Search results for "train stations"

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MTA

No L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 18 months
Attention riders: All L train service will be suspended between Brooklyn and Manhattan beginning January 2019. The MTA announced today that the Canarsie Tunnel which brings L train riders under the East River will be closed for 18 months to repair damage wrought by 2012's Hurricane Sandy. In four community meetings this spring, the agency reviewed repair scenarios and solicited New Yorkers' feedback on partial and full tunnel shutdown scenarios. The full closure option was chosen over a one-track-at-a-time three-year closure. Although residents in L-dependent neighborhoods had mixed feelings about the inevitable closure, all 11 Community Boards along the L were "overwhelmingly in favor" of a total shutdown. Repairs will target damaged signals, switches, tracks, power cables, and other infrastructure that was corroded by salt water when seven miles of the tunnel flooded. Upgrades will be made to stations closest to the river, as well. “Approximately 80 percent of riders will have the same disruptions with either option. Throughout our extensive outreach process and review, it became clear that the 18-month closure was the best construction option and offered the least amount of pain to customers for the shortest period of time,” NYCT president Veronique ‘Ronnie’ Hakim stated. “The 18-month option is also the most efficient way to allow MTA to do the required work. It gives us more control over the work site and allows us to offer contractor incentives to finish the work as fast as possible. We think it is better to have a shorter duration of pain than a longer more unstable process—and risk unplanned closures—by leaving one track open during construction.” Although the MTA is formulating a transportation plan for the Brooklyn-Manhattan commute, perhaps it's time to seriously consider some alternative options. Newtown Creek water shuttle, anyone?
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Open Car Ended

Governor Cuomo unveils MTA's new station and subway car designs
On Monday Governor Cuomo unveiled designs for the renovation of 31 subway stations stations and hundreds of new subway cars. 1,025 cars will sport new features, inside and out, while 750 new cars will be "Open Car End" designs, so passengers flow will be enhanced but there will be no more fleeing the dreaded stink car. "The MTA is the circulatory system for the metropolitan area. If you want to grow the metropolitan area, if you want to sustain the metropolitan area, the answer cannot be that people get in their cars and commute to work. That just does not work," Cuomo said at a press conference. "The volume just cannot be handled by the current road transportation system. The MTA is going to have to increase their capacity to manage that higher volume." For those anxious that the MTA may draw on the vast reservoir of design talent in the city, worry not. The new stations and cars look sleek, but not radically so. The open-tube designs are intended to reduce crowding by more evenly distributing the number of passengers on the train while wider doors will speed up entry and exit time by one third. In addition to wi-fi and USB charging ports at stations and in cars, security is paramount: The governor highlighted the presence of surveillance cameras on platforms and inside trains. The investments are part of the agency's $27 billion, five-year capital plan. The MTA is using design-build contracts to speed up the project timeline: "We have had enough experience to know the best way to do this now is contract the entire project to a private sector developer who does this, who can design the project to your specifications, can build the project, is incentivized to get it done quickly, and is penalized if they are late. These endless construction projects, that just go on and on and on, and they seemingly have no end, have to stop. We need a different way to do business which is design-build," Cuomo declared. Stations will be completely closed during renovations to further expedite the process. The first of several Requests for Proposals for the renovations will be released this week.
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Philly Fiasco

SEPTA takes 120 cars out of service due to structural defects
Over the holiday weekend, SEPTA revealed that it had taken a third of its passenger rail cars out of service due to "structural defects." 120 Silverliner V cars will be out of commission until crucial repairs are performed. According to an agency spokeswoman, the six-year-old cars were taken off the tracks July 1 after staff noticed some of the cars leaning off-center, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Due to the fleet's overnight shrinkage, some stakeholders raised concerns over commuting delays post-July 4. Those fears of long waits and crowded trains were borne out in full: With 12,000 fewer seats, some commuters are experiencing travel times double and triple the usual length. Local news outlets report riders standing between cars, and recommend alternative forms of transit. Rideshare apps Uber and Lyft are capitalizing on the SEPTA fiasco: Uber's offering 40 percent discount on rides to and from regional rail stations, while Lyft is offering $50 off the first ride for new users. For all the hassle, SEPTA maintains that the car's flaws don't threaten riders' safety, and the decision to take cars offline was done out of an abundance of caution. On most days, up to 15 percent of the system's 400 cars are out of service for maintenance and repair. New trains, including Amtrak's high-speed Acela, have growing pains. In 2010, SEPTA spent $330 million in capital funds to expand its fleet and meet growing demand for regional rail service. The cars, manufactured by a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group and assembled in Philadelphia, have been plagued by mechanical issues, namely doors don't function properly in very cold weather, since operations began:
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Ride Share or Ridership?

