Category Archives: 2nd Ave Subway

Advance Tax Payments; Composting; Scaffold Law: Bronxville Mayor

Written by Mayor Mary Marvin:

BRONXVILLE, NY — Many of you have inquired, but unfortunately the Village is unable to accept payment in advance for taxes due in future years because the Village is required to follow the procedures set forth in the New York State Real Property Tax Law. Specifically, taxes can only be collected after the Tax Receiver has issued a tax warrant, published appropriate notices with due dates and filed a tax roll identifying the amount due from each property. These steps follow after the Village Board has established a budget, tax levy and tax rate for the ensuing year and after the assessor has published an assessment roll. The Village of Bronxville is even more unique than all other Villages in Westchester County since the Village collects school taxes and therefore cannot issue a tax warrant until we also receive a tax levy from the school. In other words, the Village cannot simply accept payment since we are required by law to follow collection procedures consistent with state law and on a schedule consistent with all Villages in Westchester County.

The following is a compilation of issues that have crossed my desk in the past few weeks. Though no unifying theme, they are germane to day-to-day governance.

As a follow up to my last week’s column on food waste, our forward thinking neighbors in Scarsdale and Larchmont most recently launched a food composting program in lieu of hauling food waste to landfills at a substantial cost to the community thereby depositing rotting food that releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Food scraps are collected in counter top pails and transferred to the municipal recycling centers at no additional cost. Pretty much everything is accepted including cut flowers, paper goods and coffee grinds. The only items forbidden include, plastics, pet waste, diapers and styrofoam.

caffold Law,” that make it truly the most expensive place on earth to build.

Under the law, unique to only New York State, the courts hold contractors and property owners, including municipalities and public agencies like the MTA, absolutely liable for gravity-related construction injuries, even if the contractor or owner had nothing to do with the accident.

The effect is astounding. The New York School Boards Association estimates the scaffold law wastes $400 million in construction costs statewide. Researchers for the Regional Plan Association confirmed that this law was a major driver in making the Second Avenue Subway the most expensive subway project in the world.

The law literally drives insurers out of the New York market or forces them to hike rates, now the highest in the country. As example, the Port Authority pays, on average, more than twice as much for “losses” on the New York side of a bridge versus the New Jersey side — same project, same contractors, same law of gravity — just different liability rules.

A unique and heartening coalition of groups including local governments, taxpayer groups and affordable housing advocates including Habitat for Humanity — just about everyone but the trial lawyers — have called on Albany to reform this. We are hoping for success in this legislative term.


Ahead of 2018 Session, Cuomo Mum on Pursuing MTA Board Overhaul


In June, as New Yorkers became increasingly frustrated with subway performance and braced themselves for the expected “summer of hell,” Governor Andrew Cuomo was the focus of intense criticism, responding with a series of measures he said were needed in order to fix the ailing Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Among them, Cuomo introduced last-minute legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a majority of MTA board members, a gesture some saw as an attempt to bolster his sometimes claim that he does not actually control the MTA and its beleaguered subway system. Currently the governor appoints a plurality of board members as well as the chair and CEO of the MTA, giving the state’s chief executive de facto control of the board.

Cuomo’s bill, announced June 20, the final day of the session — giving it minimal chance to be passed through the Legislature this year — adds two state seats to the MTA board appointed by the governor and an additional vote for the chair. The proposal drew swift criticism from board members not appointed by the governor, who believe the body’s independence is hampered enough, and transit experts, who see it as a cynical ploy.

The measure was not included in the final legislative deal of the session and the governor has been silent on the subject since, though his nomination of Joe Lhota to once again lead the MTA was accepted and the governor appeared to retake responsibility for the future of the subway system.

Cuomo’s board reform proposal came amid a debate between the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, over control of the state authority. The governor, while appointing the leadership and six members, has argued that the board’s organizational structure — which allows city and downstate suburban appointees to total a slight majority of votes over budgetary and contracting decisions — is flawed and has historically led to finger-pointing and dysfunction.

“Who’s in charge? Who knows! Maybe the county executive, maybe the president, maybe the governor, maybe the mayor,” the governor said, during a press appearance where he defended the bill.

“If you believe I have control with six [voting members], then you shouldn’t have a problem giving me actual control. And if you have a problem giving me actual control, you know what that means? You were disingenuous when you said I had control,” he added.

