the winning changes might be phased into subway operations, the MTA was inspired by the success of the Transit Genius Challenge and intends to create a recurring challenge, the “Transit Innovation Partnership.”
City and MTA reveal alternate transit plans for L train shutdown
Last night the two agencies in charge of transit in New York kicked off an open house series for the public to learn more about plans to move commuters between Brooklyn and Manhattan during the 15-month L train shutdown. The events are being held over four weeks in neighborhoods that will be most impacted by the closure.About 70 people filled the cafeteria of Williamsburg's Progress High School for the first open house, which was jointly hosted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). Employees of both agencies stood by boards outlining transit options, science fair–style, as members of the public approached to ask questions about the bus, train, ferry, and bike routes that will carry them to Manhattan and back. The shutdown begins April 2019. During that time, the Canarsie Tunnel under the East River will close so workers can replace infrastructure that was damaged by flooding from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. Each weekday, 225,000 riders move through the tunnel, and 50,000 rides take the L just in Manhattan. The agencies are in the process of soliciting community feedback on the transit options; no plan has been determined yet. In Brooklyn, proposed changes include three-person HOV restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge during peak hours, as well as new protected bike and bus lanes to ferry riders between the J/Z/M and G trains, L-adjacent lines the city expects 70 to 80 percent of affected riders will utilize to get across the river. Work is being done to ensure these lines can handle additional capacity, and the bus routes could be upgraded to give buses priority over private vehicles. The city estimates an additional 5 to 15 percent will use buses only, with new Williamsburg Bridge–bound buses, dubbed L1, L2, and L3, slated to carry approximately 30,000 riders, or 13 percent of the weekday total. After that, the agencies say five percent of straphangers will switch to the ferry, two percent will cycle to work, and between three and ten percent of riders may use taxis or ride-sharing services for their commute. In Manhattan, 14th Street (the crosstown thoroughfare under which the L train runs) would be converted into a busway, with only local private car access allowed. A block south, protected two-way bike lanes would be added to 13th Street to accomodate cyclists headed to and from the Williamsburg Bridge, which touches down on the Lower East Side. The next public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 31, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan.
Residents had many questions—and more than a few concerns—about the proposed routes. "The main impetus of the plan is to keep people out of North Brooklyn," said Felice Kirby, a longtime Williamsburg resident and board member of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. "There are a couple of thousand small businesses and manufacturers who, along with residents, made this area famous. We're in a lot of trouble if people can't get into our area to eat, shop, and work." She grilled an MTA official on why ferry service wasn't being expanded to increase the percentage of L-train riders who might use the boats to get to work."It's a timid and meek approach," she added.
Lifelong Williamsburg resident Vikki Cambos has already started thinking about alternative travel plans. Though she lives off the Grand St L and works off Hewes Street J/M, she is weighing the shutdown as she job-searches. "I don't want something directly off the L, because that will be a headache," Cambos said. As another option, she's considering jobs in lower and upper Manhattan that are easily accessible by trains other than the L. She's worried too that the proposed shuttle will add crowds in a neighborhood that's already undergone extensive gentrification. "I'm excited to see people move out," she said. Jeff Csicsek, a software engineer who volunteers with the North Brooklyn arm of transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, wants Grand Street in Brooklyn to be for bikes, buses, and pedestrians only—no private cars allowed. He cited Downtown Brooklyn's no-car Fulton Street, one of the city’s most profitable retail corridors, as an example of how the streetscape could be retooled to favor pedestrians and mass transit on Grand. "I don't think it's physical changes [that are needed] so much as policy," he said. "A do-not-enter sign for private cars would make this actually work." Even Andy Byford, the newly-appointed president of MTA New York City Transit, showed up to hear the public's questions. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was also in attendance. "We simply have to get this right," he told a small crowd of reporters. The MTA, he added, is soliciting community feedback to decide on final transit options. "The plan is not set in stone," he said. This post has been updated with the MTA's map of possible transit alternatives during the shutdown.
