Search results for "train stations"

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Wheeling and Dealing

Lyft partners with Amtrak to address "last mile" transportation challenge

Ridesharing company Lyft is partnering with Amtrak to help bring train passengers to and from the train station, according to an announcement made yesterday.

Train passengers can now directly hail a Lyft car from within Amtrak’s mobile app. The partnership is an effort to address the first-mile/last-mile public transit problem, which arises when a potential rider is further than a comfortable walking distance to the public transit stop.

Rather than walking to a subway stop and taking the subway to a transportation hub, the ride-sharing industry has marketed themselves as a seamless end-to-end travel for those first and last legs of trips. These car services have long fought for drop-off and pick-up access to airports (and have largely succeeded). Train stations now present a new opportunity for first-and-last-mile service.

Lyft, one of U.S.'s major ride-hailing services, claims that it reaches 97 percent of all Amtrak riders and 80 percent of the U.S population. “As a fixture of American travel, Amtrak makes it simple and convenient for passengers, something Lyft feels passionately about as well,” said David Baga, chief business officer for Lyft, in the press release.

This is not the first partnership that Lyft has rolled out. Just in the past month, it joined forces with Disney for in-resort transit and with Taco Bell for mid-ride taco stops. It also partnered up with Google’s Waymo, a self-driving car company, to roll out autonomous cars. The company’s latest aggressive initiatives have pushed its growth past that of its main competitor Uber.

The partnership is in effect now and new users to Lyft can redeem the code ‘AMTRAKLYFT’ for an additional $5 discount on the first four rides.

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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
The cost will be a challenge—this yearlong "stabilization" phase will cost $456 million in operating costs, plus $380 million in a one-time capital. Without access to funds from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the federal government, or increased fares, the city and the state will have to food the bill. Lhota said that he and Governor Andrew Cuomo are proposing the two entities split the cost evenly. In discussing the ever-prickly funding issue, Lhota, echoing Cuomo, made sure to note that the MTA runs the subway, while the city owns it (the mayor's office disputes this interpretation of the subway's rules). Phase Two will include implementing the designs of the MTA Genius Transit Challenge, new subway cars, and an entirely new signal system. Lhota stated this second phase may cost $8 billion. During the conference, Lhota said the MTA would take responsibility for executing this plan. "Hold me accountable for everything that I've talked about today," he stated in response to a reporter's question, "because I do believe the responsibility begins here and ends here with everyone at the MTA and everyone at the transit authority." Hours after the press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio held his own presser inside the City Hall R/W station to address Lhota's remarks. He called the agency's plan a "positive" and "important" first step to getting subway service back up to par, noting that the state needs to apply the resources it already has at its disposal. "The MTA is finally beginning to own up to its responsibility," he said. All good, right? Less than two hours later, Lhota issued a salty response to de Blasio's comments, fanning the flames of a city-state saga that's already sardine-packed with petty jabs, light shows, messy snacking, and a whole heap of grandstanding:
“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."
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"Verbal" Approval

Elon Musk says N.Y.-D.C. Hyperloop has government approval
Elon Musk tweeted earlier this morning that he received government approval to start building a New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-D.C Hyperloop, as reported by engadget. His series of tweets indicate that while The Boring Company, the infrastructure and tunneling company that Musk founded, received “verbal” government approval, there are still steps to be made before getting formal approval. If the project is actually approved, construction will begin in conjunction with the company’s other talked-about project: underground tunnels in L.A. that aim to relieve vehicular congestion.

Musk is already plotting future connections elsewhere, too. One of his follow-up tweets reveals that the next Hyperloop would likely be an L.A-San Francisco track, and maybe even a Texas loop (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio-Austin).

A Hyperloop in the Northeast Corridor could do wonders for the deteriorating rail infrastructure at New York’s Pennsylvania Station, which has resulted in a “summer of hell.” Right now, a regular Amtrak train between New York and Washington D.C takes approximately three and a half hours; the same trip is two-and-a-half on the Acela Express. With a Hyperloop, however, it will only take 29 minutes.

Apparently, local officials in charge of the cities involved were not looped into the conversation; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary tweeted that “this is news to City Hall.”

