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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Piece Of Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight

Monday, August 06, 2012

There is a wide entryway in Penn Station that’s painted red with a stylishly carved leaf pattern. It frames the Long Island Railroad waiting room on the lower level and stands in stark contrast to the utilitarian style of the rest of the building. That’s because it’s a remnant of the old Penn Station.

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Piece Of New York's Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight ... Inside Today's Penn Station

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Entryway that is the only known piece of the old Penn Station to survive inside the current station. (photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At first, MTA spokesman Sal Arena insisted that no part of the architectural glory of the old Penn Station survived in the stripped down bunker of today's Penn Station. But the carved leaf pattern in a large steel entryway on the lower level seemed so at odds with the rest of the station's no-frills style that we asked him to re-check that.

Arena obliged. Then wrote back, "I stand corrected."

TN has learned that this entryway--part of the original Penn Station--was walled off in 1963, when the above-ground part of the station was razed. The destruction was decried by many as an act of "historical vandalism." (Public ire at the leveling of the 1910 building is credited with launching the modern preservationist movement.) Madison Square Garden and a blocky office tower replaced the formerly grand public space; the train hub was shunted into the corridors beneath them.

There the entryway lay hidden for 30 years.

Postcard image of the original Penn Station.

In the early 1990s, Penn Station underwent a major renovation, its first since the original building was demolished. That's when workers took down the wall and discovered the entryway. "It was found exactly where it is now," Arena said. "The contractor cleaned it, painted it and put in windows." It is now a deep umber color.

As far as we can tell, the entryway went back into service quietly--no announcement was made about the salvaged piece of history. It's safe to assume that a large part of the station's 600,000 weekday travelers pass by without an inkling of its provenance. In places, the paint on the entryway's columns is worn away from the hordes of commuters brushing past it, wanting only to leave Penn Station.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, called the discovery a "cool" but minor find. "It's the sort of thing that's a curiosity, an oddity, one of those pieces of history that you need a plaque to explain," he said.

He noted a remnant of the past that can also be found outside the present station: two stone eagles from the vanished building that flank an entrance at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Bankoff said they're handsome, if hard to see, and small consolation for the "interplay of space and light" that was lost when the original station was torn down and tossed into a trash heap in New Jersey.

Except for a pair of stone eagles and a strangely tenacious red entryway.

Detail of glass and steel entryway from the old Penn Station. (Photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

COMING SOON: A feature story about the some of the small conveniences in the present Penn Station that can make passing through it more bearable. We'll also be asking for your Penn Station tips.

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NY-NJ Port Authority Promises Reply To Charge That Exec Was Rude To Congress

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The fight between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the NY-NJ Port Authority over "civility," which is a fight about so much more, took a small step forward -- or maybe, downward -- today.

Pat Foye, the authority's executive director, told reporters he'd be replying to a letter from the senator that complains the authority's deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, failed to show "decorum" during testimony before Congress in April. “We got the letter," Foye said. "We are taking it absolutely seriously. We will respond on or before August 14th and, beyond that, we don’t have any comment.”

Baroni was standing next to the podium at the press briefing so he could've addressed the issue, but Foye chose to handle it himself.

The letter comes by way of the Senate Commerce Committee and is co-signed by committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV). August 14 is the deadline set by Lautenberg and Rockefeller to hear from the authority about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's role in the authority's steep 2011 toll and fare hikes.

At the April hearing, Lautenberg was grilling Baroni, a Christie appointee, about the "fairness" of the hikes, when Baroni shot back with a reference to the senator’s use of an agency-funded EZPass: “It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.”

Rancor ensued, and continues to play out. Lautenberg's main nemesis in the state is Christie, and vice versa. In that light, the senator's fight with the Port Authority could be viewed as a proxy battle with the governor. If that's the case, expect more skirmishes.

