Search results for "New York City Department of Transportation"

Placeholder Alt Text

L Train Apocalypse

NYC announces expanded Citi Bike service and new busway for L train shutdown
New York City's dreaded L train shutdown looms ever closer, set to begin in April 2019. In the past week, however, new details have emerged about the city’s plan for Citi Bike and buses, transportation alternatives that riders will flock to once the train no longer runs from Bedford Avenue to 14th Street/8th Avenue in Manhattan. In an effort to accommodate the estimated 225,000 riders that will be displaced from the train, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this week that Citi Bike will expand its service around Williamsburg and Manhattan between Canal and 59th Streets. There will be an additional 1,250 bikes and 2,500 docks. Citi Bike’s operator, Motivate, is also planning to introduce a temporary “Shuttle Service,” which will come in the form of pedal-assist electric bikes. They will only be available in four locations—two in Manhattan and two around the Williamsburg Bridge—where cyclists may require a small boost to help navigate the steep slope. Citi Bikes can only handle a limited amount of the offload of L train riders, however. Most of the brunt is expected to divert to alternative subway lines like the J/M/Z, and surface travel: buses. In a separate announcement on Monday, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) revealed plans to turn 14th Street into a “busway” for 17 hours a day as an alternative commuting plan, as first reported by NY Daily News. Car traffic will be limited from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. DOT also revised its bike path plan—there will also now be two one-way bike paths on 12th and 13th Streets to handle the anticipated increase in cyclist traffic. “We’re solving, hopefully, the local mobility and access challenge while discouraging through traffic on 14th St.,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in the Daily News. Following the dedicated busway announcement, DOT presented their proposed plans to the City Council Committee on Transportation, revealing four “short, intense routes” that are expected to carry 17 percent of L train riders, as reported in am New York. The routes include: Grand Street (Brooklyn) – First Avenue/15th Street (Manhattan); Grand Street (Brooklyn) – SoHo; Bedford Avenue (Brooklyn) – Soho; Bedford Avenue (Brooklyn) – First Avenue/15th street (Manhattan). The MTA is also adding five trains to the M line, making G and C trains longer, and offering increased E line service. The L train shutdown will be taking place for 15 months, where the Canarsie Tunnel under the East River will undergo infrastructure repairs necessitated after flooding by Hurricane Sandy.  
Placeholder Alt Text

Under the Elevated

New York City launches pilot to activate highway underpasses in Sunset Park
It’s hard to imagine that in a city like New York, any space would be permitted to go to waste. However, the spaces underneath bridges, expressways, and elevated trains are often more or less voids, disused and often altogether unpleasant. However, The Design Trust for Public Space is trying to change that with “el-spaces” that activate and reimagine these shadowy locales. The Design Trust has partnered with the city’s Department of Transportation to create the Under the Elevated/El-Space pilot program, which just launched its first physical site test last night under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park. This first el-space is a test site to show off planning methods that better connect residents to the waterfront and make the space safer for pedestrians, all while serving as a form of “green infrastructure” to improve environmental health. After a series of community charrettes and pop-up workshops, this pilot design was realized by three of the Design Trust’s fellows: Tricia Martin (landscape architecture), Quilian Riano (urban design), and Leni Schwendinger (lighting). The pilot features planters of greenery that thrive in low light on elevated platforms below large stormwater drains, and extend the public space away from cars while offering an alternative pathway for pedestrians. It also came with a fresh paint job for the adjacent support structures, brightening the area and setting it apart from the rest of the highway trusses. The pilot is also intended to offer replicable techniques that could be deployed throughout the city’s millions of square miles of underutilized space. The el-spaces are intended to increase urban livability in more than one way. Frequently, infrastructure is built in lower-income areas, bisecting neighborhoods and contributing pollution and congestion. The el-spaces help ameliorate these effects and promote greater health and connectivity in neighborhoods.  The el-space pilot site launched as part of NYCxDESIGN. Its official opening was followed by a panel conversation that included participants who have worked on similar projects in other cities. Following this Brooklyn launch, The Design Trust for Public Space is planning two additional el-spaces in Queens, with hopes to spread them under the city’s 700 miles of elevated infrastructure.
Placeholder Alt Text