It’s unclear who Musk received this verbal approval from, though it is likely someone from the Trump administration (where he briefly served as one of President Trump’s advisors), according to CNBC. It will take numerous hurdles before Musk can even begin drilling a hole; he would need approval from the federal Department of Transportation, not to mention the various states, counties, cities, and elected officials.
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Five Can't Miss Projects

Architectural works steal the show at Documenta 14
The art exhibition Documenta has been staged every five years in Kassel, Germany since 1955. The first Documenta was labeled “a museum for 100 days” and featured work from the famous 1937 degenerate art show staged by the Nazis. It was an example of Germany coming to terms with its troubled past and it created a reputation that Documenta would take risks and comment critically on contemporary issues in the art world and society. This year’s quinquennial event is staged in public spaces, museums, and squares all over the German city and for the first time in Athens, Greece. The joint Kassel/Athens staging is perhaps a German gesture of goodwill between the two European Union nations that have had a contentious political relationship since the 2016 Greek debt crises. But the curatorial team behind Documenta 14, lead by artistic director Adam Szymczyk, makes the case for Greece as the birthplace of democratic ideals and thus an important partner in 2017. This dual exhibition strategy was created (at the height of the Greek economic crises) so one can see “how problematic things are at the moment, and how much worse they may soon become—though not, naturally, to simply induce passive spectatorship,” said Szymczyk in the exhibition catalogue. The works in Kassel are installed all over the town; museums, cinemas, schools, parks, paths, clubs, and shops that its curator argues “comprises Kassel in its density, richness, particular hospitality, and beauty.” This strategy is meant to create an experience that is “non-exclusionary and defined by personal and collective encounters and decisions—a precise public realm in space and time.” But does this 60-year-old experiment still take chances and represent critical reflections on the world? It's decision to stage temporary artworks in abandoned underground train stations, parks and museums (interspersed between permanent displays) offers Kassel residents the chance to daily confront the work and the ideas they represent. However, I spent six hours walking up down and around Kassel and visiting scores of installations and the exhibit did not really come together as a compelling statement (I did not visit Athens) nor a theme (it seemingly has no title?) that could serve as a framework for the best artworks from the most important artists of the day. But surprisingly, many of the most powerful works in Documenta were architectural or urban in ways that one would find at an architecture biennale. Thus, I have five architecture or urban-themed projects that stand out and should not be missed by designers and urbanists visiting Documenta. The most obvious work—and impossible to avoid—is the full-scale reproduction of the Athenian Parthenon that has been constructed of wire in Kassel’s Friedrichsplatz square by the Argentinian artist Marta Minujin. The double-layered wire mesh is solidified by the inclusion of thousands of donated books, copies of those banned and burned during the Nazi era, on this exact site during the country’s infamous Kristallnacht. The books add color and texture to the structure and remind viewers of how fragile the values of democracy are even if we have buildings constructed in their memory. Near the wire Parthenon in Königsplatz is a stone obelisk, long a symbol of conquest but also urban planning from Rome through Bernini and Haussmann’s Paris. In Kassel, it is a public totem dedicated to the 60 million immigrants and refugees currently on the run. The artist, Nigerian-born and Connecticut-based Olu Oguibe, has inscribed on its four sides gold lettering (in Arabic, Turkish, and English) the words “I was a stranger and you have accommodated me” from Saint Matthew. Oguibe hopes the work will particularly provoke “those pious evangelicals in the USA who vehemently oppose the reception of refugees,” as he said in the Documenta catalogue. In fact, the pillar does work as urban design, giving this large amorphous square a center while focusing our attention not on political conquest but political failure and human responsibility. The other important architecture projects were installed in the classically designed Palais Bellevue which, despite its charming demeanor and beautiful view across the sprawling Auepark below, featured a work that all confronts issues of trauma rooted in the “various disasters of war.” In one room Israeli artist Roee Rosen screened a tightly scripted opera video The Dust Channel (2016) that—in addition to highlighting the sex rituals of a privileged middle class Israeli couple—also focuses on their “perverted” aversion to dust and dirt and obsession with home cleaning appliances, particularly their iconic design object Dyson 7 vacuum. In fact, the Dyson does a star turn as a constant centerpiece of the bourgeois domestic interior. Also in Palais Bellevue is Australian Bonita Ely’s provocative installation—featuring Sewing Machine Gun; Watchtower; Trench; and Call of Duty II—that creates a dystopia surely familiar to any fleeing immigrant. The center of the installation is a trench or maze system made of old furniture inherited by the artist that may not be architecture but is surely ‘design.’ Standing over this is a tower made of an old metal bedsprings and a model machine fabricated from an ancient Singer sewing machine. The installation (or the world it stands in for) is child-like, horrifying, and beautiful at the same time. Finally, a work by Christos Papoulias (who studied architecture in Venice with Rossi, Tafuri, and Scarpa) channeled his inner childhood dreams or nightmares to construct a series of fantasy houses of tramps, coal merchants, agriculturists, gossips and one of the most powerful and creepiest objects in Documenta, the house of a child molester that features a large sculpted hand entirely covering a building. Documenta 14, like all large international art exhibitions, always has several architecture projects than can inspire and provoke. But in Kassel, they stand out for the focus they bring to subjects when they are given an architectural and urban context.
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$1.6 Billion

