So Hurricane Tropical Storm Irene has come and gone, leaving most of New York City unscathed. It looks like some 700 trees were downed across the city and we're sure a few patio chairs ran away from home, but luckily for the city, the storm lost its might as it raged toward Gotham. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepared for the worst before the storm, shutting down the city's transit system electively for the first time (the system was also shut down after 9/11 and a power blackout). The agency has released an amazing set of photos of its preparation and cleanup after the storm including dramatic views of an abandoned Grand Central Station, mudslides, and flooded tracks. Take a look after the jump. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow.
Posts tagged with "MTA":
High Speed Rail Rescued. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $200 million for high speed rail projects in Michigan yesterday, as part of a $400 million package for high speed rail in the Midwest. The money came from funds rejected by Florida governor Rick Scott. Grist reports: "It looks like Scott's tantrum will mean improved speed and performance in the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed line between Detroit and Chicago, better train cars throughout California and the Midwest, and forward movement on the planned L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed line. Thanks, sucker!" Over the Hill. And speaking of rail, Grist brings us this infographic showing the dramatic decline of Amtrak's coverage since its heyday in the 60s. Maybe it's time to bring Joe Biden in for a celebrity ad campaign. Buffalo's Berkeley Makeover. Can Buffalo, New York become the next hip college town? That's what administrators at the University of Buffalo are betting on, staking $5 billion to expand the campus from the outskirts of the city to downtown. The city, which lost 1/10 of its population over the last decade, may not have Berkeley's hippie past, but business leaders and local politicians envision bringing thousands of professors and staffers downtown, with "young researchers living in restored lofts, dining at street-side bistros and walking to work." Metrocards Out, Smart Cards In. The country's oldest subway system foresees a future without the iconic Metrocard. The NY Daily News reports that the New York City MTA plans to replace Metrocards with smart cards in three to four years. Riders would tap the MTA Card, or a debit or credit card, to pay their fares.
Manhattanville's Piano. While tallying who is the biggest landlord in New York (it's still the church by a hair), The Observer uncovered a few new views of Renzo Piano's Jerome L. Green Science Center at Columbia's Manhattanville campus, seen here next to a train viaduct. Pedestrianizing New York. The remaking of New York's public spaces continues its forward march. Brownstoner has details on the planned pedestrian plaza on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn and StreetsBlog highlights DOT's plans to create a permanent block-long Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights. Archi-babble. Witold Rybczynski talkes issue with architecture's professional jargon in Slate, including a beginner's guide to commonly used words from assemblage to gesamtkunstwerk. What's your favorite word from the language of architecture? Subway Squeeze. We're not talking about your crowded commute, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to trim $100 million from transit. Transportation Nation and StreetsBlog have the details and implications for getting around New York.
Our favorite wonky MTA blog has an interesting and funny post about how quickly and easily naming rights on a public transit system can get, in this case down in Philadelphia. While we all know transit systems are in trouble and should probably go about getting money wherever they can—short of more draconian fare increases, let's hope—it is easy to go too far on the naming rights front, not only into parody but confusion. While it may be a bit unseemly that the MTA tried to charge the Yankees for the rights to have their name at a refurbished 161st stop last year, and that Barclays is actually paying up for the rights in Brooklyn, yet another advertising assault on our public lives. But SEPTA has gone a step further, renaming its Pattison Avenue Terminal to AT&T Station. Unlike the Barclays annoyance, this could be downright confusing because there is no geographical relevance here, nothing AT&T about this station. As another blogger puts it on SAS: "The whole situation raises the frightening prospect in the near future that, instead of riding the Broad Street Subway from City Hall to Pattison, people will take the Coca-Cola Trolley from Pizza Hut to AT&T."
It would appear the Second Avenue Subway is really, truly happening. Not to have doubted all the construction work that's gone on so far, but we have been-there-done-that about half-a-dozen times over the past century. Now, however, the 200-ton Cutter Head has arrived, the main piece of the Tunnel Boring Machine that will begin carving out the tunnels for the first phase of the new line. The MTA posted some pretty cool pics of the device, including the one above, on its Facebook page. And if that weren't socially networked enough, there's a YouTube flick of the thing being lowered underground with a soundtrack that sounds oddly like that of a softcore sex scene in some '90s movie. Second Avenue Sagas points out that this is largely "symbolic," as the real challenge, technically and fiscally, is not digging but building the lines and stations. That said, we still wonder if all this money wouldn't be better spent on maintaining service than pushing ahead with capital projects, even if it does mean their nth death. While you ponder, the flick and more pics after the jump.
