Jim O'Grady

Reporter, WNYC News

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Laughing at 9/11

Friday, September 09, 2011

If you made your living being funny, what would you do after 9/11? We spoke with a group of comedians who were working in New York about that day and what happened afterwards.

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Streets, Tunnels, Subways In Lower Manhattan Closed For 9/11 Anniversary

Thursday, September 08, 2011


If you're planning on driving to Lower Manhattan this weekend for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, don't. Or to use the language of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority: "Motorists are strongly cautioned to avoid driving in the area." Drivers will encounter tunnel closures, frozen zones and blocked streets throughout the weekend.


How 9/11 Changed Comedy

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Life changed for most Americans after 9/11, but comedians faced a very specific dilemma: when and how to make people laugh again. Comedic television programs like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show" struggled with this question as they began their fall seasons in late September of 2001, and comedians like Gilbert Gottfried faced decisions on whether it was appropriate to joke about 9/11 when performing live.

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Subway Station Severely Damaged on 9/11 Now Fully Restored

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


NY MTA Chairman Jay Walder (center) cuts the ribbon on newly restored Cortlandt Street subway station. (Photo by NY MTA.) Also pictured (L to R) Assemb. Daniel Squadron, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Walder, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin

(New York, NY - WNYC) When the Twin Towers hit the ground on 9/11, large parts of the nearby Cortlandt Street subway station collapsed onto itself. Steel beams, concrete, conduit wires and assorted debris crashed down on the tracks, clogging and closing a key part of Downtown Manhattan's transportation system.

Ten years later, minus five days, the station has at last been fully renovated.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority joined various New York elected officials to cut the ribbon on the R line's new downtown platform, which has been closed since 2005.

"We made a commitment to fully reopen the Cortlandt Street station in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and we are here today to fulfill that commitment," said NY MTA chairman Jay Walder.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said ten years of near-constant construction at the site has served as an uneasy reminder of 9/11's long reach.

"It told us that the subway is not complete, we're still missing something," she said. "But now ten years later, we're finally going to open this station. And then when we take the R train, we're going to feel the sense of rebirth, that finally it's done."

The station was shuttered for a year after the attacks on September 11th. It operated under makeshift conditions from 2002 to 2005 before undergoing a series of partial closings that allowed for a thorough renovation and the addition of a new underground passageway.

This latest and final bout of work cost $20 million and was paid for by the New York and New Jersey Port Authority and the NY MTA's capital construction budget.

The renovation restored twelve large ceramic murals installed in 1997 and collectively titled, "Trade, Treasure and Travel." The murals, which contain real and mythical creatures mingled with dollar signs and other signifiers of the nearby Financial District, were not damaged in the attacks. But they sat in storage until the station was ready to show them off again.

Cortlandt station mural (photo by Jim O'Grady/WNYC)


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Comedy Since 9/11: Comics Reflect On What It Took To Get New York Laughing Again

Monday, September 05, 2011


The dozen comedians interviewed for this story said similar things about the weeks and months following the attacks on 9/11. None of them wondered whether comedy would come back, or remotely agreed with Vanity Fair magazine editor Graydon Carter's contention from the time: "It's the end of the age of irony."

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Obama Calls on Congress to Pass Federal Transportation Bill And Keep The FAA In Business

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

President Obama, flanked by DOT head Ray LaHood and US Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(New York, NY - WNYC) President Obama says nearly a million American workers, many of them in construction, will be unemployed within a year if Congress delays passage of the federal transportation bill. The president spoke at a press conference in the Rose Garden at The White House, where he was joined by some of those workers.

"If we don't extend this bill by the end of September, all of them will be out of a job because of politics in Washington, and that's just not acceptable," Obama said.

The House is proposing to renew the transportation bill at $230 billion over six years. The Senate wants to spend $109 billion over two years. The sides must be reconciled by September 30th to avoid interruption to building projects around the country.

"This bill provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems and other essential systems that keep our people and our commerce moving quickly and safely,"Obama said.