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Straphangers' NYC Subway Report Card: 'Q' Is For Quality, 'C' Is For Crummy

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) For the fourth year in a row, the C train ranked last among New York City's 20 major subway lines. That's according to The Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, which says the C performed worst or next to worst on several measures:

Amount of scheduled service
Delays caused by mechanical breakdowns
Subway car cleanliness
Announcements
Style points

OK, we threw in that last one. But the train's rolling-tin-can look is part of what makes it so mockable. The R32 cars used on the line are nearly 50 years old, and have a hard time showing up more often than every ten minutes during peak periods. That's last among lines.

On the bright side, the C plied its route between East New York in Brooklyn and Washington Heights in Manhattan in a way that made it above average in two categories: regularity of service--which means it is infrequent but tends to be on time--and chance of getting a seat during rush hour. That matters because the cars' suspension produces a rocking ride that is better experienced sitting down or on Dramamine.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority did commit last year to spending $24 million to spruce up the cars on the line, which are among the oldest in operation in the world. But that was merely to stretch out their use until 2017.

The best-ranked line was the Q train, which Straphangers found to be clean with clear announcements, and least plagued by delays from mechanical breakdowns. It was the Q's first time in the top spot since 2001.

This is the Straphangers' 15th annual report card on the New York City subway system. The group said it's seeing "a positive trend for subway car breakdown rates and announcements," but that trains are getting dirtier. The group concludes: "Future performance will be a challenge given the MTA's tight budget."

To see the report, which includes profiles and comparisons of subway lines, go here.

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LaHood Invites Bids for Enriched Pot of Federal Transpo $, Winks at Tappan Zee Bridge

Friday, July 27, 2012

That's the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background. It spans the Hudson River about 25 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. At three miles, it is the longest bridge in the state. (photo by digitaltree515 / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Step right up, we've got money for loans. That was essentially today's message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to states with large public transportation works in the planning. That includes rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, about which LaHood and his chief financial officer spoke positively, if vaguely.

 “We have heard from very high officials in the state of New York about this project and we have directed them to the notice in the federal register,” said LaHood, referring to today's official announcement that the grant money is available.

In February, the state applied for a $2 billion loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge from the U.S. DOT fund known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). But TIFIA turned it down.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been undeterred. He continues to apply political muscle to the project: this week, he appointed a former TV anchorman as Special Advisor to the The Tappan Zee Bridge. But he has yet to explain how the estimated $5.2 billion cost of the rebuilding will be funded. Given the state's limited finances, it would seem to behoove the governor to scoop up some of that TIFIA cash.

TIFIA functions as the U.S. DOT's infrastructure investment arm. In the past, it has paid for projects like an upgrade to the Staten Island Ferry and an extension to the President George Bush Turnpike in West Texas.

The fund is newly infused with $1.7 billion from the recently enacted federal surface transportation bill. LaHood said that money can be leveraged into $17 billion worth of "loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to major infrastructure projects with the potential to create jobs and spur economic development and growth." That's a big jump up from the last round of $120 million, which was used to dole out $1.2 billion in loans.

U.S. DOT chief financial officer Chris Bertram said the department favors projects that have "a revenue source like a dedicated sales tax or, in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge, tolls." He said that reassures the department it will be paid back.

Department spokesman Justin Nisly said the sooner a grant application is received, the sooner it will be dealt with. "We will begin evaluating letters of interest immediately, and announcements will be made on a rolling basis."

U.S. DOT will also launch a unit that will help state and local governments figure out how to finance their transportation projects. According to a press release, the Project Finance Center will act as a wise uncle to bureaucrats seeking "to analyze financial options for highway, transit, rail, intermodal and other surface transportation projects facing funding challenges." 

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PHOTOS: London's Tower Bridge Framed by Fireworks as Olympics Kick Off

Thursday, July 26, 2012

 Kaboom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Let other countries brag of the High Modern sleekness of their spans: Amsterdam's sinuous Python Bridge; Korea's space-age Media Bridge; even the skeletal steel lines of New York City's George Washington Bridge, which, aesthetically, have worn well.

The Brits want none of that. They'd rather invest their identity in that dowager of All Built Things, that dowdy Queen of Crossings: London's Tower Bridge.

First, it's a drawbridge. Second, it has castles. Third, look at it.