Along with the governor’s six board appointees and the mayor’s four, Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau Counties each get a board member, and Rockland, Orange, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties appointees share a collective vote. There are six non-voting members of the board. If Cuomo had his way, there would be 16 total voting members and the new structure would give the state eight board appointees and nine votes.

When asked whether the governor still stood by the proposal and whether he would promote it as part of his 2018 agenda — his State of the State speech and policy platform release will occur January 3 — a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said that the governor’s view on the issue had not changed but that the governor’s agenda was not yet finalized.

“The MTA’s board structure was purposefully created to avoid accountability, which is why in June Governor Cuomo advanced legislation to update it. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to adopt the bill,” said spokesman Peter Ajemian.“That design flaw still exists today with the city’s refusal to pay for the system without recourse, and the MTA’s inability to implement its full Subway Action Plan.”

Ajemian emphasized that Cuomo’s administration has appointed a new leadership team is still making significant gains with the half of the plan that is funded by the state.

While the MTA board approves the budget and the chair and CEO run the authority, there is no credible argument that the governor does not effectively control the subway. Critics, including de Blasio, quickly pointed to the governor’s attention to and oversight of the completion of phase one of the Second Avenue subway extension as evidence of Cuomo’s control of the MTA.

“The governor controls the MTA. That’s a hard, accepted fact in the eyes of New Yorkers, said mayoral spokesperson Austin Finan, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “What’s needed now is a new, dedicated revenue stream to modernize the subways and buses that city riders depend on.”

The current board structure dates back to 1965, though in 1983 Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, similarly attempted to add members to the board to gain a majority, The New York Times has pointed out. The elder Cuomo gave up due to opposition from then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch and suburban officials.

After the board convened and objected to the legislation, Cuomo appointed Joe Lhota, who briefly ran the authority before leaving for a 2013 mayoral run, as its chair — a move that was hailed by transit experts as a step in the right direction in terms of taking responsibility for the transportation system and its ongoing woes.

hRegardless of whether the governor decides to move forward with controversial MTA board restructuring, he and his chair seized a collective unilateral control over much of the authority’s actions.

Days after appointing Lhota, Cuomo declared a state of emergency at the MTA, ordering Lhota to assess the transit authority’s needs within 60 days. The administration has extended the order every 30 days, granting Lhota the authority to execute many contracts without a board vote.

“State of Emergency declarations must be renewed every 30 days, and as such, the Governor has renewed MTA’s order every 30 days so the MTA can continue to work swiftly and without constraint,” said Ajemian in statement, when asked when the order would be allowed to expire.

While MTA board members interviewed by Gotham Gazette declined to comment on the record about Cuomo’s restructuring bill, those from New York City have made clear that the governor already calls the shots at the agency. At least one gubernatorial appointee, Scott Rechler, sided with Cuomo on the legislation, when speaking to the New York Times in June.

“Let him put 100 percent of his political capital, his expertise, his energy, his relationships into fixing something that is immensely broken,” he told the outlet.

The general consensus is that the governor already has more than enough power over the MTA.

To restructure the MTA board, Cuomo would need the support of Legislature, which is led by an Assembly member from New York City and a Senator from Long Island.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said no legislation had been proposed in the Assembly, so the speaker could not comment. A bill was hastily introduced and sent to the Senate’s rules committee on the last day of this year’s legislative session, and a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not return a request for comment.

Five Over-the-Top New York City Transit Expansion Ideas

In the last few days we have heard a lot of ideas for subways (except how to finance it). Today, the Village Voice comes in with THEIR ideas.

The Regional Plan Association wants to build rail and streetcar lines more or less everywhere to improve service and please developers, but money will be an object.

Featured image: The Fourth Regional Plan would turn Madison Square Garden into a Madison Square Garden–shaped train station.

Last week, the Regional Plan Association made headlines when it suggested that New York’s subway problems have gotten so dire that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not up to the task of fixing them. Instead, urged the report, New York should create a “subway reconstruction public benefit corporation,” whose sole purpose would be to modernize and repair the system’s decaying infrastructure.

