Posts tagged with "Transportation":

Placeholder Alt Text

Taking Back the Streets x2

Before closing Broadway got her branded a car-hating communist, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan was already well on her way to transforming the city's streets. One of the most memorable events--and a sign of things to come--was last year's Summer Streets program, which, for three Saturdays last August, closed off a large swath of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street, with most of the course running up Park Avenue. (There was also a less publicized closure of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.) Never one to stand (or bike) still, Sadik-Khan and the mayor announced today the expansion of the program throughout the summer and across all five boroughs this year. Details after the jump, but first two quick thoughts: Brooklyn, with seven sites, is the obvious winner; and why no Park Avenue this year?
    Bronx
* Bronx Summer Walks – 167th Street between Gerard and Cromwell Avenues, Saturday June 20th, 27th and July 11th, 12 p.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Local Development Corporation of the Bronx.
    Brooklyn
* Williamsburg Walks – Bedford Avenue between North 4th and North 9th Streets, Saturday June 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th and July 4th and 11th, 12 p.m.- 9 p.m., Sponsored by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, L Magazine. * Summer Streets on Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt Avenue between Dean Street and Park Place, Sundays in June, 12 p.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Coalition. * Summer Plazas, 5th Avenue – 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Sunset Park BID. * The Sunday Scene on Knickerbocker – Knickerbocker Avenue between Suydam and Starr Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. * Pitkin Saturday Plazas – Pitkin Avenue between Strauss and Thomas Boyland Streets, Saturday September 12th, 19th, and 26th, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Pitkin Avenue BID. * Move About Myrtle – Myrtle Avenue between Clinton Street and Emerson Place, Sunday September 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sponsored by Myrtle Ave Partnership. * Montague Summer Space – Montague Street between Hicks and Clinton Streets, Sunday September 13th, 20th, and 27th, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Montague BID.
    Manhattan
* Meet the Street – East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue, Saturdays in June, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., Sponsored by Fourth Arts Block. * Stanton Street Summer Sundays – Stanton Street between Allen and Orchard Streets, Sunday August 23rd and 30th and September 6th and 13th, 1 p.m.- 6:30 p.m., Sponsored by Lower East Side BID.
    Queens
* 46th Street Weekend Walks – 46th Street between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue, Saturdays in August, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Sunnyside Shines BID. * Astoria Water Walk – Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard, Sunday August 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Astoria Park Alliance.
    Staten Island
* Van Duzer Days – Van Duzer Street between Wright and Beach Streets, Saturday August 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd, 12 p.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Downtown SI Council.
Placeholder Alt Text

Times Square, Slightly Tamed

I’m a Times Square avoider. It’s too crowded, clogged with slow moving tourists, for me to get where I need to go without being so frustrated that I swear to never return. On rare occasions, I succumb to the charm of the lights, but those moments are usually glimpsed from a distance, down a street corridor or out the window of a cab. But yesterday, on my way to an event in midtown, I chose to go through Times Square to see how it had changed since Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s recent street closure plan had been implemented. While I don’t think anything will persuade me to visit Times Square with any regularity, the mini plazas created by the closure of Broadway from 47th to 42nd streets go a long way in improving the place (Broadway from 35th to 33rd Streets in Herald Square was also closed). The increase in public space makes it much easier, and more pleasant, to walk through. The cheap lawn chairs—which look oddly right there, though they are already sagging from all the use—give people a place to relax and hang out, so that the square feels like a giant, and highly animated, street party. Sadik-Khan deserves credit for recognizing the potential lying under our feet and tires as well as the pent-up desire for public space in New York. The spaces are not designed—just some orange barriers and the chairs—so it will be interesting to see what DOT will do to make the plazas permanent. DOT is obviously making these improvements with very little money, but I hope that Times Square will get something beyond the standard-issue planters used elsewhere. It is a special place, special enough that I only need to pass through it a few times a year.
Placeholder Alt Text

The FiveThirtyEight on Traffic

In a feature for Esquire, number cruncher and future predictor Nate Silver ponders the continuing decline in per capital vehicle miles traveled. Americans are driving less. Significantly less, in spite of major drops in gas prices since last year. Certainly the economy has something to do with this. Fewer people are driving to work since few people have jobs. But Silver doesn’t think the economy explains the decline. He writes, in his typical hot geek fashion:
To sort this out, I built a regression model that accounts for both gas prices and the unemployment rate in a given month and attempts to predict from this data how much the typical American will drive. The model also accounts for the gradual increase in driving over time, as well as the seasonality of driving levels, which are much higher during the summer than during the winter…. The model predicts that given a somewhat higher unemployment rate but much lower gas prices, the lower gas prices should have won out: Americans should have driven slightly more in January 2009 than they had a year earlier. But instead, as we've described, they drove somewhat less. In fact, they drove about 8 percent less than the model predicted.
Silver believes Americans may, in fact, be changing their habits. He looks at recent home values in a variety of cities and sees that more car-dependent cities have fared worse than less auto dependent cities. Still, Silver presents cities as relatively static places, and planning and design are largely absent from his analysis: “In the real world, of course — outside perhaps a half dozen major metropolitan areas — American society has been built around the automobile.” For at least the last decades communities across the country have been employing a variety of means to promote walking and biking, from building mixed use, higher density neighborhoods, to adding bike lanes and light rail lines, to banning cul-de-sacs, to investing in downtown developments. America, in some places at least, is not being built the way it was twenty years ago. Certainly these efforts must have some cumulative effect.
Placeholder Alt Text