Eager to combat a serious housing shortage in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, State Senator Simcha Felder (D- Southern Brooklyn) announced Tuesday that the MTA would be opening a Request for Proposals (RFP) for developing a 3.8-acre stretch of rail bed that runs through the area. Decking over the site and building residences, similar to what’s happened in Hudson Yards and proposed for Sunnyside Yards, could bring thousands of units to an area of south Brooklyn that’s grown rapidly in recent years. The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) Bay Ridge Branch section cuts from 61st Street between Fort Hamilton Parkway, and 8th Avenue, and is seldom used apart from the freight trains that might pass through once or twice a day. Looking to create a long-term revenue stream from the site, the MTA released their RFP for developing the site’s airspace, at least 22 feet over the rail bed, on Thursday, available here. Calling for private developers to apply, the RFP demands that teams would not only be responsible for the architectural aspect of the residential buildings on the site, both market-rate and affordable, but also retail and office space as well as parking lots. Additionally, any scheme has to leave the rail track in place, and engineering solutions must be included for decking over a gap that ranges from 82 -feet wide in some places to 118 feet in others. This is no easy feat, especially as utilities must also be supplied to the site and would presumably run through the decking; it’s no wonder that the MTA is requiring the entire project to be privately financed. The cost of decking over the much larger, 180-acre Sunnyside Yards has been projected to cost up to $19 billion for similar reasons, though no cost estimates have been released for this stretch of the LIRR yet. The fight to build over this stretch of tracks has been going on for years, with local community groups only recently embracing the plan. Senator Felder stressed that any new construction would have to fit the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. “The vision is to create residential development that is consistent with the character of the neighborhood,” said Felder. “The location of this project presents a significant opportunity to create additional housing units on a gigantic parcel of land that covers a few city blocks.” Interested applicants have until April 27th, 2018, to submit a proposal.
Brain Train, Now Boarding
19 finalists announced for MTA’s Genius Transit Challenge
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced the 19 finalists in three categories for the MTA Genius Transit Challenge today. Winners will be declared in early 2018 and will receive up to a $1 million genius award (or the profit of 363,636 card swipes, according to the New York Times). The MTA assembled a panel of technology and transportation experts to review the 438 submissions, narrowing it down to 64 and then 19. During phase two of the competition, the final contenders refined and elaborated on their original submissions. The three categories are: to improve signaling, to identify strategies to better deploy subway cars, and increase communications infrastructure. Each submission in these categories was reviewed on “its ability to fulfill the Challenge’s core objectives, whether it could be implemented in a rapid timeframe throughout the Subway System, innovativeness, and cost-reasonableness.” With the recent release of the RPA’s newest plan, we can only hope at least a few improvements are made, genius or otherwise. FINALISTS IN THE SIGNALS CATEGORY AECOM: Intelligent Alignment of Service Delivery to Customer Demand Alstom: Train-Centric Peer-to-Peer CBTC Ansaldo STS: Video Odometry, Heads-Up Display and Augmented Reality Arup: Acorn: Autonomous Car Operating Rail Network Robert James (Individual): Connected Vehicles & Ultra-Wideband for Communications & Location Metrom Rail : Positive Train Control System based on Ultra-Wideband Siemens : Dramatically Accelerate Communications-Based Train Control Deployment Thales Group: Several Integrated Ideas to Accelerate Communications-Based Train Control Deployment Thales Group: Next Generation Positioning: Autonomous Train Car Platform FINALISTS IN THE CARS CATEGORY Alstom: Upgrades to Improve Subway Car Reliability Craig Avedisian (Individual): Modify Cars to Enable Trains to Have 4 More Cars Bombardier: Modular Car Concept Utilizing a Common Vehicle Platform CRRC MA: Technology-Advanced Cars with Shorter Vehicle Lifecycle CSINTRANS: Open Information System to Improve Operations Efficiency & Customer Communications Faiveley (Wabtec): Newly Developed Brake Control System FINALISTS IN THE COMMUNICATIONS CATEGORY Alcatel-Lucent (Nokia): Standards-Based Trackside Private LTE Network with an IP/MPLS Backbone Alstom: Multi-Service High Capacity, Flexible Network Bechtel: The Big B: Semi-Automated Robotic