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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

U.S. Sect'y LaHood Says Cars Should Play Smaller Role In Next Gen of Transportation

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ray LaHood at the 2011 Natonal Bike Summit (photo by Chris Eichler/League of American Bicyclists)

(Washington, DC - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a conference of bicycle advocates in Washington, DC, that President Obama’s national transportation plan will continue to de-emphasize private vehicles. LaHood has faced opposition from some governors over spending on high speed rail and support for biking and walking paths. But he said those priorities come from “his boss," the president, and the transportation budget that the president has put before Congress.

Ray LaHood's blog post on the speech is here.

“It’s about the next generation of transportation," he said of Obama's agenda. "It’s about high speed rail. It’s about streetcars. It’s about transit. It’s about livable and sustainable communities where you can live in a community and you don’t have to own a car.”

LaHood didn't jump up on a table, as he did in a fit of enthusiasm at last year's League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit, but he scaled some rhetorical heights in showering praise around the room.

He began by calling New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Kahn "a quite extraordinary lady" for re-engineering part of the city's streetscape to allow more room for buses, bikes and pedestrians. "She has really put New York on the map when it comes to making New York a liveable, sustainable community," he said. "And you can live in New York and not own a motor vehicle. So Janette, thank you for your leadership."

His remarks come as Sadik-Khan has faced noisy protests from some quarters for making life less convenient for some motorists.

LaHood also defended President Obama's high speed rail initiative, even though Florida Governor Rick Scott last week became the latest governor to turn down federal transportation funds for a high speed rail project--in his case, $2.4 billion.

"There's a lot more governors that have accepted money," LaHood said to reporters in a hallway of the Grand Hyatt Hotel after speaking to a ballroom full of bicycling enthusiasts. "Only three governors have turned back money. I've got people lined up out my door ready to take the more than $2 billion that's coming back from Florida."

He said the Obama administration has already spent $11 billion on high speed rail and is proposing in the current budget to spend $50 billion more. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for high speed rail in America," he concluded.

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MTA Anti-Terror Efforts Have Been Slow And Costly, Says Comptroller

Monday, March 07, 2011

WNYC

New York’s mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli charges in a new report.

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NY State Comptroller: MTA Late, Over-Budget on Anti-Terror Projects

Monday, March 07, 2011

Security monitors in the Essex St station on the J/M/Z subway lines. (Photo by Amy Groark - Flckr / Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says in a new report that New York's mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks.  The report criticizes the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority for falling behind and going over-budget on projects to reinforce bridges, tunnels and train stations--and add electronic surveillance and ventilation systems to the subway.

DiNapoli said the work is four years behind schedule and 44% over-budget, with an expected final price tab of $851 million dollars. He also pointed out that the authority had planned to have the first phase of its security upgrades completed by 2008; that date has now been pushed back to 2012.

The report did credit the NYC MTA for picking up the pace of construction over the past two years. For example, the authority says it has added 1,400 security cameras in the past year alone, with 600 feeding directly into the New York Police Department’s command center.

NYC MTA's response to the report said, "We have increased the number of security personnel, hardened our system, and work remains on track to complete remaining projects within the current budget."

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NY'S MTA Looking to Sell Ads in Subway Tunnels

Monday, March 07, 2011

Old School subway ad with the legendary Dr. Zizmor. (flckr crative commons / jonkeegan)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The perennially strapped New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority has already solicited bids from companies to manage the new account. "Anywhere there’s a dark tunnel, you could do it," he said.

Surfaces in subway tunnels have been marketed by other transit agencies, like the NY-NJ PATH train and  Boston's T system. But this would be a first for the MTA in New York.

It's part of the authority's push to wring more money out of advertising after two flat years of sales. The NYC MTA earned $109 million during the recession years of 2009 and 2010, down from a high of $118 million in 2008. But the MTA is projecting a comeback in 2011 with sales of $120 million.