The Senate bill would keep U.S. transportation spending at current levels. The House bill would constitute a 35% annual cut. Both bills are less than what the president has proposed: $500 billion, with another $53 billion for competitive high speed rail grants.

Petra Todorovich of the Regional Plan Association--a planning group covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut--called the house bill "a brutal cut that will certainly be felt around the region in jobs and in the condition of our roads, bridges and transit systems."

The president said if the transportation bill is allowed to expire, 4,000 workers will immediately be furloughed. He added that if Congress remains at an impasse ten days after that, $1 billion in highway funds will be lost for good.

President Obama also called on Congress to extend authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. When the House and Senate deadlocked on the issue in July, the FAA endured a partial shut down for 13 days. The move threw 4,000 agency employees out of work and interrupted hundreds of airport construction projects. Thousands of construction workers around the U.S. lost two weeks on the job and the the federal government was not able to collect more than $350 million in taxes on airline tickets.

The president also proposed an initiative aiming at cutting waste in transportation spending and giving states greater control in choosing projects.

"No more bridges to nowhere," he said. "No more projects that are simply funded because of somebody pulling strings."

He said that at the urging of his Jobs Council, he'd be directing federal agencies to identify high priority infrastructure projects that are already funded and then "expedite permitting decisions and reviews necessary to get construction underway more quickly while still protecting, safety, public health and the environment."

US DOT secretary Ray LaHood, who joined the president at the podium, continued the theme of linking transportation to jobs on his blog: " It's time to have a serious conversation in Congress about making smart investments while interest rates are at historical lows and unemployment is high." The president wants to publicly have that conversation on Tuesday, September 7th, when he's requested a joint session of Congress to lay out his job creation plan.

Today, Obama said such spending was urgent not only to create jobs but to stop from falling behind countries that are spending at a healthy clip on roads, railways, mass transit and airports. He said that ten years ago, U.S. infrastructure ranked sixth globally -- but now ranks 23rd.

"We invest half of much in our infrastructure as we did fifty years ago with more than one-and-a-half the number of people," he said. "Everybody can see the consequences. That's unacceptable for a country that has always dreamed big and built big, from the transcontinental railroads to the interstate highway system."

UPDATE: 4:07PM: Congressman John Mica, the Florida republican who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, released a statement about the president's speech. “In the interest of getting Americans back to work and moving vital transportation legislation, Republicans are committed to working with the President and Congressional Democrats," he said, before blaming Democrats for the funding stalemate. "During their control, they neglected aviation legislation for more than four years and left major transportation legislation in the ditch for more than a year."

Mica has been vocal about wanting a six-year authorization bill, and floated one last month. But it sounds like he's willing to make concessions. "I will agree to one additional highway program extension," his statement read, "this being the eighth of the overdue transportation reauthorization."



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After Irene: Your Morning Commute

Monday, August 29, 2011

WNYC transportation reporter Jim O'Grady discusses the effect the storm has had on this morning's commute. How are you getting to work this morning?

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Reporter's Irene Notebook: That's It?

Sunday, August 28, 2011


"I by the tide / Of Humber would complain."

--To his Coy Mistrees by Andrew Marvell

From the admittedly jaundiced vantage of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Hurricane Irene was the girl who threw the party of the year, showed up briefly and didn’t dance.

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NYC, Transit Included, Readies For Hurricane

Friday, August 26, 2011

Worst-case projection of storm surge flooding in Lower Manhattan.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Of all New York City's infrastructure, its underground transit system is especially vulnerable to storm surges produced by hurricanes like the one that is expected to soon work its way up the east coast. Planners agree on this, but not on how best to prepare for what could be more and worse hurricanes in the coming decades as the climate warms and sea levels rise. Here's a reprise of a story about all that, with link to a New York City flood evacuation map.

Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor from Stony Brook University in Long Island, recently stood at edge of the Williamsburg waterfront and pointed toward the Midtown skyline. "Looking at the city, with the setting sun behind the Williamsburg Bridge, it's a sea of tranquility," he said. "It's hard to imagine the dangers lying ahead."