How does the design of Los Angeles's new Expo Line stack up?

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has finally rebuilt one of L.A’s original commuter streetcar lines: The Expo line, a 15.2-mile long appendage that will link Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Completion of the $2.5 billion route marks an important milestone for the region’s maturing 25-year-old rapid transit system. The lead architectural and urban design was by Gruen Associates who, with planning and design firm RAW International, crafted the system’s transit stops; Parsons Brinckerhoff carried out overall planning; and Skanska spearheaded construction. The Expo line is the transit agency’s latest effort to weave light rail travel into a growing, multimodal web of mobility options available to Angelenos—it is as much a new way to see Los Angeles as it is a train.

While the system’s 1990s-era subway stations play fast and loose with decorative schemes—from massive boulders at Beverly and Vermont to highly polished kitsch at the Hollywood and Vine and Chinatown stops—Expo stations are subdued. Mostly located at-grade and topped by a half-hexagonal mop of ocean wave–inspired, perforated aluminum panels supported by a sinuous, pale-blue, crisscrossing armature, the stations try hard to be poetically mundane. A product of tight budgets, the line’s many at-grade crossings and stations result in a crude and dangerous construct: Drivers are forced to acknowledge light rail trains and passengers as a legitimate urban presence through their sheer occupation of the street. This condition could benefit from a more aggressive transformation of the intersections and sidewalks leading up to each station: Introducing simple elements like bollards, contrasting paving strategies, and other speed mitigating measures would do much to improve what should be nodes of pedestrian activity.

Stations between Downtown L.A. and the University of Southern California campus are easily approached from the street via handicap ramps and feature no-frills signage. The concourses are, again, simple in their articulation, with a smattering of concrete and aluminum benches. These stations are earnest attempts at creating planted flags in what might one day be a larger, more prototypically pedestrian urban expanse. The empty storefronts along many of the tacky, faux-Italianate perimeter block apartment complexes in the area, while highlighted by the stations’ electric bolt silhouette, have yet to benefit from the line’s booming ridership. As of now, these stops are desolate, quite a few gentrification waves away from being viable transit-oriented developments. At-grade stops between USC and Culver City are also unsuccessful as stations, with complicated tangles of pedestrians, trains, and drivers.

The elevated stations further west, however, like those at Culver City, La Cienega, and Bundy, announce themselves from a distance as a new type of elevated object in the Southern California sky. Less majestic than Chicago’s industrial-era L stations, the elevated Expo stops gently appropriate the language of freeway vernacular, subverting the typical L.A. overpass by co-locating a landscaped bicycle path and potentially, future stations for the system’s new bike share program, along the length of most of the line. These areas are straightforwardly open spaces; the overhead bridges’ weights reach the ground via four discrete and compact piers, leaving room for drop off and transfer areas. Large concrete walls designed in great relief, populated with complex, pixelated geometric motifs and lushly planted with drought-tolerant flora line the bike path itself. Instead of dank, unwelcoming troll bridges like those associated with the freeways, Expo’s overhead crossings are places for collective movement, an aspect exemplified by their minimal treatment and the location of a variety of specially-commissioned art installations at each stop. Riders ascend via elevators and stairways to reach the platforms that provide molehills from which to gaze out over the city’s flatlands. But, because one is walking—and waiting—instead of driving, the effect is potentially one of true introspection.

The western terminus at Santa Monica is also a fundamentally pedestrian urban gesture. The station is built as an elevated plaza that cascades to the north in a broad set of stairs, funneling travelers toward major pedestrian shopping areas and into the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, redesigned as a massive diagonal crossing intersection. Here, the intersection is striped with massive white bands of paint in a strangely fitting plaza and civic space for Los Angeles.

If it is indeed Metro’s goal to normalize multi-modal transit in Los Angeles, then the Expo train, with a few tweaks, is a good template for what the rest of the region’s rapid transit system might look like in the future. Expo’s design and existence is an unexpectedly powerful, if somewhat work-in-progress expression on behalf of transit-mixed streets.