The report is only the fourth in a century to be released by the influential planning organization, whose board is composed mostly of business and real estate leaders from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It lays out a master plan for the future of the region, including significant recommendations related to affordable housing and environmental protections, but its most ambitious proposals are for local and regional transit, a cause the RPA has long advocated. The last Regional Plan, released in 1996, called for a Second Avenue subway line from the Bronx to the Lower East Side (one piece of which, at least, has been completed) and the creation of a West Side business district (what would become Hudson Yards); it also laid out a number of grand plans that have yet to come to fruition, including an East Side terminal for the Long Island Rail Road (expected completion date 2022) and a rail line connecting the outer boroughs.

This year’s report includes a number of promising proposals that are within reach, such as congestion pricing, and a number of less promising ones, including shutting down the subway on weeknights to speed up repairs. But it also has even grander ambitions than the 1996 report, envisioning a hyper-connected New York region that, given the political and financial difficulties currently involved in even keeping the subway from collapsing, will probably never come to be.

Here, though, because one can always hope, are the five most dramatic pie-in-the-sky transit proposals from the new report.

1. Move Madison Square Garden: The report urges the city not to renew Madison Square Garden’s special zoning permit on the land above Penn Station when it expires in 2023. Instead, they suggest that the venue be turned into a second grand entrance hall to complement the converted James A. Farley Post Office across the street. The building’s cladding would be torn down and replaced with a curtain wall of glass to create a snow-globe-like entryway. The report claims this would allow for the removal of 200 columns that currently support the structure, which would enable further expansion and aeration of the underground concourses.

Who Would Benefit?: Everyone who currently hates either the Madison Square Garden building or Penn Station’s network of unfriendly entrances — so, everyone — and, presumably, real estate developers who could cash in on the freed-up air rights.

Why It Won’t Happen: A recent report suggested that moving the venue would cost some $5 billion and take more than a decade to do without interrupting any rail service. Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed doubt about its practicability, too, and no one can quite seem to agree on where exactly a new Garden should be put. (The report doesn’t touch that question.)

2. Summon a T-REX: In what may be the report’s grandest proposal, the authors lay out plans for what they call the Trans-Regional Express (or T-REX — yes, really). The “new regional rail network” would build on Amtrak’s long-delayed Gateway tunnel between New Jersey and Long Island, which replaced the more ambitious ARC project after the money for that was diverted by Chris Christie to Pulaski Skyway repairs and Jersey Shore ferries. Unifying the existing commuter rails would involve first building a new track extending from the Gateway tunnel to Jamaica, then one extending from near Grand Central to Atlantic Terminal, then a “Harlem Line New Express Tunnel” for the Metro-North extending from Wakefield in the Bronx to the Gateway. And that’s just the new construction in the city limits: There are also sketches for light rail lines between Newark and Paterson, New Jersey, and Hempstead and Oyster Bay on Long Island.

Who Would Benefit?: Future residents across the tri-state area, of course, but the plan’s regional rail proposals aren’t luxury projects. The report considers them nigh-essential supplements to Amtrak’s existing suite of Gateway expansion plans, which RPA estimates will already run into capacity issues by 2040 due to ever-increasing ridership.

Why It Won’t Happen: Cooperation between the MTA, Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the Port Authority is already strained when it’s not outright combative. Putting aside the question of funding, negotiating the rights-of-way for the dozen or so completely new track projects would take multiple lifetimes and require, as the report has it, “reforms to bring down project costs.”

3. Expand outer-borough subway service: In addition to building eight new Long Island Rail Road stations in Queens and significantly increasing train frequency, the report calls for linking a number of currently underserved portions of Queens to the subway. A new spur off the Queens Boulevard line at Jewel Avenue would connect the M and the R trains to Pomonok, Fresh Meadows, and Bayside, while a new train line, the “H Train,” would run along Northern Boulevard from Long Island City to College Point or northern Flushing. Also called for are much-needed train extensions in southeast Brooklyn, including an extension of the 2 and 5 trains all the way down to Marine Park and an extension of the 4 train into East Flatbush to accommodate what the authors call “the next wave of growth” in Brooklyn.

Who Would Benefit?: Tens if not hundreds of thousands of residents who currently have to take a bus to a train in order to commute into Manhattan, but also developers who would presumably be hungry to capitalize on increased property values.

Why It Won’t Happen: Even if there weren’t right-of-way issues to consider, the simple answer is a lack of funding and political will. Building four new stations in ritzy Manhattan neighborhoods took more than a decade. How long would it take to build a dozen new stations in East Flatbush?

