Category Archives: 2nd Ave Subway

New York’s Oldest Subway Cars, Beautiful Symbols of a Sad Decline

In 1964, the New York City Transit Authority introduced the shiny, stainless-steel R32 subway car. “There was a very special inaugural trip that took place on today’s Metro-North line into Grand Central Terminal, welcoming the trains into New York,” James Giovan, an educator at the New York Transit Museum, told me recently. The R32s were dubbed Brightliners. By 1965, six hundred had been built. With their brilliant corrugated bodies, they bore little resemblance to other cars. They were praised for having the clearest intercom system. Their plastic benches marked the end of gritty rattan-wicker seats. The R32 was the train of the future, offering a vision of what mass transit would look like in fifty years—literally, as it happens, because, against all odds, roughly two hundred of the original R32s still operate on New York City’s C, J, and Z lines. They are the oldest subway cars still in service in the city, and among the oldest still operating in the world.

Amid a year of perpetual delays, terrifying derailments, power blackouts that have left riders stranded underground and between stations for hours at a time, service changes so counterintuitive and so alien that they could have been devised by Kafka or M. C. Escher—not to mention the century-old tile peeling from the station walls, the mystery stalagmites and stalactites, the rusted support beams, the countdown clocks that seem to operate beyond the boundaries of time and space—the R32, once a forward-looking beacon for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (which absorbed the New York City Transit Authority, in 1968), is now a symbol of its failure to update its technology and infrastructure. Many of the R32 cars have trouble maintaining their air-conditioning for the duration of their trips; they are usually switched out for newer cars during the summer months. Today, the mean distance between R32 failures is thirty-three thousand miles, meaning that they happen for those cars about thirteen times as often as they do for the newer R188 cars, which can go four hundred and thirty-six thousand miles without a mechanical failure. The C line has been ranked the worst in the system by the Straphangers Campaign more often than any other subway line, a feat owed, in no small part, to the ancient cars that service it. Those frequent failures can create delays that ripple throughout the subway system.

In July of 2011, the M.T.A. published a preliminary budget for the next three years, noting that the R32 cars were “already well past the standard expected useful life of 40 years.” However, “structural defects” had led to the “accelerated retirement of R44 cars,” and so the R32 would have to stay in service, the report explained, until at least 2017. Barring any further delays, the cars are now expected to stay in service until 2019. In the meantime, extended construction on the L train’s Canarsie tube will entail increased service on the nearby lines, a task that will partially fall to the R32s. That they are still in use at all is emblematic of the way the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has long operated: underfunded and saddled with the lofty task of carrying the entire city without pause, the M.T.A., by necessity, stretches everything long past its expiration date. According to a 2012 survey of the system, ninety per cent of the city’s stations have architectural or structural flaws. Knowledgeable observers have offered repair and upgrade timelines that stretch over half-century increments. Costly patch jobs required to keep the old cars running further deplete funds that should be allocated to the primary culprit in subway delays: the signal system—the central nervous system of the M.T.A., responsible for controlling the movement of trains. That system is still made up, for the most part, of prewar technology. The difficulty of securing funding and of scheduling repairs has helped keep it in place, along with the fact that the only way to update it would be through long service interruptions, which people hate. And so delays have become routine, and the necessary repairs have become lengthier to complete and more expensive than they might have been twenty-five years ago—when, according to the Times, the city first brought up the need to update the signal system.

That the R32s have endured through all this tells another story: they are genuinely a marvel of mid-twentieth-century engineering. They were based on a 1949 prototype by the Budd Company, in Pennsylvania, for a car called the R11, which was intended for a proposed Second Avenue subway line, the M.T.A.’s greatest and most famous delay. The Budd Company’s decision to build the new cars from stainless steel meant that each would be four thousand pounds lighter than its predecessor. And, even today, the R32s are more pleasant to ride, when they’re working, than the newer R160 cars that replace them during the summer. Their lights are a duller, softer white than those in the newer cars. Poles are located in the middle of the car, rather than jutting out from the seats, as they do in some later models. The R32 cars are the same width as those replacing them, yet they feel wider, more open. And there is no high-pitched dubstep squeal as an R32 leaves the station.

The Budd Company filed for bankruptcy in 2014, meaning that the R32s have not only outlasted their intended period of service but have outlasted their manufacturer. They have lived through eight mayoral appointments and ten Presidents. They are essentially your grandmother’s Volvo from the sixties, if that Volvo had millions of miles on its odometer and was responsible for getting your entire family to and from work, and if Volvo had gone out of business several years ago.

