Innovator of the Year: Tesla

smart cities dive . com

Biggest announcement:
Superchargers in urban areas, which give Tesla a stronger foothold in the growing EV market.

Biggest project to watch:
The Hyperloop. An underground tunnel offering superfast travel between cities would be incredible. But there’s red tape and large costs in the way.

From announcements about flying cars to newly-launched data portals and products to make cities more connected, 2017 has seen significant innovations across countless cities. However, one company generated and delivered a steady flow of news: Tesla.

Disappointing third quarter earnings did not keep its CEO, Elon Musk, from making headlines all year. Musk’s projects and proclamations cover a variety of areas, with some focused on smart cities.

To name just a few: A demonstration that nanogrids could be effective for large buildings, a solar panel product that replaces roofing, and a Boring Company initiative that could change traffic flows. And, yes, there’s the Hyperloop — now Virgin Hyperloop One — an underground train system that’s had some successful tests and could revolutionize the way cities are connected.

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NYC should get eight new subway lines and extensions, report says

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Lots of great ideas last few days…but nobody puts a dime on the plate!

Last week, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) published its Fourth Regional Plan, a sweeping report that recommends 61 actionable steps aimed at improving the New York metropolitan area’s infrastructure, housing and environment in order to allow it to thrive in the coming century.

Upon its release, the plan caught a good deal of flack for a proposal to slash 24-hour subway service in order to extend windows for track updates and maintenance. But that audacious idea is just the tip of the iceberg—the RPA has put out a whole slew of interesting recommendations that, if put into action, could radically change the way millions of people navigate and live in New York City.

One of those recommendations comes in the form of eight new subway lines and extensions, which would provide train access to entire stretches of the city that are currently without it. In its report, the RPA points out that more than one-third of New York City’s residents do not live within walking distance of a subway station. The organization’s proposed changes to the subway system are coupled with its idea of a new, unified regional rail system called the Trans-Regional Express (or T-REX). Together, they’d expand train access to cover millions of additional people in New York City and the surrounding area.

Perhaps the most notable of the RPA’s proposed subway additions surrounds the Second Avenue subway project (which the RPA strongly advocated for in its Third Regional Plan in 1996). The plan advocates for the line to extend from its current terminus at 96th Street to the Grand Concourse rail line, connecting it to a new terminal at 149th Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx. It also proposes that the line (or the T) should veer westward at 125th Street, providing much-needed subway access access to East Harlem and Harlem and connecting to seven other subway lines in the process.

On top of the long-awaited Second Avenue expansion, the RPA has plenty of other consequential (albeit slightly less buzzworthy) suggestions. Those include extending the 7 train south from Hudson Yards and adding two stops at 23rd and 14th Streets in Chelsea; extending the Astoria Line to 21st Street and 20th Avenue; building a new Northern Line in Queens to serve Flushing and College Point; adding a new 5.7-mile Jewel Avenue line to serve “the transit deserts of Pomonok and Fresh Meadows in Central Queens” and extend the subway to the city’s eastern edge; extending 4 train service in Brooklyn down to Flatbush Avenue; and extending 2 and 5 service in the same borough down to Avenue Y. You can see a full map of the proposal below.

It’s worth pointing out that the recommendations put out by the RPA do not carry any legal weight or a mandate. That said, the organization is incredibly influential. Over the past 95 years, it has had a major hand in shaping the layout of New York City. From proposing the current location of the George Washington Bridge to pushing for the formation of the MTA, the RPA’s fingerprints are present in virtually ever corner of the region.

There’s a lot to take in from the plan (we’ll continue to write about takeaways in the coming weeks), and finding ways to implement many of its proposals will be a lengthy process. But while the powers that be work on bringing New York’s infrastructure into the 21st century, it’s certainly fun to imagine a version of the city where the subway system is reliable, accessible and all-inclusive.

50 Years Ago: Big Change in NY Central Train Service

Fifty years ago this weekend, the famous “name” trains of the New York Central — the 20th Century Limited, the Wolverine, the Empire State Express and others — made their last runs.

In their place were a couple of long-distance overnight trains covering the Central’ s routes between Chicago and New York, bearing numbers instead of names. They were supplemented by a series of short-haul trains upstate that together would be known as the “Empire Service.”

On Monday, railroad and local officials gathered at the Rensselaer rail station to mark the 50th anniversary of the Empire Service, which has grown to be one of the busiest corridors on the nationwide Amtrak system.

The idea of fast, frequent service on corridors of a couple hundred miles grew out of an experiment in 1966 in Ohio where the Central set a speed record of 183 mph with a diesel passenger car set, said Mike R. Weinman, then an operating management trainee with the New York Central.

Robert D. Timpany, then the railroad’s assistant vice president, operating administration, touted this as the future of rail passenger service, Weinman said, and convinced the state Public Service Commission to approve the plan.

“He practically had to pledge his firstborn to convince them,” Weinman recalled Friday.

Early on, “cars were beat up. The dining car was a snack bar, when it was open,” recalled Dick Barrett, a railroad historian who serves on the board of the New York Central System Historical Society.

But the service began to thrive as the railroad refurbished its aging passenger cars.

“It was a marketing campaign,” said Bruce Becker, who grew up in New York state riding the refreshed trains and is now vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. “They refurbished coaches specifically for Empire Service. They were able to speed up the schedule.”

The effort succeeded, for awhile.
Weinman says it even made an operating profit. But the service became “collateral damage” as the merger of the Central with the Pennsylvania Railroad tanked, and the combined entity soon filed for bankruptcy.

Albany’s Union Station also was facing closure as plans for the new Interstate 787 required removal of the tracks. The merged Penn Central replaced it with a small station in Rensselaer, which opened at 11 p.m. Dec. 29, 1968, said Ernie Mann, a Rensselaer resident and author of Railroads of Rensselaer.

Amtrak’s assumption of service on May 1, 1971, relieving the freight railroads of what had become a money-losing burden, also led to another round of long-distance train eliminations nationwide.
“Not many people gave Amtrak much of a shot,” said Mann. “For suffering under the budgets from Washington, I think Amtrak has done very well.”

Ridership, helped along by various oil embargoes in the 1970s, climbed, and by 1982 Amtrak had replaced the initial Rensselaer station with a larger one.

That station, too, fell to the wrecking ball as a new, much grander station opened in 2002.

And while many of the name trains were revived, many routes were altered.

You could no longer take the Wolverine to Annandale (actually, Rhinecliff), no matter what the Steely Dan song might say.
The train, which ran between New York and Chicago via Albany and Detroit, today, operates only as far east as Detroit.
But the 18 daily trains on that initial Empire Service schedule back on Dec. 3, 1967, have expanded to 26 weekday trains on the current schedule.

Nearly 1.16 million people rode Empire Service trains in fiscal year 2017, up 0.6 percent from the year before. And the 855,176 people who started or ended their trip at the Albany-Rensselaer station in fiscal 2016 made it the ninth busiest in Amtrak’s nationwide system.