L-pocalypse Plans

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

Flatiron Reflection

Flatiron holiday installation provides festive respite from the city
If you’re craving holiday cheer in Manhattan, Brooklyn-based Future Expansion’s festive seasonal installation in the Flatiron is now open. Urbanist nonprofit and installation co-sponsor Van Alen Institute unveiled the winning design in October, and it recently released images of Flatiron Reflection, the final design by winner Future Expansion, comprised of shimmering semi enclosure of metal tubes and sited across from the Flatiron building. The installation resembles a public pipe organ, with a white base that floats above the ground. Niches on the outside are meant for close huddles, while the interior allows for quieter contemplation of the busy 23rd Street intersection near Madison Square Park. “We’re excited to be working with the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute to temporarily transform this spectacular site,” said Deirdre and Nicholas McDermott, principals of Future Expansion, in prepared remarks. “The installation is designed for three scales of experience: The deeply creased exterior makes spaces for individuals; the interior room offers an intimate panorama for small groups; and the north-facing wedge presents a platform toward the plaza. We hope that the installation opens new possibilities for interaction and experiences while reinforcing the pure public essence of the site.” Future Expansion’s installation is the fourth in the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition, an annual event produced in collaboration with the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District (BID). The project is permitted through New York City Department of Transportation’s DOT Art program, and is free and open to the public daily through January 1, 2018, weather permitting.
Placeholder Alt Text

Misstep

$243 million later, NYC’s Department of Transportation still fails to meet ADA regulations for street curbs

About 80 percent of New York City’s street curbs are not in line with federal standards for the disabled, as first reported by DNAinfo.

A recent study by a federal court monitor revealed that even after $243 million in taxpayer funds over the last 15 years were allocated to build curb cuts, the city failed to keep them up to the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) regulations. Curb cut, or curb ramp, is the term for a ramp created by grading down a sidewalk to meet the surface of the adjoining street.

There are 116,530 ramps across the city; some were built to ADA standards but never maintained while around 4,431 curbs were simply built without ramps.

Special Master Robert L. Burgdorf, who is also the original author of the ADA Act of 1990, blamed the city’s 2002 settlement with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. In a report he submitted to federal court, he noted that the settlement did not set up any timelines for building curb cuts, nor did it require ADA compliance for curb cuts.

“It is quite plausible that the 2002 stipulation may actually have slowed down progress in achieving accessibility of the curb ramps of New York City,” he wrote in the report.

According to Burgdorf, the city only built 198 ramps in 2016, down from 6,667 ramps in 2002.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by saying it increased the budget—$800 million over the next 10 years—for inspection and construction of these ramps. “As the nation’s largest municipal transportation agency, NYC DOT takes its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) very seriously,” Scott Gastel, a DOT spokesperson, said to DNAinfo.

Burgdorf’s report recommended that the city survey all curbs within 90 days, install ADA-compliant ramps for the curbs without them in five years, and repair all of the noncompliant ramps within eight years. However, city officials estimate that it could take another 20 years before all curbs are brought up to standard,

Placeholder Alt Text

Recap

From a Facebook/OMA master plan to America’s best new public spaces: AN’s can’t-miss top posts from this week
Missed some of our articles, Tweets, and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don't sweat it—we've gathered the week's must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Six of America’s newest and grandest public spaces From a highly anticipated river revitalization project in Chicago to a completely repurposed mall site in a tiny Connecticut town, projects revolving around public spaces are always feel-good stories. Who doesn’t enjoy a new, clean space to people-watch? Or better yet, catch some July 4 fireworks? The Architect’s Newspaper picked six completed projects that exemplify what a good public space entails. U.S Department of Transportation withdraws from $24 billion Gateway Program Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated commitment to building new infrastructure, the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) has withdrawn its cooperation from a massive $24 billion transportation project between New York and New Jersey Here’s the $3 billion project that will give Tampa a skylinenine-million-square-foot development will add Tampa’s first new office towers in almost 25 years and is set to reshape the city’s downtown. The project will take just under a decade to build. America’s biggest and best upcoming sports stadiums There’s nothing more American than sports, so for this July 4, we rounded up some of the biggest stadium projects in the works—from the world’s most expensive stadium to a celebrity-backed soccer field. Facebook and OMA team up for Menlo Park master plan Social media giant Facebook announced it had tapped international firm OMA to master plan its Willow Campus, a mixed-use neighborhood that will be located next to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. “It’s exciting to collaborate with Facebook, whose innovation in networking and social media extends to urban ambitions for connectivity in the Bay Area,” said OMA Partner Shohei Shigematsu. Hans-Ulrich Obrist on architecture, art, and Metabolism Curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist pens an essay on how architecture influences his work, starting by saying "My interest in architecture, from the perspective of my role as a curator of art, stems from the fact that architecture is the pre-eminent site for the production of reality, as it is uniquely oriented the toward the future, but precisely as a continual negotiation, or as a continually articulated struggle between the present, the past, and the future."
Placeholder Alt Text

Impartial Infrastructure?