The R32 is, not surprisingly, a favorite of train nerds, as well as of subway professionals. All of the subsequent New York City subway cars—including the glitzy R179s slated to replace the R32s—owe much to their design. “When that car was brand-new, nothing before looked like that,” Giovan said. “But almost every car after it resembles it in some way.” And so, when the new trains of the future finally—finally—arrive, we’ll see glimmering steel machines with bright headlights, the direct descendants of a machine that lasted much longer than it ever should have been asked to.

New YorkerNew Yorker

2nd Ave. Subway Lures Foreign Investors — Especially Chinese — to Yorkville

The power of good transit is not merely one of the most important factors for New Yorkers when buying real estate — it also drives up interest of foreign buyers, as Yorkville is quickly seeing.

This quiet neighborhood on the Upper East Side, which had to endure years of construction clangs and clouds of dust during construction of the Second Avenue Subway, is undergoing rapid transformation since the new Q train stations opened this year, experts say.

Swanky residential towers rising in the area are attracting more families, as well as an influx in foreign buyers — especially from China — as brokers increasingly lure them to the neighborhood to take advantage of the lower price points relative to Downtown or even other parts of the Upper East Side.

“Yorkville really never has been on the map for them,” said broker Seth Levin, of Keller Williams TriBeCa. “It’s through educating our clients and the media reporting on the results of the Q train coming in that has brought it to their attention. If they’ve seen it in the media, it makes them comfortable. Yorkville has been reported on a bunch, so they have a comfort level that wasn’t there in the past.”

Foreign investors tend to look for something “safe” or “blue chip” when buying, he noted. They prefer brands they’ve heard of, like the Four Seasons or the Ritz, and continue buying on Billionaire’s Row because they keep hearing about pricey new developments on that strip.

dnainfo.com

East River tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

Think tank’s rail tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

It took a century to complete even a small piece of the Second Avenue subway. The ARC rail tunnel project was canceled after work began. The quest to build the Gateway tunnel has been dragging on. East Side Access, which was once expected to have connected the LIRR to Grand Central by now, is still about six years away. And the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, after 30 years of advocacy from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, remains just a hope.

Yep. Building train tunnels around here is hard.

So what did the Regional Plan Association propose yesterday? Two new rail tunnels under the East River.

But anyone who mocks the idea as fantasy should consider the list of big RPA ideas that have been ridiculed over the last few decades only to eventually come to fruition, including the George Washington and Verrazano bridges; open space preservation (the Palisades, Governors Island Gateway National Recreation Area); the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access (just about) and (probably) Amtrak’s Gateway project.

Crains New York

Things we wish would come to NYC in our wildest dreams

TimeOutNY

Every night, as we stare out at the evening sky from behind the barred windows of our tiny basement apartment, we wish upon a star that one of these beautiful things—from mythical subway line extensions to secret Times Square detours—might one day come to New York. Sure, that star is probably a delayed flight heading to our local third world airport and, sure, there’s not the slightest chance that any of these things will ever actually materialize. But still. A New Yorker can dream.

1. Build a tunnel under Times Square that only NYC residents can use.

2. Extend the 2 train to Jacob Riis Park. We love riding the waves all summer long at the People’s Beach at Riis Park, but we hate getting there. Those buses get way too crowded, and who wants to ride their bike after getting sunburned? Extend the 2 several miles down Flatbush Avenue, and make it the true People’s Beach.

3. Have an artisanal-coffee stand at every subway platform.

4. Install a zip line between North Williamsburg and the East Village.

5. Release a simple, vetted list of reliable brokers in the city.

6. Extend the G train to Astoria. The G treks through Brooklyn, but after Greenpoint, it makes only two stops in Queens. Rude! Keep that line going up Long Island City from Court Square all the way to ever-the-next-big-thing, Astoria.

7. Have all-night happy hours for neighborhood residents.

8. Create heated sidewalks.

9. Extend the Q train to East Harlem. Are we really complaining about the Second Avenue subway line months after it finally opened? You bet. Why the MTA stopped the tracks short of East Harlem is beyond us.

10. You know what? Just give everyone a free doughnut with their subway ride.

11. Establish actual crosstown bike lanes in Manhattan.

12. Require all bars to have coat hooks.

13. Unveil Uber-like boat taxis along the East River.

14. Extend the N train to LaGuardia Airport. Just imagine a world where you don’t have to lug your duffel bag from the subway to a bus or take an overpriced cab to make your flight. That piece of heaven could be yours if the N just took a bend eastward from its last stop in Astoria.