The tunnel ads would show a string of varied images that, when viewed from a passing train, would move like a flip book. A similar effect is visible in a subway artwork called Masstransiscope between the Manhattan Bridge and the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn. As the D train glides by an unused station at Myrtle Avenue, painted images flash behind vertical slits and appear to morph and writhe. (A video of it can be seen here or at the end of this article.)

Donovan said most ideas for non-traditional ad placement come from advertisers themselves. In recent years, the MTA has permitted video on the outside of buses and ads that wrap entire train cars, like the 6 train that became a long rolling ad for Target last fall, when the company opened a store in Harlem -- which is served by the 6.

Then there is a program called "station domination," in which a single company plasters ads on multiple surfaces--columns, stairwells, turnstiles--throughout a subway station. Ads at Union Square Station have even been projected onto floors and walls. And now, perhaps inevitably, the MTA website displays ads for free credit checks and the Crate & Barrel wedding registry.

Gene Russianoff of The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, says he's of two minds about the spread of ads not only in the subway and on buses but on billboards outside stations and the exterior of commuter trains. (The New York City Department of Transportation gets the money from ads on bus shelters.)

"My view is informed by the very tough times we’re in and the pressure the MTA is under to make money," Russianoff said. But he said he draws the line at selling naming rights to stations--like the agreement by Barclays Bank to pay the MTA $200,000 over 20 years to puts its name on the Atlantic Avenue station in Downtown Brooklyn. "That's making a public space private and subordinating the public’s right to know where it’s going," Russianoff objected.

Still, the MTA faces pressure to cut costs and pump up sources of non-tax revenue.

The authority has an agreement with CBS Outdoor, a media-buying company, for the company to sell at least $580 million in ads on the subway from 2006 to 2016 and $346.5 million in ads on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines from 2010 to 2016. The MTA is also in the midst of a 10-year contract with Van Wagner, another media-buying firm, to sell at least $58 million in billboard ads on transit authority property. In December, ad space became available on five pages of the MTA's website. Donovan said that initiative has earned $10,000 over three months.

What is the most lucrative spot for ads in the region's transit system?

The answer is not temporary tattoos on the foreheads of train conductors. At least not yet. It's the Times Square Shuttle, with its packed cars and constant turnover of passengers. If an advertiser has an idea for a new kind of ad, like a train wrap or video, it's likely to be tried out on the shuttle. So be warned that in the future, if you're riding that train and decide to take a rest from all the ads by looking out the window...you could see more ads.

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Click here to see the subway tunnel artwork Masstransiscope. Be sure to click "Launch Movie" to see it in action.

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MTA Looks to Sell Ads in Subway Tunnels

Sunday, March 06, 2011

WNYC

The cash-strapped MTA is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations.

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More Tussles To Come Over 34th Street Redesign in Manhattan

Thursday, March 03, 2011

34th Street in Manhattan. (Flckr creative commons / Photo by: 商店也很多的34街,和第五大道交叉的地方就是帝國大廈。)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Critics of the New York City Department of Transportation's plan to redesign 34th Street won a round yesterday when the city nixed a plan to replace car traffic in the corridor with bus lanes and a pedestrian island.

The plan had called for higher curbs, special bus lanes and bus ticket kiosks on the block between 5th and 6th Avenues. Some business owners said the redesign would've tied up traffic, and made it harder for drivers to shop and for businesses to receive deliveries.

Macy's was among the concerned. Senior vice president Ed Goldberg said he worried the changes to the streetscape would have made it harder to steer giant cartoon balloons up Broadway on Thanksgiving.

"Obviously anything that we do that is an obstruction, be it sidewalk or street, is of concern to us," he said." It's about our one big magic day of the year during the parade."

But others had looked forward to the city's plan to make one block of 34th Street free of cars. Several small store owners said they favored the move because a pedestrian island would've brought more shoppers on foot and made it easier to cross the street in the middle of the block.

Clothing store manager Rossana Rosado said pedestrians needed more space to move around. "There's always a traffic jam out there," she said. "It's impossible for people to get across the street, even, because there isn't a place for pedestrians to cross."

The city's Department of Transportation will present a revised plan for the 34th Street corridor at a public meeting on March 14.

