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.
Posts tagged with "MTA":
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.
Many New Yorkers were headed for planes, trains, and automobiles last Wednesday as they decamped for the Thanksgiving holiday, but not new MTA chief Jay Walder and a clutch of Lower Manhattan pols. They took the subway to Cortlandt Street, where a re-dedication of the of the the northbound R/W station took place, its restoration—which we first noticed in April—recently completed. “The MTA has played a key role in the revival of Downtown, and we’re excited to provide customers with an improved station just in time for the holidays," Walder said in a release. The station first reopened in September 2002 following the 9/11 attacks only to close in 2005 to accommodate work at Ground Zero. It has undergone a few minor changes since then, including wider stairwells—the better to facilitate the hoards of tourists descending on Century 21—and an expanded platform. The walls look much the same as they always have, though, having retained the trademark tile work of the Broadway line, according to MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. And while work on the southbound station is only beginning, its reopening was also announced: September 11, 2011, just in time for the tenth anniversary and the opening of the memorial.
If there was any question Howard Roberts' resignation yesterday was forced, it can be put to rest, as his replacement atop New York City Transit, the MTA division that runs the subways and buses, was announced today. Thomas Prendergast will be returning to the agency—after a hiatus atop Vancouver's public transit system—where he used to run the Long Island Railroad, and before that was VP for subways. Though only 57, Prendergast has more than 30 years experience in the field, having begun at the Chicago Transit Authority out of college, then the Federal Transportation Authority, before joining the MTA in 1982. While Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphanger's Campaign, said authority hopping is the norm, it is worth noting that like his new boss, Jay Walder, also came from a system outside the country, arguably freer from the culture war that at times dogs mass transit in America. "Tom's work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service," Walder said in a release. Beyond technology, Prendergast's time in Vancouver may have prepared him all too well for his job at the MTA, where he will be faced by high expectations but a budget crunch. According to local Vancouver radio station News 1130, Prendergast never received the full support or funding for the ambitious projects he and others had proposed during his five years in the Great White North, though the TransLink board member Gordon Price tells the station that his colleagues departure "tragic" is tragic and his "resignation means we can kiss transit expansion goodbye." And already innovative programs are falling away—in a way. At a event yesterday to unveil 311 calling for the MTA, the Times asked Mayor Bloomberg about his plans for transit improvements he touted during his reelection campaign, such as Express F service and, most notably, free cross-town buses. Well...
“I thought it was a good idea, although, the real issue there, there’s two things we’re trying to do: one is to make it easier for people to go back and forth, but two is also to stop the delays from getting on and off the buses,” the mayor said. “That’s another one of these things down the road. I think there’s a whole bunch of things that we laid out that we can explore together."Good luck, Tom. You're gonna need it.
If you've been frustrated by the recent flood of delays on the Subway, don't complain to Howard Roberts. The president of New York City Transit, which operates the R142s and the various city buses, Roberts submitted his resignation today, effective the end of the month. The move did not come as a surprise to the Times, which noted that the move had actually been expected by many within the MTA because of failings over a recently renegotiated transit workers contract and, more simply, "a changing of the guard [...] is often accompanied by staff shake-ups." (Jay Walder, the new head of the MTA who accepted Robertson's resignation, took over roughly a month ago.) Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, lauded Roberts, however, for working under tight budgetary strictures and for implementing line "czars" for each subway. Still, it appeared to be too little, too late, as service remained relatively spotty, for which the former head of Philly's public transit often took the blame, as well as for enforcing an MTA rule requiring Sikh's to affix an agency logo to their turbans. Reading each others minds as usual, both the News and the Post point out in their ledes that Robertson will be awarded a $300,000 severance.
As we reported back in June, the activists fighting the Atlantic Yards project did not expect any of the various government agencies with oversight of the project to oppose it when they had the opportunity this summer—the MTA revised its sale of the yards, the ESDC approved a modified General Project Plan. What the critics were more excited about was the possibility of additional lawsuits, which, while generally unsuccessful, have helped stall the project nonetheless and paint it in an increasingly negative light. Today, a day before a major showdown over eminent domain in the state's highest court, Develop Don't Destroy filed a new lawsuit, this one challenging the MTA's sale, and it has an important distinction from the others. When we saw the filing, the first thing that struck us was the petitioners. In the past, only Develop Don't Destroy or local residents and businesses had been signed on to the suits. Now, a number of local politicians and a major transit advocacy group have signed on to this latest case. Maybe that's immaterial in the eyes of the courts, a case is a case, petitioners are petitioners, but it certainly underscores the growing opposition to the project. This is not to say prior petitions were invalid, but they did have the patina of NIMBYism. Now, this is much less the case. Again, we're not sure this matters, legally speaking, but given that Yards watchdog Norman Oder points it out in his typically no-stone-unturned analysis of the new suit, it obviously bears mentioning. As for the suit itself, Oder agrees with us that, like its predecessors, even if it doesn't technically succeed, it could still make progress on the Yards all the more difficult:
Even a successful lawsuit might not formally stop the project, but it could throw a wrench into Forest City Ratner's plan to have the state sell tax-exempt bonds and for arena construction to begin this year. As Neil deMause observes on his Field of Schemes blog: "The real question now is whether another lawsuit will make it too expensive for Ratner to get bond insurance so he can start selling arena bonds this month as planned."The MTA has so far declined to comment. UPDATE: Dan Goldstein of DDDB wrote us last night to point out that the Straphangers, as well as the Sierra Club, had been involved in one of the two prior suits, though no politicians. Also, we forgot to mention that this is probably only the first of what could be many more suits now that the MTA and ESDC have officially taken action. In fact, our June story emphasized the latter more than the former, which suggests that one is on the way, though Goldstein made no mention of it. And he's not the only one filing suit. Last week, as the Park Slope Courier reported, neighborhood groups have filed a suit against the state and Ratner for not doing a thorough enough traffic study. The groups are not trying to stop the project, however, but simply get Ratner to make changes to address the problems.