 Zoom! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Now come the London Olympics. Which means it's time to bathe the old girl in bordello lights, drape a five-ring necklace on her collarbones and shoot fireworks from her head. We know that sounds like they've gone and made her up like a tart, and they have, but we like it.

 Gasp! (photo by Steven Z. Ehrlich)

Do you? Leave us a comment.

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Train Tix Get Longer Shelf Life...and Refund Time

Monday, July 23, 2012

WNYC

Starting in September, Long Island Railroad and Metro-North riders have more time to use their tickets.  Tickets will be valid for two months, up from its current two week lifespan.

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Tix On NY Commuter Trains Will Be Valid Longer...But A Refund Will Still Cost $10

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tickets on this Metro-North train will be valid longer, starting in September. (traingeek/flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Starting in September, Long Island Railroad and Metro-North riders will have more time to use their tickets. Tickets will be valid for two months, up from their current two week lifespan.  And riders will have two months to seek a refund, also up from two weeks.

But a refund will still cost ten dollars — even if the price of the ticket was less than $10.

The policy irks Bill Henderson of the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council. He says Macy's doesn't charge its customers for a refund and neither should the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "There's things that are part of the cost of doing business and we think refunding the cost of a ticket ought to be one of them," he said.

Henderson pointed out that riders seeking a refund on a ticket worth less than ten dollars could conceivably end up owing the railroad money.

The NY MTA countered, saying the charge is needed to partially cover the "the administrative expenses of issuing and mailing [refund] checks." The authority also said it will cost $6 million a year to extend the validity of its train tickets.

(Ten-trip tickets will remain valid for six months, and riders will have six months to refund them.)

The two-week validity and refund periods on tickets began in December 2010. The MTA says it enacted the changes "to reduce revenue loss from uncollected tickets and...partially cover the actual cost of processing the refund." But in an unusual admission, the authority said, "These policies generated numerous complaints from customers and elected officials" and led to today's about-face.

The changes will take effect on September 4.

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Advocates: Thanks, NY MTA, For Restoring Some Bus / Train / Subway Cuts. Now Where's The Rest?

Friday, July 20, 2012

G, thanks, MTA for restoring some service. But where's the rest? (photo by bitchcakesny / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Want to know what transit advocates think of the news that the New York MTA is expanding and restoring bus and subway service? We at TN collected the responses and fed them into the Scrambletron 5000, a machine that transforms numerous opinions into a single collective sentiment. (Stick with us on this one.) Here's what came back:

"Thanks, NY MTA, for restoring a third of the service you cut two years ago. But we still we want the other stuff back."*

Most responses from NY metropolitan area transit-watchers began with praise, like this line from the The Working Families Party, which had agitated by online petition for making a temporary extension of the G train permanent:

"We're very excited that the MTA made the right decision."

That means, yes, the G train will retain the five extra stops that take it deeper into brownstone Brooklyn. And the NY MTA's announcement brought more bounty: five new bus routes serving neighborhoods with sharp population growth, including the Far West Side of Manhattan and the Brooklyn side of the East River between Greenpoint and Williamsburg; 25 bus lines' service will be restored or extended; enhanced off-peak service on some Metro-North and Long Island Railroad lines.

About those upgrades, City Council Speaker and likely mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said, "I applaud [NY MTA Chairman Joe] Lhota for his plan to restore critical service and urge the [NY MTA] Board to approve the proposal without delay."  (The board is scheduled to vote on the plan next Wednesday.)

She further lavished praised on a new bus line serving the "Tech Triangle" between NYU's planned tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn, the burgeoning hive of internet start-ups in nearby DUMBO and, next to that, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Steiner Movie Studios. She also applauded increased bus service to "underserved" Red Hook, a Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood with no subway.

She then raised the specter of the "devastating" 2010 service cuts that the NY MTA enacted to plug a hole blown in its budget by the recession. Those cuts saved the NY MTA about $90 million a year. The proposed service restoration, which rolls back the cuts by a third, will cost $29.5 million--that's out of the $6.4 billion the authority takes in annually from subway, bus and train fares, and tolls on its bridges and tunnels. So relatively little is being spent to generate a fair amount of goodwill.

