Category Archives: Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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

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

Mayor de Blasio wants to tax the “1%” to fix the Subway

The mayor of New York City wants to tax the wealthiest 1 percent to fund repairs and improvements to the beleaguered subway system.

The proposal comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, continue to squabble over responsibility for paying for repairs to the nation’s largest transit system that has seen growing delays, mechanical failures, power outages and even derailments.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota recently unveiled an emergency plan to stabilize the system. The governor offered to split the cost of the plan with the city, but the mayor refused to commit money to support it.

The mayor’s tax plan is meant as a long-term solution, not a quick fix, he said. It aims to generate nearly $800 million annually with the bulk of the money going toward capital upgrades to subways and buses, and must be approved by state lawmakers. A formal announcement was expected Monday.

“Instead of searching for a quick-fix that doesn’t exist, or simply forking over more and more of our tax dollars every year, we have come up with a fair way to finance immediate and long-term transit improvement,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday.

The tax would increase the top income tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals making more than $500,000, city officials said. It would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, officials said.

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra,” de Blasio said.

New Yorkers already contribute to the agency through other taxes and fees. De Blasio’s plan also includes funding to offer half-price fare cards for low-income riders.

The Rider’s Alliance said the push to help low-income riders “has never been so urgent.”

“It’s time to end a system where low-income New Yorkers have to skip meals, beg for swipes or even jump turnstiles in order to get to work or school,” executive director John Raskin said in a statement.

From the Utica OD

Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems

Gotham Gazette

The original Penn Station was an architectural masterpiece. The most ironic part about removing it in a “monumental act of vandalism,” though, is that as a transit facility the original Penn Station had serious flaws. In fact, the platforms and tracks haven’t been significantly altered in more than a century.

Unfortunately, those flaws are growing more obvious by the day. Narrow, crowded platforms and grossly inadequate stairs and escalators are a constant source of delays, dangerous overcrowding and frustration for commuters. But most importantly, Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.

Twenty-five years ago, we could tolerate these inefficiencies, but passenger counts from Long Island and New Jersey have skyrocketed. Any major investment plan for Penn Station must be focused on solving the cause of commuters’ misery. Amtrak’s Gateway Program and the new Moynihan Station, if optimized, could do so.

Phase 1 of Gateway would add two new critically-needed tracks between Newark and Penn Station. Phase 2 of Gateway, though, includes a new terminal station—Penn Station South. This would require the demolition of an entire city block at a price tag of $8 billion to build another inefficient terminal, and do nothing to alleviate conditions in the existing station. Those funds are better spent on improving Penn and regional connectivity.

This alternate plan would remove the need for Penn Station South, provide additional economic opportunity for the entire region and the opportunity to invest in projects that create smoother and smarter commutes. Through-running is the key to unlocking the ReThinkNYC vision. Highlights of that vision include:

First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.

Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.

This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.
NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.

In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.

An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.

New Yorkers once dreamed of, and then built, big projects. Now, in this post-Robert Moses, post-urban renewal era, planners are taught to think “politically” smaller. This approach has prevented us from addressing transportation systemically and holistically. It’s time to think big…again.

below is the same chart as the featured image.

Jim Venturi is Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio. On Twitter @jimventuri and @RethinkNYCplan.

FROM GATEWAY TO THE SUBWAY, TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS TALK SOLUTIONS

City and State NY

The deterioration of the New York City subway system is a failure of political leadership that spans decades. Beginning with Robert Moses blocking the Second Avenue subway and culminating in Gov. Andrew Cuomo draining a whopping $450 million from the MTA budget in his six years as governor, New York’s leaders have consistently raided or withheld funding for capital projects from the city’s mass transit system.

In the following interviews with state transportation leaders – New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg; John D. Porcari, the interim executive director for the Gateway Program Development Corporation; Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Chairman Jeffrey Dinowitz and New York City Council Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodríguez – we look at some of the possible solutions you might have missed while Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been passing the buck.

Gateway is a program of projects. It’s multiple projects that will eliminate a single point of failure for 10 percent of America’s GDP. That single point of failure is a 106-year-old bridge and a 106-year-old tunnel under the Hudson River. They carry about 200,000 people a day on 450 trains. It’s the economic lifeline for the New York metro area. Gateway will replace a bridge and a tunnel that were carrying passengers while the Titanic was still under construction.

I think the city welcomes the appointment of Joe Lhota as the new chair of the MTA. Joe is undertaking both a 30-day organizational review and then a bigger 60-day look at some of the deeper questions about what needs to be done to make some dramatic improvements to the subway system. We look forward to participating in those studies and doing what we can to help once the MTA puts some good solutions on the table.