Governor Cuomo announces long-awaited plans for Penn Station and the Farley building

The James A. Farley Building on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue will be given a $1.6 billion overhaul as it is repurposed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) from being a former post office to a rail hub.

Governor Cuomo announced the plans last Friday, but he had originally floated the idea back in September. The Farley Building sits to the west of Penn Station and under Cuomo's scheme, it will go from once holding letters to instead accommodating 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and dining areas with the Moynihan Hall serving as a train hall for Amtrak and LIRR services.

"Fifty years after the loss of the original Penn Station structure, passengers will once again experience a world-class rail hub worthy of New York," Cuomo said in a press release. "The Farley Building’s Moynihan Train Hall is two decades in the making, and we are proud that this project is finally a reality. With better access to trains and subways and state-of-the-art infrastructure, the Moynihan Train Hall seamlessly joins history, architectural design, and function, bringing the nation’s busiest rail station into the 21st century."

McKim, Mead and White designed both the Farley Building and the original Penn Station. The latter was lost in 1963 but now the New York architecture firm's work will once again be used for the station, serving as a grand entrance. Inside Moynihan Hall, where nine platforms and 17 tracks will be accessible, a 92-foot high skylight will be built above the hall's iconic steel trusses. The hall will also facilitate access to the Eighth Avenue Subway as well as provide an entrance to the station from 9th Avenue.

In addition to the work being done at Moynihan Hall, the width of the 33rd Street Corridor will be almost tripled as part of a "comprehensive redesign" of the LIRR concourse. Cuomo's office also stated plans for "extensive renovation" to the adjacent Seventh and Eighth Avenue subway stations. Furthermore, additional changes to Penn Station include upgraded lighting and signage, new digital screens, and adding LED panels that projecting blue skies.

According to Crain's New York, Cuomo's plans will only aid around a fifth of Penn Station's 600,000 daily commuters. The work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020. That, however, might not be soon enough for those in line for what Cuomo has described as an upcoming "summer of hell" with track shutdowns for repairs set to cause commuter despair. "You'll see… breakdowns for the foreseeable future," said Cuomo. "We need major renovations at Penn and… an organization that can actually do them."

"We would be crazy to do something without Vornado," Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, who was named Cuomo's committee for the Penn Station project, told Crain's. "They have shown themselves willing to put skin in the game, and they see what's good for the public is also good for them. An improved station boosts the value of so much of Vornado's real estate."

The plan is being carried out and financed by Empire State Development and Related Companies, Vornado Realty LP, and construction firm Skanska's U.S. arm. Divided up, $550 million will be state supplied and $420 million will come from Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority and federal grants. The remaining $630 will be provided by Vornado and Skanska who in return for building it will have the right to run the new commercial concourse.

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Border Dispatches

Inside the Border Patrol Academy's New Mexico facility, where training and real operations can blur

This is the first in a series of reports from El Paso, Texas–based AGENCY, entitled Border Dispatches, an on-the-ground perspective from the United States-Mexico border. Each month, we will explore another “sleeper agent,” a critical site or actor reshaping the diffuse, overlapping binational territory we know as the borderlands.

Over the last decade, our changing national security priorities have contorted federal law-enforcement training sites to respond to new and sometimes contradictory demands. In Artesia, New Mexico, several replicas simulating different areas of the International Border Fence (IBF) are built on the site of the Border Patrol Academy (BPA). The “mock fences” are a minor but instructive example of the material residue created by our nation’s ongoing obsession with the promotion and maintenance of a physical international boundary, a hard line separating the U.S. from Mexico. A close reading of the fences, and the training installation of which they are a part, reveals volumes about the shifting whims of the securocratic territory they both describe and inhabit.