       
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6 Train Woes

After a $21M renovation, a Bronx subway station still isn’t wheelchair accessible
The non-profit group Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the MTA over a Bronx subway station that remains inaccessible to wheelchairs despite a major overhaul. According to DRA, the MTA’s failure to make the station wheelchair accessible is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people from discrimination based on disability. The Middletown Road station in the Bronx was closed between October 2013 and May 2014 for improvements, which included replacing staircases and other parts of the structure. The costly renovation also included new ceilings, walls, and floors, but failed to add an elevator. The station lies in the middle of a four mile stretch—which contains ten stops on the 6 line—that are not wheelchair accessible. According to the DRA, New York City has one of the worst public transportation systems in the country for handicapped people, with only 19% of subway stations accessible to wheelchairs compared to 100% of stations in Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area. While city busses are all wheelchair accessible, they're often a much slower and less efficient way to get around. According to DNAinfo, the MTA claims it was not in violation of the ADA because adding an elevator would have been impossible due to the physical constrains of the station. The DRA asserts that it could've been done. Minor accessibility improvements to the station were implemented, including new handrails and tactile signs. The suit, which was filed on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York (DIA), claims that an elevator would have been technically feasible. According to Anthony Trocchia, President of DIA, the suit is meant to call attention to the broader issue of wheelchair accessibility on the New York City subway system.
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Kaohsiung

Mecanoo unveils plans for vegetated transport hub in Taiwan
Dutch studio Mecanoo has unveiled their proposal for a transportation hub in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The project will be the firm's sixth project in the country and third in Kaohsiung where Mecanoo has an office, located at the Southern end of the Island. Offering integrated train, metro, local, and intercity bus services, along with taxi and bicycle access, the new Kaohsiung Station is the centerpiece of the Kaohsiung Metropolitan Area Underground Railway Project. That project includes seven underground stations spanning a four mile tunnel, however the station aims to contribute significantly to life above ground too. Here, swathes of greenery inhabit the site in the form of green roofs and generous planting arrangements. The rounded roofscape exhibits a sense of calm within what is typically a chaotic environment. Totaling 376,700 square-feet of greenery, the grass on the roof also establishes connections between various modes of transport and is, in Mecanoo's words, meant to "Kaohsiung’s vision for the future as a sustainable city." The building's central hall, located below, opens upwards with a series of oval-shaped lights arranged to form a semi-tessellating pattern in the ceiling. Part of the 139,930 square foot sunken station plaza, the sculpted roof shields the open public plaza from Kaohsiung’s tropical climate. This design allows the space to host events, markets, traditional open air opera, or a mobile libraries, among other activities. “The most important events in Taiwanese villages take place on the main square in front of the temple, lit with traditional red lanterns," said Francine Houben, creative director of Mecanoo. "The central hall has been designed as a contemporary equivalent of this, creating a memorable experience for travelers." "The sprawling green canopy protects the open public plaza underneath from Kaohsiung’s tropical climate like large trees would do," she continued. "Here people can meet, enjoy a refreshing breeze, or visit events that take place at the station, like a farmers’ market, second hand market, traditional open air opera or a mobile library." The building is due to be complete by 2024.
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Off the Rails