That would be Dutch for "Happy Birthday Sol Lewitt!" For you see, the Dutch have arrived in the city this week to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Henry Hudson and the subsequent founding of New Amsterdam. As part of the week-long festivities, they have unveiled a Ben Van Berkel-designed pavilion (above) down on the Battery that was announced back in January. But once those festivities are over, perhaps ours trans-Atlantic friends might head uptown to Columbus Circle, where the MTA unveiled its latest Arts for Transit project today, a 53-foot long tile rendition of one of Lewitt's wall drawings entitled "Whirls and twirls (MTA)." The installation was revealed today as it would have been the Conceptualist artist's 82nd birthday. (He died in 2007.) According to the MTA, Lewitt began work on the project in 2004 and it consists of 250 individual tiles in 6 colors all cut and arrayed to the artists typically exacting specifications. "It is a very special and unique creation because it is a permanent public installation of a wall drawing, executed in porcelain tile. Usually the wall drawings are executed in paint or pencil based on exacting instructions by the artist," Sandra Bloodworth, director for the Arts for Transit and Facilty Design programs, said in a release. The installation is part of the city's ongoing rehabilitation of the Columbus Circle station, which, in addition to the Lewitt installation, includes new lighting, flooring, and tiles, a new entrance at 60th Street and Broadway, and new bathrooms and newsstands. Back downtown and above ground, not all was high design, however. Yes, the Prince of Orange and Princess Maxima were on hand to help Mayor Bloomberg unveil UN Studio's New Amsterdam Pavilion (for which Handel Architects was the local partner). It's a nice little place that not only offers information about the surrounding neighborhoods and city but also goings on in the Netherlands—though what good that is to locals or tourists is not exactly clear. But by far the worst import was a windmill photographed by our fearless leader Julie Iovine, which looked less like a symbol of Dutcha pride than a new hole on some Lower Manhattan mini-golf course.
It may not have a marquee name attached to it, but work on the Cortlandt Street R/W subway station is another sign of the slow but increasingly steady progress at the World Trade Center site. Closed since 9/11, the heavily damaged station has stood as an eerie reminder of that day, visible to the thousands of riders that pass by it everyday as the trains creak and twist toward Rector Street. A gray dot on the MTA subway map represent the station’s there-but-not-there quality. The Cortlandt Street 1 train station is also marked with a gray dot. The words “World Trade Center Site” hover over the map in an even lighter shade. Recently, workers on the northbound R/W train platform have been laying concrete block and setting sparkling white tiles. It looks much like any other station undergoing refurbishment. According to a spokesman for the MTA, the northbound platform will reopen in December 2009. It’s a small workaday step toward reintegrating the site into the city fabric, but it also illustrates its complexities involved in construction there. A timeline for the reopening of the southbound platform is being developed. The entire 1 train station will remain closed until an unspecified date, according to the spokesman. To reopen the other platform and the additional station, issues of collaboration, permissions, and access must be resolved between the MTA and the Port Authority. The MTA will alter all the subway maps to reflect the reopening of the northbound platform. UPDATE: The MTA sent this statement clarifying when and why the station was closed.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Cortlandt Street R/W Station was reopened on September 15, 2002. The station was closed again on August 20, 2005, to accommodate excavation and construction of the Dey Street underground pedestrian concourse, a component of the MTA's Fulton Street Transit Center project. The concourse will create direct passage between the Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau subway station platforms, the R & W platforms, the World Trade Center site and its PATH station. The work building the concourse has been completed, but the Cortlandt Street station has remained closed because of a slight settlement that has occurred to the platforms as a result of work being done to rebuild the adjacent World Trade Center site. This settlement is detectable by engineering instruments, but does not significantly affect the overall structural soundness of the station and has not impacted train traffic through the station. Station opening requires that the settlement be repaired, which has been partially completed but requires further work, and that the station finishes and necessary stair and passageway work be completed.