A Desire Named Streetcars

Yesterday, our friends over at Infrastructurist put together this nifty map illustrating the return of the streetcar to American pavement. One thing was conspicuously missing--or rather three things: "our" fair cities New York, LA, and San Francisco. After all, all three have a long tradition of streetcars, and while only one still runs them, albeit for largely touring purposes. Light rail and the like have been tried and proposed, though apparently not at the cost effectiveness of street cars. And there are new subways under construction... oh wait. Which is kind of the point. In an increasingly uncertain (transportation) world, shouldn't every option and ever possibility be on the table? New York, LA, and San Francisco are often heralded for their planning prowess. Well, let them put their money where their mouths are. There's certainly enough of it sloshing around.
Placeholder Alt Text

Beautiful Day for a Bike Rack

Last September, the LMDC began installing these fancy Grimshaw-designed contraptions on West Broadway. Their main purpose is to keep storm water from running into subway grates, which is achieved simply enough by raising them 6 inches. To keep people from tripping on them, Grimshaw included a set of benchs and bike racks, so they would be more obvious to even the most hurried or oblivious of New York pedestrians.

According to the LMDC, the last of the 16 Grimshaw gizmos have now been installed, and just in time. While they were plenty quaint during the fall and winter, can you really beat a nice bike ride on a sunny April day? And don't those two look so adorable. Finally, we think, it's safe to say that Spring is here.

Placeholder Alt Text

Stimulating High-Speed Rail

This afternoon, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled a map of possible high-speed rail corridors, with clusters on both coasts, in the North and the South. The plan contains few surprises, and is, in fact, merely a “Vision,” as the Recovery Act includes $8 billion in high-speed rail funding, a tiny faction of what this system would cost overall. Of that, governors are already jockeying for large chunks, including California, which is lobbying for half of the pie and a coalition of Midwestern governors is looking for $3.5 billion for a Chicago-based network. LaHood said that money for individual projects will be doled out at the end of the summer. With airports and highway capacities stretched to the limit, high-speed rail investment seems like a smart augmentation to the national transportation system. Time will tell if we have the will to build such a system. Perhaps the Detroit automakers could be pressed into service building new train cars. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate reversal of fortune?
Placeholder Alt Text

Back on the Map

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

Shovels in the Ground

Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.
However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]
The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.
Placeholder Alt Text

Transit + Art = THE FUTURE

This week Pasadena's Art Center College hosted its summit, Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility. Lots of interesting ideas, some of them making us realize that despite our financial ruin, science fiction has already arrived (even if we can't pay for it). These include Leik Myrabo's laser-powered rocket ship (no, we're not making that up), Neville Mars' constantly-moving subway, his plan for "dynamic density," and his floating city, and Paul Wilbur's plug-in, ultra-aerodynamic Aptera car. One of the most interesting ideas, though, came from an Art Center student... Jake Loniak's Deus Ex Machina (pictured above), powered by high-energy-density batteries, is a vehicle that's essentially an extension of the body, or a "wearable motorcycle." Moving up to 75 mph, the three-wheeled, stand-up machine, supported with a column of "vertabrae", is controlled through the movement of your muscles. Just be careful when you get mad in traffic and want to start flashing signs at people... Can we have one?
Placeholder Alt Text

On the Right Track?

Yesterday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. The process of doling out the spoils begins, as we wait, and hope, for the desired economic recovery. One piece of good news for urbanites and green transportation advocates, the bill includes $8 billion for high-speed rail, according to Politico. Additional funding is expected at $1 billion annually for the next five years, through the normal budgetary stream. This represents a major increase in high speed rail funding. Last year, President Bush authorized $1.5 billion in high speed rail funding through 2013. Reportedly, Transportation Secretary Lahood has 60 days to plan how and where the funds will be spent. The rail funding is a special priority for President Obama, according to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “I put it in there for the president,” Emanuel told Politico. “The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future.” The rail-heavy Northeast and the planned California high-speed corridor seem like obvious recipients. Doubtless some in Chicago, and the down state Illinois district Lahood previously represented, will push for a Midwest hub and spoke-shaped system centered in Chicago. While architects do not typically design rail corridors, they do design stations, like this Calatrava-designed TGV station in Lyon, and transit oriented developments. Wouldn't it be nice to buy your Acela tickets in surroundings like this? UPDATE: The Huffington Post has a link to a 2002 Federal Railroad Administration map showing possible high-speed corridors. Which lines will make the cut?
Placeholder Alt Text