But Quinn, echoing several advocates, pointedly called for the changes to be a "first step toward restoring full service."

Another reason the NY MTA can afford to increase service now is the seven percent fare hike scheduled for 2013, which is expected to generate $450 million a year for the agency. Chairman Lhota knows upcoming public hearings about the hike will bring heat down on the authority, so he's creating some goodwill now--in part by postponing a planned fare hike from January 2013 to March. He acknowledged that political reality at a press conference yesterday: "It's really hard to go into a period of time where you're talking about a fare increase when you're reducing service or you're not increasing service."

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, in its statement, described the MTA's p.r. problem: "Unfortunately, next year’s looming fare increases cast a shadow over the good news."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign pointed out another rider-unfriendly aspect of the 2010 cuts: allowing more crowded subway lines. Russianoff reminded the public and the press that the new package of service changes "leaves in place less generous 'loading guidelines... that allow more standees and less service on subway lines."

And City Councilman Brad Lander--who lobbied for, and got, more buses to Red Hook--immediately started calling on the MTA to restore the B71 bus, a line that the MTA has decided to leave in mothballs, at least for now.

That's a sampling of reaction. Stay tuned for more.

*Quote generated not by an actual person but the Scrambletron 5000, a made-up thing.

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BREAKING: NYC Transit Says G Train Expansion Permanent, Adds New Bus Routes

Thursday, July 19, 2012

(New York, NY -- WNYC) UPDATED New York's MTA will  add five new bus routes, restore one route, extend 13 existing bus routes and add midday, night or weekend service on 11 bus routes in all five boroughs. The temporary extension of the G subway line to Church Avenue during reconstruction of the Smith/9th Street station will be made permanent.

Full list here.

In all, the service enhancements add new routes to rapidly growing neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Dumbo, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard (home to Steiner movie studios)  where new housing and warehouses have been added to the city at a rapid clip. Manhattan's Far West Side, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn's East New York will also get brand new routes.

As unusual as the service additions are in a national environment where transit service is being routinely cut, they don't fully restore service to the level it was two years ago, before the NY MTA cut two train routes and dozens of bus lines, the biggest cuts in a generation.

In addition, Metro-North Railroad will enhance service on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven l with increased half-hourly frequency. West of the Hudson, a new round-trip peak train will be added on the Pascack Line.

The Long Island Rail Road will provide increased service from Ronkonkoma every 30 minutes on weekdays after the morning rush and during some weekend periods. Extra trains will accommodate increased rider demand on the Long Beach, Port Jefferson and Montauk branches. Trains from Atlantic Terminal will also be extended until 2 a.m.

Brooklyn is getting two new bus routes -- including one along the fast-growing Williamsburg waterfront and another connecting Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Steiner movie studio

Services will be also restored on the following routes:

Bx13, Bx34, B2, B4, B24, B39, B48, B57, B64, B69, X27, X17, M1, M9, M21, Q24, Q27, Q30, Q36, Q42, Q76, S76, S93, X1, X17

 

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Bayonne Bridge Will Be Raised In Time for Super-Ships: PA

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The New York-New Jersey Port Authority says the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge will be raised in time for the arrival of the next generation of extra-large container ships. The $1 billion project has been fast-tracked by the Obama administration, putting it six months ahead of schedule.

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Duane Reade Moves To Electrify Some of its Fleet

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

(photo by Edgar Zuniga Jr. via flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Duane Reade, the largest drug store chain in New York City, says it will electrify a quarter of its truck fleet .

The company claims converting 14 of its 60 trucks to electricity will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 percent.

(Which they say is, in technical parlance, "the nitrous oxide equivalent of 1,000 tailpipes removed.")

Environmental group Mission Electric is working with Duane Reade to let the public vote on the first seven stores to get the green trucks. The company will be rolling out the voting Wednesday at an event held in conjunction with Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.  Office director David Bragdon said "Duane Reade’s investment in electric vehicles will help meet our ambitious PlaNYC goal of reducing NYC's green house gas emissions."