Jim Venturi and ReThinkNYC want to revolutionize how NYC handles train infrastructure
Jim Venturi has a habit of being a rogue planner with his team at ReThinkNYC. Last year, he suggested using Riker's Island to expand La Guardia airport and now he is taking on New York and New Jersey's suburban rail network. His plan counters the current federal Gateway Project which proposes a high-speed rail link into Manhattan and the creation of a new terminus at Penn Station. Due to open in 2024, the plan aims to alleviate bottlenecking by adding 25 new train slots for use at peak times by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit (NJT) along the North East Corridor (NEC) between Newark and New York City. Currently, those tracks are at full capacity. https://vimeo.com/161951825 If realized, the project would see the demolition of  Napoleon Le Brun's St. John the Baptist Church which dates back to 1871, a historic piece of French-Gothic architecture that is a well established part of Manhattan's urban fabric. Of greater importance for Venturi, however, lies with the continual use of Penn station as a terminus and not a through station. From an infrastructure perspective, capacity problems arise with terminuses: trains have to enter and leave, creating more traffic, while passengers often have to alight to catch their connections, which leads to overcrowding. This happens to the extent that trains often wait up to ten minutes before entering the station and passengers queue at platform escalators, something that train schedules have since incorporated as status quo. Penn Station is already the busiest station in the country. It's platforms, in comparison to other regional stations, are very narrow. Since the addition of escalators and the advent of other modern day needs, available space has further decreased. To counter this, ReThinkNYC has devised a system whereby tracks are surrounded on either side by platforms. In this scenario, people can alight on one side and embark on the other, thus potentially improving circulation with people no longer getting in each others way.   ReThinkNYC also proposes that Penn Station becomes a through-station. This is nothing new. Indeed, the station is already a through-station for Amtrak services though is not for the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and NJT. Speaking to AN, Venturi spoke of how terminuses are all too commonplace in a region which currently holds three, run by four operators—MetroNorth, NJT, LIRR, and Amtrak. Efficiency and connectivity are the crux of ReThinkNYC's plan, with services being more accessible for passengers. "We need to think bigger," Venturi says. The current proposed plan, Venturi explained, is a "quick fix" bereft of longterm foresight and the result of of a system that is seldom fed any infrastructural ideas. He said this situation stems from a growing disparity between revenue and power centers between Washington D.C. and New York. "Our plan is very boring" he adds, going on to say that in "any other country, our idea is completely normal." And he's not wrong. Across Europe, through-stations in cities have become commonplace, with Berlin's Hauptbahnhof leading by example, running tracks through the station on three levels in different directions. "As far as I can tell we're the only city in the developed world that is building new terminals," as opposed to through-stations, he said. Paris and London are two notable beneficiaries of modern day through-service plans, and even closer to home, Philadelphia has done the same. If the Gateway project were to be a through-station, Venturi explained, Amtrak services could continue up to Queens and the Bronx. A "trunk" line where all four operators overlap running through Penn Station would be established between Secaucus Junction (NJ) and Sunnyside in Queens. At either side of these stations, services would then diverge; most on the Queens side would go to Port Morris in the Bronx where a new rail yard would be located. This would then prevent Amtrak from reaching capacity at the Sunnyside rail yard and allow NJT services to run through Penn Station. This system, which is very much like the Paris, London and Philadelphia examples above, would allow sidings (i.e. freight stored in a train yard) to sit on the periphery while allowing the "core" to be a place where passengers can transfer onto the subway system and other suburban rail services For this to happen, though, NJT would have to move their terminus eastward to Port Morris while LIRR would have to follow suit in the opposite direction to Secaucus. https://vimeo.com/163764271 While Venturi's scheme calls for the construction of three tunnels and a new viaduct (see video above) to essentially connect the Hudson and Harlem lines and the NEC, the plan also utilizes much unused infrastructure. Track beds that were never filled would be electrified and the Hell Gate bridge, which was originally built to hold four tracks would finally be used as such. For ReThinkNYC's plan to be realized, Venturi has broken it up into five phases as can be seen below. Electrification however, is another issue. Metro North and LIRR use two variations of the "3rd rail" electric connections to power their trains (one is a high contact platform, the other is low). To make things more complicated, 3 different catenary (overhead electrification) standards are used, so in the cases of lines that use overhead contact, 3 variations of voltage/Frequency output (Voltz/Hertz) are also used. This, of course, can all be changed, accommodating all these systems takes up valuable space in carriages and is generally seen as impractical. In comparison to Europe, two forms of electrification dominate the rail networks. Known as Electric multiple units (EMU's), trains make use of a 3rd rail/overhead hybrid contact system which has become commonplace, thus allowing freight and passenger rail services to cross borders without hassle. In the US, however, a lack of standardization appears to be halting progress in this respect. https://vimeo.com/161960566 Though a major overhaul, the practice of setting such standards in the UK was achieved after WWII when the railways were nationalized and the 25 kV 50 Hz overhead system was installed and the 3rd rail system developed in the South East with the exception of the Eurostar service. In light of all this, there is still room for improvement. Venturi explains how a connection between Trenton and New Haven could be easily realized. "It seems obvious," he says. "Just draw a straight line between Trenton and New Haven." In this case, similar types of rolling stock could be used due to the way these lines are electrified. Despite the ominous outlook of the East coast's rail network in comparison to the rest of the developed world, Venturi is adamant that a "rail revival" is happening, or at least underway.
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Sea Train