15. Add enforced express walking lanes in midtown.

16. Refund subway fares if someone’s train is delayed.

17. Require mandatory laundry rooms in every apartment building.

18. Clean up the Hudson River and install a man-made beach along the West Side.

19. Install free hand sanitizer dispensers at every intersection.

20. Finally provide subway stations that are truly, blissfully, air-conditioned.

So Why Is The Upper East Side So Popular?

A leafy haven known for its venerable museums, high-end boutiques, and close proximity to Central Park, the Upper East Side has a reputation for being one of Manhattan’s most charming—and, admittedly, staid—neighborhoods. Recently, however, the entire city seems to be heading uptown. With the opening of the first phase of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway line earlier this year, an influx of new establishments with a downtown sensibility is turning this sleepy enclave into the city’s hottest place to be.

Alan Chartock’s The Capitol Connection: How Cuomo can turn it around

I was recently considering what Andrew Cuomo could do to turn his low polling numbers around. As I have explained in the past, he doesn’t get great numbers upstate. He’s a Democrat, albeit a middle of the roader, and that doesn’t play that well above the burbs. Now he needs to worry about how he’s doing in the Big Apple and its environs.

The Cuomo name has always been gold in the city. His papa Mario has been worshiped as a semi-deity there for years. Since most people know little or nothing about New York State politics, the Cuomo mantel was all that was necessary for Andrew to get approval. But that was before the “Summer of Hell” on the New York subways and the commuter trains in and out of the city. As the appointing authority of the MTA, Andrew took credit for building the Second Avenue Subway so he couldn’t then deny his role in the collapse of the subway system even though he tried to do exactly that. Clearly, he and his cohorts had the mistaken impression that Donald Trump might help out by financing some of the work necessary to repair the mess in the sweltering, accident prone underground system.

So Andrew made sure that Joe Lhota, a real expert on things subway, now heads the beleaguered MTA. That was a good idea and Cuomo and his colleagues deserve credit for the appointment. The problem for Andrew is that Lhota, who already has experience heading the MTA and ran for mayor against — guess who — Bill De Blasio, is a Republican and a Giuliani protégé. It’s no secret that Cuomo has personal problems with De Blasio so he grabbed an opportunity to take a shot at his mayoral nemesis by elevating Lhota to the chairmanship of the MTA. Cuomo never seems to learn that people are fed up with his war on De Blasio. But he gets points for the Lhota appointment because the guy is good. If people perceive that Cuomo is moving aggressively in a bi-partisan manner they may return to the pro-Cuomo fold.

If I were giving Andrew some other advice, I think I would suggest that he do more of what Papa Mario did. Cuomo, like Donald Trump, seems to have his own private war with the press. Papa Cuomo had regular press conferences which he seemed to relish. His son does not. Papa Cuomo was eloquent. Junior is anything but. If you are to win popularity in New York, you need the press on your side. My unsolicited advice to Andrew would be to work on his communication skills. He should make friends by just being honest, accessible, transparent, and open with the people who write and talk about him. That way he would be the beneficiary of a certain kind of respect and camaraderie that often exists on both sides of that relationship. Maybe Cuomo feels that because the press as an institution polls so low, he can afford to ignore them. What’s more, Cuomo should avoid trying to buy loyalty from some members of the press by giving them unfettered access. He tried that in the beginning of his governorship with disastrous results.

As long as I am giving him advice, let me add that he has to be very careful about the amount of power he gives his subordinates. One of the reasons why his numbers are so low is that several of his former close associates face trials that could land them in jail for a good part of their lives. Not only that, his treatment of his fellow political actors like Tom DiNapoli, the state Comptroller, and Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General, has been disgraceful. People don’t like that. He needs to learn how to play nice. Maybe then his numbers will rise from the low point where they now reside.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at alan@wamc.org.

He publishes in the Troy Record

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Is Doomed for the Worst Reason

Regulations are killing America’s boldest dreams.

When Elon Musk tweeted that he had “verbal govt approval” to build a Hyperloop to carry passengers from New York to Washington in half an hour, everyone with a lick of sense about transportation rolled their eyes. It was obviously delusion, fantasy, and hype — science-fiction nonsense.

In a different era, skeptics would have focused on the technology: a magnetic levitation system shooting passenger pods along through a tunnel that maintains a near-vacuum for hundreds of miles. Gee whiz! That’s impossible!

