Jim O'Grady is the transportation reporter for WNYC. He has also told stories on This American Life, Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen and The Moth podcast. He’s been a reporter for The New York Times; professor of journalism at NYU; and director of research for the Center for an Urban Future, a policy think tank. He’s also the author of two biographies: Dorothy Day: With Love For The Poor, and Disarmed & Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan.
Jim lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Jim O'Grady appears in the following:
Monday, May 20, 2013
The state of Connecticut has been scrambling for a decade to make up for years of failing to invest in Metro-North Railroad. That's part of why the railroad has been finding it so hard to get service up and running on the New Haven Line after Friday's derailment.
Friday, May 17, 2013
VIDEO. The latest on Stephen Drimalas, the Staten Islander in Ocean Breeze whose ups and downs we've been following since Sandy swamped his home, nearly drove him from New York, and left him wondering about his future.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Here's part of the MTA's problem in post-Sandy world: six subway stations are located in the Lower Manhattan flood zone, and those stations have 540 openings -- manholes, stairways, elevators, hatches and vents -- that could allow water to flow underground. As the authority prepares for future storms, it needs to figure out how to secure each one of those openings.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
America's "driving boom" is over. So says a study by U.S. Public Interest Group, which found that after six decades of steady increases in drivership, the trend has reversed.
Sunday, May 05, 2013
UPDATE May 6: 05 p.m.: See below for a bit more detail on the winners with links.
About 300 software developers spent the weekend together in a large room on the NYU-Polytechnic campus in downtown Brooklyn, all competing for three prizes in an MTA app contest.
Friday, May 03, 2013
The information that owners of Sandy-damaged homes need to make decisions is at least a month from being released. As they wait, the rumors circulate.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Storm Sandy caused an almost 30 percent increase in subway delays during the first three months of 2013. That expected finding comes from a Straphangers Campaign study of electronic alerts by the New York MTA. But the study also found that the problems weren't just storm-related: subway delays were up by 10 percent last year in the ten months before Sandy.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Wi-Fi and cell phone service is now available at thirty-six New York City subway stations. Where, you ask? Read on.
Monday, April 22, 2013
The NY MTA is deciding all the time how to spend the discretionary part of its budget. But rarely is that budget unexpectedly enriched by an extra $40 million, which occurred last month when Albany bestowed that much more than requested in state funds. Now the debate begins on how to spend it.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Optimism is up in the New York Metropolitan region, led by a surge of good feelings among New York City residents. That's according to a new poll by the Regional Plan Association, which also found that worry is on the rise over climate change and severe weather threats.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In the wake of the Boston bombings, transit systems around New York and New Jersey are beefing up security. It's part reassurance, part having "more eyes and ears -- and in the case of police dogs -- noses out there," says an MTA spokesman.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) Build higher. That's what the federal government is saying to the owners of structures badly damaged by Sandy. Northeast flood zones now have tougher re-building requirements that apply across the board: to houses, businesses and government infrastructure.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in front of an Amtrak electrical station in a New Jersey swamp to make their point: any structure more than half destroyed by Sandy that is being rebuilt with federal funds, must be lifted higher than before. The new standards require a building owner to consult an updated FEMA flood map, find the new recommended height for his structure and then lift it a foot above that.
LaHood explained why: "So that people don't have to go through the same heartache and headache and backache that it's taken to rebuild."
LaHood says the Amtrak electrical plant, which was knocked out by Sandy, will be lifted several feet at a cost of $25 million. A statement from the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has details on the new standards:
WASHINGTON – Today, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced that all Sandy-related rebuilding projects funded by the supplemental spending bill must meet a single uniform flood risk reduction standard. The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.
This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard. In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.
“Communities across the region are taking steps to address the risks posed by climate change and the Federal Government needs to be a partner in that effort by setting a single clear standard for how federal funds will be used in rebuilding,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. “Providing this guaranteed minimum level of protection will help us safeguard our investment and, more importantly, will help communities ensure they are better able to withstand future storms.”
“President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood, who joined Secretary Donovan in making the announcement in New Jersey today. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”
Today’s announcement does not retroactively affect federal aid that has previously been given to property owners and communities in the Sandy-impacted areas. It also does not impact insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Moving forward the federal standard applies to substantial rebuilding projects (i.e. when damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure) that will rely on federal funding.
The specific steps that these types of structures will need to take include:
- Elevating – the standard would require structures to elevate their bottom floor one foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA; and/or
- Flood-proofing – in situations where elevation is not possible, the standard will require structures to prepare for flooding a foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA – for example, by relocating or sealing boilers or other utilities located below the standard elevation
These additional steps are intended to protect communities from future risk and to protect taxpayer investments over the long term.
The programs which received funding in the supplemental bill and will be impacted by this standard include:
- HUD: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program
- HHS: Construction and reconstruction projects funded by Social Services Block Grants and Head Start
- FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program
- EPA: The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs
- DOT: Federal Transit Administration's Emergency Relief Program, as well as some Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration projects
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
New York's window on the world is on its way to reopening. The Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey allowed reporters to take three elevators to the 100th floor of One World Trade Center and get a preview of the building's observation deck.