New transit line links Downtown Los Angeles to the beach
For transit boosters and urbanists in Los Angeles, last weekend’s opening of the 6.6 mile extension to the city’s Expo Line linking Downtown Los Angeles with Santa Monica represents a capstone over a quarter century of hard-fought rail construction in a city notorious for its auto-dependent populace. Los Angeles systematically dismantled its pre-World War II Red Car system in the post-war era and did not begin rebuilding its rail transit infrastructure until in the late 1980s. Metro opened the Blue line in 1990, a 22-mile light rail route linking Downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach. Since then, the system has grown exponentially, with two subway routes, four light rail lines, and two rapid bus lines completed since. Much of the recent expansion has been funded with money collected via sales tax increases. The Metro has another such initiative, Measure R2, on the November ballot this year aiming to help the agency continue its vigorous growth. A first phase of the Expo Line opened in 2012 linking downtown to Culver City. The now-completed 15.2 mile route reestablishes rail transportation between the beach-adjacent westside communities and the region’s symbolic heart downtown by essentially reviving the route taken by the Pacific Electric Red Car service’s Air Line service that ran along the former Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe right of way between 1908 to 1953. The new line is expected to take around an hour end to end, about the same amount of time it takes to drive in good traffic. The Expo Phase II project was constructed via a design-build partnership between Skanska USA and Rados Construction Inc. and was administered by Expo Authority, the independent agency created by Metro to build the line. Skanska USA tapped Parsons Brinckerhoff to design the route’s tracks, stations, and bicycle facilities. Parsons Brinckerhoff also designed 24 at-grade and above-grade intersections for the line. Celebrations took place at each of the seven new stations last weekend and Metro offered free fares on Friday and Saturday to commemorate the completion of the new line. The much-hyped weekend saw so many Angelenos flock to stops along the route that service got backed up as enthusiasts and skeptics alike rode rail transit to the beach for the first time in sixty years. But in perhaps a sign the difficulty Metro faces in changing L.A.’s car-dependent culture, service ground to a halt for nearly two hours Monday morning when a drunk driver drove onto the Expo Line’s tracks along an at-grade run of the line near downtown, snarling the line’s first weekday morning commute.  
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Tunnel Vision

L train shutdown will last 18 months or three years, says MTA
At a public meeting in the Marcy Avenue Armory yesterday, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast was joined by agency heads and elected officials to explain L train repair scenarios and field questions from the community. After assuring the public that there would be no option for nights and weekends work, nor the money for a totally new tunnel, the agency laid out the pros and the cons of two scenarios: An 18 month total shutdown with no L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, or a three-year partial shutdown with very limited service between the two boroughs. 400,000 passengers ride the L train every weekday, a 236 percent increase since 1990. 225,000 of those straphangers travel through the tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If considered in isolation, the L would be the tenth busiest subway in North America. While other tubes could be repaired with nights and weekends works, the damage to the 92-year-old cast iron and concrete Canarsie Tubes (L train tunnel) is too extensive to be completed in that limited timeframe. The duct banks, where 37,000 feet of electrical cables with varying voltages are housed, were so corroded by saltwater during Sandy that contextual repairs are impossible; the entire network must be replaced. To repair the tunnel, moreover, crews drilling into the tunnel generate hazardous silica dust which could not be cleared from from the tubes in a safe and timely way over nights and weekends. Under scenario one, the 18 month closure, L trains would run from Rockaway Park in Canarsie to Bedford Avenue, with no L train service in Manhattan. Ferries, Select Bus Service (SBS), beefed-up regular bus service, bike- and ride-shares, plus enhanced service capacity on the G, J/Z, and M lines would accommodate L train refugees. The benefits to a total tunnel closure, the MTA notes, is that contractors will have total control over the work zone and 80 percent of riders will be less impacted by the same level of disruption. Work would begin in January 2019 and wrap by mid-2020. Scenario two, the three-year shutdown, would be more logistically complex. Trains would run from Rockaway Parkway to Lorimer Street, and from Bedford to Eight Avenue, with shuttle bus service in between Bedford and Lorimer. The benefit to this plan, Prendergast explained, is that it would preserve limited inter-borough L train service, but with significant drawbacks. Prendergast noted that during rush hour, the L line runs 40 trains per hour. Under a partial shutdown, only one of two tracks would be open, and trains would run every 12 to 15 minutes. 80 percent of the passengers who would want to ride the train wouldn't be able to board. The MTA is worried about overcrowding at stations and in the cars, as well as about unplanned closures—if one train stalls, or a passenger falls ill en route, the spillover effect could cause nightmare delays. With that in mind, Prendergast emphasized, "[minimizing] inconvenience is a top priority." Regardless of the plan that is chosen, riders will enjoy a new access point at Avenue A (!), new elevators at Bedford Avenue and First Avenue, a rehabbed pump station, and two new breaker houses, among other improvements. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, whose V-shaped district encompasses many L-dependent neighborhoods, was the first pol to bring up the impact of the shutdown on local businesses. She asked the assembled agency leaders whether there would be "a mitigating plan for small businesses," especially for residents and businesses on Bedford and Grand avenues. A second community meeting will be held later this month. More details can be found here.
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Minnesota's Modern Love
St. Columba's nave is among Minnesota's finest midcentury worship spaces.
Peter Sieger

Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury
by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press, $50

In his new book, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury, author Larry Millett reminds readers: “Midcentury modernism was more than just a style. At its heart, it offered the prospect of a world unchained from the past. Behind the movement lay a whole way of thinking about how to live, work, and play in the new suburban communities that sprang up after World War II.”