The MTA finally passed its so-called Doomsday Budget today. If this comes as a surprise, well, you're not the only one taken aback. Last year, the transit authority was in a similar predicament—in part because the Legislature refused to implement congestion pricing but mostly because of the recession. But, as with most things in (at least New York) politics, an eleventh hour deal was brokered and the funds were found to stave off the draconian cuts. We figured that would be the case this time around, especially since the MTA's new and particularly shrewd boss Jay Walder made all the right cuts that would be politically unpalatable for Albany to keep in place, like, say, Student MetroCards. So then why did they pass? Granted the cuts will not go into effect until June, so there is still time to avert some, if not all, of them, though that is seemingly increasingly impossible. The reason is there simply isn't enough money to go around anymore to fill these gaping holes. The city is on the verge of axing thousands of teachers because the Paterson administration has raided those funds as well—the MTA lost $143 million to the state budget, coupled with a poor return on those eleventh hour bailouts, like a new payroll tax. We asked transit sage Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, how it came to this, and he basically agreed that we've reached bone. "Tight money is part of the problem. Competition with education and health care for scarce money is not to transit's advantage," Russianoff wrote in an email. "There's also MTA's lack of credibility with public. Elected officials believe people will blame MTA and not them for service cuts. Jay Walder believes he needs to downsize agency to make every dollar count to buid up lost credibility." There is still hope, should the agency decide to trim its capital funds, as the Straphangers and City Council have been advocating, but the MTA continues to oppose such cuts, arguing they're worse than reduced service. We can keep our fingers crossed for more stimulus funds, or perhaps complain to Bruce Ratner. But it's starting to look like our last best hope might be good old-fashioned prayer.
With any luck, Moynihan Station will finally get off the ground thanks to last's months grant of $83 million in stimulus funds. Having gone through what seems like dozens of iterations, it's unclear exactly what shape the new station will take, but we do have one piece of advice for whatever cabal of designers takes up the massive project: Don't forget the signs. While no hardened New Yorker would admit to getting lost in Penn's warren of tunnels and concourses, Slate's Julia Turner uses the underground mess as Exhibit-A of bad signage for her series running this week and next about just how important wayfinding is in our increasingly confusing world. As Turner puts it, signage is "is the most useful thing we pay no attention to." The Jane Jacobs in all of us will point to the low-ceilings and poor layout, the ugly stepchild of McKim, Mead & White's glorious station, as the reason for the confusion Penn causes in visitors new and old alike. But Turner says the real problem, and potential solution, lies with the signage. While some of the signs work, the problem is the whole of the station, or lack thereof. The main issue, according to Turner, is that the busiest station in the country must serve three masters, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the MTA (both LIRR and subways). We actually chuckled when David Gibson, principal of design firm Two Twelve, pointed out in the video above, "Here we are, we're at the intersection of three sign worlds." Could you imagine facing the same problem at busy intersection? Just as signs can create a problem, they can also fix them. As Turner points out in her third installment today, signs are already helping to take the confusion and congestion out of London's Underground—and the city in general—by directing people to stay above ground and walk, with the help of some new signs, of course. Granted Grand Central Terminal does not face the hodge podge of constraints Penn Station does, nor was it decimated by Robert Moses, but during a stroll through last night, it was clear to us how relatively easy it can be to get this right. Given how long it's taken to get Moynihan Station off the ground, and the obstinacy of transit bureaucracies to begin with, we'd be surprised if anything gets done before the arrival of the new station. Let's just hope they heed this warning and get it right next time.
On a day when the MTA announced that its budget shortfall may now surpass $400 million as last year's payroll tax is bringing in even less revenue than expected, Mayor Michael Bloomberg began his day underground. He and MTA chief Jay Walder were touring a new station underway at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, the terminus of the underway 7-Train extension. At least during boom times, the project was seen as a boon to residential development on the Far West Side. Now, with construction limited and the MTA in desperate need of money, transit advocates like the Straphanger's Campaign and the City Council continue to call for tapping capital funds—namely stimulus set-asides—to help cover the gap. And if two recent projects are any indication, maybe that's not a bad idea. Perhaps, on their way to today's photo op, Bloomberg or Walder picked up a copy of amNY. Therein, they would have seen reports by Heather Hadon detailing leaks at two recently completed MTA projects, South Ferry and Cortlandt Street stations, both of which are said to be leaking. If this is where all that capital money is going, perhaps we'd be better off with more trains, albeit dingier ones. The MTA and others insist that using capital funds is only a stop gap solution, while the MTA needs real, sustainable reform. This may be true, but it would help if the work that was getting done weren't so shoddy. What'll people think when the Starn brother's mural starts to run. Or the fancy new BRT buses catch a flat?