4. Streetcars galore: The report reaffirms longstanding (and long-debated) demands for both a BQX streetcar line from Astoria to Sunset Park and a Triboro Rx (TRx, not to be confused with T-REX) line through the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, mostly via already existing rail corridors that could support passenger and freight rail. But that’s only the beginning: It also calls for a number of outer-borough streetcar lines that have never received major discussion before, including one from Downtown Brooklyn to Ridgewood and Glendale, one from Roosevelt Island to LaGuardia Airport, and a thicket of lines connecting Upper Manhattan with Fordham, Soundview, and other parts of the Bronx. “Eight streetcar routes should be considered,” the report says nonchalantly, and “depending on how well these projects progress, 22 more routes should be considered” for either streetcar or Select Bus Service (SBS) conversion.

Who Would Benefit: Residents of Brooklyn and the Bronx who presently waste away on buses that travel at a citywide average of less than eight miles an hour, assuming streetcars can get exclusive rights-of-way that are more clear of traffic than current bus lanes. Also, the growing number of people who take crosstown commutes in the outer boroughs — “more than 50 percent of New York’s job growth in the last 15 years,” the report says, “has occurred outside Manhattan.”

Why It Won’t Happen: Funding and right-of-way, mostly. But there would presumably also be unanticipated challenges in reviving a form of transit infrastructure that hasn’t been used in the city in decades, even if streetcar tracks would be cheaper than new subway lines. (The report’s authors note that streetcar lines, though far more expensive than SBS routes, would be much more likely to trigger new development.)

5. Expand JFK and Newark: Building off the soaring costs and endless slog of the LaGuardia renovation, the report calls for significant expansions of the region’s other two airports, which it notes have some of the worst delays in the country. Newark’s ongoing Terminal A reconstruction would be reconfigured for a thirty-year lifespan, then torn down to make room for a new runway. The airport would also have to be “adapted” (no specifics) to protect it from flooding fueled by climate change. JFK, on the other hand, would see the construction of two new runways and the consolidation of its six terminals into four shared-use terminals.

Who Would Benefit: Anyone who’s ever spent a long night suffering through endless delays at Newark or spent hours on the tarmac at JFK waiting to take off. Oh, and also any Newark customers who don’t want to see their airport underwater.

Why It Won’t Happen: Even the generally optimistic authors admit here that the two expansions combined would cost a staggering $48 billion. The Port Authority, they suggest, could generate that revenue through “airline fees and passenger facility charges” — sounds like an easy sell — but only if airport fees stopped subsidizing other Port Authority projects, as they currently do.

Ambitious though these proposals are, they would make transportation in and around New York a great deal easier, faster, and more equitable. Some measures, like airport expansion and increased cross-river access for commuter rail, will become no less than necessary as the region’s population grows and its infrastructure decays.

Already, though, discussion of the report has centered on its scathing assessment of the subways and the suggestion that the system close on weeknights until the repairs are complete. The immense cost of these repairs, plus the never-ending Cuomo–De Blasio–Lhota squabbles, may mean that the conversation never gets beyond that, and the region’s leaders never look past rebuilding to just plain building. If they do, though, they’ll find in the RPA’s report a robust (though expensive) blueprint for extending transit access to underserved and overcrowded parts of the region, and for capitalizing on opportunities to update aging infrastructure.

Should cross-borough streetcars and new suburban railways ever arrive, they will bring with them questions about gentrification and affordability. Furthermore, the report’s enthusiasm for redevelopment opportunities — as well as its suggestion that union agreements be weakened in order to bring down project costs — should be taken with a grain of salt coming from a board made up largely of real estate executives. The authors are right, though, that New York’s transit infrastructure needs to be transformed, not just patched up. The proposals in this report go a long way toward outlining what that transformation could look like.

Nighty-night for subways? Not in NYC


Ready to dream?

And we mean REALLY dream?

Picture a modern, wheelchair-accessible subway system, with new stations and new or expanded subway lines that wind their way underground through underserved neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
Think of a 24-mile new light rail stretching from Co-op City to Bay Ridge, and a single commuter rail network that allows for a one seat ride from New Jersey to Long Island.

Then imagine that the entire subway system is closed overnight.
Did you just wake up from a dream turned nightmare?