The BPA is on the site of the Artesia Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), one of four national training centers that serve 95 federal partner organizations as well as thousands of other local and international security forces. The site has specialized in providing unique training environments not available elsewhere, including drug and fingerprint labs, and all-terrain vehicle courses. After the 9/11 terror attacks, the site began hoarding grounded jetliners to train air marshals in counterterrorism operations. The site was a good fit for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), capable of supporting both its “priority mission” (counterterrorism) and “primary mission” (preventing illegal entry to the U.S.). The real physical environment of Artesia, and the otherwise-remote site’s particular coincidence with the logistical networks of the CBP, was recast as an invaluable training asset.

In 2004, The FLETC Artesia site was selected as the location for a newly reconsolidated BPA, due to its strategic location near a focus of CBP activity—near hot spots for the eventual assignment of academy graduates—as well as the region’s signature climate and terrain. Artesia lies just four hours from the Southwest border. While seemingly distant from border operations, it is strategically close enough. Many of the geological and ecological features of the site are shared with a large percentage of the territory agents are charged to protect. It is here that the agents rehearse known threats and prepare for new ones, the simulations scripting a generation of borderland encounters to come.

Upon arrival, trainees are issued a fake sidearm, to become accustomed to the relentless presence, bulk, and weight of the weapon. Classes are led by retired USBP agents, and use a technique called scenario-based training (SBT). Training takes place mostly in situ, informed by the simulated physical constructs throughout the site and the desert terrain itself. Simulated checkpoints, barns, and inspection areas for railcars and vehicles are scattered throughout the center to host scripted encounters. In addition to physical training, the center uses Spanish-speaking role players, playing a range of border-crosser types, from harmless asylum-seekers to armed smugglers. Classes are taught in high-risk Spanish terminology.

According to FLETC documents, in 2013 $1.2 million was dedicated to “add realistic fencing and check stations to enhance border patrol training venues” at Artesia. Since 2014, training exercises have included engagements with a “towering, steel” mock IBF that “realistically simulates the field environment.” Six different mock-IBF sites were planned that year, mimicking the various construction materials deployed in the constructed border throughout its length. Each mock fence was to measure 90 feet long, “and will vary in height from 19 feet to 10 feet,” according to the documents. “The materials will mirror what is used on the international border, to include bollard fencing, as well as fencing constructed from landing mat materials.” The staged constructions create backdrops for scenarios culled from the experience of actual agents in the field, including “when assailants are throwing rocks or other projectiles, or subjects are using vehicles as a weapon against the agents near the IBF.” Only four such mock IBFs are advertised as available for training on the FLETC website currently.

In recent years the Artesia FLETC has further blurred the boundary between real and imagined operations when its collection of novice trainees and academic exercises would play host to the endgame of the agency’s ultimate objective—migrant detention. While it appears a simulated detention facility was completed in 2010 for training purposes, a real-world detention center would soon emerge on-site. The training venue proved an expedient solution for federal law enforcement in 2014 when an influx of Central American migrants filled other nearby detention sites. A temporary detention center, holding as many as 672 detainees at one time, was built, conflating the space of border-patrol simulation with the reality of its impact. Ten acres of the site, including existing dorms and classrooms, were converted to serve as medical centers and processing centers, among other uses. Attorneys visiting the site noted the strange proximity of the training simulacra around the detainees’ temporary home. News reports show cribs for child detainees lining the interior hallways of the FLETC trainee barracks.

While residents of Artesia have often shown support for the training operations, and the positive economic impacts trainees bring to town, the reality of detention on-site proved to stress the relationship. Residents, in an echo of the paranoia surrounding the crossing of the IBF, expressed concern about the hastily constructed perimeter security at the facility, noting the ease with which the eight-foot chain-link fence might be crossed by a determined detainee. The temporary facility was closed at the end of 2014. The future of the site, and the blurring of the boundary between real and imagined conflict, remains uncertain. Asked in 2016 by the Roswell Daily News whether the FLETC would ever be used again as a detention site, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) reportedly answered that chances are “slim right now…but you never know.”