But nowadays we’re blasé about technological challenges. If geeks can put a supercomputer in everyone’s pocket, we imagine they can build a mag-lev pod transit system. Musk does, after all, have his own space program.

No, what makes Musk’s Hyperloop plan seem like fantasy isn’t the high-tech part. Shooting passengers along at more than 700 miles per hour seems simple — engineers pushed 200 miles-per-hour in a test this week — compared to building a tunnel from New York to Washington. And even digging that enormously long tunnel — twice as long as the longest currently in existence — seems straightforward compared to navigating the necessary regulatory approvals.

We live in a world where atoms are much harder to do anything with than bits — and where atoms that require regulatory permission are the hardest of all. The eye-rolling comes less from the technical challenges than from the bureaucratic ones.

With his premature declaration, Musk is doing public debate a favor. He’s reminding us of what the barriers to ambitious projects really are: not technology, not even money, but getting permission to try. “Permits harder than technology,” Musk tweeted after talking with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti about building a tunnel network. That’s true for the public sector as well as the private.

“For some urban context: a recently opened stretch of subway in New York cost $4.5 billion for less than 2 miles of rails. It was first proposed in 1919 and opened to the public in January 2017,” wrote Bloomberg’s Tom Randall, concluding drily. “These things take time.”

The Second Avenue subway is an extreme example of a general phenomenon. As I’ve previously written, a large infrastructure project may take three or four years of actual construction. But the work can’t even get started until there’s been a decade or more of planning and design. The bottleneck isn’t the actual construction, in other words. It’s the ever-more-detailed analyses, reviews and redesigns required — and often litigated — beforehand. (For New Deal nostalgics, this also explains why the stimulus bill passed in 2009 couldn’t easily include a full-blown Work Progress Administration-style jobs plan.)

“It took two years just to complete the geotechnical and environmental studies for the Chesapeake Bay tunnel project that’s about to begin” in Virginia, wrote Randall. And that’s just one of the states Musk’s Hyperloop tunnel would have to pass through.

The obstacles facing a run-of-the-mill highway, tunnel, or bridge are great enough. Throw in untried and unfamiliar technology and you’re asking for endless delays. Those delays aren’t, however, facts of the natural world. They’re human artifacts. They don’t have to be there. SpaceX and its commercial-spaceflight competitors can experiment because Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to protect them from Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Musk is betting that his salesmanship will have a similar effect on the ground. He’s trying to get the public so excited that the political pressures to allow the Hyperloop to go forward become irresistible. He seems to believe that he can will the permission into being.

If he succeeds, he’ll upend not merely intercity transit but the bureaucratic process by which things get built. That would be a true science-fiction scenario.

From Bloomberg View

Friday Is “Subway Day”! Start Of A Trend?

Just like some bloggers have established Thursday as “Door” Day, we are starting Friday as “Subway” day.

We’ve been over the ways modern infrastructure would help ease the crush of record ridership. But there’s no doubt, the subway system needs to expand. “Sure, it’s necessary! We have more people.”

So why does it cost 4 times per mile than in London?

Then it is not like Dubai, NY City has cables that Thomas Edison put in.

We also have high labor costs here because it’s an expensive city but also we have unions that aren’t necessarily the most efficient way to build a new subway.

And we’ve been building stations that are nice and big but more cavernous than they really need to be. On Second Avenue, the stations account for more than half the total budget.
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McDonald’s doesn’t have its own TV show. Neither does Burger King. Shake Shack doesn’t have one either. That leaves Wahlburgers as the only hamburger restaurant chain with its own TV show that you could describe as a program-length commercial for the brand. Then they own the new Wahlburgers at 85th and Second. This new location seems reasonably successful so far. Plus, it’s near the new Second Avenue subway on a portion of the avenue that has been fixed up considerably. Well played, Wahlbergs.

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Empty stores plague the streets of the Upper East Side like an epidemic. Known affectionately as the ‘Gold Coast’, this area was home to trendy store front like American Apparel, Reebok, BCBG MAXAZRIA and oldies like Filenes Basement, all of whom have since shut. in July there were 82 vacant storefronts along Madison, Lexington, Third and Second avenues between 57th and 96th streets. “That is a lot, and there’s probably 20 percent more that’s on the market,” with space that is occupied but available for lease. It was a LOOOONG Wait for the 2nd Avenue Subway!