Welcome to the Regional Plan Association’s fourth regional plan, a 300-plus page document that could serve as the ultimate wish list. But be patient.

The agenda released last week by the research and advocacy group is meant to be a long-term strategy that looks at the next 25 years and covers the entire tristate area. It puts a significant spotlight on NYC, with particular attention to transit, roads, the environment and affordability. The big thinking is welcome — and rare. But many of the RPA’s proposals go beyond what’s likely or realistic, including new subway lines that would stretch down Jewel Avenue and Northern Boulevard in Queens, and Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, and even a rail tunnel that would connect Brooklyn and Staten Island. A second bus terminal under the Javits Center and the relocation of Madison Square Garden are among RPA’s other suggestions.

But there are also more realistic ideas, like prioritizing the modernization of subway tracks, signals and stations; adding select bus service; extending the Second Avenue Subway to 125th Street; and tolling the East River bridges and entrances into midtown to change driving habits and add funds for transit. All are worth serious consideration.
And it’s certainly smart to look for ways to get the subway work done faster and at lower cost. That might mean shutting a line or two for short periods when significant work is needed — and that makes sense.
But closing the entire subway overnight? Permanently?
Not in the city that never sleeps.

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

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.

Expanding Second Avenue subway beyond planned terminus key to system’s future

AM New York

If New York City and the surrounding areas want to continue growing, government must determine how to build a new subway extension in less than 100 years, according to the Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Regional Plan.

About a year after the opening of the Second Avenue subway’s first phase, the nonprofit association is publishing its plan Thursday, which includes proposals for eight new or extended subway lines to be built in the coming decades, as well as a unification of the region’s commuter rails — New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North — under one system, called the Trans-Regional Express, or T-REX for short

The 95-year-old association publishes such a plan every several decades to set the tone for planning discussions over the future of the tristate area. Its new report, a massive 351-page document, spans all sorts of issues pressing the region.
The MTA runs one of the largest subway systems in the world, yet more than a third of all New Yorkers don’t live within walking distance of a subway or train station.

The plan association’s subway expansions — some new ideas, others old — focus on connecting several key transit deserts, specifically neighborhoods considered low-income but with high enough housing density to support the trains, including southeastern sections of the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as areas of central and northeast Queens.

These new subways would intend to cut down some of the longest commutes in the city and reach what are now more car-dependent areas of the outer boroughs.

“The thinking that if you stop the development from occurring you will stop the rents from increasing is a false argument,” said Tom Wright, association president, during a briefing with reporters earlier this week. “The point is you have to put protections in place for those people. On a regional basis, you have to increase supply.
“This is going to be one of the political challenges over the next five, ten years I think,” he continued. “It’s figuring out how to put protections in place so those communities feel like they can accept growth without being pushed out, and figure out how to make that growth happen in a balanced way.”

While the Second Avenue extension cost $4.5 billion, the plan association also recommends overhauling the construction process at nearly every level — from environmental review, to procurements to labor regulations — to save costs and make these projects more realistic.

The MTA declined to comment on the subject of subway extensions or new lines before the publication of the plan Thursday morning.
Here’s a breakdown of new service proposals by borough:


Second Avenue subway: Extend the Second Avenue line from 96th Street past its next planned terminus of 125th Street and Second Avenue, to Park Avenue and then westward along 125th Street to Broadway. The idea is that in the three miles of expansion, the subway would hit underserved sections of Harlem while connecting to seven subway lines at four stations.

7 Line extension: Extend the 7 train from its current terminus at 34th Street down to 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, where it would connect to the L, A, C and E lines.


Utica Avenue extension: Build a new subway under Utica Avenue, from Eastern Parkway to Flatbush Avenue, extending 4 train service by four miles.

Nostrand Avenue line extension: Build out the Nostrand Avenue line 2.7 miles south to Avenue Z, connecting 2 and 5 trains farther into Flatlands, Midwood, Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay.


Northern Boulevard line: Create a new 3.7-mile subway line running from 36th Street and Northern Boulevard to Willets Point, where it could either continue east to serve north Flushing and Mitchell-Linden or turn north to pass under Flushing Bay to College Point.
Jewel Avenue line: Build a 5.7-mile Jewel Avenue line that would branch off the Queens Boulevard line to the transit deserts of Pomonok and Fresh Meadows in central Queens.