U.S Department of Transportation withdraws from $24 billion Gateway Program
Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated commitment to building new infrastructure, the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) has withdrawn its cooperation from a massive $24 billion transportation project between New York and New Jersey, as reported by New York Daily News. The Gateway Program Development Corporation planned to bring a new rail bridge, Portal North, to Newark as well as a new tunnel under the Hudson River that was meant to replace the existing, crumbling tunnel that suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy. The program also looked to expand Penn Station and build new bridges to better connect Newark, New Jersey, and New York City. However, the DOT notified the Gateway’s board of trustees of their withdrawal last Friday. "It is not DOT’s standard practice to serve in such a capacity on other local transportation projects," read the letter to the Gateway board of trustees, which also counts Amtrak and board members from the New York and New Jersey Port Authority as members. Plans to build the new tunnel have been in the works since the Obama administration, where a deal was struck so that New York and New Jersey officials would take on half of the costs while the federal government and Amtrak would undertake the other half. Trump had also included the Gateway program in his list of "Emergency & National Security Projects," a list of about 50 national infrastructure projects that was first published in January by the Kansas City Star. The Gateway project has been billed as one of the largest regional transit projects in the Northeast, one that would address the growing number of commuters from New Jersey as well as the region’s deteriorating infrastructure. The current two-tube tunnel linking New Jersey and Penn Station shuttle more than 200,000 riders daily. If one tube fails before new tunnels are built, capacity could be reduced by 75 percent, according to Amtrak. The DOT clarified their withdrawal, saying that “the decision underscores the department’s commitment to ensuring there is no appearance of prejudice or partiality in favor of these projects ahead of hundreds of other projects nationwide,” in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
Placeholder Alt Text

Common Grounds

Six of America’s newest and grandest public spaces
From a highly anticipated river revitalization project in Chicago to a completely repurposed mall site in a tiny Connecticut town, projects revolving around public spaces are always feel-good stories. Who doesn’t enjoy a new, clean space to people-watch? Or better yet, catch some July 4 fireworks? The Architect's Newspaper picked six completed projects that exemplify what a good public space entails. Chicago's redeveloped Navy Pier  The first phase of Chicago’s popular tourist destination, Navy Pier, is now complete. James Corner Field Operations is the lead designer on this multi-year project, along with collaborators nArchitects, Gensler, Thornton Tomasetti, Fluidity Design Consultants, Buro Happold, and graphic designers Pentagram. The design includes an extensive renovation of the exterior public promenade, and this first phase includes a Wave Wall, a glass info tower, a new plaza near the base of the pier, and new Lake Pavilions that act as boat ticket kiosks and shaded rest areas. Phase III for the Chicago River: Chicago Riverwalk  The recent completion of Phase III of Chicago’s downtown riverfront redevelopment featured a new mile-and-a-half public park, the Riverwalk. Led by Chicago-based Ross Barney Architects and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki Associates, the Riverwalk is divided into separate “rooms” between the bascule bridges and has a large interactive water plaza. Previous phases led to new development along the water, including restaurants, bars, and the River Theater, a staircase-ramp bridging upper Wacker Drive and the river. This latest development is part of an overall goal to completely overhaul the Chicago River, with an aim of a clean, swimmable river by 2040. The long-delayed Los Angeles State Historic Park finally opens to the public The completion of the Los Angeles State Historic Park caps off a two-decade-long saga for local and state officials and residents. The current iteration of the park has been in development since 2005 and is the first California State Park in the City of Los Angeles. It is located on a multi-layered historical site that originally housed an indigenous settlement home to Los Angeles’s Tongva indigenous community. The park sits along a broad, gently-sloping plane that connected the Tongva’s main settlement in the vicinity of today’s Union Station with the Los Angeles River, roughly one mile away. Cleveland's latest 10-acre downtown park  As a part of an effort to connect Cleveland’s public spaces to Lake Erie, the city’s downtown now has a new civic space—a 10-acre park designed by James Corner Field Operations, the team behind the wildly successful High Line Park in New York City. It also includes a café designed by New York–based nARCHITECTS. The design sees four smaller traffic islands in between the wide lanes of Superior Avenue (now restricted to public transportation) and Ontario Street (pedestrian-only now). Astor Place improvements—complete with the Astor Cube  The much-beloved spinning Astor Cube (formally known as The Alamo) is back at Astor Place, a plaza that has also undergone a redesign from New York-based WXY and the city’s departments of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks). The plaza now features a 42,000-square-foot pedestrian-oriented streetscape, a reconstruction that was completed as part of an effort to upgrade infrastructure in the city and provide city dwellers with more public space as the city becomes denser. “We have now made the plaza space more welcoming for pedestrians and we have brought back distinctive elements—like the iconic Cube—that have long made this such a special gathering place and gateway to the East Village,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at the ribbon cutting ceremony. From derelict mall to community-centered green space in Connecticut  Cities looking to repurpose defunct mall sites can take a pointer or two from a city in Connecticut. In Meriden, a town halfway between New Haven and Hartford, city leaders transformed a former mall and brownfield site into a resilient 14.4-acre park complete with pedestrian bridges, an amphitheater, a remediated landscape with a flood-control pond, and drivable turf for food trucks and farmers markets. It was an expensive ($14 million) and extensive overhaul, but is one that has brought back green space to the community.
Placeholder Alt Text