But that's his job.

He said that as climate change brings higher temperatures and more violent storms, flooding in parts of the city could become as routine as the heavy snows of this winter. We could even have "flood days," the way we now have snow days, he said. Bowman and other experts say the only way to avoid that fate and keep the city dry is to follow the lead of cities like Amsterdam and Saint Petersburg, Russia, and build movable modern dykes. Either that or retreat from the shoreline.

Higher sea levels will give severe storms much more water to funnel toward the city. Bowman pointed first north, then south, to depict surges of water coming from two directions: through Long Island Sound and down the East River and up through the Verrazano Narrows toward Lower Manhattan. The effect could be worse than anything seen before.

Here is that flood map.

And here is the rest of the story.


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City May Shut Down Transit Ahead of Hurricane Irene

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Officials are considering shutting down the city's transportation system this weekend if conditions from Hurricane Irene become too harsh. 

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Straphangers Campaign Rates NYC Subway Lines From Best To Worst

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

C Train. (Photo by [(O) Photography / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Pity riders of the C train, named by the Straphangers Campaign as New York's worst subway line for the third year in a row. But the C was not alone--it tied with the 2 train for last place. 

Straphangers researchers found both lines to be crowded and prone to delays. While riders pay a base fare of $2.25 to ride the lines, the advocacy group rated their value at 90 cents.

Despite those poor performances, the system as a whole didn't fare too badly in this year's report.

Straphangers said the best of New York's twenty subway lines was the J/Z, which runs from Broad Street in Manhattan to to Jamaica, Queens. The J/Z scored above average in trains arriving at regular intervals, seats available during rush hour and miles between breakdowns.

Subway trains in general were more robust in 2010. They broke down an average of every 270,000 miles--a fifteen percent improvement over 2009. Cleanliness and the quality of car announcements remained high at 95 percent and 87 percent of all trains.

To take one example of best vs. worst from the report, riders on the 6 line could expect a train every two and a half minutes during rush hour; riders on the C waited 9 to 10 minutes throughout the day.

If you're a New Yorker, go here to see how your subway line fared in the report.

Listen to the conversation about the report on the Brian Lehrer Show:

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Straphangers Rate Subway Lines From Best To Worst

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Pity riders of the C train, named by the Straphangers Campaign as New York's worst subway line for the third year in a row. But the C train was not alone — it tied with the No. 2 train for last place.


New Rules Protecting U.S. Airline Passengers Start Today

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Airplanes wait to take off fro JFK Airport (photo by ATIS547 via Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation's latest set of "flier protection" rules go into effect today.

The department can now impose large fines on international flights that wait on the tarmac more than four hours. Airlines will also have to clearly display fees charged on everything from checking a bag to reserving a seat to buying food. And a passenger can expect higher compensation from an airline that loses his luggage or involuntarily bumps her from a flight.

New York's airports, in particular, played a dubious role as a catalyst to the crack-down on long delays before take-off. In 2007, 154 flights were stuck on a runway at JFK Airport for more than three hours. Two-thirds of all long waits in the country happened at one of the metropolitan area's three major airports.

Then, in 2010, the U.S. DOT began fining domestic airlines for those delays and the numbers plummeted. Now the department will do the same for international flights.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, applauded the change. He also agreed with airlines being forced to clearly display all their charges to online ticket buyers. His is one of several consumer groups that say buying a ticket online means digging deep into an airline's website to understand what fees it charges.

"They've had their fees buried on screen four, five and six, or just before you get ready to take your credit card out," Mitchell said.

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association (an airline trade association), said airlines strive to communicate clearly with passengers. "Airlines already have made many service improvements and many of the regulations going into affect formalize procedures already in place," Lott said.

In January, airlines will face even more rules, including notifying passengers at the boarding gate if their flight is delayed or cancelled.

To listen to this story, go to Marketplace.


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New Rules Protecting Airline Passengers Go Into Effect

Monday, August 22, 2011


The U.S. Department of Transportation's latest set of "flier protection" rules go into effect Tuesday. The department can now impose large fines on international flights that wait on the tarmac for more than four hours.