Astoria line extension: Add a 0.8-mile extension to hook service closer to the East River at 21st Street and 20th Avenue. A new yard would be constructed on the northern side of Ditmars Boulevard along 20th Street.

The Bronx

Second Avenue extension: In addition to an expansion out west, the plan association calls for a northern expansion to the Grand Concourse at 149th Street to connect to the 2, 4 and 5 trains.

The Days of New York’s 24/7 Subway May be Numbered


A new report suggests the MTA can’t be trusted to fix the system’s massive problems.

In brief, New York’s subways are in no short supply of two things: deep-seated, systemic problems and people who propose ways to fix them. Almost every day, a solution is put forth to unwind decades worth of deferred maintenance, bad political decisions, and infrastructure that ages by the minute. We look for answers abroad, nationwide, and often, here at home. In fact, there’s a vast community of NYC-based transit thinkers and tinkerers who have dedicated their lives to devising ideas on how our commutes can be a little less shitty.

However, most of the time ambitions fall upon deaf bureaucratic ears: after being asked at a recent board meeting about making the system more handicap-accessible, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chairman Joe Lhota was reportedly overheard on a hot mic muttering, “Like I don’t have enough fucking problems.”

With that said, the Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) Fourth Regional Plan couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Amongst critics, the 95-year-old urban research nonprofit—the oldest of its kind in America—is seen as a sort of master of ceremonies, crystal-balling development issues, and mega-projects in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut years in advance. In its time, RPA has released three such plans: in 1929, as the region was urbanizing; in 1968, during the great suburban sprawl; and in 1996, as the region recovered from two decades of decline. Then, the group called for, and ultimately influenced the creation of, transit improvements like the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access for the Long Island Rail Road.

The fourth plan, released on Thursday after five years of research, comes at a time when the transit landscape appears grimmer than ever, with delays and breakdowns now daily occurrences, and short- and long-term improvements measured both in years and billions of dollars. RPA argues that, although the economic picture now may look rosy for the region, dismal transit networks could hamper growth going forward. As we already know, New Yorkers are losing jobs and money due to subway woes.

The 25-year plan touches upon a number of issues and ultimately offers 61 recommendations to amend areas like housing, affordability, and the growing spectre of climate change. But since Tunnel Vision is a blog about subways, we’ll keep it to just transit. And to get the subways up and running again, RPA’s plan offers two major pathways forward.

The first would be, perhaps, the most shocking to New Yorkers: switching the subway system over to a ‘24/3’ model, where New York’s subways would shut down from 12:30 AM to 5 AM on weeknights, but stay open entirely from Friday to Sunday. As it stands, New York’s metro is known internationally for being the subway that doesn’t sleep. “But that’s why the stations look like they do,” said Rich Barone, RPA’s VP of transportation.

Shutting down the subways overnight would allow for more routine maintenance, which other cities that do close temporarily are better able to complete, Barone argued. The report found that only 1.5 percent of total daily ridership actually occurs during those hours, and asserts that the population can instead be serviced by overnight buses. The idea here is that buses would be able to better move people at that time, with less-congested streets. But few things piss off New Yorkers more than hearing that a shuttle bus is running in lieu of a subway.

Secondly, the plan asks New Yorkers to improve their tolerance for—or, really, get used to—12-18 month-long shutdowns like the one that inspired this blog. Using the L train shutdown in 2019 as an example, RPA says that wholesale closures of entire lines are really what’s needed to make them palatable to the modern age. (It was RPA that told VICE in April that the L train shutdown could be an “opportunity.”)

In order to do this, the report calls on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to create a ‘Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation,’ an independent entity, separate from the much-maligned MTA, whose single task would be to overhaul the city’s subway system in 15 years flat. This would include speeding up the modernization of the much-decried signal system (critics say it’d take 50 years at the current pace), and switching to a universal payment system, à la London (which is in the works). The latter would be beneficial for the myriad of transit projects—new and expanded subway lines; regional light rails; reactivated railroads on former freight lines; tunnels; etc.—that the report puts forward to keep up with the region’s rapid growth.