Sometimes, bad news can be good news. That's the conclusion we came to when we saw the map above, posted on the MTA-obsessed blog 2nd Ave. Sagas. On Friday, the MTA announced its revised set of Doomsday 2.0 service cuts, which include slightly fewer bus route eliminations and maybe not quite-so-bad service (get the very detailed details on the Sagas blog). But as Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphanger's Campaign, put it in an email today, "the cuts still stink." Except for one. While the MTA has still recommended eliminating the W-Train and most of the G in Queens, the elimination of the M-Train will be coupled with the extension of the V into Brooklyn and Queens, providing residents of South Williamsburg, Bushwick, northern BedStuy, and Ridgewood a far more convenient route to Midtown than the morass that is a Canal Street transfer. Russianoff does dampen the parade somewhat with this caveat: "The M platforms are shorter than the V (480 feet instead of 600 feet), so the new line would be composed of a smaller number of cars. The MTA materials admit there would be an increase in crowding, but don’t describe how much." But in further good news, the revised cuts also call off the elimination of the Z Express, which would have made the trip in from parts of Queens interminable. We won't venture to guess whether the proposed V service has anything to do with the affected areas continued gentrification, but it does remind us of another bad-news-is-good situation on the aforementioned, afflicted G. The impending closure the Smith/9th Street station, while a pain in the ass for Redhook residents, has become a blessing for their southern neighbors, as the G must turn around quite a ways further down the line, with service now extended five stops further to Church Avenue. Denizens of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, and Kensington are among the grateful. We're still begging the MTA not to make any cuts, though here's hoping they might make this V-Train change no matter what. As for bad news that is bad news, Bob Noorda, the graphic designer who created the iconic, unmistakable subway signage, died two weeks ago according to an obit in the Times. Perhaps compose your next email, blog post, or tweet in Helvetica in his honor.
With the loss in yesterday's Massachusetts special election no doubt hanging heavily over the White House today, the Obama administration can at least take solace in the fact it's done at least one thing right. Planetizen points us to a Brookings Institution report from Friday that gives the 44th president an A- grade for infrastructure from his first year, meaning there's still room for improvement (launch an infrastructure bank) but things are generally pretty good (high speed rail, grid upgrades, job creation). Meanwhile, MTA chief Jay Walder released a rather presidential sounding First 100 Days report [PDF] on Friday, outlining everything he'd learned since joining his hometown transit agency from London. The purpose is clear from the title, "Making Every Dollar Count," and makes sense given the MTA's dire financial predicament, which has gotten worse lately (revenues are down another $104 million), though thankfully for the MTA there are no cuts in the new state budget unveiled yesterday. Among Walder's recommendations include streamlining operations, cutting overtime, and improving reliability and responsiveness. You can read the report for more details, or just watch the handy video above.
The good news continues for mass transit, as the MTA announced today that the first phase of construction on the extension of the 7 Train has been completed, stretching from 26th to 34th steets, where trains will be housed as they shuttle back-and-forth between the West Side and Flushing, Queens. The Bloomberg administration, which is paying for the $2.1 billion project, put together this nice video to help demonstrate the subterranean, and thus often invisible, work. It's the kind of stuff New York mag is calling in its annual roundup a reason to love the city: our perseverance on such mighty projects, past falterings be damned. And yet, these are exactly the kinds of capital expenditures some transit advocates are hoping to cut into to stave off the MTA's budget crunch. Will the next stop be to stop?
Not since the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year has a major bastion in the city seemed to fall apart so quickly and readily as the MTA over the past few weeks. As the Times succinctly puts it, "state legislators cut $143 million out of the authority’s budget; state accountants then determined that a payroll tax dedicated to mass transit financing would produce $100 million less revenue than initially thought. Finally, late last week, a court ruled that the authority must pay significant raises to transit workers, adding tens of millions of dollars in expenses." The MTA is required to fill the $400 million budget hole this created because it must end the year with a balanced budget. And so a range of service cuts were ratified today by the agency's board, including the elimination of subway and bus lines, reduced off-peak service and para-transit, and no more free rides for half-a-million students. While all these cuts—which do not take affect until July 1—are a disgrace to riders, the latter two may seem particularly onerous for good reason: they are so politically charged (think Helen Lovejoy) they will almost certainly be reversed, and indeed Governor Patterson has already called for the reinstatement of student MetroCards. But that only restores about $170 million, so what about the rest? We've been here before with these proposed service cuts, and the consensus among transit advocates is it will never come to that or super fare hikes. But with the MTA bailed out once already this year, a return to bridge tolls or other new revenue streams seems equally unlikely. Another proposal that has been gaining steam is dipping into the authority's capital funds, temporarily syphoning funds off, say, the Second Avenue Subway, to temporarily cover the gap. The Straphanger's Campaign has been pushing this approach, as its long-held belief is general service over flashy megaprojects, and it has been taken up by the City Council as well, a number of whose members rallied at today's board meeting. But the mayor has long opposed such a move because these projects are considered a boon to economic development, an argument echoed by the venerable RPA and upheld by the MTA. "Diverting money from the capital program as a one-shot stop-gap fix for the operating budget is what led the system into the decline that characterized the system in the 1970s and early 1980s," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an email. "It took decades to recover from that." Fortunately, this is only the beginning of the end, as we live to see another doomsday.