The current administration’s charge of building a border wall requires built mock-ups of the proposed designs in Otay Mesa near the Mexican border. In a way, the practice of sampling potential walls resonates with the sampling of border parts at the BPA, reinforcing a kind of thinking about the boundary as merely a collection of obstructive infrastructural parts devoid of the real-life consequences of blockage and armament. As the duties and performance criteria of the IBF expand to deter and collect more bodies, shifting tactics are indexed and foreshadowed in the space of training.

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L is for Long Life

Chicago "L" celebrates 125 years of operation
Few things in Chicago are as iconic as its extensive elevated rail system, locally known as the “L.” June 6th marks the 125th anniversary of the system, making it the second-oldest rapid transit system in the Americas. To mark the occasion the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is rolling out some vintage cars and giving away commemorative posters. The original elevated rail was built by the Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company, which began regular service on June, 6th 1892. That first leg of the rail rain from Congress Avenue, just south of the downtown, to 39th street. A small coal-burning steam locomotive pulled wooden passenger cars, and the entire trip took about 14 minutes. One year later the tracks were extended to 63rd Street, where there was a station at the Louis Sullivan–designed Transportation Building. To this day, some of those very same tracks are still in regular use by the southern portion of the Green Line. It would only be a few short years before elevated lines spread across the city in all directions radiating from the downtown. It would be five years, though, before the many separate lines would be connected to the downtown-encircling Loop, making the train one of the most convenient ways to get to the city’s commercial and financial center. More branches and extensions were continuously added for the next 30 years, and eventually, some of the lines were continued underground, making them true subways. This year also marks 70th anniversary of the transfer of the “L” from private ownership to public control. In 1947 the Chicago Transit Authority took over the system and began modernizing. This week’s celebration will include train cars from both pre-, and post-CTA eras. For a limited time on June 6th, starting at noon, 4000-series cars from the 1920s will make trips around the Loop. At 1:45 pm, 2400-series cars from the late 1970’s, complete in their red-white-and-blue bicentennial livery, will make trips around the loop. Passengers will also be able to get commutative posters on the inner-Loop platform of the Clark/Lake stop. Many Chicagoans have a love-hate relationship with the L. While it is sometimes late, the elevated platforms are frigidly cold in the winter, and the small cars are packed every morning and afternoon rush, there are some things about it that Chicagoans would trade for any other city’s transit system. Unlike New York’s sticky and sweaty subway stations, the “L” subway stations are a relief from the summer heat. There is also nothing quite like riding through the downtown at eye level with beautiful architectural details and workers at their desks just feet away from the tracks, or rumbling through the neighborhoods, so close to residential balcony’s you can smell the barbecue. And as for that rumbling echoing through the city, as Elwood Blues said, it goes by “so often you won’t even notice it.”
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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!
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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.

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Ta-Dah

The MTA says new stops on the Second Ave Subway are coming
Better bus service? A shorter L-mageddon? New Second Avenue Subway stops?? The MTA says yes, you betcha, to all these projects and a few more. Today the MTA Board voted on a number of initiatives it says will improve service and boost turnaround time on major projects, including phase two of the Second Avenue Subway and L train tunnel repairs. The Board also voted to spiffy up train stations and add new buses citywide. “Today’s votes will bring convenience and better service to the millions of New Yorkers who use our system every day,” said interim executive director Ronnie Hakim, in a prepared statement. “Improvements include modernized train stations in Astoria and a shorter closure of the Canarsie Tunnel, which will lessen the impact on L train riders as we undertake these necessary Sandy storm repairs.” Phase two of the Second Avenue Subway, which now ends at 96th Street, will eventually bring Q trains zooming north to 125th Street. In the spirit of git-'er-done, the Board voted to grant a $7.3 million contract for outreach services in advance of two new stations at 106th and 116th streets. A partnership between Spectrum Personal Communications and transportation planners at Sam Schwartz Engineering will bring a community information center to East 125th Street this spring. At the center, English- and Spanish-speaking staff will be on hand to answer questions about the subway; lead educational events; and prepare plans for the Community Boards and elected officials. Be on the lookout for a project schedule once the (already underway) phase two preliminary design and engineering work wraps up. Downtown, the MTA is pushing for L train tunnel work to be completed in 15 months, three fewer than initially projected. The $492 million project was awarded to Judlau Contracting and TC Electric, though Judlau is the same firm behind construction delays on the Second Ave subway (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Over in Queens, $150 million will go towards improving above-ground subway stations on the N and W line in Astoria. Improvements will add security cameras, art, better lighting, and countdown clocks, the commuter's godsend. F0r a preview of what's in store for the borough, look no further than the work being done on the first group of stations in this project, along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. Buses were not left out amid the many new things for trains. The city will get 60-foot articulated buses (53 in all) to replace the aging 40-footers in its fleet. These new buses will be suited up with, among other features, turn warnings for pedestrians, wifi, USB charging ports, and passenger counter.
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Bridge and Tunnel