How Lower Manhattan ‘reinvented’ itself after 9/11

No part of town has more to give thanks for this holiday weekend than Lower Manhattan — a once-fading district that’s now home to more than 60,000 residents, new stores and restaurants, cutting-edge media and tech companies, and a family-friendly, 24/7 vibe for the first time since the New York Stock Exchange opened on Wall Street in 1792.

But a “part of town” is not the same as a human being, and those who lost loved ones on 9/11 surely have less to celebrate. The discomfiting realization rattled me at a new exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park City, “Millennium: Lower Manhattan in the 1990s.” (39 Battery Place, noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, through April.)

The show’s program calls today’s Downtown “a model of a 21st Century environment of living, work, and play.” Yet, just 20 years ago, the neighborhood seemed to be on its last legs. Photos, models, architectural drawings and news accounts recall how the district was reeling from after-shocks of the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash. Banks fled to Midtown, leaving older skyscrapers dark. A handful of residents lived amidst long shadows of office towers empty after 5 p.m. and on weekends. “Once-grand banking halls and storefronts” stood “hauntingly silent,” the show reminds us.

The Wall Street area of the 1990s was “ripe for reinvention,” the “Millennium” exhibition tells us. But nobody in government or business knew how to do that. Not until Sept. 11, 2001 was “Downtown’s identity . . . cataclysmically recast as Ground Zero, and a new era truly begun.”

Translation: it took the slaughter of 2,606 innocent people and the destruction of 14 million square feet of offices to bring forth, not patchwork change, but a sweeping reconception. Downtown today otherwise would resemble the same struggling place it was before the attack.

To accept that heart-wrenching truth brings up morally charged questions that “Millennium” delicately avoids tackling head-on.

The exhibition gloomily evokes Downtown’s moribund state in the ’90s. The rise of the Twin Towers in the early 1970s was supposed to arrest the district’s decline. But it was a false prophecy — they were filled mainly with state offices for a time, and when commercial tenants finally came from obsolete nearby buildings, they sucked even more life out of the neighborhood around them.

We’re reminded of misguided efforts to bring back lost glory. There were proposals for a towering, new NYSE building even when digital advances were reducing the need for trading floors, and for a gargantuan, 400-foot-tall Guggenheim Museum in the East River. A 1995 New York Times article, “Bringing Downtown Back Up,” chronicled fitful efforts to convert useless office buildings to apartments.

Some incremental improvement was noticeable by 2000. An influx of dot-com tenants helped to cut office vacancies from 28 percent to 15 percent. There were glimmers of hope, too, in proposals for what the exhibition calls “intriguing, often provocative projects.” Fanciful notions including a redesigned South Street Seaport “planted the seeds” for future resurgence.

Yet the message didn’t reach the street. When I reviewed defunct restaurant Bayard’s at Hanover Square in early 2000, I wrote of the “weirdly deserted” after-dark Financial District: “Make sure you know how to get there, or face roaming the … loneliest streetscape this side of film noir.”

These nights, you might have more company than you want — folks eating at nearby Stone Street’s dozen-odd cafes, stroller moms and tourists searching for Broadway’s “Charging Bull” statue.

For all the good will of the ’90s, today’s Downtown — as the show calls it — couldn’t and wouldn’t exist had 9/11 not catalyzed a floodtide of $24 billion in direct federal aid plus state tax benefits — and an emotional commitment by people willing to move there.

Companies like Conde Nast, GroupM and Spotify, anchors of the new Downtown office economy, would not have moved there without new skyscrapers that replaced the prematurely obsolescent Twin Towers.

It was easy in the years following 9/11 to lament what seemed snail’s-pace progress in rebuilding “Ground Zero” and nearby projects. But 16 years are not so much time in New York City, where it took nearly 100 years to open a short spur of the Second Avenue Subway.

We can take heart in our contentious, ultimately heroic response to 9/11 — and to the major damage caused later by the 2008 Wall Street crash and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

But — although we may recoil from the notion — little or none of it could have happened without a satanic stroke of destruction to re-set the stage. Let’s give thanks for what we built in evil’s aftermath, but never lose sight of the evil itself. Remember it next time you’re sipping wine at Downtown’s gleaming new restaurants while the Memorial waters outside pour into the abyss.

Brooklyn Startup Creates Personal Countdown Clocks For MTA Riders


A Brooklyn startup is selling what it thinks is the perfect Christmas gift for Metropolitan Transportation Authority riders: personal countdown clocks.