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Council Membersare scratching their heads on funding. The hearing comes amid an increasingly testy fight between the city and state over the MTA’s recently announced $836 million rescue plan for the crisis affecting the city’s subways. MTA Chair Joe Lhota, recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has insisted that the city provide $456 million for the emergency upgrade plan to stabilize the system over the next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to bear those costs, pointing to an equal amount of city-issued funds that have been diverted since 2011 by the state from their intended use in MTA operations. De Blasio on Monday proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund the MTA, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by state Senate Republicans who would have to approve it. “You guys do not know how to spend a dime, how could you spend a billion dollars?”

Talk of a 2020 run for president? First Cuomo must deal with 2018

All those newspapers in New York City and it takes the Watertown Daily Times (a day-long trip from New York City) to put the current subway troubles in perspective.

Read this article…..(and Mr. Cuomo too)

They summed everything up better than I could!

Even If It Gets The Subway Fixed, The MTA Is Still Broken

The state-run MTA has four new people in charge: one for “innovation and modernization,” one for day-to-day operations, one for big projects like the Second Avenue Subway and one — Chairman Joe Lhota — to keep an eye on the other three.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t charged any of them with fixing the authority’s deteriorating $15.7 billion annual budget. Instead, he simply wants the city to pay more.​ The mayor is taking the bait now, reportedly proposing a new income tax hike on the rich — a terrible idea.

Last week, the MTA tasked Pat Foye, the former Port Authority executive director, with figuring out how to upgrade signals and the like. The MTA has also put two other people — Ronnie Hakim, a longtime transit vet, and Janno Lieber, who rebuilt the World Trade Center towers under developer Larry Silverstein — into a new “Office of the Chairman.”

All seem competent — though two of them, Foye and Lieber, are better at reducing the harm done by political malfeasance rather than reducing the political malfeasance itself. Which appears to be the governor’s preferred strategy.

Foye and Lieber managed to do good things at the Port Authority and for Silverstein, respectively. Yet the PA is still a mess, trying to build way too many things at once.

Lieber, too, did a good job of managing the private-sector construction at Ground Zero. But higher-level decisions about what to build saddled New Yorkers with billions of dollars in debt, plus the $4 billion Oculus train station.

Managing the effects of bad political behavior is no substitute for fixing the behavior. Evidence of that is in the MTA’s latest budget, released just as Cuomo was making changes at the top.

The good news: The MTA has precariously balanced its budget for the next two years, plus the rest of this year. The bad news: After that, things get worse. In February, the MTA projected a $372 million annual budget gap for 2020. Now, the gap is double that.

The biggest problem is the slowing commercial property market. The MTA expects to take in nearly $800 million less in its property-related taxes. That’s not because we’re having a recession; it’s because this market was overheated.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s attempts to turn itself around are costly. It will spend $484 million in extra money over four years to increase inspections and maintenance, including $281 million at the subways and bus division.

The MTA benefits from ever-lower interest rates, which make debt cost less. But it’s not enough.

The agency will take some steps to address the deficit — but many are unwise. For example, it won’t make $59 million in contributions to its retiree health care fund, even though it already owes $18.5 billion there. And it will divert $158 million from a construction account.

One of the MTA’s assumptions demands something of the governor: $260 million in extra state money by 2020, to make up for the governor’s decision, in his first term, to reduce the MTA’s payroll tax on small businesses.

And the request is half-justified, in government world. The MTA’s payroll taxes are coming in $138 million higher than expected. But were it not for the governor’s tax cut, in the MTA’s reasoning, they’d be even higher.

A governor who regularly spends a little something on pet projects all around the state doesn’t want to give up some of those precious dollars to the MTA.

And this extra payment just delays $493 million of the deficit to 2021, when, as the authority’s budget officials mildly note, “it will need to be addressed.”

The governor’s slapdash answer: Make the bigger payment under cover of funding a huge new maintenance push at the MTA, and make the city pay, too.

Just before the bad budget news, Cuomo and the MTA asserted that the city should pay at least $236 million in extra operating costs — almost all of the extra subway and bus spending planned. But this would set a terrible precedent. City taxpayers and riders already provide the most MTA money.

Strip away all the theater, and the MTA’s biggest financial problem doesn’t come from its operational failures. Its announcements to improve service aren’t some radically improved strategy, but what it should have been doing all along. “We need short-term emergency financing now,” Lhota said on Sunday — but the fact is that the MTA’s internal incompetence created this emergency.

The MTA’s financial problem is old and predictable: Volatile tax revenues, like those related to commercial property, are indeed volatile.

If the city gives more, as Mayor Bill de Blasio seems set to propose, it’ll be saying that when the MTA can’t manage its budget in the good times, the city will bail it out.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. NY Post