Monday, April 01, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York is Holland now: the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A subway line on its way to the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The wall is made of thick steel and runs along the eastern side the tracks on the island of Broad Channel, in the middle of Jamaica Bay.
The $38 million project is the MTA's first big step since Sandy to prevent flooding from future storm surges.
To make sure the wall is strong enough to hold off another flood, workers are pounding each section about 30 feet into the ground. In the end, the wall will rise only seven feet above the rails, two feet above Sandy's height. The MTA thinks that's high enough.
On a recent windy afternoon, Contractor Mitch Levine was watching workers pile drive and weld each section into place. He said the wall is designed to withstand salt water. "This steel is special steel," he said. "It's marine steel, which will stop it from eroding over the course of 100 years."
Keeping the hungry waves at bay
NY MTA program manager Raymond Wong said the wall is supposed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did in this area, which was rip the embankment right out from under 400 feet of track.
"The tracks were hanging in the air," he said.
For three weeks after Sandy, each tide took another bite from a larger section of the embankment--until the NY MTA rebuilt the shore by dumping tons of stone and concrete next to the tracks. But this stretch of the A train across Jamaica Bay is still not in service. Thousands of riders now cram into crowded shuttle buses and face rush hour commutes that can end after midnight.
The wall will also serve a second purpose: keeping debris off the line. Forty-eight boats came to rest on the tracks after Sandy, along with jet skis, docks and fuel tanks. The clean up alone took three months.
Why a wall?
NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said engineers chose a steel wall to protect the A train because, "It could meet strength requirements as well as timing requirements--we wanted to make sure the wall would be in place by May 1." The line is scheduled to return to full service by summer.
Although Jamaica Bay is part of Gateway National Park, Ortiz said the wall didn't need to go through "any type of approval process" because it's within the right-of-way of the tracks, which is controlled by NYC Transit. Ortiz said the NY MTA did consult with the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers about the plan.
Bringing the power back
The MTA is taking a much more short term approach to repairing the A train's damaged electrical system. A mile away from Broad Channel, a control house sits in the railyard at the end of the line in Rockaway Park. Inside, Wong showed off rooms stuffed with equipment that looked modern in the 1950s, when it was installed. One panel has thousands of fuses, each with its own hand-lettered tag. Sandy turned these rooms into temporary aquariums.
"Everything was just coated in salt water that undermined the copper," Wong said. "When we came here, this whole thing was a big block of rust."
Electricity is vital to the subway. It powers signals that keep the trains apart, and switches that move those trains down the right track. There's also lighting at stations, public address systems, and power to the third rail to move the trains--the list goes on.
So what is the MTA doing to protect the electrical equipment at low-lying sites from future storms? "We're just trying to get up and running over here," Wong said. "There's really not much you can do."
Wong said, ideally, the MTA will lift the control house 10 feet in the air, rip out the old components and computerize the system. But that's millions of dollars and years away. His goal right now is to get the A train back by summer, however he can.
Click here for more photos of restoration work on the A line.
Monday, April 01, 2013
It's official: New York is Holland now. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A line on its way to the Rockaways.
Friday, March 29, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.
That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.
Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.
Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy
FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.
“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”
A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.
“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.
The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.
A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:
$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.
A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.
$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.
A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
(New York, NY - WNYC) Atlantic City International Airport sits in Egg Harbor Township, about 125 miles south of Times Square. That's far outside the traditional realm of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which covers New York City and northern New Jersey. But authority spokesmen say the South Jersey airport is underachieving and needs their help. That might also be a way of saying they're preparing to buy it.
The authority said on Wednesday it will spend up to $3 million to study the idea of adding the 84-acre airport to its portfolio, which includes JFK, LaGuardia, Newark-Liberty, Stewart International and Teterboro Airports.
Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni said his staff is negotiating with the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the airport, over an agreement that would allow the NY-NJ Port Authority to assume part of the airport's operations. He said the arrangement would probably start in July.
"The Port Authority may have the opportunity, if it chooses, to have the option to purchase," he said.
Baroni wouldn't comment on how long the study would take or how much the authority might pay for the facility. He said Atlantic City International's ten gates handle 27 flights a day, but could serve 300 flights a day. The airport's only primary carrier is Florida-based Spirit Airlines.
Baroni said luring passengers to Atlantic City International could relieve some of the over-crowding at Newark-Liberty Airport. The authority also wants to lure back South Jersey travelers who now fly out of Philadelphia.
The announcement came on the same day that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched an initiative to revitalize Atlantic City that includes plans to beef up police patrols in the tourist district and install "dramatic lighting" on the boardwalk.
Millions of people take buses to the city's casinos but gaming industry experts say the big money comes from gamblers who stay overnight. More regularly scheduled flights to Atlantic City International Airport might draw more of those gamblers. Authority chairman James Sampson said that, as of now, only 1 percent the airport's 1.4 million yearly passengers are on their way to and from the local casinos.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
After Sandy, Staten Islander Stephen Drimalas ended up renovating his home and, two weeks ago, moved back in. But after all that, Drimalas still isn't sure if he's going to stay.