Next Big Thing

Is Jacksonville, Florida’s best hope for a post-climate change megacity?

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Increasing economic and environmental pressures have the potential to challenge the resiliency of South Florida’s low-lying urban areas in the near future. As Florida’s population continues to grow in the midst of the increasingly obvious impacts of gentrification, global climate change, and sea level rise, economic and environmental displacement are likely to make the northern city of Jacksonville a beacon of hope for a climate-ravaged state.

Why? Because Jacksonville is huge and has room to grow. The city, named after President Andrew Jackson, also first governor of Florida, is the state’s largest by population and the 12th largest in the U.S., population-wise, with 868,031 residents. Jacksonville is also the largest city in the U.S. by land area—874.3 square miles—making it almost twice the size of Los Angeles and about three times that of New York City. The city’s corresponding 1,142 people per square mile density—L.A. and New York are many times denser—means there is plenty of room to grow.

Ruth L. Steiner, professor and director at the Center for Health and the Built Environment in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida, Gainesville, said: “I think the area is amenable to accepting large amounts of new growth,” adding that though the region could likely support an influx of new residents, its schools, transportation, and land-use policies would need a healthy dose of re-thinking to be ready.

A question regarding the massive growth in southern and central Florida, however, centers around the long-term sustainability of these new population centers as the impacts of climate change and sea level rise threaten the state’s coastal communities. With sea levels predicted to rise between four inches and up to ten feet across the region, low-lying areas of the Miami region will see massive losses in real estate and untenable retrofitting costs. The simultaneous and ongoing population growth across that region will likely ultimately push residents to flee to higher, cheaper ground.

That’s where Jacksonville comes in. Though some parts of the city lie on the coast, much of the city’s land area currently sits roughly 16 feet above sea level. As of 2010, Jacksonville had 366,273 households with an 11.8 percent vacancy rate, meaning that roughly 43,220 units are currently unoccupied. The relatively high vacancy rate means lower rents and, maybe more importantly, lower economic barriers to homeownership for first-time buyers—a growing problem for Miami’s millennial residents. Jacksonville is also home to the nation’s largest urban parks system, with 80,000 acres of parkland distributed across 337 sites, which according to Steiner, “bodes well” for any future urban development. She explained, “Investment in public infrastructure like parks has a high level of pay-back in terms of raising quality-of-life.”

Steiner added that the city faces challenges in terms of its urban layout; “another dilemma is the city’s sprawled out urban form,” she said, adding that because most of the development in the city has happened since World War II, the city is organized along “a series of major arterials and mega-blocks,” a 3,400-mile long network of roads that deters pedestrian-oriented design. Jacksonville also has a bus-only transit system that, aside from a downtown monorail line, leaves much to be desired in terms of mass transit.

The city, a short drive from the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus, is, however, poised for knowledge worker growth. Not only that, but the vast majority of Florida’s recent population growth is not from an increase in births or even migration from other American states, but from a net influx of individuals moving to the state from foreign countries, with Cuban, Venezuelan, and Haitian immigrants showing up in the highest numbers. The impact of climate change on those countries is currently unknown, but it is safe to assume that those communities would continue to grow should conditions back home deteriorate.

In a not-too-far-off future, could Jacksonville provide a relief valve for the growing state? It’s likely, and if city officials can prepare accordingly, Jacksonville’s new residents might learn to love the city. “Sometimes,” Steiner added, “I think Jacksonville is a diamond in the rough.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Trains, Planes, Automobiles