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Long Island Bus May Lose More Than Half Its Lines

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org



Long Island Bus, one of the largest suburban bus lines in the country serving the New York City suburbs, may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

NYC MTA chairman Jay Walder said 16,000 people may lose bus service and 200 workers will be laid off because Nassau County is not paying enough toward the service's $134 million annual budget. Walder said that given the NYC MTA's "fragile fiscal condition," the authority will have no choice but to strand passengers--unless the county agrees to increase its contribution.

Read more on wnyc.org

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Long Island Bus May Lose More Than Half Its Lines

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

WNYC

Long Island Bus may put the brakes on 27 of their 48 lines this summer.

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Metro-North's New Haven Line To Restore Full Service on Monday

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New rail cars debuted today on Metro-North's New Haven line (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY -Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Riders on Metro North Railroad's New Haven Line will get their regular service back sooner than expected on Monday.

The NYC MTA abruptly cut the line's schedule by 10 percent in early February after winter storms disabled its old cars faster than repairs could be made. Most of those cuts were made to rush hour trains on the already crowded commuter line from Manhattan to Connecticut. For years, the line has routinely run trains with fewer cars than platforms can handle, leading to standing-room-only crushes during peak times.

The MTA has said the service problems can be traced to a funding gap caused by Connecticut's refusal to pay for new trains for years, beginning in 2000.  (A fuller explanation of the funding problem is here.)

A return to full service wasn't expected until spring, with the arrival of new train cars.

But this morning, Metro-North President Howard Permut said the MTA activated eight new cars that--along with more repairs--will allow the railroad to run more trains.

"Next week, the trains will be crowded," he said. "But they will not be nearly as crowded as they were during January, when they were jammed."

Permut talked to reporters at Grand Central Station this morning, having ridden on the maiden trip of the new train cars from Stamford, Connecticut.

The interior of the new Metro-North rail car (Jim O'Grady)

The new cars arrive two years late. They are the first of 380 cars that will be put into service over the next two years, at a cost of $761 million. Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Metro North Rail Commuter Council also rode the new train into Grand Central this morning. Normally a critic of the railroad, he had nothing but praise for the long-awaited Kawasaki cars.
"The ride was smooth," he said. "The heat worked, the lighting was great, the seats were comfortable. The bathroom was fabulous. It didn't stink--and it was the size of a studio apartment in Manhattan."
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Metro-North's New Haven Line to Have Full Service Restored

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

WNYC

Riders on Metro North Railroad's New Haven Line will get their regular service back on Monday -- much sooner than expected. The MTA cut the line's schedule by 10 percent in early February after winter storms disabled its old cars faster than repairs could be made. A return to full service wasn't expected until spring, with the arrival of new train cars.

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NY MTA Chief Spars With Legislators Over Paying for Transit With Payroll Tax

Monday, February 28, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) In a sometimes heated hearing, state legislators and NYC Chairman Jay Walder squared off on the payroll tax that the NY state legislature approved in 2009 to bail out the agency. The tax applies to businesses in the twelve counties the MTA serves in an around New York City.

"We are paying greater freight in the suburbs for the services that are basically New York City services," said Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun from Orange and Rockland Counties, reflecting a common view among suburban legislators.

Walder said he didn't see the tax as a short-term fix but a part of the MTA's permanent financing solution. "I don't foresee a plan in any time frame in which you can phase out the payroll tax," he said, when asked if the MTA could ever balance its budget without it.

Walder said the tax--in which each employer pays one-third of one percent of its payroll to the state--brings in $1.4 billion a year to the authority. That's fifteen times the money saved by all of last year's service cuts.

Walder said the MTA wouldn't raise fares or cut service to meet its 2011 budget. But he wouldn't rule out adding more layoffs to the 1,700 workers laid off last year.

New York Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said that he is open to a "better way" of funding the MTA than by a payroll tax. But has yet to propose an alternative.