Port Authority approves $32 billion capital plan with funding for new tunnels and terminals
After months of planning, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has approved a $32.2 billion capital plan, the largest in the agency's history. The 10-year plan is bullish on public-private partnerships to support the costs of its projects at the region's airports, bridges, tunnels, and terminals. Although some big-ticket items, like the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, are new construction, much of the budget goes towards repairing or upgrading existing infrastructure. See the highlights from the plan, below:
Planes This $11.6 billion segment allocates $4 billion for a LaGuardia Terminal B replacement and puts funds toward the revitalization of John F. Kennedy International Airport. In New Jersey, work will move forward at Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport. Trains The agency is putting $2.7 billion towards debt service on to-be-borrowed money for a new and sorely needed trans-Hudson rail line between New York and New Jersey. In Jersey, the PATH's older stations will be rebuilt, as well, and new infrastructure will enable PATH trains to run from Newark Penn Station (the current terminus) to Newark Liberty's AirLink station. Additional dollars will support an AirTrain to LaGuardia, a sister link to the line that already serves JFK. Automobiles Another $10 billion will go towards the Goethals Bridge replacement, the rebuilding of the Bayonne Bridge, renovations to the George Washington Bridge, and the planning and construction for the new Port Authority Bus Terminal. The capital plan puts $3.5 billion towards this item, but stakeholders are still discussing where, exactly, the new terminal should go. Proposals from a September design competition pegged the cost of a new terminal at $3 billion to $15 billion, so the agency's allocation may be too low. “This region needs state-of-the-art airports, new mass transit infrastructure and bridges designed to handle 21st-century traffic levels if we are to meet growth projections,” said Port Authority executive director Pat Foye, in a statement. “This 10-year plan provides a record level of investment in all of these areas that will meet and support the region’s growth and serve as a major job creator for the next decade.”
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Trains & Planes

Express rail to Chicago O'Hare airport once again floated by Mayor Emanuel
Speaking to a crowd of union workers last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reiterated his intentions to have a high-speed express rail built between O’Hare International Airport and the city’s downtown. Details, however, remain unclear. It was almost exactly one year ago that Emanuel announced that the city would be spending $2 million to investigate new and existing proposals for the rail, which would carry passengers 17 miles in under 30 minutes. Currently, there already is a train, the CTA’s Blue Line L train, that travels from the airport to Chicago's downtown in about 50 minutes. Critics of the proposed express train argue that the costs of building a new rail system far outweigh the benefits of cutting that trip's time in half. The mayor argued for the need by pointing out the success of express airport rails in other cities, such as London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Toronto. While the latest announcement did not include an idea of the cost, earlier studies into the rail have estimated the price at anywhere between $750 million and $1.5 billion. Those numbers come from a 2006 report commissioned by Emanuel’s predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley also made multiple attempts to kick start the express rail project, but with little success. The wide price range for the project is based on the major options for the path of the train. The more affordable option would see the train sharing space with the existing Blue Line, possibly running on an elevated level above the slower local train. The more expensive route would follow an expressway and existing freight rail lines that run west out of the downtown. While that 2006 report estimated passenger tickets at $10, twice the current price to take the Blue Line, many believe tickets would have to be much higher. Similar rails around the world charge anywhere from $30 to $60. This latest mention of the proposed express train came packaged in a speech celebrating the 5th year anniversary of Emanuel’s “Building A New Chicago” initiative to rebuild Chicago’s infrastructure. In those five years, the city has been busy. According to the mayor’s speech, renovations have happened at 40 CTA L stations, 108 miles of protected or widened bike lanes have been added, 1,600 miles of city streets have been repaved, 500 miles of water mains have been replaced, and over 300 neighborhood parks have been renovated. O’Hare itself is also set to receive $3.5 billion in city bonds to build a new runway and make other improvements in the coming years.