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 "Transportation":
California, Florida, and Illinois are receiving the largest pieces of the federal high speed rail pie. According to the a release from the White House, California will receive $2.32 billion for a forked line running from San Diego to Los Angeles and splitting in Northern California with spurs to San Francisco and Sacramento. Florida will receive $1.25 billion for a new line from Tampa to Orlando, with an additional line connected Orlando to Miami as a part of a "long-term vision." “By investing in high speed rail, we’re doing so many good things for our country at the same time," said Vice President Biden, according to a statement from the White House . "We’re creating good construction and manufacturing jobs in the near-term. We’re spurring economic development in the future. We’re making our communities more livable—and we’re doing it all while decreasing America’s environmental impact and increasing America’s ability to compete in the world.” Illinois will receive $1.13 billion to upgrade its corridor to St. Louis, far less than the $4.5 billion the state sought. While this may seem like a set back from Illionis, the Midwest region as a whole received several other significant grants, which should eventually link to a hub in Chicago. Wisconsin and Minnesota will received $823 for a new line from Milwaukee to Madison, WI, with projects laying the "foundation" for a line connected from Milwaukee to Chicago and a "long-term vision" for a Mineapolis to Madison line. Michigain/Illinois/Indiana are receiving a $244 million grant for upgrades along a line stretching from Chicago to Kalamazoo to Detroit to Pontiac, MI. Ohio will be granted $400 million for a new line conntecting Cleveland to Columbus to Dayton to Cincinatti. The Northeast Corridor, with the nation's largest existing rail ridership, is receiving a comparatively small grant of $1.91 billion in funding, spread across nine states and the District of Columbia. According to the Boston Globe, the complexities stemming from multi-state enviornmental impact statements hindered the region's bid.
The Regional Plan Association played a crucial role during the Great Depression, helping guide the Roosevelt administration's recovery efforts. While the tri-state advocacy group has been less visible during the current crisis, the RPA still plays an important roll in shaping transportation and infrastructure policy, both locally and nationally. The group may be jockey to kick up its profile as it replaces its outgoing chair, little known real estate attorney Peter Herman, with former MTA boss Eliot "Lee" Sander. Sander is no stranger to getting his hands dirty, as he wrangled mightily to get the MTA in order amidst Albany's opposition. He was eventually forced out of what he once wistfully called his dream job after the Paterson administration reorganized the agency, where Jay Walder now runs the show. Since then, Sander has moved to AECOM, where he is the "group chief" for global transportation. Last week, the RPA board unanimously voted Sander to be its head. "I can think of no better person who understands the challenges we face and possesses the skills to set a bold agenda for both RPA and the region," Bob Yaro, the RPA president, said in a release. This is not Sander's first brush with the group, as he and Yaro founded the Empire State Transportation Alliance in the late '90s to rally business and civic interests behind mass transit.
As automakers vie to release the next generation of plug-in electric cars, many eco-conscious drivers have wondered about the lack of charging infrastructure in dense urban environments. Unlike in, say, London, where charging points are being planned within one mile of every citizen by 2015, New Yorkers have heard little about curbside electric pumps. Well, if you’re looking for a place to plug in your GM Volt, one company’s vision of the future has arrived. This week, Brooklyn-based sustainable energy company Beautiful Earth (BE) unveiled their new solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, the first in New York and one of just a few in the world. Designed and built by BE from recycled steel shipping containers, the off-grid station sits on a lot near the company headquarters in Red Hook, collecting the sun’s rays with a roof of Sharp 235-watt photovoltaic panels. With a battery bank that stores electricity around the clock, the 6-kilowatt station can charge a car even at night, and could potentially feed unused electricity back into the grid. For now, the new station’s larger impact is more symbolic than practical: It’s only being used to charge BE’s company electric sports car, a BMW Group Mini E (though it would work just as well with any electric vehicle). A full charge gives the Mini E a little over a 100-mile range and takes about three hours, but shorter charging times are well within reach. “As the technology advances, easy charging stations will become increasingly realistic,” said Amanda Cleary, BE’s manager of sustainability.
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.
The feature that I wrote for issue 20 is about personal rapid transit. PRT, as it is called, is a mass transportation concept that swaps high-capacity trains for small "pod cars." These individualized vehicles run on dedicated tracks from origin to destination, bypassing all other stations along the way. Such a system is currently being installed at London's Heathrow Airport and Foster + Partners is developing a PRT solution for its Masdar City project, but the idea has been around at least since the 1950s. In the late 60s and 70s several prototypes were developed and tested for possible urban application, but—aside from a semi-PRT system installed in Morgantown, West Virginia—none of them were ever realized. The one that came the closest was Cabinentaxi, which was to be rolled out in Hamburg, Germany. A recession in 1980 sank the project, but luckily they made this lovely film before falling into the dustbin of history. Enjoy.