The payroll tax was part of a bailout package proposed by Richard Ravitch, the former MTA chief who later became Lt. Governor under David Paterson. Ravitch had initially proposed the tax in conjunction with a toll on the East River Bridges that are now free -- including the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges.  But those tolls were rejected, and a watered-down package including the payroll tax, a taxi-cab surcharge, and a tax on rental cars was ultimately passed.

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MTA Chief, Legislators Spar Over Paying for Transit With Payroll Tax

Monday, February 28, 2011

WNYC

MTA Chairman Jay Walder faced repeated questions at a hearing in Albany Monday from suburban legislators about a payroll tax that the state legislature approved in 2009 to bail out the agency. The tax applies to businesses in the 12 counties the MTA serves.

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Outer Borough Bus Service Isn't Keeping Up With Job Growth, Report Finds

Monday, February 28, 2011

WNYC

New York City's bus service has not kept pace with employment growth, according to a new report.

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Report Says Improving Outer Borough Bus Service Is Key To NYC Job Growth

Saturday, February 26, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The outer boroughs of New York City are creating jobs, but the newly employed might have some trouble commuting: New York's bus service has not kept pace with employment growth. Those are claims in a report just released by the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank in Lower Manhattan.

The report says that over the past two decades, the number of outer borough residents commuting from borough to borough or within their borough has been increasing much faster than the number who make the more traditional trip into Manhattan's business districts. Because the subways are generally oriented toward moving riders to and from Manhattan, many outer borough residents with outer borough jobs take the bus.

The report's author, David Giles, says the outer borough bus system is straining under the weight of 60 percent more riders since 1990.

"Despite the fact that transit ridership patterns have been shifting, with more people working in the boroughs, the MTA and NYC Department of Transportation have not made the investments necessary to keep up with these trends," he writes.

The study, called "Behind the Curb," concludes that "the biggest losers in all this have been New York City’s working poor."

The report goes on to say that New York has the slowest bus speeds in the country. Not surprisingly, outer borough bus riders have the longest median commutes.

But the outer boroughs are where New York's new jobs are. Giles says Manhattan had a net loss of 109,029 jobs between 2000 and 2009. But during the same period, the outer boroughs saw employment gains:  Staten Island with 4,045 jobs (a 4.6 percent increase); Queens  with 11,584 jobs (2.4 percent); the Bronx with 16,557 jobs (7.7 percent); and Brooklyn with 35,010 jobs (7.9 percent).

Those jobs were mostly produced by the health care and education sectors. But other large employers--like the new Hunts Point Market in the Bronx with 20,000 employees and JFK Airport in Queens with 50,000 employees--complain that it’s getting harder for their employees in the boroughs to reach work because, in part, the buses are getting more crowded. Additionally, as new employers spread out, some of them are far from existing bus lines.

The Center recommends the city speed up the roll-out of Select Bus Service--buses with dedicated lanes and, in some cities, technology to move faster by keeping lights in their favor. It also calls for the state to commit to a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA, something transit advocates have been saying for years.

Listen to the report's author, David Giles, discuss his findings on WNYC Radio.

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Police, MTA Timelines Differ in Accused Stabber's Subway Capture

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WNYC

The MTA and New York Police Department have differing accounts of how they coordinated efforts to capture accused stabber Maksim Gelman on a subway train earlier this month.

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Love on the Subway P.S.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Photo by bitchcakesny / Flckr-Creative Commons)

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) This post-Valentine bon bon just landed from Praxedes Arias, who read yesterday's post about Love on the Subway. It describes her encounter on a downtown train. She writes: "He looked older and Irish American...I liked that look.  Beard, mustache, blond...completely opposite of my family or Spanish men (I was born in Havana)."

When this story takes place, she's 27...and ready.