You’ve been there – you race to the train and if you’re lucky, a digital display tells you how long you’ll have to wait.

The NYC Train Sign is like a home edition that you can fit on your bookshelf, WCBS 880’s Ethan Harp reported.

“This is a slimmed down, commercial version for bars, restaurants and homes,” said founder Timothy Woo, who built one for his Bushwick apartment.

Models start at $300 and come wrapped in wood, metal or plastic.

“Some people want them for home décor, as art or novelty items. Some people buy it for sheer practical reasons,” Woo said. “They live very close to the subway and actually want to look up at the clock and know when to run out the door.”

With internet, you can track most New York City subway, Metro-North, LIRR and PATH trains in real time, along with buses.

“It’s posted in my window as a public service. So it’s pretty cool. In the morning, you’ll see a small group of people as the train’s coming out in front of my house,” said Woo.

What does the MTA think of this?

“They haven’t responded to us directly, but I’m sure they have a lot of other things to worry about,” he said.


This is the MTA verson of countdown clock

Everything you need to know about getting around NYC over Thanksgiving

The holiday will bring myriad changes to New York’s streets, subways, buses, and more

Brace yourselves, New Yorkers: whether you’re sticking around town for the Thanksgiving holiday, or planning to get out of town for the weekend, your commute is going to be affected.

The myriad transit methods available in the city—subway, bus, commuter rail, you name it—will have schedule changes in effect beginning as early as this Wednesday, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year. (It’s also one of the city’s gridlock alert days, when traffic is expected to be at its worst.)

And it’s not just people leaving town for the holiday that you have to worry about: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will also affect transit service, as will the consumerist nightmare known as Black Friday.

But if you don’t have the option of staying in your apartment all weekend, we’ve got you covered: Here’s everything you need to know about service changes this week on subways, buses, airports, streets, and more.

NYC subway
On Thursday, expect the subway to operate on a Sunday schedule, meaning there will be less frequent service, and there will be changes to various lines (including the 2/3, which won’t run in Brooklyn).

The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will cause major drama on some subway stations on Thursday; according to the MTA, the 57th St station on the F line will be closed from 7 to 11 a.m., and some stations along the route—including heavily trafficked ones like 34th St-Herald Sq and 59th St-Columbus Circle will also have entrances and exits blocked off.

After the holiday, the subway reverts back to normal service—though “normal” is relative when it comes to the MTA, and there will be plenty of service changes taking you through the rest of the weekend.

And on a fun note: The New York Transit Museum’s special vintage holiday trains begin running again this weekend; they’ll travel between Second Ave and Lexington Ave-63rd St on the F line, and then along the Q—aka the Second Avenue subway—from 63rd St to 96th St. Trains begin running at 10 a.m. and the last one leaves the Upper East Side at 5 p.m

Both the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road will be running extra trains on Wednesday to accommodate folks getting out of town for the holiday, and service changes will be in effect throughout the week. Here’s how that’ll look for each one:

Metro-North: There will be extra trains running on Wednesday beginning at 1 p.m., and additional trains into Manhattan on Thursday for parade-goers. On Thursday, trains will run on a “modified weekend” schedule, and on Friday, they’ll be operating on a Saturday schedule. Trains will run as they normally do on Saturday and Sunday.

On Wednesday evening, there will be 12 additional trains to Long Island from Penn Station, and six extra trains heading into Manhattan from various points. Ditto that on Thursday—to accommodate parade-goers, there will be extra trains running to and from Penn Station. More trains will be running on Saturday and Sunday as well, and that uptick in service will continue through the rest of the holiday season. Off-peak fares are in effect through the weekend.

New Jersey Transit
There are plenty of changes to NJT service over the weekend, chief among them the addition of early “getaway” service, similar to what the Metro-North is offering, on Wednesday; trains will begin running to and from Penn Station at 1 p.m. to accommodate holiday travelers. There will also be additional buses running on some lines from Port Authority beginning at 12:30 p.m.; best to check the NJT website for full details.

On Thursday, trains will operate on a weekend schedule, while bus service will vary by route. Friday will be modified regular service, with additional trains into NYC for Black Friday. Should you want to spend Black Friday at a mall in New Jersey (and if you do, why), there will be extra buses running to and from seven different shopping centers.