Port Authority Bus Terminal to get total reset and other breaking news from annual RPA conference
The Regional Plan Association (RPA)'s Assembly conference in New York City, which focuses on urban planning, infrastructure, and transportation, was marked by an acute sense of crises and challenge. "You need to start shouting about how bad things are, how irresponsible" we've been as a nation, former Vice President Joe Biden told the audience. He bellowed how the U.S.'s infrastructure released a D+ rating. Biden was on hand to receive the RPA's John Zuccotti Award. In addition to being a longtime advocate for Amtrack, the noted train enthusiast Biden administered the infrastructure-heavy American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It's an "easy message to deliver," he said, "that our infrastructure is crumbling and making America less competitive." Challenges associated with major projects like the Gateway Program (which promises new rail tunnels under the Hudson, among other improvements), the Second Avenue Subway, and a new Port Authority Bus Terminal loomed large as the conference started off. In the Assembly's large morning panel, Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), highlighted how the region's "accountability and governance model" needs to be reviewed. If government officials have clear ownership, it's better, she said, citing Governor Cuomo's intervention into the Second Avenue Subway. Rohit Aggarwala, chief policy officer of Sidewalk Labs and co-chair of the RPA's Fourth Regional Plan, gave a preview of what the RPA would propose when the Plan comes out later this year. "What has happened to these institutions?" he asked, arguing that it wasn't politics, ineptitude, nor lack of funding that was causing major regional transportation projects to falter and slow. It's the "very shape and structure of these agencies" that were the cause, he said, adding that they're "deeply flawed" in how they're organized, funded, and how responsibilities are divided. He discussed how other global cities, such as London, Honk Kong, and Los Angeles, have all restructured their transportation agencies in the last 20 or so years, consolidating power on a more local level or finding new arrangements more reflective of their needs. "It is time for reinvention," he concluded, saying the Fourth Plan would address these issues head-on. (He gave no concrete hints about the Plan itself, though in one example of dysfunction, he cited how commuter rail authorities are divided by the Hudson.)
There were major project updates at the "Crossing the Hudson" panel, which sought to address the fundamental challenge of improving transportation across (and under) the Hudson to connect New York and New Jersey. Tom Wright, president of the RPA, kicked off the panel by showing how New Jersey added 65,000 new cross-Hudson commuters from 1990 to 2010 and stood to add another 75,000 from 2010 to 2040. (By another estimate, it would be 110,000 by 2040 if you include New Jersey commuters going to all five boroughs.) Forty-three percent of current commutes happen via bus and a new Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) is desperately needed. Additionally, if one track is lost on the current 106-year-old rail tunnel under the Hudson, Penn Station can only handle six trains during a peak hour (as compared to 24 otherwise).
Put simply, "New Jersey transit systems are in a state of crises," said panel member and New Jersey State Senator Robert Gordon. While PATH is in decent shape funding-wise (thanks to PANYNJ tolls), the rest of the state's transit system is severely underfunded. John Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corporation, framed the challenge a little differently: 10 percent of the country's GDP is in the New York metro area, but crossing the Hudson via rail its "single point of failure." A new rail bridge, dubbed the Portal Bridge and located over the Hackensack River, is ready for construction but is awaiting federal funding. The new rail tunnel's environmental impact statement should be released in 60 days, Pocari added, and a financing plan is also in the works. Those two projects (the new bridge and tunnel) constitute phase one of the Gateway Program; phase two includes a new Penn Station. Biden called the tunnel "literally the single most important project in the country." A new PABT is also essential to the trans-Hudson transportation question; the current station will require replacement in 15 to 20 years due to structural deterioration, said Andrew Lynn, director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ)'s Planning and Regional Development Department. (Lynn sometimes holds meetings with local officials and stakeholders in the PABT, using the shaking walls to drive home his point.) The PANYNJ has about $3.5 billion set aside for the terminal, but despite numerous attempts to formulate a plan over the years, none have been successful. The PANYNJ is effectively "pushing the reset button" on the project, and while the group will learn from past failures, "we're really starting over," he said. (Gordon suggested expanding the current PABT upwards by building off the current structure. This would expand capacity while minimzing local impact.) However, Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), countered that "global cities are not building big bus terminals"; rail is much more efficient. "One enormous bus terminal" is not the solution, she said, citing the failings of Robert Moses and how "we don't think that way now." Lastly, the panel touched on the replacement and expansion of Penn Station. Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of Practice for Architecture Urbanism, who has put forward a plan to adapt the existing structure, explained his plan to move Madison Square Garden to the back of the old Farley Building, allowing the adaptive reuse of the current Garden's superstructure for a new train station that would make the neighborhood a "world-class address." (ReThink Studio, who was also present at the Assembly, has critiqued aspects of this plan.) Chakrabarti also sounded the alarm that office space might be built in the back of the Farley Building to fund Amtrack's construction of a new Amtrack platforms on the rails that run under the Farley Building. Those platforms, he added, would only serve Amtrack and exclude regional rail. He also warned that the current Penn Station was a safety hazard awaiting disaster: with such low ceilings, for instance, a smoke event would be disastrous in the already-overcapacity space. In sum, the panel portrayed a moment of crises but also a potential reconsideration of the current status quo. Once the current crises have been averted, panelists agreed it would make the most sense for New Jersey to emphasize trains over buses for a trans-Hudson commute, as rail is overall far more efficient (albeit also more expensive) a system for moving people. After this, an afternoon panel, "Planning for the Transportation Revolution," sought to address how ride sharing and autonomous vehicle could reshape the urban landscape. Bruce Schaller, principal at Schaller Consulting (which specializes in urban transportation policy), and Matt Wing, corporate communications lead at Uber, both highlighted how Transportation Network Companies (TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft) have filled in gaps created by public transportation. Forty percent of Uber's New York City rides are in the outer boroughs and never touch Manhattan, which serves as little surprise given only one subway line (the G) doesn't pass through Manhattan. TNCs, Wing explained, are also serving as critical links in the "last mile" problem of getting people to mass transit stations. (See AN's transportation feature on Miami for more on this.) Jessica Robinson, director of city solutions at Ford Smart Mobility, revealed that Ford aimed to have a production-ready Level 4 self-driving car by 2021. (Level 4 means no steering wheel, gas pedal, or anything else drivers must operate.) Given their cost, said Robinson, such cars will almost certainly be owned and operated by ride-sharing companies. Seeking to stay at the forefront of mobility solutions, Ford also bought Chariot, a TNC that operates 14-passenger ride-sharing vehicles and aims to reinvent mass transit. It was Robin Chase, the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, who gave the most impassioned presentation. "Cities are in a one-time position of power," she said, to dictate the terms of how autonomous vehicles should operate before they're legally allowed in major cities. She's currently organizing a global coalition of mayor to negotiate with large companies. Her top priorities include: ensuring all vehicles are electric, creating a level playing field for competition among ride-sharing companies, and negotiating new forms of ride sharing taxation based on distance traveled, curb rights, fuel type, and other factors. Conventional taxation based on registration fees, gasoline tax, and tolls may not be an option when autonomous vehicles hit the road. Overall, the panel argued that anything less than all-electronic fleets of competing ride share companies would be a major loss for cities. In that scenario, there are fewer and much cleaner cars on the road, and vast amounts of parking and curbside space would be made available for public use.
For more on major transportations plans, don't miss the upcoming Plan 2050 at the Cooper Union, this May 9!
Placeholder Alt Text