Perhaps never more so than in Minnesota, where a burgeoning, postwar population in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul began to sprawl beyond city boundaries across the fields and prairies, in large part because of the tract houses built quickly and inexpensively by Orrin Thompson Homes. Young couples could afford to marry and raise families in the new ramblers and drive their new cars on new highways connecting their cookie-cutter suburbs with new shopping malls and office buildings.

In fact, Millett opens his book with a 1953 image of Minnesota’s first cloverleaf highway interchange, built in 1937 just outside of Minneapolis in a soon-to-be first-ring suburb. There’s an argument to be made here: that midcentury modern—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is suburban. In his book, however, he covers not only modest suburban ramblers, but also how the reach of midcentury modern encompassed a remarkable array of architectural typologies in locations (rural, suburban, and urban) throughout the state—consider Marcel Breuer’s church at Saint John’s Abbey and University (Collegeville); Eliel Saarinen’s Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis); Eero Saarinen’s IBM Building (Rochester); the Northwestern National Life Insurance Building by Minoru Yamasaki (Minneapolis); and Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center (Edina), the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States. Midcentury modern also encompasses Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theater (razed), along with such no-less-venerated venues as the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale (mothballed), the now-iconic Dairy Queen in Roseville (still dishing up soft serve), and St. Paul’s Porky’s Drive-In (razed).

 

In addition to the square, affordable rambler, midcentury modern birthed other housing types, from the long, one-level ranch house, to compact metal Lustron homes, to the flat-roofed, glass-walled, open-plan, architect-designed residence. Millett includes 12 such “high-style” homes throughout Minnesota—by Frank Lloyd Wright and Twin Cities’ architects Elizabeth Close, Ralph Rapson, and Gerald Buetow, among others. But his investigation goes even deeper.

As Millett also points out, midcentury modern, which dominated architecture and design from about 1945 to the late-1960s, “penetrated like oil into the social, political, and cultural machinery of the times.” So while delving into these projects and more in a nearly 400-page book rich with photography and illustration, Millett also places Minnesota’s love of midcentury modernism in a broader context.

He traces Minnesota’s development and practice of midcentury modernism to three sources or “strains.” One was the work of such European architects like Adolf Loos, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, the Saarinens, Alvar Aalto, and Le Corbusier (“who was very fond of American concrete grain elevators, a building type invented in Minnesota in 1989”). Millett describes how these architects’ work and influences, combined with elements of art deco and art moderne, produced such Minnesota architects as Rapson—a proponent and practitioner of the International Style.

California’s ranch houses (even though their emphasis on outdoor living didn’t translate well in Minnesota’s tough winter climate) and the corresponding commercial version (affectionately named Googie) were the second source of influence. A third strain apparent in Minnesota’s midcentury modernism was the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his Usonian houses. Millett goes on to add that materials developed during World War II—laminated wood trusses that were used instead of steel, as well as prefabricated structures and prestressed concrete—also influenced the design and construction in midcentury modernism in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Despite these influences, Millett stresses that, “midcentury architecture in Minnesota was mostly a homegrown product.” Today, many of buildings designed by local and regional architects are sorely in need of preservation. The former architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Millett is an architectural historian whose previous books include Lost Twin Cities and Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities. Both books, as their titles suggest, discuss the architectural treasures Minnesota has lost to the wrecking ball.

Millett’s new book concludes with a call to action. Though the “architectural legacy of the midcentury era in Minnesota is decidedly mixed,” he writes, citing instances of “drably utilitarian” public buildings, “excesses of urban renewal” in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ill-planned suburbs, “the time has come to look at ways to protect significant works of the period.” Many of these works are now eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation.

What need to be saved, Millett continues, are not just individual “high-style homes” and the churches that have become “masterpieces of American architecture,” but entire neighborhoods of midcentury residences. The problem, he continues, is that “architectural modernism, especially in its high-style manifestations, has always had an elitist aura, and the general public has never really warmed to it.”

Minnesotans, with their no-nonsense approach, nonetheless cultivated a singular midcentury sensibility worth saving.