Duane Reade says the move will reduce air pollution, noise, and congestion. One added benefit -- especially welcome to sleep-deprived New Yorkers: "Because the new trucks do not require combustion, their operation is almost silent, reducing noise levels from overnight deliveries."

 

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Private Ferry, Floated By Municipal $, Flourishes In New York

Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn ride the East River Ferry with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Several Brooklyn-to-Manhattan commuters were baffled at 7:45 this morning to find an unexpected boarding ritual taking place at the head of the gangway leading to their ferry. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely candidate for mayor, stood there waiting to shake hands.

"Congratulations!" Quinn told the riders, one by one. "You're among the million passengers to take the East River Ferry!"

That's a million paid customers in just over a year, more than double the initial projection of 409,000 annual riders. But that success comes at a price to the city: a $3.1 million subsidy per year over the three-year life of the pilot program.

The money comes from the city's Economic Development Corporation. Private ferries that criss-cross the Hudson River, connecting New Jersey to various parts of the harbor, do not receive subsidies.

The East River Ferry started with 12 days of free service last June. From the beginning, it proved popular with New Yorkers and tourists. The boats follow a route that goes from Wall Street to East 34th Street in Manhattan with stops along the way -- four in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Then they ply the trip in reverse. (Bloomberg and Quinn boarded at the North 6th Street stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a three stop ride to Wall Street.) In spring and summer, the ferry adds a Brooklyn harbor loop and makes the short hop from Lower Manhattan to Governor's Island.

Weekend service is especially popular in the warm months. Billy Bey, the company running East River Ferry, says it has had to operate larger vessels on the weekends to hold the crowds, and a new landing at Brooklyn Bridge Park has been fitted with wider gangways to speed boarding and disembarking.

The ferry isn't cheap: $4 for a one-way trip, compared to the $2.25 base fare per subway ride with a Metrocard; and the ferry charges $140 for a monthly commuter pass, compared to $104 for a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard.

But sometimes a passenger like Bloomberg can catch a break. The mayor ordered a $2 cup of coffee from the on-board concession stand, which a woman who gave her name as Jennifer served up gratis. Jennifer said she was happy to do it "because he's the mayor," although she initially called him Mayor Giuliani. But Jennifer also noted a Bloombergian particularity: the mayor added milk to his Joe but, true to his crusade against empty calories, no sugar.

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The Single Switch Routing 1/3 of All LIRR Trains, Down for a Month

Monday, July 09, 2012

Long Island Railroad train barrels through a crossing. (photo by ynkefan1 / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) About 5,000 riders on Long Island Railroad will see their evening rush hour train either cut or delayed for as long as a month starting Monday.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR,  is taking a single switch in Queens out of service so it can dig the next length of the East Side Access Tunnel — a project designed to bring LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal by August 2019.

Switch 813 regulates 1/3 of all eastbound train traffic as it passes through a massive switching yard called The Harold Interlocking.

The switch can't be operated while a giant boring machine is tunneling beneath it. With only two tracks remaining to handle the evening rush, train traffic must be juggled.

The NY MTA said riders can expect the following changes:

  • The 4:52 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon will be canceled.
  • The 5:20 PM train from Penn Station to Long Beach will be canceled.
  • The 5:40 PM train from Penn Station to Seaford will be canceled.

The four PM Peak trains with adjusted schedules include:

  • The 5:36 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon, which will depart Penn Station one minute later (at 5:37 PM) and arrive Babylon two minutes later at 6:42 PM.
  • The 5:55 PM train from Penn Station to Long Beach will arrive at Long Beach one minute later at 6:52 PM.
  • The 5:59 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon will arrive at Babylon five minutes later at 7:04 PM.
  • The 6:44 PM train from Babylon to Patchogue will operate two minutes later, departing Babylon at 6:46 PM and arriving Patchogue at 7:16 PM as a result of its connecting train from Penn Station (the 5:37 PM) arriving two minutes later at Babylon.

The NY MTA has been alerting riders to the changes through an alert on its website, fliers posted at stations and dropped on trains seats, and email alerts to the 30,000 customers who subscribe to them.