Getting There

Miami’s infrastructure woes run deep, but the city has its eyes set on “huge cultural change”

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Talk of “infrastructure” may be one of the few things—if not the only thing—that comes close to uniting Democrats and Republicans at the moment. It was transit infrastructure, of course, that literally united the states of America: originally with railroads in the 19th century and later with interstates and automobiles in the 20th. Today, however, some cities’ prevailing love affairs with the car have become rather one-sided.

Polluting air and clogging roads, vehicles choke our cities. Miami ranks fifth nationally and tenth globally for congestion, as residents spend 65 hours in traffic per year on average, according to INRIX, a global traffic researcher that uses big data. Adding real injury to insult, the state’s stretch of the I-95 is America’s most deadly, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There is a financial burden to excessive traffic too. INRIX estimates that congestion costs Miami drivers $3.6 billion per year (remember that figure). Additionally, drivers pay out an average of $628,000 every day in tolls, just for the privilege of using the Miami-Dade Expressway.

Cars aren’t cheap, but what is the alternative in an auto-dependent city like Miami? Director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) for Miami-Dade County Alice Bravo said that she wanted to make Miami a “car-optional community,” where people can get to “all the different regions within the county using reliable public transit that’s convenient and helps people save time.”

A plethora of schemes and projects are now occurring in and around the city, such as high-speed regional rail, local rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian routes, water travel, and carpooling. Miami has gone from having nothing concrete in the pipeline for years to everything happening at once, and this coincides with a development boom that is more tuned for urban living than previous waves of development.

Bravo said that the backbone of the infrastructure surge is the Brightline, a completely private, approximately $3 billion scheme by All Aboard Florida. The “higher-speed” (Note: not high-speed) rail service runs the 235-mile stretch from the Orlando airport to Downtown Miami. The new line will reduce travel between Orlando and Miami from four hours to two and a half, for about the same cost as driving.

Such a commuter-rail service may sound familiar: In the late 19th century, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was developed by Henry Flagler. Flagler’s railway ran from Jacksonville and was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The commuter rail prevailed until the 1960s when the line was used to transport freight only, which it still does to this day. Unsurprisingly, then, All Aboard Florida is a sister company of the FEC and the new tracks will be laid along the existing lines.