Keep Your Eye on the Oculus (UPDATE)

Even before the recession hobbled the MTA, the fate of the Fulton Street Transit Center was much in doubt. There had been talk of simply capping the site with a park, or building Grimshaw's pavillion but without Jamie Carpenter's signature oculus. But according to a report this morning on WNYC, the MTA has decided to go forward with an above-ground building, though it could be sans oculus. And, for better or worse, there will be more retail opportunities (read: a mall), which, given Richard Ravitch's contention that the MTA lacks a consistent, reliable funding stream, might not be such a bad idea. The WNYC report is not online, though confirmation from MTA prez Lee Sander, as well as the news that it will cost between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion, is. Furthermore, per WNYC, "Sander would not say what revisions have been made to the hub's design." But a source at Grimshaw wrote in an email that not much has changed--yet. "We are still the architect and the oculus still exists." In an interesting twist, the Post is now reporting that the remaining $497 required to complete the project will come from the Obama stimulus package, as well as more vague design pronouncements:
"People have been worried that we were going to leave a hole in the ground or construct a simple subway entrance instead of the iconic structure that the community was expecting," Sander said. "I am here to tell you that this is not the case." The original designs of the above-ground glass structure called for an oculus that would reflect light into the station. The plans were later simplified to only include skylights.
No word yet from Jamie Carpenter, though the MTA press office is hard at work on filling us in. For a reminder of what the project may or may not look like, check NY1's story from Monday. Update: In an email, Carpenter writes, "We are of course hopeful but I have no current information." Meanwhile, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan shed slightly more light on the project. "At this stage, we've reached a concept but no new designs yet," he said, adding "A three-story glass structure is about as specific as I could get." In the Times, Sander said pretty much the same thing, as well as making a strong case for its inclusion in the stimulus plan:
“The pavilion has to be many things to many people,” Mr. Sander said, referring to the glass structure. “It has to be a building of vibrant design with as much new retail activity as possible.” He called it “a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.” [...] “The project needs to be finished,” he said. “It does at this point appear to meet the criteria that Congress has put out, and from an economic stimulus standpoint, in terms of job creation, it certainly seems appropriate.”
Placeholder Alt Text

R.I.P. Z Train

As if last night's hearing about the MTA's "austerity budget" wasn't scary enough, the Straphangers Campaign held a mock funeral today for the Z Train to drive the point home, complete with a memorial wreath and a bagpiper playing taps below Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. The transit advocacy group chose the line especially because it meant many commuters on the J Line would see their commutes rise upwards of an hour. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to ask Governor David Paterson and state legislative leaders to spare the Z Line from extinction by voting new state aid for the transit system,” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the group, said by way of eulogy.  “It’s curtains for the Z unless Albany comes to the rescue.  If not, the Z will buried.” Though the Z may be most emblematic of the severe cutbacks the MTA is proposing, it is certainly not the only line affected. Service on the G Line will be cut short, the R Train will skip three stations at night, and like the Z, the W will cease to be. Additionally, four bus lines will close and 11 others will cease night service, as well as longer waits for buses and trains at night and reduced staffing at stations. The MTA is currently holding hearings on the new budget, which would take affect in July if a new funding stream cannot be established, such as congestion pricing or East River Bridge Tolls. There are seven more hearings planned in the coming weeks. Russianoff was joined at the funeral by two of the three borough presidents affected by the changes, Scott Stringer of Manhattan and Marty Markowitz of Brooklyn. "The demise of the Z Train is a somber matter--and not only to namesake rapper Jay-Z--but also because it represents a more serious problem," Stringer said. Not to be outdone, Markowitz cracked wise his most beloved borough. "Friends, New Yorkers, straphangers, I come to praise the Z train, not to bury it," he quipped. "Though the Z begins in Queens and ends in Manhattan, it is--like the J--Brooklyn to the core. When trains like the Z die, our city’s economy dies with them. This is why we grieve at this mock funeral today. Let’s hope these are not the Z’s last rights. Long live the Z!" But the high--or low, depending on your reverence--point of the whole affair was Russianoff's recital of a Z-centric version of Psalm 23:
“The MTA is my conductor; the Z Train shall not want … (hopefully). Transit officials maketh the J and Z skip-stop during rush hours, providing faster trips. They leadeth the J and Z quickly in the path from Jamaica, Queens to lower Manhattan. But now the MTA sayeth it is very broke and must still the Z, and addeth an hour more a week commuting time for many riders.” “Yea, though the Z walks through the valley of the shadow of death, it will fear no MTA plan: For thou art with the Z, Governor David Paterson. Thy leadership and thy budget staff, they comfort Z riders. Thou preparest new revenue proposals to stop the death of the Z; thou annointest the Z’s wheels with oil; the Z’s subway cars runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow the Z in all its days and the Z will dwell in the house of MTA subway tracks forever.”
And, lo, I could hearth yon groaning over mine Wifi.