After more than a decade of waiting (up to 15 years, depending who you ask), a light-rail Breda train will depart for East L.A. from Union Station this Sunday, November 15 as part of Metro's new Gold Line Eastside Extension. The eight-station line, with stops in Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, will offer continuing service on the first phase of the Gold Line, which heads northeast through Pasadena and was completed in 2003. And today, I got to ride the shiny new rails on a private tour with 25 or so of my newest, closest friends, including Frank Villalobos, who acted as the lead architect for the project with his firm Barrio Planners. The Gold Line is the only train that heads north and south out of Union Station (the rest of the trains, no matter what direction they come from, all terminate in the station, meaning they all roll into the railyard in the same direction and must reverse to get out). So this S-bridge that travels over the 101 freeway to the south is especially unique. The bridge was also built in a way so it never stopped traffic over the 101. After swinging through the Little Tokyo/Arts District station, designed by Ted Tokio Tanaka, the line travels over the 1st Street Bridge, the 1929 structure which is currently being widened to accommodate the extra lanes of traffic. Bizarrely, all the historical elements from the bridge have been removed and are sitting down near the Los Angeles River below, like some kind of ruins. The train then heads up into Boyle Heights and its first Eastside station, Pico Aliso, where the bright Mendez Learning Center on the corner was also designed by Barrio Planners and has obviously laid a cornerstone for new development. Each station has its own architectural team and artist that created a neighborhood-appropriate vision; for example, here Korajack Srivongse designed the arched canopies and Rob Neilson picked 25 faces from the community to place in their ironwork. After traveling along 1st Street, due to Boyle Heights' narrowing roads, we plunged underground for two of the below-grade stations. We had to remain in the train so we couldn't explore what these stations from the top down but it was a trip to see one of the Eastside's most famous destinations rendered in Metro signage. William Villalobo and Alejandro de la Loza collaborated on Mariachi Plaza; Aziz Kohan and Nobuho Nagasawa did the second underground station, Soto. The Indiana station, where the line heads back into the right-of-way established by an old 1920's electric car, includes a station designed by Larry Johanson with artwork by Paul Botello that references the carvings and patterns by Central American craftsmen. We traveled down 3rd to Maravilla station (designed by Aspet Davidian with art by Jose Lopez) and then continued on to what is by far the most exciting station on the entire line, if not completely due to its design alone. A few blocks before arriving at the East LA Civic Center, the neighborhood explodes with bright mosaics from the Roybal Comprehensive Health Center, which zig zag into a bright green park with a lake at its center. The canopies here (designed by Villalobos with art by Clement Hanami) borrow from the vibrant colors as bright orange California poppies. Finally, the tensile canopies of the Atlantic station (the end of the line, for now) point towards the future with a purposeful angle, designed by DMJM with art by Adobe LA. The tent-like structures--which look more than a little like Denver International Airport's abstracted peaks--also hint at the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. Multiple celebrations (including mariachis, of course) will be taking place this Sunday to celebrate the Gold Line's eastward advances. Stay tuned for a full AN review of the line and station design--including an all-important stop at King Taco--after it opens this weekend.
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.
On Tuesday, voters in Cincinnati voted to reject Issue 9, a proposed charter amendment that would have made any passenger rail-related spending conditional on ballot approval. The amendment appeared to be an effort to block the proposed Downtown to Uptown streetcar line. Now that the ballot measure has been defeated, the Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that local officials appear poised to announce significant Federal funding to advance the project.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) approved a plan to extend the Red, Yellow, and Orange L lines. The vote clears the way for the CTA to pursue federal funding for the line extensions. Under the plan, the Red Line would gain 5.3 miles of track, four new stations, and stretch to 130th Street. The Orange Line would extend past Midway Airport with a new station at 7600 South Cicero Avenue. The Yellow Line would would gain 1.6 miles of track and one new station at Old Orchard Road. The CTA will begin Environmental Impact Statements, the next step in the federal funding process.
The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin today pledged to work together to implement a high-speed rail network centered in Chicago. In recent months, Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood have urged such coordinated action, as the region competes against other parts of the country, especially the East and West coasts, for federal funds. The first legs of the system would connect Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit/Pontiac, and Milwaukee/Madison. If all goes according to plan, those first segments could be open in three to five years.
The Path Train has finally entered the 21st Century. Yesterday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a number of new additions that have rocketed the rail line out of its luddite solar system and into a whole new constellation of technology. The Path now boasts new, up-to-date rail cars, an upgraded website (be sure to watch the video), and... drum roll... a Twitter page! Next time you have to ride out to Jersey you can forget the hair gel and gold chains and instead grab your favorite PDA and put on those glow-in-the-dark Ray Bans. The future is now.