Designing the Miami station, as well as those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) who are working with Miami-based Zyscovich Architects. Design principal Roger Duffy explained how the stations would work with the existing infrastructure around them: “At Fort Lauderdale, we’re looking to link up with a bus service that will connect the cruise port and the station.” The city is also pressing on with plans for a streetcar system called “The Wave” that would connect with the station as well.

Meanwhile, at West Palm Beach, the 60,000-square-foot station is located at the center of downtown and will connect with the existing trolley network as well as Tri-Rail and Amtrak. In Miami, the station inhabits a similar location. A zoning override that turned the area into a special transit district was required to build the station, and tracks here are elevated 50 feet into the air so that the 11,000-foot-long station can bridge roads and pedestrian pathways.

Like any contemporary train terminus, the station will offer a ton of retail space, with room for a food court too. Duffy, however, stressed that the station was “not like duty-free at an airport,” where you have to weave through shops to get anywhere. Amenities will also cater to the area outside the building. Space for food trucks—a hit in Florida—has been provided, while skylights where the station bridges the streets offer daylight.

The Brightline train itself was designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group—an in-house strategy and technology studio at the New York architecture and design studio. The LAB at Rockwell Group worked with All Aboard Florida to conceive the Brightline name, brand platform, visual identity, and designed the train’s interiors as well as the exterior graphics. In addition to this, one of Rockwell Group’s architectural studios designed the interior check-in areas, food and beverage areas, and lounge experiences for all four Brightline stations.

Using the Brightline project as a springboard, Bravo is embarking on a $3.6 billion (remember that number?) transport scheme. Part of “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit,” otherwise known as the S.M.A.R.T. plan, 82 miles of track will be laid along six transportation corridors that involve local services, including the suburban Metrorail and the elevated monorail Metromover.

In addition to new tracks, existing tracks are also finding a new lease on life as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Known as the “Underline,” the rails-to-trails scheme, comes from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO)—the same firm who developed New York’s hugely popular High Line.

As one might guess, the scheme involves area underneath the Metrorail being turned into a landscaped oasis filled with pedestrian paths, cycle lanes, and native planting. The 10-mile stretch is planned to run from Brickell Station down to Dadeland South Station. Phase one is occurring in Brickell, where work is due for completion in 2019, set to cost netween $7 million and $9 million. “Brickell has grown explosively in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Meg Daly, president of Friends of the Underline, the group leading the project. “We really believe that this trail-cum-park will offer incredible amenities and green spaces to offset the vertical growth and increased density in the area.”

Expanding on this, Isabel Castilla of JCFO listed amenities such as a dog park, an outdoor gym, a basketball court that doubles up as a space for yoga classes and similar activities, as well as a 150-capacity bicycle garage (Miami-Dade’s first) and a bike repair station. Art will also line the trail, and amenities will be site-specific: In the University of Miami area, a beach volleyball court will be installed.

According to Irene Hegedus of the DTPW, providing safe bicycle routes is a high priority. Castilla added that the shade provided by the Metrorail is “critical” for a project where people are encouraged to “walk, run, and cycle to stations and along the path.” “Working with the existing infrastructure,” she continued, “we hope this leads to the rezoning and re-visioning of areas along the Metrorail as transit-orientated development sites and areas where, as Miami continues to grow, it hopefully grows in a denser way near transit stations rather than continuing urban sprawl that is very dependent on highways and cars.”

Bravo, too, is aware of the interwoven relationship between transit development and the densification of urban areas. Another tool she discussed to further assist Hegedus’s and her ambitions was the possibility of Uber and Lyft entering the fray of her transport plans, acting as the “first and last miles” for journeys.

Now operating in Miami (after three years of lobbying for service legalization), Uber and Lyft previously found success in other parts of Florida, notably in Pinellas Park and Altamonte Springs where rides are subsidized and saving the cities considerable money. Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz described the pilot partnership as “going very well,” but said the scheme is due to end in July.

The low-cost nature of services such as Uber and Lyft is a key to their success. Already able to outprice traditional taxi drivers, ridesharing services Uber Pool and Lyft Line are looking to compete with bus service, too. Uber has gone further than mere carpooling by introducing pickup points optimized by algorithms that essentially create Uber bus stops.

Uber is also losing money—approximately $3 billion per year. In December, economist Justin Wolfers commented that “prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolizing the industry.” If he is correct, the governmental embracing of Uber and Lyft long-term will prove to be shortsighted. Evidence of what happens when alternative public transit routes become unavailable can be seen in London. During a tube strike earlier this year, Uber fares surged by 450 percent; one rider was reportedly charged $138 for a five-mile trip.