System Transit Wireless: Dedicated LTE Network to Connect Trains to Tunnel Entrances and Trackside Radios The MTA Genius Transit Challenge Finalist Judges Sarah Feinberg, Former Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean and Vice Provost, Cornell Tech Charles Phillips, CEO, Infor; Former Co-President and Director, Oracle Kristina Johnson, Chancellor-elect, SUNY Nick Grossman, General Manager, Union Square Ventures Eliot Horowitz, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, MongoDB Balaji Prabhakhar, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Stanford University Joe Lhota, Chairman, MTA Pat Foye, President, MTA Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, Managing Director, MTA Janno Lieber, Chief Development Officer, MTA
Today the city and the MTA released a long-awaited plan to get riders to Manhattan during the L train shutdown. Among the many proposed transit tweaks, Manhattan's 14th Street will be transformed into a bus-only thoroughfare to keep rush hour running smoothy. In both boroughs, new bus routes and bike lanes will help ferry 225,000 daily would-be L train commuters to their destinations. The MTA is also beefing up service on L-adjacent lines, in part by opening up disused subway entrances in Brooklyn and running longer trains on the G line. There will also be new high-occupancy vehicle rules for those driving over the Williamsburg Bride, AMNY reported. The L train's Canarsie tunnel was badly damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy and has to be closed for 15 months so the MTA can perform extensive repairs. The closure, which will suspend Manhattan-to-Brooklyn service, is expected to commence in April 2019 and last through June 2020. During the shutdown, the L will run mostly normally though Brooklyn until it reaches Bedford Avenue, the final station before the tunnel. The MTA will increase service on the J, M and Z lines, and bus service along new routes will pick up riders at subway stations to carry them over the Williamsburg Bridge and through lower Manhattan. To carry an estimated 3,800 bus riders per peak hour, the lanes will be restricted to trucks and vehicles with three-plus passengers. The plan should alleviate residents' and business owners' fears over the effects of the shutdown. In Manhattan, a multilane crosstown busway on 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues will supersede all regular traffic except local deliveries, while 13th Street will get a dedicated two-way cycling lane.
Action Plan Onboard
Subway service stinks and the MTA has a new plan to fix it
[UPDATE 7/26/2017: This article was amended to include a statement that MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota made at the press conference on 7/25/2017 regarding his and the MTA's accountability for the plan outlined here.] This afternoon MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota laid out a short-term plan to improve declining service across the New York City subway system. Lhota began by outlining some of the causes of the current deterioration of service, including a record volume of customers (6 million riders a day, due in no small part to increased number of tourists), lack of capital investment, and aging infrastructure. The first phase of the MTA's efforts will tackle the causes behind 79 percent of major delays. While medical incidents, track fires, car malfunctions, water damage, and station malfunctions were each the blame, more than half of the major delays were due to signal, track, and power problems. Lhota's list of countermeasures was extensive, but included:
- Speeding up the replacement of the 1,300 most troublesome signals (40 percent of signal mechanisms are more than 50 years old)
- Starting a Emergency Water Management initiative to seal leaks and clean grates
- Increasing the number of train car overhauls from 950 to 1,100 per year
- Creating a new MTA app and a separate online dashboard to keep riders informed on MTA activities and improvements (the dashboard will be available in the next month to six weeks)
- Initiating a pilot program to remove some seats from select cars on the Shuttle (S) train between Grand Central/42nd and the L train
- Adding seven more EMT teams at various stations to handle sick customers
- Initiating a public awareness campaign to stop littering on the tracks, which can lead to track fires
- Increasing the rate of station cleaning from every six weeks to four weeks
- Adding 12 emergency teams to 12 locations to speed up incident response times
- Eliminating recorded announcements on subway cars
“It is befuddling that the Mayor praised the MTA repair plan, but said he would not agree to fund it 50/50 with the State. One-half of a repair plan won’t make the trains run on time. The MTA is looking for the city to be a funding partner that assists the 6 million New Yorkers, the mayor's constituents, who use the subway."
Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo excitedly discussed plans to illuminate seven bridges across New York City with multicolored LED lights choreographed to music. Those bridges, along with the Empire State Building and One World Trade, were first slated for installation in winter 2017. Now, among massive stalls and shutdowns at MTA stations across the city—dubbed “the summer of hell” for commuters and tourists alike—critics are gearing back up to question how the city is spending on public infrastructure. A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, Jon Weinstein, emailed Politico to say the bridge lighting project “is definitely NOT being paid for by the MTA,” indicating the costs could be split between the New York City Power Authority and Empire State Development. The MTA and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) seem to think otherwise: In March, the NYPA’s Board was shown a $216 million estimate for the plan with the MTA picking up the tab, although this was an unaudited financial plan with the project cost as a placeholder. Critics have been quick to distinguish cosmetic from reparative lighting—for instance, bridge and tunnel fixtures repaired after Hurricane Sandy. For example, recent upgrades to one of these post-Sandy projects, the rehab of the tunnel and exit plaza on the Manhattan side of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, included $7.3 million in additional funds to create a decorative blue-and-gold tiling pattern that reflects the state's official colors. Additionally, the Port Authority has officially withdrawn the George Washington Bridge from the lighting portion of the collective plan, which has been dubbed New York Crossings. However, that initiative doesn’t end with its lights. The governor's office has framed New York Crossings as a public art project that would address a number of other civic concerns: incorporating automatic tolling designed to reducing commute times, increasing checkpoint security (through facial recognition software at these stations), seismic updates to each bridge (the plan also incorporates reinforced concrete armoring units underwater), and sustainability (introducing LED units wherever possible). The projected end date for New York Crossings is currently May 2018, even as the governor's office claims the MTA is spending no money on the initiative. An independent review by watchdog group Reinvent Albany estimated the agency has spent roughly $40 million on the decorative towers and LED lighting so far.
Choo Choo Ch'Boogie!
The MTA is circulating free e-books on the subway this summer
Instead of staring vacantly into a phone on the train, the MTA and New York City's three public library systems would like straphangers to bury their noses in e-books, gratis. Starting today, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library will be offering hundreds of free short stories, books, and book excerpts for download through each station's wireless network. Available for six weeks only, Subway Library will let you read titles in the library system as well as selects from five publishers' catalogues. And who doesn't like books? Even Governor Andrew I-don't-control-the-MTA Cuomo had kind words for the program. “I am thrilled that the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library are kicking off the summer reading season and offering free e-books to subway riders through the MTA’s TransitWirelessWiFi™,” Cuomo said, referring to the private wireless services provider for the subway system. “The Subway Library will encourage adults and children to explore new worlds through reading during their daily commute, while spreading awareness of our Wi-Fi and connectivity services underground.” To promote the program, the MTA's gone all out and decked out a real train: Inside, the promotional car is gussied up to resemble the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library's main branch on 42nd Street: The industrial grey-blue seats are transformed into faux wood benches as book-lined wallpaper edges the car, though the titles are more suggestive than substantive. Curious riders can catch the special train on the E and F lines' 6th and 8th Avenue corridors.
In anticipation of the upcoming L train shutdown in 2019, the Department of Transit (DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are examining the possibilities for a car-free busway for a portion of, or the entirety of, 14th Street in Manhattan. According to a Streetsblog NYC article, the agencies presented four potential options to a Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee last night. These options are meant to alleviate traffic that will inevitably result from the L train offload, which amounts up to 275,000 people daily. Here’s what was presented: A “standard” Select Bus Service (dedicated lanes with no physical separation), an “enhanced” Select Bus Service (additional turn and curb restrictions), a car-free busway in the middle blocks of 14th Street, and a completely closed-off, river-to-river street dedicated only to buses. The presentation also included three alternative bus route plans between Brooklyn and Manhattan; one would run from the Grand Street L stop and over the Williamsburg Bridge, heading up First Avenue to 14th Street, and the other two routes would link to the Broadway-Lafayette station. The MTA has already ordered an additional 200 buses for the duration of the 15-month-shutdown. They have anticipated that between 75 to 85 percent of the daily riders will use other subway lines, while only 5 to 15 percent of riders will turn to bus services—which could easily turn the J/M/Z and G subway lines into a nightmare. These new, “attractive” bus options could help increase bus ridership, officials said at the meeting. “The difference for the average user is really dramatic,” said Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom DeVito to Streetsblog. “They made the point loud and clear that they want those 200 buses to be moving people as efficiently as possible.”