Those efforts weren't enough for the Long Island Railroad Commuters Council, which urged the LIRR to post workers in stations and on platforms during the first days of the schedule changes.

LIRR spokesman Sal Arena said that will now happen. "Railroad president Joe Calderone said to The Riders Council, 'You're right. Let's do it.'" Arena said riders confused by the changes can expect to see LIRR workers in reflective vests at Penn Station in Manhattan, Jamaica Station in Queens and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.

For more on East Side Access, go here.

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LIRR Rush-Hour Cuts, Delays to Begin Monday

Sunday, July 08, 2012

WNYC

About 5,000 riders on Long Island Railroad will see their evening rush hour train either cut or delayed for as long as a month starting Monday.

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US DOT To Spend $29 Million On Improving Transportation Options For Vets

Monday, July 02, 2012

Wounded veterans ride bicycles and hand bikes on the South lawn of the White House during the kicking off the 2010 Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. (Flckr / William D. Moss)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced 64 grants to help vets get around once they're back in the United States. Most of the money will go toward making it easier for veterans and their families to get transportation information by using smartphones and computers.

A typical grant was the $50,000 going to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to help vets "connect to transit services through a single call or a single visit to a web page. Services include support organizations, social service agencies, car and van pools, volunteer driver programs, bicycles, walking, and taxis."

In all, 33 states and the Northern Mariana Islands will receive the awards. One of the largest went to the San Diego Association of Governments, which will receive $2 million to create a free mobile transportation app and 20 interactive transportation kiosks at military facilities and other veterans sites.

LaHood said vets need the assistance because of injuries suffered during service and because "the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is more than 12 percent, more than four percentage points above the national average."

He gave the example of The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio, which is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and more than 80,000 veterans. "The $450,000 grant announced today will make it easier for returning and retired veterans and those who have disabilities to arrange for rides by phone, smart phone or on the web," LaHood said.

Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transportation Authority, which will administer the grants, said, “America’s war heroes deserve a chance to support their families, participate in their communities, receive job training and get to work. It’s vitally important that we remove barriers to success by making transportation available wherever our veterans choose to live, work and receive care.”

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Diamond Engagement Ring Is Lost And Then, Against Long Odds, Found On Long Island Railroad

Friday, June 29, 2012

Long Island Railroad passenger Brooke Bene shows off her recovered engagement ring.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Here's an uplifting story on a hot summer day. It begins with a young woman placing her hand on a metal pole in a New York City subway and sickeningly realizing that the sapphire and diamond engagement ring on her finger didn't make a sound...because the ring was gone. We'll let this understandably breathless press release from Long Island Railroad describe what happened next:

The owner of the dazzling ring, Brooke Bene – who was recently engaged in April – inadvertently left the ring on the train as she disembarked at Atlantic Terminal [in Brooklyn] for her daily subway trip to her Wall Street job.

"I removed the ring and placed it on my lap to apply hand lotion while on the LIRR train,” said Ms. Bene. “When I stood up to leave the train, it must have fallen without me realizing. It wasn’t until I grasped the hand bar on the No. 2 train out of Atlantic Terminal and didn’t hear the metal of the ring touching the bar that I noticed it was missing – and that’s when the panic set in."

After a frantic search through her belongings, Ms. Bene realized the ring was gone. She immediately contacted the LIRR upon arriving at her office.

That’s when the LIRR’s Deana Teemer jumped into action and called the LIRR’s operation center to find out where Ms. Bene’s LIRR train was next headed – which turned out to be the Hempstead Branch. She requested the operations center to contact the crew of the train via radio and also called the Hempstead Station ticket office for the train to be searched.

Following a regular routine, Ms. Bene sat in the same seat in the same car each day – this aided in the hunt for the ring.

LIRR conductor Tim Parrett found the ring in the space between the seat cushion and the seat back, after pulling the seat cushion away. He radioed word to the operations center that the ring was found and brought the ring to the Penn Station Customer Service office.

Upon hearing the good news from Deana Teemer later that morning, Ms. Bene gave a sigh of relief and immediately headed to Penn Station to re-claim her cherished ring. Then, she told her fiancé about the ordeal and the happy ending.