It should be noted, though, that Altamonte Springs and Pinellas Park went with car sharing due to other circumstances not going their way. The Altamonte Springs city government set aside $500,000 (of which only a fraction has been needed) for private-hire subsidies after it was denied funding for a $1.5 million pilot “FlexBus” program. At Pinellas Park, the program emerged in response to a 2014 referendum in which local voters declined to adopt a one-cent sales tax to aid transit in the area.

In Miami, however, residents appear to be more enthusiastic about public transport. The “People’s Transportation Plan,” a half-penny charter county sales surtax is helping to fund the S.M.A.R.T. project, something the public voted in favor of back in 2002.

All this, too, shouldn’t suggest that Miami is waging all-out war against the automobile. Getting around by car is being made easier by what Bravo calls “smart signals”—traffic signals that adapt to current states of congestion. Using cameras, they monitor intersections and use AI to optimize traffic flow. Miami-Dade County is investing $40 million this year for the implementation of the traffic signals along major corridors, part of a five-year, $160 million effort. Other smart-city services include 300 soon-to-be-installed wi-fi transit hotspots from CIVIQ Smartscapes.

With all the proposed infrastructural plans, varying in scale, Bravo is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task. “This is a huge cultural change,” she said. However, Bravo is optimistic about how future generations will take to the changes. “New millennials are cool about public transportation,” she added. Such unprecedented growth seldom comes around often, and the chance to invest off the back of hefty tax receipts may be fleeting. Miami’s public transit system is dire, but if it continues to ride the wave of public support and enact its plans, change in the form of mobility lies ahead.

Placeholder Alt Text

Inside & Out

John Hejduk’s work portrayed in new light at Cooper Union exhibition
John Hejduk will be portrayed in a new light at The Cooper Union later this month where seven works from the architect will be on display, both inside and out.
"Hejduk was often criticized for work lacking social or political relevance," James Williamson, Dean and Professor Office of the Dean College of Architecture Texas Tech University told The Architect's Newspaper (AN).  "These objects reveal how misconceived such a judgment was," he added, referring to Hejduk's Jan Palach Memorial which will be on display.
Born in New York to Czech parents, Hejduk (1929–2000) was the founding dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, a post he held for 25 years. He is highly regarded for his contribution to the discipline in terms of both pedagogy and design and the upcoming exhibition strives to reflect the dual elements of his practice. Forty-three photographs by Hélène Binet, Hejduk’s photographer of record, can be seen inside The Cooper Union, and Hejduk's Jan Palach Memorial will be exhibited outside as part of the New York City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Art Program in nearby Cooper Square Park. The Jan Palach Memorial, one of Hejduk's most provocative sociopolitical works, comprises two structures: House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide, both of which include 49 spikes erected onto timber cuboids. The pieces memorialize Jan Palach, a Czech dissident who set himself on fire in 1968 to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Today, the political overtones of the work are poignant. "Given what is going on right now, both in this country and globally, it's even more relevant," said Steven Hillyer, director the architecture school's archive. The outdoor installation is a fitting precursor to Binet's photographic work inside: "You can never compete with a physical experience of a building," she said. "I show details so the audience can dream about the rest and relate to the human-scale objects. Let's dream about [Hejduk's] dream, rather than feeding the audience objects." Binet prefers black-and-white film for the limitations the analog format provides, parameters that, she says, pushes her creatively. Works featured range in scale and include The Collapse of Time, the Berlin Tower, and the Wall House II in Groningen, the Netherlands. Binet explained how her photographic work progressed while she worked with Hejduk. She cited his method of "teaching through osmosis," the "social contract" Hejduk established with his students. She worked with Hillyer to reflect this pedagogical approach, too. Nader Tehrani, incumbent dean at the school of architecture, expanded on the influence of Hejduk's teaching style. "On the one hand, he brought disciplinary projects to the table that had deep histories, and on the other, he brought individuated attention to students’ independent platforms of thinking, such that he could leave latitude for creative and intellectual development outside of his own ideological predispositions," he said. "The small scale of Cooper Union enabled him to bring forth a more ‘precise’ culture, where craft, making, and representational tools were diversified, and where their instrumentality was put to focus. It is hard to imagine an intellectual figure who has had the ability to produce so many other critical voices: teacher, practitioners, deans, and activists, the very many who now occupy key positions at other reputed institutions." The exhibition will be on view March 29 through April 29, 2017 in the Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery at Cooper Union. Visitors will have more time to take in the Jan Palach Memorial, which will be displayed until June 11. "We are hoping," said Hillyer, "that this will be the first of many installations realized by the school."