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Christie Weighs Toll And Fare Hikes, Says Alternative in Works

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told reporters Thursday that he and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo were working on a coordinated alternative to the Port Authority's proposed toll and fare hike, but did not know if their alternative would be announced in time for the Port Authority board meeting on Friday.


Opinion: Does a 'Rascally' Rick Perry Have Bill Clinton Worried?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I had a flashback on Tuesday when President Bill Clinton gave a speech to a group of firemen in Midtown Manhattan and called Gov. Rick Perry of Texas a “good-looking rascal” whose anti-government platform was “crazy.”

That rhetorical sleight of hand—raising an alarm about Perry’s potential attraction to voters while simultaneously smack-talking him--reminded me of a conversation I had in mid-2001 with a Clinton staffer.

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NY-NJ Port Authority's Proposed Toll and Fare Hikes: Behind the Numbers

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1 World Trade Center, a Port Authority project, under construction. (Photo by wallyg / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Three big numbers are at the heart of the hefty toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey:

  • $33 billion for a 10-year capital plan.
  • $11 billion to rebuild the World Trade Center.
  • $6 billion for increased security since the September 11 attacks.

And they all have one thing in common: they pay for construction jobs. That explains why unionized plumbers, carpenters and iron-workers packed a public hearing Tuesday at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to speak in favor of the hikes.

Chris Colombia, a union contractor, said the extra money collected would pay for 185,000 jobs — that's more than the 167,000 jobs the authority claims will be created. But the point, repeated by more than a dozen union members, was the same: "priming the pump" of the local construction industry will be good for the economy.

Predictably, drivers saw the issue differently.

"I understand the need for jobs but let me tell you something," said driver Jason Ertell. "The Port Authority facilitates commerce across the river between these two states — trillions of dollars in every sort of business and every sector that you can imagine in this economy."

Toll and fare hikes, he went on, raises the cost of doing business in New York and New Jersey and that kills jobs.

Both Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie professed initial shock at the notion of non-EZ Pass drivers paying as much as $15 for a round-trip during peak hours and PATH riders absorbing a $1 increase to their fare.

Still, Cuomo said, he understood the Port needed money, and that he would huddle with his appointees on the board to review the proposal.

“The knee-jerk response of, ‘The government needs more money, go to the taxpayer, put your hand in the taxpayers' pocket, take out more money and fund it,'" Cuomo said. "That doesn’t work for me."

But he has not ruled out the hikes. The Port Authority estimates they'd raise $720 million a year and an additional $290 million a year after 2014, when tolls would rise again.

Port Authority executive director Chris Ward has issued a statement that seems aimed at convincing both governors to approve the full increases.

"We recognize that the propose increase is substantial," the statement said. "But it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region."

A similar rationale was given in prefatory remarks by the Port Authority employee overseeing Tuesday morning's public hearing at the bus terminal.

But it didn't convince driver Andrew Holloway, who began his testimony this way: "Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I think we all know somewhere that this proposed increase is insane."

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Port Authority's Proposed Toll and Fare Hikes: Behind the Numbers

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Three big numbers are at the heart of the toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and they all have one thing in common: they pay for construction jobs.

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Opinion Split At Public Hearing On Steep NY-NJ Port Authority Toll And Fare Hikes

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

(Photo by meh8335 / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The public is having its say today about steep toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. At a public hearing this morning held at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan, drivers and PATH Train riders passionately panned the looming increases. But trade unionists, which stand to benefit if more money goes towards the agency's capital projects, approved of increasing revenues through hikes.

Jason Ertrell is a lawyer who drives over the George Washington Bridge every day from Clifton, NJ, to Midtown. He showed up at the hearing, signed in and took the podium to say he's not happy with what he gets for what he pays. "What I don't understand is how every morning as I drive down to pay my eight dollars, my fillings are getting rattled out and the shocks to my car are getting beat to hell--beat to heck, excuse me."