“I just love them,” Ms. Bene said about Teemer and Parrett. “They were incredible – how amazingly fast everything was done and the ring was found!”

Deana Teemer has worked for the LIRR for 13 years, starting as a ticket clerk and for the last two years in the Customer Service office. Tim Parrett has 15 years on the job.

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After Long Fight, Congress Passes 2-Yr Surface Transportation Bill

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.

The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)

Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."

But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.

 

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Red Hook, Brooklyn, A Transit Cul De Sac, Gets Real Time Bus Info

Friday, June 29, 2012

The B61 bus now has Bus Time, a technology that lets riders know the location of their ride.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Service on the sole bus route serving Red Hook, Brooklyn, may be erratic and over-crowded during peak hours,  but riders can now use a smartphone to figure out where their bus is dawdling on the neighborhood's waterfront grid.

Or maybe it's approaching. To find out, riders can fire up the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Bus Time technology.

Red Hook is subway-less, surrounded by New York harbor on three sides and cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the Gowanus Expressway as it approaches the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The program fits out buses with GPS units. That allows riders to check the Web or send a text to find the location of the nearest bus.

It's already in place borough-wide in Staten Island, on the M34 Select Bus Service in Manhattan, and was originally piloted on the B63 in Brooklyn in early 2011.The MTA says every line in the city will have it by the end of next year.

Red Hook residents have long complained of living in a transit semi-desert. It got worse last year, when the  MTA cut costs by eliminating three bus lines serving Red Hook and nearby neighborhoods. Some residents adapted by making the long walk to the subway stop at Smith and 9th Streets in Carroll Gardens. But with that stop now undergoing a year-long renovation, many Red Hook commuters have had no choice but to use the problem-plagued B61.

City Councilman Brad Lander and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, both vocal about beefing up Red Hook's bus service, say they're pleased by Bus Time's arrival. “Bus Time will help Red Hook residents with their commute by providing real time information on buses’ locations,” Velázquez said.

Lander similarly praised it, then reminded the authority that further improvements are needed on the line.  "I look forward to taking further steps to making the line a great bus for the neighborhoods it serves.”

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Court Rules NYC Taxis Need Not Be Wheelchair Accessible

Thursday, June 28, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A federal appeals court has struck down a ruling that would have required New York City to give taxi licenses only to wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't require the city to demand that cabbies serve the disabled, only that the city not discriminate against disabled people seeking a license to drive a cab. That's despite the fact that only 2 percent of the city's yellow taxis are wheelchair-accessible.

See the court's decision here.

The city can keep moving toward a contract with Nissan to provide New York with a "Taxi of Tomorrow": a mini-van with transparent roofs, USB chargers and extra legroom--but no easy access to people in wheelchairs.

Mayor Bloomberg praised the decision to let the new cab project move forward. “This ruling is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled, and we will continue our efforts to assist disabled riders,” he said.

Assuming Nissan signs a contract with the city, it will become the sole provider of New York's yellow taxis. The new models would be rolled out beginning next year, as older cabs are retired.

But the Taxis for All Campaign decried the ruling in a statement: "New York City has more taxis than any city in America. Yet only 232 (1.8%) out of 13,237 taxis are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Because subway stations are also inaccessible, the lack of accessible taxis has left wheelchair users with no viable way to travel in New York City."

The lower court ruling had called access to wheelchair-friendly cabs "a basic civil right." Disability Rights Advocates’ attorney Sid Wolinsky, who represented some plaintiffs in the case, blasted the city for not delivering on that right. “The Bloomberg administration has been astonishingly hostile to people with disabilities," he said. “The notion that New York City would now have a taxi fleet that is mostly not accessible when cities like London have had a 100 percent accessible fleet for over a decade is pretty shameful.”

Wolinsky believes his group could still win the case through other arguments that weren't addressed by the appeals court.

Edith Prentiss of the Taxis For All Campaign agreed. “This ruling will not stop us," she said. "We have been fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities to use this public transportation system for a decade, and the fight will continue."

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