"I met my husband on the A train. I was performing my final play at the American Academy of Performing Arts and was reviewing my lines. It was a Sunday afternoon so the car was pretty empty but I looked up and suddenly he was there sitting in front of me. The guy I had seen in the neighborhood and on the train for weeks and months but never spoke to.  He nodded and said 'hi.'  I said 'hi' and immediately looked down at my playbook. 'Oh my gosh, he spoke to me,' I thought; my heart beating a mile a minute. I was really shy so starting a conversation was out of the question. I needed to find another way. I pulled out a flier of the play from my backpack and circled my name with a note. I waited until we got to Columbus Circle and gave him the flier right before I exited the train and said 'I hope you can make it.' I performed that evening and greeted my guests afterward...and was a little disappointed he wasn't there. I assumed he was married. A few weeks later, I was running late and ran for an overcrowded A train. I made it, and stood there looking disheveled and tired. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was him. He apologized for not having attended the play because he had a previous engagement. Then he asked me out to lunch. Of course I said, 'yes.'  He took me to Phoebe's restaurant and the American Museum of Natural History...a perfect first date. We are now married 16 years and have three beautiful little boys. We are still in love and the best of friends."

To have your heart warmed even more, go to wnyc.org for audio versions of a pair F train love stories--one of them a marriage proposal.

p.p.s. Click "more" to read the above story by the man in question, James O'Driscoll.

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Love Can Happen Anywhere - Even on the NY Subway

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be mine. (Photo by Ed Yourdon / Flckr Creative Commons)

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) You’d think Cupid, being a Roman god, wouldn't hang out in the subway. But he does. We put the word out for couples who met on mass transit and heard back from so many that we concluded the God of Desire has an unlimited Metrocard.

It was November 2009 and Daniel Espinosa, in town from Connecticut, had wrapped up a business meeting and was waiting for the downtown 6 train at 33rd street. He sensed a woman standing behind him. He turned and saw Rebecca Stepler. It was 6:30 on a Thursday evening. She was headed home to Brooklyn from work.

"I asked her if she knew of a good place to go for a drink," he recalled. "You know, I was playing a little dumb."

He may have been an out-of-towner but he knew where the bars were. In fact, he had plans to meet friends at a bar in a couple of hours.

Rebecca rattled off a list of establishments. Daniel listened politely, without really listening. When she finished, he got to the point. "Will you join me?" he asked. She thought to herself, "I'm not that kind of person." Then she thought: "What the hell. It's only a drink."

They took the train, got off at 14th Street, and walked a couple of blocks to Nevada Smith's. Over beers, the strangers warmed to each other. "She thought I was genuine, I guess," Daniel said. Rebecca said their conversation was unusual for two people who'd just met because it was "so natural."

Two hours later, Daniel reluctantly left to join his friends. Except that's not where he was going. Rebecca says, "He actually had a couple of hours to kill because he had a date."

A date?

"Yeah," said Rebecca. "I'm the one who usually tells that part of the story."

They laugh about it now because after that chance encounter on the platform, they began spending weekends together. Four months later, he moved into her apartment in Downtown Brooklyn. In March 2010 they married.

We heard the same story arc, with varying details, from others.

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Love Can Happen Anywhere - Even on Mass Transit

Monday, February 14, 2011

WNYC

One would think Cupid, a Roman god, wouldn't hang out in the subway. But given the responses we received after asking couples who met on mass transit to share their stories, we concluded the God of Desire has an unlimited Metrocard.

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Sea Level Rise From Climate Change Could Turn New York Into Venice

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Malcolm Bowman (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor from Stony Brook University in Long Island, stood at the snow-covered 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. Bowman and other experts say the only way to avoid that fate and keep the city dry is to follow the lead of the Dutch and build moveable modern dykes. Either that or retreat from the shoreline.

The city got a glimpse of such destructiveness with the December nor'easter of 1992, when massive flooding shut down the PATH train and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Again, in the summer of 2007, a flash storm dumped so much rain so quickly that the subways were paralyzed. Afterward, the MTA removed 16,000 pounds of debris from its tracks and spent weeks repairing electrical equipment.

For the rest of the story,  maps and other images showing New York's vulnerability to extreme storms in an age of climate change, go to wnyc.org.

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Sea Level Rise Could Turn New York Into Venice, Experts Warn

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

WNYC

Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor, recently stood at the snow-covered edge of the Williamsburg waterfront and pointed toward the Midtown skyline. "It's a sea of tranquility," he said. "It's hard to imagine the dangers lying ahead."

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