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State of the City
The fabric of New York—from shoreline to skyline—is getting a thread-count upgrade, much of it due to the success of ongoing projects like Vision Zero, coastal resiliency efforts, and a spate of new public ventures coming down the pike. In his annual State of the City address in early February, Mayor Bill de Blasio championed accomplishments from 2015 and shed light on what’s to come: New Yorkers will see projects and policies that could facilitate new commutes, provide civic and green spaces in the outer boroughs, and reshape neighborhood density via rezoning. Streets and Shores
Two large-scale, controversial rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning For Quality and Affordability (ZQA), reached the City Council early February. Councilmembers heard public testimony for and against the measures, which are intended to increase the amount of affordable housing and create more interesting streetscapes in exchange for increased density in special districts. The full Council will vote on the proposals—the most sweeping zoning changes since 1961—in March.
Rezoning may change the look of the streets, and it’s almost guaranteed more pedestrians would be around to see it. Since the launch of Vision Zero three years ago, traffic fatalities have fallen annually, with a drop of almost nine percent between last year and 2014. (Although City Hall may not want readers to know that traffic-related injuries spiked by more than 2,000 incidents in the same period.)
The initiative is New York City’s version of an international campaign to end traffic-related deaths through better street design and harsher penalties for traffic offenders, and it has a record-setting $115 million budget for 2016. More than a quarter of that money (plus $8.8 million from the NYC Department of Transportation’s capital budget) will go to road improvements in Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens, especially at busy nodes along main thoroughfares Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.
The low-lying neighborhoods are some of many flood-prone areas that will benefit from the $20 billion in climate-change-resiliency measures that launched following Hurricane Sandy. Included in that figure is a massive project coming out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition to protect Manhattan from rising seas. The City has selected AECOM to lead the design and build of these coastal resiliency measures, formerly known as the Dryline (and before that, BIG U). The project team includes Dewberry, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture. BIG and ONE provided the original vision for the 10-mile-long project, and are now working on Phase One, the $335 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. That phase, which should go into constriction next year, deploys a series of berms and floodwalls from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the island’s Lower East Side. Phase Two extends the project from Montgomery Street around the tip of Manhattan up to Harrison Street in Tribeca. Although those ten miles of coastline could be safer, the other 510 would still have a lot to fear from global warming. Fortunately, the Department of Design and Construction’s Build It Back RFP is having an immediate impact on those who lost homes to Sandy. By last October, the program, which rebuilds homes ravaged in the 2012 hurricane, broke ground on around 1,900 projects and finished construction on 1,200 others.
Targeted Reinvestment The recovery impetus extends beyond the property line and out into neighborhoods. In his speech, the mayor singled out three outer-borough neighborhoods—Ocean Hill–Brownsville, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway—for targeted reinvestment. Civic architecture often heralds or spurs financial interest, and these neighborhoods happen to be the sites of three public projects by well-known architects in plan or under construction. Studio Gang is designing a 20,000-square-foot Fire Department of New York station and training facility in Ocean Hill–Brownsville in Brooklyn, while BIG is designing a new NYPD station house in Melrose in the Bronx. In Queens, far-out Far Rockaway, battered by Sandy and isolated from the rest of the city by a long ride on the A train, is anticipating both a $90.3 million, Snøhetta-designed public library and $91 million in capital funds for improvements in its downtown on main commercial roads like Beach 20th Street. On and Beyond the Waterfront In New York, a trip to the “city” is a trip to Manhattan. This idea, however, doesn’t reflect how New Yorkers traverse the city today: Older, Manhattan-centric commuting patterns at the hub are becoming outmoded as development intensifies in the outer boroughs. It’s estimated that this year bike-sharing service Citi Bike will have 10 million rides. The system is adding 2,500 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to accommodate the increased ridership. The East River ferry service will begin this year, knitting the Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan waterfronts together in patterns not seen since the 1800s. Along the same waterway, the project that’s raised the most wonder (and ire) is the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar line that would link 12 waterfront neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. The project proposal comes from a new nonprofit, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (FBQX), which first surfaced in January of this year. Its founders include the heads of transportation advocacy and policy groups Regional Plan Association and Transportation Alternatives; directors of neighborhood development groups; and real estate professionals like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization. The full plan, commissioned by FBQX and put together by consultants at New York–based engineering and transportation firm Sam Schwartz, is not available to the public, although the company’s eponymous president and CEO shed some light on the plan with AN. “Within an area that has so many [transit] connections, what we are addressing is transit that goes north–south,” explained Schwartz. His firm’s plan calls for a 17-mile route that roughly parallels the coastline, dipping inland to link up to hubs like Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At a projected cost of $1.7 billion, why not choose the bus, or bus rapid transit (BRT)? The team considered five other options before deciding on the streetcar, Schwartz explained. “The projected ridership is over 50,000 [passengers] per day, while ridership for the bus and BRT maxes out at 35,000 to 40,000 per day.” Streetcars, Schwartz elaborated, can make fine turns on narrow streets, reducing the risk for accidents. They will travel at 12 miles per hour in lanes separate from other traffic, and, to minimize aesthetic offense and flood-damage risk, overhead catenaries will not be used.