The NY-NJ Port Authority wants to raise those tolls even higher--up to $12 for EZ Pass users, and up to $15 for drivers who pay cash during peak periods. PATH Train riders would see the base price of a trip increased from $1.75 to $2.75.

But most of the 100 people at the hearing, like laborer Ramon Woodcock, were pro-hike construction workers. "The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is currently a priority and must remain so," said Woodcock. "It is a matter of American pride."

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is a NY-NJ Port Authority project. Its current price tag is $11 billion.

Governors Cuomo and Christie, who control appointments to the authority's Board of Commissioners, initially balked at the hikes. It's now widely assumed that they're talking to the NY-NJ Port Authority about lowering them. (The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the hikes on Friday.) Those negotiations could be heating up: yesterday Port Authority executive director Chris Ward issued a strongly-worded statement defended the increases it has asked for.

"We recognize that the proposed increase is substantial," the statement said. "But it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region."

A similar rationale was given in prefatory remarks by the NY-NJ Port Authority employee overseeing this morning's public hearing at the bus terminal. It didn't convince driver Andrew Holloway, who began his testimony this way: "Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I think we all know somewhere that this proposed increase is insane."

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Riders, Drivers Will Get To Sound Off On Proposed NY-NJ Port Authority Toll Hikes

Monday, August 15, 2011

The George Washington Bridge, a NY-NJ Port Authority Crossing. (Photo by wally g / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York-New Jersey Port Authority will hold public hearings tomorrow on a proposal for steep toll and fare hikes that could take effect as soon as next month. The increases were announced ten days ago, with a vote by the authority's Board of Commissioners scheduled for August 19. But first, riders and drivers will have a chance to express their feelings about PATH trains costing a dollar more per ride and Hudson River bridges and tunnels going up to 15 dollars per round-trip.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie call the proposed hikes "indiscriminate and exorbitant," though it's an open question about whether they will accept a scaled-down version. (A New York Times editorial was hardly alone in characterizing the initial remarks as "gubernatorial theatrics.")

Neither governor is ruling out the toll hikes altogether.

Other editorial writers have labeled them "grotesque" and "a heavy burden." And Automobile Association of America spokesman Ron Sinclair told TN that, "Our members are contacting us and telling us it’s very unfair, it's outrageous, it's a burden that's going to be tough to bear during a difficult economy."

But labor unions, and business and trade organizations, say the hikes are needed to keep the port and airports running, bridges standing and progress moving on a rebuilt World Trade Center.

The Port Authority says they're needed because it's been hit with a triple-whammy: a recession that has caused lower volumes of toll-paying traffic on its crossings to the tune of $2.6 billion; post-9/11 security costs that have driven up the budget of the World Trade Center rebuilding; and "the need for the largest overhaul of facilities in the agency’s 90-year history."

(Go here for the authority's justification of the hikes. And here for Andrea Bernstein's analysis of the politics behind it.)

Tomorrow, the authority will host hearings in New York and New Jersey to learn whether their customers think that's worth the increased tolls and fares they may soon be required to pay.

Here is the Port Authority's August 16 public hearing schedule:

Newark Liberty International Airport
1 Conrad Road
Building 157, Bay 3
Newark, NJ 07114
8 a.m.

Port Authority Technical Center
241 Erie Street, Room 212
Jersey City, NJ 07310
8 a.m.

Port Ivory/Howland Hook
40 Western Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10303
8 a.m.

Port Authority Bus Terminal
625 8th Avenue
Times Square Conference Room – 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
8 a.m.

George Washington Bridge Administration Building
220 Bruce Reynolds Way
Conference Room
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
6 p.m.

Holland Tunnel Administration Building,
13th Street & Provost Street
Conference Room
Jersey City, NJ 07310
6 p.m.

George Washington Bridge Bus Station
4211 Broadway
Lower Level Conference Room
New York, NY 10033
6 p.m.

John F. Kennedy International Airport
Port Authority Administration
Building 14, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Jamaica, NY 11430
6 p.m.

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