Although sources tell AN that the city has a copy of the plan, City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell denied any relationship between de Blasio’s streetcar proposal and the plan commissioned by FBQX. (Although it’s not unusual for the city to consider the recommendations put forth by outside groups: In 2014, the city adopted many of the Vision Zero recommendations created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Norvell stated that the city’s plan calls for a $2.5 billion, 16-mile corridor that will be financed outside of the auspices of the (state-funded and perpetually cash-strapped) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) using a value-capture model. The streetcar line’s success, essentially, is predicated on its ability to raise surrounding property values. The increased tax revenues, he explained, could be plowed back into a local development corporation, which would then use the funds to capitalize the project. Critics wonder why the streetcar is being privileged over other initiatives, such as the Triboro RX proposal, a Utica Avenue subway extension, and the not-completely-funded Second Avenue subway, that would serve more straphangers. Though a fare-sharing system could be brokered with the MTA to enhance multimodal connectivity, critics point out that the streetcar line’s proposed stops are up to a half mile from subway stations, bypassing vital connections between the J/M/Z and L. The Hills on Governors Island Are Alive and Ahead of Schedule With a growing population and growing need for more parks, the city is looking to develop underutilized green space within its borders. The Hills, a landscape on Governors Island designed by West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, is set to finish nearly one year ahead of schedule. The news coincided with the mayor’s announcement that the island, a former military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, will now be open to the public year-round. The city has invested $307 million in capital improvements to ready 150 acres of the island for its full public debut. Forty-eight new acres of parkland (including the Hills) will open this year. The Innovation Cluster, a 33-acre business incubator and educational facility that builds on the example of Cornell University’s campus extension on Roosevelt Island, will bring several million new square feet of educational, commercial, cultural, research, and retail space to the island’s south side. The Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit dedicated to stewarding and capitalizing on the island’s assets, will release an RFP to develop the vacant land and historic district by the end of this year, and construction could begin as early as 2019.
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Cincinnati’s century-old abandoned rapid-transit rail project
Beginning as early as the 1880s, and continuing through the 1920s, a 16-mile rapid-transit rail project was conceived in Cincinnati, entering a construction phase that to this day remains incomplete. At the time, Cincinnati was one of the top 10 most populated cities and urban congestion was at an extreme capacity. An underground subway was proposed, replacing an aging canal system, connecting downtown with its surrounding urban neighborhoods. The proposed system facilitated an interurban transportation network incorporating nine suburban electric railroads that transferred passengers to streetcars servicing downtown. The project has been called the “The Cousin of Boston's Red Line” by transit experts and, if completed, would have been one of the few pre-WWII subways in the country, joining similar east coast systems still in operation to this day. Complex political, economic, and social forces caused the project to be ultimately cancelled in 1928. “Throughout the project, State and Federal law kept interfering with what Cincinnati wanted to do,” says researcher and documentary photographer Jake Mecklenborg in an interview with historian Dan Hurley. Local politics didn’t help the project either. As post-war inflation caused lingering project costs to double, political leadership was transformed from a notoriously corrupt regime to a new political party which sought to differentiate itself by symbolically rejecting the project through divisive rhetoric and policy. In total, six stations along 11 miles of the system were constructed, but no track was laid and no subway cars were ordered. About 75 percent of the original construction—nearly everything above ground—has deteriorated to the point of collapse, or was demolished for highway infrastructure in the 1950s, a quarter century after being constructed. A two-mile stretch under downtown Cincinnati remains, linking three stations. The downtown tunnels are continuously maintained due to continual overhead vehicular traffic, and their adopted use as underground utility tunnels. The final cost to the city, at just over $13 million, was more than double the initial bond issue voted for by the electorate in 1916, and was not paid off until 1966. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to living with abandoned subway tunnels is the variety of alternative uses they inspire. The Liberty Street station was converted to a nuclear fallout shelter in the 1960s. Mecklenborg reports the shelter had radio gear and a phone system installed: “up until around 1990 this phone actually worked, and apparently tunnel vandals could make free calls. I have received several e-mails regarding the phone—one claimed that a pizza was ordered, and another said a buddy called his girlfriend in Paris.” A few of the most noteworthy attempts at reuse (most of which never succeeded due to logistical and/or legal issues) include:
  • Underground utility tunnels
  • Religious catacombs
  • Underground freight train delivery to downtown businesses
  • Underground winery with locally produced wine cellar storage
  • Experimental wind tunnel
  • Music festival location
  • Movie set location (Batman Forever)
  • Various light rail schemes